Monday, 5 December 2011

The U2 Debate.

It’s no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest,
It’s no secret ambition bites the nails of success.
Every artist is a cannibal; every poet is a thief,
All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief.

The issue of what a band should do when they have been together for over thirty years is a relatively new one. With the music industry - as we know it - only having been around for about sixty, there are very few who have yet reached the monumental landmark of being in a band together for such a long period. 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Rolling Stones, and the only question is surely; is this really a reason to celebrate? Of course it provides the perfect opportunity for yet another worldwide stadium tour where the same hits get churned out from the skeletal horrorshow that the band have become; selling their souls and their grace in exchange for millions of dollars and the ego boost that comes from thousands of people screaming your name each night. But this isn’t what it’s all about. It would seem that what ex-NME journalist Nick Kent suggests in his book ‘Apathy for the Devil’ – that The Rolling Stones were widely believed to be washed up and on the wrong side of their best work by 1972 – has proven true. Yet, here we are forty years later still watching the soulless puppet show push on through, fully aware that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger despise each other to their very core, that the words they sing and the notes they play no longer ring true and that the band and fans alike would really be a lot happier if this pretence would stop and we could listen to Sticky Fingers with a wonderful, untarnished mental image of The Rolling Stones in their prime.

U2 are perhaps the only other band who fall into this bracket who are on a par with The Stones in terms of global superstardom and the ability to still sell out stadiums in the blink of an eye, but they themselves actually hold the feat of remaining together for almost thirty-five years without a single line-up change or any periods of band hiatus. Now, it would be easy for me to take a few punches at U2 – indeed, the majority of what I have just discussed about The Rolling Stones could be effectively applied to their Irish market shareholders – however, that is not what I wish to do in this blog. While there are many questions to be raised regarding why something other than artistic drive could persuade a band to continue beyond a point where they offer the music world anything worthwhile, my main concern today lies with the damaging and resounding effect that a band can have over their own name as a consequence of providing a new generation with incredibly average material. By making music of a low calibre, a new audience who are unfamiliar with previous releases will be quick to judge a band’s merit on their latest offering, and uninspired to delve into their back catalogue, the band will be forever dismissed as irrelevant. This kind of self-slander is destructive and painful to observe and it brings me to the point that I wish to make; I do not want people to judge U2 on Elevation, Get On Your Boots, Beautiful Day or any of the other songs or albums that have frequented our airways in the last ten years or so. Nor do I want people to take one look at the millionaire cardboard cut-out version of Bono that has existed since about 1997, shaking hands with presidents and rubbing shoulders with political scum.

I want you to know how incredible U2 once were. And I want you to read on objectively.

In my opinion, there are three great albums to be taken from U2’s vast back catalogue, and by great I mean they each stand alone as incredibly powerful albums that should make any all-time-best list and make any output by the likes of Coldplay – to whom they are so readily compared – look utterly amateur. It is bizarre now to see U2’s music written off as stagnant and repetitive, when with each new studio album from 1980-2000 (that’s ten in all), they completely reinvented their sound and ambitiously swung in a variety of diverse musical directions, not afraid to alienate their fan base to achieve artistic satisfaction.

War (1983), The Joshua Tree (1987) and Achtung Baby (1991) are the big three that I would urge anyone to listen to before feeling that it’s their birthright to slag off U2 for being the cartoon band that they have now become. Each one representing the band at a completely different stage in their development, and being worthy of objective acknowledgement for what they were trying to say at the moments they were made respectively. War in particular is an incredibly ballsy album; starting hard with a martial drum roll and high pitched squeal, it's clear this album means business right from the start. The message of the song is apparent from the get go as Bono croons and then pleads into the microphone;

I can't believe the news today,
I can't close my eyes and make it go away.
How long, how long must we sing this song?
Tonight, we can be as one tonight.

It quickly goes on to describe the horrors of war and violence against innocent people in no uncertain terms, and the band goes about such business with uniform authority, knowing exactly what the song needs and how to deliver it. Sunday Bloody Sunday was a bold political statement at the time it was written, and it delivered a universal message of refusing to sit back and take such mindless violence whilst also being layered with a hope for the future. It is perhaps one of the best openings any rock album has ever had, as it grabs the listener from the start and prepares them for what’s to come. Coming in at number 221 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘Top 500 Albums Of All Time’ list, U2's War is as almost perfect a balance of politics, blind faith, hopeless love, and ringing guitars as you will likely find recorded over the last twenty-eight years since it's release. The band would change direction after this album and never really look back. It was an album of the moment, yet timeless at the same time. And for U2, it was a bold statement that set them on the path they were looking for.

I feel that less needs to be said about The Joshua Tree due to the fact that it is already widely regarded and plugged as their seminal album, however my point with this particular release is that the greatness lies in the songs which are not featured on the numerous greatest hits packages that Island Records have put out over the years. Running To Stand Still in particular is an emotive masterpiece, drawing from the influence of American music and culture that is so explicit throughout the album, the song considers the constraints placed upon one’s life in the throes of heroin addiction and documents the activity and emotions of a couple who have ended up in a dark and painful place as a result of bad choices and a lack of options offered to them by society.

