A New List From The NME, and some thoughts about pop-hackery.
If you want to feel awful homicidal awful quick click here, read this, and then read the comments.
It's not the actual list that's the problem. The list is the usual mix of shit, shinola and gold you'd expect. Terribly predictable no.1 but hey-ho. The problem is the writing & subbing of the text for each track. I mean, these are meant to be the greatest songs of their generation - does the writing communicate that sense of importance? Does the writing make you feel as excited, as bound up, as 'Caught Out There', 'Around The World', 'Glory Box' or 'Unfinished Sympathy' do? In fact - good example, let's check out what's said about no.31, 'Unfinished Sympathy' a record that shudders like an iceberg through your heart, always swells like a fresh new bruise, the turning of personal torment, of the battle between freedom and love, fearlessness & loneliness into a whole new universal noir. It's a record you never forget for the rest of your life because so often in your life yr gonna need to hear it again. That need, that addiction, how does the NME in 2012 sum it up?
#31 "Trip hop progenitor ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is really a slick piece of hip-hop soul blessed with Shara Nelson’s broken bawl and some muted beats and cowbells from 3-D, Mushroom and Daddy G. It came out under the more politically sensitive band name of Massive during the first Gulf War and ensured the collective remained the urban sophisticate’s artist of choice for the next decade."
So, this is what music writing should do now. Place, contextualise, describe, commercially delineate. All well and good (although wtf 'urban sophisticate' means I rilly don't know) and utterly pitifully inadequate to the record itself. And if music writing keeps doing this, keeps on - in terror of the poetic and fear of the 'pretentious' - simply comprehending music and never rhapsodizing, keeps on worrying about filing without ever losing its mind, it will continue to lag behind the form it seeks to circumscribe, will continue to be so much chip-wrapping for its readers and its writers to forget almost instantaneously. How could you ever remember such lumpen prose, such cliche-ridden mediocrity, let alone recall the names responsible? Where does this writing send you? Is there ANYTHING in each write up of each track that in any way has a reason to exist, a reason to be, a reason to take up those pixels? Would the piece have in any way suffered from just being the youtube links? Would any piece in the NME online suffer from just being made of youtube links? Faced with new technologies that enable everyone to be a critic what do you do? Make criticism look like everything else, or emphasise its unique posture, its antique desire not just to reflect but to CHANGE the way pop is thought about?
#72 "Tjinder Singh penned this track about the luminous cinematic power of Bollywood actress Asha Bhosle. As it stood, it was an absolutely pleasant slice of indie pop dreaminess. "
So, this is what music writing should do now. Be factually innaccurate (Asha Bhosle was a singer, never an actress), and have the ungainly ugliness of expression more suited to a college assignment, an exam, than music writing. It reads as if music writing is actually a painful, unpleasant process for those doing it, the annoying production of actual stuff that unfortunately is still attached to the real job of connecting, networking, partying and self-promoting. These are writers surely inspired by no-one, and consequently it's impossible to hear a human voice emerging, or see an effort involved in finding that voice. Just the mechanical regurgitation of acceptable cliches, the defeated tone of those pushed around and cowed by the biz, the absolute dead-end determination to 'appeal' as widely as possible, to never use a word someone might have to look up, to never say anything that could in any way lodge in anyone's mind any longer than it takes to read it. A downright FEAR of the new idea and the dwindling-readership it might alienate, a terrified scurrying cowardly retreat into the lukewarm arms of cliche and staleness and imprecision.
#10 " . . . rallying call against the rank hideousness of US society. It's a flame built on Tom Morello’s iconic, white-hot riff as Zack de la Rocha pours on the gasoline, taunting American forces with rhymes about racism and the Ku Klux Klan"
That language, that painfully half-witted mix of limp hyperbole and semi-erect bromide serves to render every writer for the modern mainstream music press anonymous, unidentifiable, monotone & monochrome. We're constantly told that readers don't want flouncy writers anymore, don't want imagination, purple prose, poetic license, just want THE FACTS. But what's shoved at readers are facts in the most withered, spineless fashion possible, to the point where it's only natural that those readers constantly wonder what earns the writers the right to pass judgement, what separates THEM from US? The fatal error the music press have been committing for nearly two decades now is in failing to realise it's actually commercially insane to reduce a body of staff to a unified, numb voice of one-ness, that what ANY reader wants from the music press is writing that reflects the music's variety AND excess AND concision. For pop writing to be as entertaining as pop it's got to be diverse but the writing being put out there, the writers that are paid, are almost indistinguishable from each other, much like the middling musical mulch those writers spend most of their time boosting. Hence the falling ABCs, the terror, the present/future role for the music press mapped out as mere capsule-review lubrication of commerce. All stemming from two things, a massive condescending underestimation of music fans, and the entirely fucked-up motivations behind those who want in on the music media.