Sweet the sin
Bitter taste in my mouth,
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out.
You got to cry without weeping,
Talk without speaking,
Scream without raising your voice.
You know I took the poison,
From the poison stream,
Then I floated out of here.

As the 1980s drew to a close, we saw the first instance of U2 doing what they are now deemed old-hands at; taking themselves too seriously. With the release of their 1988 album and concert film of the same name; Rattle and Hum, U2 sought to further portray their growing obsession with American music through the incorporation of blues-rock and gospel into their sound. Aware that they might have been dragging themselves into the dangerous realms of self-importance and stung by the subsequent backlash from critics and fans alike, the dawn of the 1990s marked a new era for U2, and they began by taking a leaf out of the master of reinvention’s book – David Bowie – and upping sticks to Berlin to record an album under the experimental production of Brian Eno. The result; Achtung Baby is a brilliant and dark parody on rock stardom.

Embodying an entirely different sound from anything we had heard from the band before, the fusion of heavy rock with electronic elements served as a powerful demonstration that successful reinvention is definitely possible. Adopting the persona of ‘The Fly’ – a stereotypical, egotistical rock star who has seen one to many excesses and who has truly started to believe his own hype, Bono could be seen on the accompanying Zoo TV tour strutting the stage in head-to-toe leather and, for the first time, adorning the wraparound shades that he has not been keen to remove in the twenty years since. The incredible depth and texture that one enjoys during a listen of Achtung Baby is rarely paralleled; each song hugely inept at creating a particular mood and highlighting the many cracks which can appear in the mask of a troubled rock star. To create an album like this some twelve years into a band’s existence is remarkable, and as Bono describes it best; “[Achtung Baby is] the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree” and boy, does it sound fantastic.

Coming off the back of a hugely successful and band-defining album like The Joshua Tree, then choosing to take that winning formula and completely twist it round is representative of the great courage that U2 possessed throughout the first twenty years of their time together, and therefore makes it all the more disheartening to see them looked down upon as the stale entity that they are so often viewed as today. Following Achtung Baby, the 90s saw them become even more experimental and unpredictable with 1993’s techno attack on media-over saturation Zooropa, followed by 1997’s Pop – in which the band delved further into the realm of electronica and alternative-rock. It wasn’t until 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind that U2 seemed to finally settle on a sound that they have stuck with ever since; a more conventional and easy-listening take which has subsequently earned them their place in music-for-Dad’s territory.

Who knows whether it would be possible or enjoyable for a band to continue to experiment and produce groundbreaking music beyond their twentieth anniversary. The relatively young age of our music industry is yet to prove it so, however something it has repeatedly taught us is that artists make their most interesting and resounding work before the age of forty – thus making this a brilliant age for one to step aside from the mainstream music arena. Sure, make arty albums that satisfy artistic desires and tour small to medium sized venues with a stripped down approach in order to reacquire a loss intimacy with fans, but do not continue to regurgitate the same songs that you were singing in a town hall at the age of eighteen and pretend that the passion is still there.

Having seen U2 perform live on four occasions between 2001 and 2011, I must say that what I have witnessed is a gradual decline in enthusiasm for the task in hand. The first show that I was in attendance at on 14th August 2001 at Birmingham’s NEC arena can be described as nothing other than mind-blowing. The performance that they gave that night was every bit as mesmerising and powerful as the footage I had spent hours pouring over from their shows in the 1980s. Full of energy, emotion and an aura of charisma from Bono which left me feeling as though my soul had been wrenched out of me and wrung out in front of my eyes, it was that moment that truly convinced me that music is one of, if not the, most powerful force of love and connection amongst fellow human beings that we have at our disposal. However, the following three shows; 2005, 2009 and then their Glastonbury performance earlier this year, have continued to reaffirm to me that the easiest way to lose one’s musical credibility is to take everything that was once fantastic about your band; and shit all over it. A lack of energy on stage, a vacant look in the eyes, the laborious delivery of a machine that has made the same movements one too many times - the past three occasions I have witnessed them have left me feeling empty and disappointed. Often overshadowed by huge set designs - which are ultimately a transparent attempt at driving attention away from the band I have paid so much to see - it has become a case of style over substance. And everyone knows U2 were never really up there in the style stakes.

That is all I wish to say on their decline, as I wish to reinforce my primary aim of urging everyone to look beyond the image of U2 that is held in 2011, and to delve back to a time when Bono was a young, politically radical and passionate individual who wanted to change the world through the power of brilliant music. Having witnessed a disappointing performance at Glastonbury this year, I finally decided that I am no longer going to chase the shadow of a once great band or open myself up to their self-slander, but enjoy the many moments of brilliance that they have already provided, and believe me – there is certainly enough of those to be getting on with.

Below I have included three videos of U2, one song from each of the three albums I consider their most noteworthy. The first two are live performances, as this is undeniably where their strength lay at the time, and where their passion and talent really shines through most effectively. As to whether Bono has done too much damage to his own image so to render them irredeemable by many remains to be seen, however in the meantime; do come back with me to a time where their music did the talking and their title as the ‘biggest band in the world’ was truly deserved.

U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday
War, 1983

U2 - Running To Stand Still
The Joshua Tree, 1987

U2 - The Fly
Achtung Baby, 1991

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Suede : A Musical Obsession.

If you have ever found yourself under the mesmerising spell of an artist or band; caught in a limbo world where no other music but that of said musicians is of any interest to you, where you can think of no better way to spend your time than pouring through as many interviews and trivia bites as you can feast your eyes on, flicking through youtube videos and absorbing all such information with as much ease as a newly purchased sponge, then I look to you for understanding and empathy; as this is exactly how I feel about Suede right now.

It hits you almost like a fever; unexpected and unexplainable in its approach, you just wake up one day and find that it has wrapped its merciless fingers around your whole body, and there is little you can do but ride the wave to its natural conclusion. As an obsessive with an obsession for music, this is a pattern that I have dealt with on several occasions before, however there is no telling for how long I will be inflicted with a disease which has seen my requirements for oxygen usurped by the need to hear Dog Man Star on indefinite repeat.

Anyone who has ridden the musical fixation rollercoaster can tell you that, despite its ability to overrule all rational thought, and overspill into various aspects of your life – it is not an unpleasant experience; in fact it is an absolutely fantastic feeling, of which every second is rich with appreciation. Music never sounds as good as when you are in the throes of irrational obsession, and you can wave goodbye to any difficult decisions regarding what to listen to on your ipod, or indeed; what to write about on your blog.

Perhaps at this point I should address the band over which I am so shamelessly gushing, and in doing so, acknowledge how unlikely and random a candidate they really are, however I struggle to know where to begin with Suede. Victims of a bizarre and unjust turn of events, whereby they were seemingly ousted from the Britpop movement for not complying to the laddish, boozing, fake-working-class checklist, despite the fact that they themselves kick-started the subgenre, but in turn expressed no desire to be associated with what it went on to embody. The hype surrounding Suede’s emergence in 1992 was truly extensive, with Melody Maker proudly adorning their front cover with the words “Suede: the best new band in Britain” and the following year, the Brit Awards shuffled around their schedule in order to afford them a last-minute slot at the ceremony as a direct response to pressures from the music press – all before an album had even been released. With so much hype surrounding them, it would have been easy to disappoint or fall victim to overzealous critics, however their first self-titled album was an enormous critical and commercial success subsequently earning them a Mercury Music Prize in 1993, and then leading on to record – what I believe to be their true masterpiece – Dog Man Star in 1994. Despite a string of increasingly commercially successful albums throughout the 1990s before disbanding in 2003, Suede are rarely remembered and seldom played in 2011. This is a great shame, as they are truly brilliant and arguably the best and most interesting band of the 1990s – an achievement for which I hold their astoundingly fascinating frontman mainly accountable.

One look at Brett Anderson’s erotically charged, androgynous stage persona will quickly answer questions regarding why they didn’t fit in well with the overtly laddish overtones of peers such as Liam Gallagher and Damon Alburn. Incredibly charismatic and instantly fascinating, Anderson can be seen strutting the stage with a stereotypical feminine haircut, big silver hoops through his ears and a black lace top tied loosely around his slim and hairless torso, singing lines such as 'I want the style of a woman, the kiss of a man'; he certainly cuts a striking and controversial image. However, this is most effective due to the way in which Anderson conducts his androgyny; with such self-assurance and masculine gusto, proudly stalking the stage in the knowledge that he is twice the man that any jean-wearing guy swigging beer at a football match could ever be. It is no wonder that he managed to ruffle a few feathers in a time where shell-suits reigned supreme, and American grunge was topping the charts. While Suede’s absence from the common consciousness of today is a shame in part, I am not sorry that their songs haven’t received The Universal or Wonderwall treatment, and that their music can be enjoyed without being tarnished by advertising campaigns or being strummed by incompetent guitar players in parks and festivals across the country.

I would recommend the album Dog Man Star to anyone, as it really is a five-star album that can be enjoyed perfectly from start to finish. While Suede may not have been flying the flag for British optimism, Anderson’s observations of suburbia are accurate and representative of a generation who came of age during the perilous 1980s, delivered via his impressive and instantly recognisable vocals. Introducing The Band, New Generation and Black or Blue are particularly good at summing up the feelings of British disillusionment that Britpop was soon to gloss over with the resounding opening chords of Blur’s Parklife.