#6: "Coming on like a twin of ‘Live Forever’, Noel Gallagher’s no-nonsense lyrics, a typically bolshy delivery from “our kid” and a guitar riff which sweetly echoed George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ added up to the very first Oasis classic. ‘Supersonic’ was effortless in its spewing forth of Manc cool, all self-confident swagger and utterly accomplished musicianship"
E.G, read this interview , and then this interview with professional wanksnap, Hamish McBain, who works for the NME
Two quotes sing out here: "It makes it more challenging, to see how you can still make it exciting. It’s challenging for everyone – it’s a transitional period. It’s exciting in that nobody really knows what to do, and it’s exciting at the NME going to a meeting and instead of saying “right, who are we going to put on the cover?”, it’s “how are we going to put them on the cover?”. How do you make it interesting?"
And: "Tenacity is the key, really."
"How do you make it interesting"? For starters let's end the age of the pitch, the angle, the wacky juxtaposition, the let's take (insert band) to (insert incongruous location) lazyness of modern editorial. If your writers are interesting and freakish enough (not gonna happen if the people hiring are dull-as-fuck themselves or even worse yesmen to the marketeers) THEIR thoughts are the hook, the fact THEY love this band should be enough for an editor to TRUST there is a story beyond fkn celebrity endorsements or youtube hits. It's not really a writers job to give a fuck about ABCs or give two-shits about what some jumped-up little cunt wielding a piechart has to say about 'what the readership wants'. EVERY writer is ALSO A READER, what do YOU want from pop writing? Fkn get on with it then, and if you've no answer fuck off out of it until you get one, or even better, just fuck off for good. Let writers get on with writing about pop stars as if they're pop stars even if they're not pop stars because the things they make make them STARS to US. Let's unleash something entirely banned from pop writing these days - IMAGINATION - to give pop writing, and pop itself, its full magical and mysterious pull on our time again.
Hats off Hamish, y've nailed the key to getting a job in music writing. 'Tenacity' as the sole modus operandi of the writer. Career career career career - if there's something I can say has been common amongst every great writer or editor I've ever worked for/alongside it's been none of this. They've all, basically, been music HEADS - seekers of new stuff on a constant basis, diggers of crates, record-shop ghosts, teenage-years wasted in libraries and racks with radios and players and books. They've also loved literature, loved writing almost as much as they love music. The impetus and motivation behind their writing was always clear, to say the unique thing they had to say in the unique way they had to say it. Tenacity? FUCK OFF - these loons were convinced that what they had to say DESERVED hearing by the planet, NEEDED expression or they'd explode. Tenacity, fkn tenacity FUCK TENACITY UNTIL you've actually figured out if your message is worth tenaciously trying to get out there. And if you have no message, fuck you and fuck off y'gap year cunt, get yr fkn backpack and go see the world. I hope you drown in a disused well before you fkn ever 'write' ever again. Because instead of writing what you think, you write what you think other people want to read. And as soon as you start doing that, you're fucked in the soul, heart and head.
#30 "It was no coincidence that this track was chosen to soundtrack a key moment inTrainspotting. Penned on a drunken night as Karl Hyde got bleary-eyed in Soho, the fragmentary lyrics are mirrored by the music, which hurtles between speeds and moods, perfectly echoing the state of inebriation one needs to get to before belting out “lager, lager, lager” to passersby."
Secretly, what modern mainstream pop-hackery confirms is that there's a fundamental sadness to the role of music writer, or at least there is if you let it take hold - you are employed to basically be a hanger-on, an eavesdropper, a spod, a geek, someone who won't shut up about something the rest of the world just get on enjoying. To a certain extent this is all true but the people taking on the role these days seem massively cowed, almost apologetic about being critics, fatally and stupidly too dim to realise that EVERYONE who listens to music THINKS about it deeply, has a whole barrage of prejudices and assumptions they call their 'taste', even if they don't necessarily write it all down all the time. Writers gotta realise - YOU ARE AN ARTIST TOO. Language is your medium, infinity is your potential, MATCH or even SURPASS the music you're writing about, you're just as good as those fkn musicians and writing about pop is a vital artform that actually contributes to the health, and the potential for surprise and intrigue, of a musical culture. You are not a fkn hanger-on (and spods and geeks and fans are important in any culture - remember fans are not disciples, fans can be betrayed) you are part of an argument, a battle.Pick up yr arms and yr pens and yr paper and yr brains and fkn fight. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT.
There is still, and always will be, a world to win.