So I will continue to ride out my obsession with all things Suede and Brett Anderson, even to the extent of finding myself shaving the hair on the right side of my head in an attempt to adopt some of the latter into some visual aspects of my life, as well as having him provide the audio soundtrack to my every move. Their performance of Animal Nitrate at the Brit Awards in 1993 is one that I keep going back to, and something that I suggest you check out if you are at all interested in what it is that has sparked such infatuation with the band and their music. I have included it below, but be warned; musical obsession is contagious. 

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Style & Substance : Do Our Rock Stars Need Both?

Having been together - in one version or another - for over twenty eight years, and in that time selling over 70 million albums, it would be unfair and wrong to argue that an artist or band is unable to fully ascend into the realm of mega-stardom without having a strong, stylish and easily recognisable image to accompany their musical talent; as the Red Hot Chili Peppers demonstrate perfectly. Sure, you can’t hear the thundering rhythm of Flea’s bass, Anthony Kiedis’s punching vocals or the screams of [now ex-guitarist] John Frusciante’s emotionally charged guitar through a poster, but this hasn’t stopped millions of fans across the world from hanging their stylistically challenged funk-rock heroes proudly on their bedroom wall.

Such facts and figures go a long way to proving that appearance really isn’t everything in this image obsessed world of ours - which is obviously a wonderful thing - however as a harmless observation, it is amusing to note that the Red Hot Chili’s uncomplimentary mish-mash of style has seemingly passed under the radar (but just as tellingly; nor has it spawned an army of clones among their vast fan base).

I was reminded of their aesthetic downfall recently when watching the music video for the song Dani California, the concept of which is actually very entertaining – or would be – were it not for the fact it serves only to highlight their own shortfalls. The video itself is a nod to the evolution of rock music; the band is performing the single on a stage while embodying a variety of iconic images which represent important figures or eras in the history of rock music. Recognisable characters include David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Rotten, The Misfits and The Beatles; each being easily recognisable due to their association with a powerful image which instantly triggers recollection of the person or band without need for a musical accompaniment. In creating a video of this nature, the Red Hot Chili Peppers chose to draw all the focus onto the one thing that they themselves do not possess; a strong and recognisable image, or indeed any style at all. This becomes most apparent at the conclusion of the video, when the bold and striking adopted facades of previous icons are stripped away, leaving the band looking as lost and unidentifiable in their own clothes as attendees of a year 7 non-uniform day.

While they are clearly all fascinating and hugely talented people with extraordinary life experiences behind them – as a read of Anthony Kiedis’s autobiography Scar Tissue will confirm – I find it is hard to fully give oneself over to a band whose forty-nine year old singer scales the stage in black fingerless gloves adorned with safety pins, while his huge muscular, tattooed bulk of a torso fights its way out of red cut-off combat trousers. To his left can be found the man-boy that is Flea, often seen in a full-body skeleton outfit, as if to throw their collective appearance off kilter and confuse even further. On drums, we have Mr America, aka Chad Smith – looking like the spitting image of Will Ferrell and usually dressed in a sleeveless blue denim boiler suit, complete with baseball cap and a motorcycle loving, basketball supporting, can-we-just-finish-the-show-so-I-can-grab-a-beer-and-some-nuts demeanour. Then to come round in full circle, on stage left [no longer] stands John Frusciante – easily the coolest member of the group in terms of effortless style, he embodied a casual grunge fan’s aesthetic, often with long unkept hair and chequered shirts. His look could have worked well, were it not for the bizarre contrast it created between him and his bandmates.

Taking such deficits into account, it is really not surprising that in their youth the Red Hot Chili Peppers often used to take to the stage naked (or wearing a singular gym sock to hide their dignity), as at least this would provide a more collective image and remove any confusion regarding their abomination of styles.

The relationship between style and substance has been a recurring theme throughout the history of rock music. While some bands or artists effortlessly strut the tightrope, maintaining just the right level of each and in such a way that it comes across as the most natural thing in the world, others seem to struggle with their balance – occasionally over compensating in style and subsequently placing their musical output in second place. I wish to raise American rock band KISS as exhibit 'a' in this argument. Perhaps the only band whose likeness could be recognised world over, but in 99% of cases, not a single song from their twenty studio album back catalogue can be recounted. A serious case of style over substance certainly, and I’m using style in the loosest possible sense of the word. The New York Dolls are perhaps another band which falls firmly into this category. While their musical style may have paved the way for the punk invasion, (a movement born from the very notion that having something to say against the establishment was far more important than any musical ability) their main achievement was successfully setting the visual trend for new wave and glam metal which would take the music world by storm ten years later in the 1980s, when everyone would be attempting to imitate their flamboyant clothes and pretty-boy, androgynous appearance.


Throughout the history of music, we have seen many different struggles and various outcomes in the battle for style and substance. There are even bands that have held both in the palm of their hand for a time, for example; Kings of Leon. Having emerged in 1999 with a rugged, mysterious and intriguing appearance and an easily recognisable, individual sound to boot, within ten years they had sold out on both; their closely-shaven generic faces producing even more generic music to be played on repeat within every generic bar and club the world over. A sad thing to witness from a band that initially had such a buzz of promise and excitement surrounding them. Another potential outcome to be aware of; and one that should be avoided at all costs, is that one’s look could go a little too far into the realm of individual style and join the ranks of Cher, Freddie Mercury, Elvis and Slash in becoming a gimmick; the subject of countless poor fancy-dress attempts and tribute acts in a bizarre and surreal turn of events which must be akin to watching what was once your own style, growing it’s own legs and running off to join the circus. It is arguable as to whether this is better or worse than having no style at all – Travis, Stereophonics, Elbow; I’m looking at you.

In making such observations, I am not pushing for a music industry that is more centred around style and vanity than it already is – as indeed, these things cannot be forced anyway. I also wish to highlight that in talking about style, I am by no means referring to physical appearance, as this is a different kettle of fish all together and particularly irrelevant in the musical sphere where talent and charisma can transform anyone into the most sexually enthralling person in the world. I’m talking about a general aura of style and cool that some people are bestowed with, and others unexplainably lack. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a fine example of a band which hasn’t needed four incredibly cool members in order to propel them forth, as their music has done that for them. But it is worth questioning whether artists that possess both style and substance have more power at their finger tips, and will have more to say in the bigger picture of musical history. For example, at the mention of The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Jarvis Cocker and Annie Lennox, one’s head is not only filled with a compilation of incredible songs and the sound of their respective voices, but a visual representation is also conjured, and when done properly – like in the cases of those mentioned above – the line between their visual and musical legacies become blurred due to their impact on so many aspects of our culture.

While a band or artist will always have music as its legacy - and rightly so - there is definitely the potential to excel further and add another dimension to the music and output as a whole. In an era where manufactured music is everywhere, one can take solace in the fact that what I talk about is something you are either born with or you are not, so there will always be a place for those with both talent and style in the music industry. In the present day we can thank the likes of Kasabian, Pete Doherty, Florence Welch and The Kills for continuing this trend.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Shortcomings of the High-Budget Music Video.

  • Guns N’ Roses – November Rain
  • Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger
  • Meat Loaf – I Would Do Anything For Love
  • 30 Seconds To Mars – From Yesterday

Being sung from the mouth of their owner’s gigantic ego is not the only thing that these four songs have in common, however that is not to say that these singers’ beliefs of high self-worth are unrelated to the similarity that I wish to draw: they have each fallen victim to the high-budget-music-video trap. A trend which is easily recognisable, most frequently rearing its ugly head once said performer has managed to make a few million for their record label and has thus come to the ‘realisation’ that what their fans really want now – regardless of the direction that has previously proved popular – is to see their idols dressed in outrageous costumes, acting out an absurd and nonsensical chain of events and generally letting their musical success lead them to believe that they now deserve a place in a high-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Well, they don’t, and nor do I wish to see them conducting this embarrassing, self-indulgent dance across my visual senses.

Perhaps just more evidence in the argument that all one achieves when giving genuinely talented musicians copious amounts of money as soon as they achieve mainstream success is to extinguish their ambition and talent like piss on a bonfire. No longer able to relate to those people who championed their success; it must be hard to write about people of the streets from a penthouse suite at the Four Seasons. All one needs do is observe the incomprehensible transition that occurred to Axl Rose between the making of the music video for Paradise City and Don’t Cry, the former being one of the greatest live action music videos ever made, and the latter perfectly illustrating the singer’s descent into self-obsessed ‘Guns N’ Roses fans would love to watch me argue with my supermodel girlfriend in my Malibu mansion whilst battling serious emotional issues’ territory.

Without delving further into the extent to which success is the enemy of genius and ambition, I would like to swing back to what I wish to talk about today: the simplistic beauty of the music video. I think that perhaps the most important thing to remember if you’re in a band that has just achieved a high level of success, is that your appeal is (probably) due to the music and is not dependant on its visual accompaniment. I began to consider this point the other day when pondering which music videos I would deem to be favourites, or the most effective and enjoyable to watch. In doing so, I discovered that not a single one of the multi-million dollar productions even got a look in, and in fact, it was all about low-budget live action music videos; footage of musicians doing what they do best – playing music and looking fucking cool.

Should you need to see an example of what I mean by this, I would suggest you check out either Oasis – Rock n’ Roll Star, She Bangs The Drums by The Stone Roses, Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 or The Libertines – Can’t Stand Me Now. Each of which offers a fine illustration of a music video not detracting from the song itself, but instead managing to capture the energy and original sentiments of the song and presenting it in a very direct and powerful way; working as an aid to the audio instead of a distraction. This all draws back to the basic fact that if something is genuinely good; it does not need to cower behind layers of fakery, smoke and mirrors. 

When the concept of the ‘song film’ was initially founded, its intentions were to provide viewers of music television programmes such as Top of the Pops with footage to watch in the event of the band or musicians being unable to appear live in the studio due to touring commitments. Very simplistic, low-budget and often rushed at the last minute, the charm of these early promotional videos is perhaps why the more unpretentious efforts still hold more appeal today, but also because they reveal more of the artists than any multi-million dollar production ever could. A prime example of the absolute genius of a simple, iconic and original music video is that of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues – one of the first videos ever made, and in spite of all the technological advancements that are apparently now used ‘to our advantage’ to further viewing pleasure, still by far one of the best.

Another great aspect to the live action music video is that it offers people who haven't had the chance to witness a particular band or performer play live, the opportunity to witness how great a performance they can really put on. Not only that, but it allows for every exciting and exhilarating moment of a two hour set, or even a twelve month long tour, to be bottled and contained down into a four minute clip – thus making the whole thing look more awesome than it even did for those who were there in person (aside from the live experience itself of course). And for this reason, I was arguing the point just yesterday that what I would love to see from Patrick Wolf’s next music video release is a live action creation. As one of the best, most charismatic and talented live performers I have ever had the pleasure of watching, people who would never make the effort to actually go and see him live are missing out on the wonder that is Patrick Wolf as a live spectacle. Perhaps a live action video is what he really needs in order for people to finally open their eyes to his unbelievable talents.

Now, I am not saying it wouldn’t be incredibly dull if every music video merely documented live performance, however I am definitely fighting the corner for more low-budget ventures; portrayals of these musicians as human beings, going about their business and subsequently coming across in a much more accessible and endearing light, as opposed to the far removed concepts of the Lady Gaga music video realm. Then again, it could be that pretentious, costly music videos are actually so popular due to their ability to substitute for and disguise a lack of talent that would otherwise be exposed if their subjects were laid bare on a simple film with nothing but their charisma (or lack of) to sell them to the public. In which case, we’ll leave the Hollywood-esque productions to those who need it (or are passed the point of caring), and in the meantime enjoy the simplistic beauty and connection we can achieve with those musicians who do not need to hide behind million dollar budgets in order to convince us that they are talented.

Here is a brilliant example of stripped-down music video genius put into action, before money and success overrode their simple yet winning formula. The aforementioned Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses:

Monday, 7 November 2011

A Cover Speaks A Thousand Words.

Well, we're big rock singers
We've got golden fingers
And we're loved everywhere we go.
We sing about beauty and we sing about truth
For ten-thousand dollars a show.
We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills
But the thrill we've never known,
Is the thrill that'll get ya when you get your picture
On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

From the humble beginnings of Rolling Stone magazine back in November 1967, right until the present day, making the cover has been considered one of the biggest honours one could be bestowed with in the music industry. Widely respected as ‘the most influential magazine in pop culture’, having your face emblazoned across its prestigious shell is a sign of widespread success, and often occurs at a time when a band or artist is riding the crest of an extremely powerful tidal wave which is about to impact mainstream culture like a tsunami upon the shore.

For several years now, it has been a bit of a habit of mine to check out the latest cover, or indeed spend much time absorbing all the wonderful photographs and articles that can be found on the Rolling Stone website, discussing a range of areas from music to politics, films and reviews. However, I was somewhat disheartened and disgusted when in March this year, from the very same platform that we have seen the likes of John Lennon, Bob Dylan and David Bowie redefining the music industry itself with their unfathomable cool and all-encompassing charisma which refuses to be restrained even by a two-dimensional image, there was to be found an undeserved, young and sickly sweet image of Justin Bieber.

A leather jacket slung around his shoulders, the tag line being “Justin Bieber talks sex, politics, abortion and of course, music”, it must be said that this whole affair did make me feel rather nauseous. How could the wonderful people at Rolling Stone possibly undermine the prestigious honour that has, for so long, been the benchmark of success and the epitome of ‘cool’? The sad fact being that Rolling Stone pride themselves on being there to acknowledge and present what is happening at a particular moment in time, and therefore, in March 2011, they adorned their glossy skin with the concept that is ‘Justin Bieber’ and subsequently disrespected everyone with an ounce of talent who has ever appeared before him.

At times like this, all one can do is take quiet satisfaction from the fact that previous Rolling Stone employee and crusader for a no-bullshit music press; Lester Bangs, was never alive to see this happen. Oh, and that Hunter S. Thompson put that gun to his head at just the right time.

Here are some of my favourite covers from the past forty (or so) years :

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

What's Wrong With Our Rock Stars?

You glorify the past when the future dries up.

Always one to be overly aware of the distinction between the golden ages of yesteryear and the musical culture of today, my nostalgia has never appeared more grounded than it has over the past week thanks to the contrast of reading Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff – ‘selected writings on the most gifted and self-destructive talents in rock history’ and simultaneously being exposed (unwillingly) to what society and the media today wish to promote as ‘rock n roll stars’ or ‘rebels’. Never before in the history of modern music has there been a time where a marketable image has taken precedence over anything else; where we don’t just have manufactured music, but manufactured people (dare I refer to them as 'musicians') living manufactured lives.

While I hate to bring him up or even give the franchise the time of day, I feel that in this instance it would be an utter waste not to draw upon the example of this year’s X Factor contestant; Frankie Cocozza. Through no fault of my own, I became aware of this poor, lost little boy this week thanks to various media coverage, and articles screaming out such headlines as "Frankie’s F-word Meltdown" after he - heaven forbid – swore on television. Having then made the regrettable decision to lightly scratch the surface of the charade that is this factory built mass-produced specimen, I stumbled across his shameful performance of Primal Scream’s Rocks Off from last weekend and well, found the whole ordeal to be just too repugnant for words. For anyone else unfortunate enough to have witnessed his (and the X Factor publicity circus’s) attempt at mixing the insultingly simplistic ingredients of a few tattoos and a cocky demeanour wrapped in a parcel of skinny jeans in order to build an image of rebellion and create a; ‘wow, that Frankie sure is a mad one’ reaction, you will know what I mean. To anyone who wasn’t aware of his existence til now – I apologise, but I must offer you this delightful quote, just to give you a clearer idea as to what this joker is all about;

“To sum up my life I’d probably use the word; mental. If you came out on a night with me, you’d probably wake up wondering what happened last night.” – Cocozza, F. 2011

Alas, this is not the only example of the mockery currently being sold to today’s youth in a nice little package titled; this is rebellion - thus providing a very misguided view as to exactly what ‘pushing the boundaries’ means, as I discovered when walking past the magazine section in my local shop. “Sarah Harding urged to go to rehab” and “Sarah Harding reportedly sought rehab after ultimatum from other members of Girls Aloud” screaming out at me from the front cover of every glossy magazine and tabloid: is this news? Is this what the ‘rock n roll’ image has been reduced down to, packaged neatly for every teenage girl to read in from the confines of their Justin Bieber adorned bedrooms, whilst trying to perfect their take on Cheryl Cole’s latest hairstyle? 

Rebellion for the itunes generation in five simple steps.

As if to add more fuel to this farcical fire, a friend of mine recounted a story this week highlighting the despicable decline in rock musician etiquette, and I think it serves to prove my point of image above substance quite perfectly. Whilst being stood at the side of the stage at Glastonbury festival a few years back, he was approached by the bassist from Scottish indie-nothing band ‘The View’. Having initially asked whether there were any beers going spare (a little ironic perhaps, seeing as they were the ones with a spot at Glastonbury), he then went on to enquire as to whether my friend had a cigarette he could have. Any attempt at appearing cool or respected at this point then began to crumble pitifully for the 21st century wannabe as, when presented with a pouch of tobacco and some rizla, he had to sheepishly admit that he couldn’t roll and ask whether my friend would mind doing it for him. A bit of a contrast to past musicians who’d learn how to shoot up before their eighteenth birthday, however perhaps not surprising from a band whose idea of rebellion is having the same jeans on for four days.

I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to justify this argument any further by giving examples as to how previous generations could put these deluded souls to shame. However, I would recommend Nick Kent’s book to anyone who wants to remind themselves of what the true spirit of rock n’ roll was all about. Recounting tales as to how Syd Barrett and Brian Jones lost their minds to one too many acid trips, or how Lou Reed lost ten years in a heroin haze, it brings a bit of perspective to what the media today will have us believing a trip to the joke-worthy concept of ‘rehab’ is all about. The simple fact being that anyone who needs to go on about how much of a mess they are, is wasting too much time caring about projecting this image as a marketing tool, and not enough time practicing what they preach.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we need all of our musicians to be fixated by the glint of the needle or chained to the mirror of their razorblades, however unless they really are truly living out the lifestyle of someone who is that way inclined, then I would rather not hear about their lame, over-publicised attempts at being “mental”. Why don’t they just admit that they get their kicks from reality TV and get their rocks off to the latest Coldplay album, and leave the rest of us in peace.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Unemployment : A Few Words From The Wise.

Call up the craftsmen
Bring me the draughtsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent
To any government
That does not deny a man a living wage – Billy Bragg

Having spent the past few months unemployed and subsequently going through a myriad of emotions on the subject; first thinking that I would only take a job that I wanted and suited my own interests, followed by a rapid descent into the depths of ‘I will take any job going’ territory, facilitated by crawling around various agencies and applying for call centres, I then rediscovered my soul (with a little help from the misguided benefit system) and proudly proclaimed: “why should I take a job that I don’t want to do?” Especially when in many cases, you would be worse off if you took a job…and you’d have forty hours less a week in which to do things that you actually want to do. Madness surely, and a fair reflection of the state of society that we live in today. Instead, I’ve reached the conclusion that until I find a job which takes me in exactly the direction I want to be heading in, I will be much better off using this time to fulfill creative ambitions, volunteering and acquiring experience which will ultimately lead me to my career of choice. I opt for this instead of spending my days assisting, and therefore condoning, a pointless system of administration upon which we are all unfortunately forced to rely, by taking any stupid office administration job pushed in my direction.

In times of trouble or unease, music usually has a way of coming through for me - reaffirming my beliefs and assuring me gently that millions of people have felt this way at some point…hell, they’ve even screamed it at the top of their lungs in stadiums. While I can see a fair point in the argument that musicians ‘use’ the working-man’s gripes in their music in order to maintain a grasp on their fan base’s reality – while in the meantime they are chauffeured around in Rolls Royce’s and drinking only the finest champagne in penthouse suites - there is no element of fakery involved when singing along to The Smiths ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ on a grey November morning on your way to the office. As such, I have acquired a list of songs which I think sum up a great deal on the subject, and have discussed them in short below;

Oasis – Cigarettes and Alcohol
Is it worth the aggravation 
To find yourself a job when there's nothing worth working for?
It's a crazy situation
But all I need are cigarettes and alcohol

This song highlights the appeal and subsequent dependency on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs as a remedy to the futile nature of working class life. While many people could not be blamed for finding vices in such things, it is particularly insulting when we witness constant rises on alcohol and tobacco taxes as the government steadily ensures that the working man can no longer afford the few items that get him through the mundane activities of day-to-day life. Tapping into the common sentiment of western disenchantment, it’s no wonder that it has re-appeared several times in the charts since its first release in 1994.

The Smiths – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job 
And heaven knows I'm miserable now
In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don't care if I live or die?

Taken from the 1984 compilation album ‘Hatful of Hollow’, this is perhaps the most explicitly simple statement of how I feel right at this moment. Why are we forced to donate the most valuable asset that we have - our time – to a faceless corporation or activity in which we hold no belief and derive no pleasure? What The Smiths have done so brilliantly here is demonstrate how we find ourselves in such a position without real choice or thought, as this is the path we are all forced to go down whether we like it or not.

John Lennon – Working Class Hero
When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years, 
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can't really function you're so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you're so clever and classless and free,
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

This song is a take on the class split of the 1940s and 1950s, and of the 1960s in which John Lennon was famous. The song appears to tell the story of someone growing up in the working class. According to Lennon in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in December 1970, it is about working class individuals being processed into the middle classes, into the machine. Another demonstration of the inevitability that many people face thanks to the systems in place to keep the working class unquestioning of their fate, this song faced much controversy upon its release – most probably for fear of raising awareness of exactly such issues.
 (Exerts from :

Pink Floyd - Money
Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you're okay
Money, it's a gas

Money, it's a crime
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie
Money so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it's no surprise that they're giving none away

Focusing more on the financial side of things, ‘Money’ from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ brilliantly illustrates why millions of people find themselves heading off to jobs they hate every morning of the week – because we are repeatedly being told, from an increasingly young age, that everything is all about money. That is apparently enough justification to hate our lives, to waste our precious time, to start wars and to repeatedly screw over our fellow human beings. Money, it’s a gas.

Bob Dylan – Maggie’s Farm
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
No, I aint gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin' me insane
It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more

Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin if you're havin' a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door

Within ‘Maggie’s Farm’, we see Dylan singing for the youth of his time, urging them to reject society and question what is happening around them, as opposed to quietly accepting an unfair fate and as a result; pushing any ideas and hopes that you had to one side.  The "farm" that Dylan sings of could easily represent racism, state oppression and capitalist exploitation, and has subsequently been used and covered on numerous occasions since its release in 1965 as a symbol of protest.

The Beatles – Taxman
Let me tell you how it will be; 
There's one for you, nineteen for me.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Should five per cent appear too small,
Be thankful I don't take it all.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.
Now my advice for those who die, (taxman) 
Declare the pennies on your eyes. (taxman)
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

And you're working for no one but me.


‘Taxman’ is a song written by George Harrison released as the opening track on The Beatles 1966 album ‘Revolver. Its lyrics attack the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson. Harrison said, “‘Taxman' was when I first realised that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. It was and still is typical." The Beatles' large earnings placed them in the top tax bracket in the United Kingdom, liable to a 95% supertax introduced by Harold Wilson's Labour government, so while they were wealthier than most, they certainly knew a thing or two about the unfairness of the tax system.
(Exerts from :

The Enemy – Away From Here
I'm so sick sick sick and tired
Of working just to be retired
I don't want to get that far
I don't want your company car
Promotions ain't my thing
Name badges are not interesting

Reverend and The Makers – Heavyweight Champion of the World
It might be boring so boring
It might put you to sleep
The same old routine repeats week after week
And you work harder, work harder
Cos you’re told that you must
And you must earn a living
And you must earn a crust…like everybody else
Just be like everybody else

Here, with these songs by The Enemy and Reverend and The Makers, we find two more recent examples of how disillusionment with the working system is still as prevalent as ever. In these cases, the most apparent themes seems to be of boredom with the repetitive routines, and fighting out against what is expected of us, despite whether this bares any relevance to what we actually want to get out of our lives – lives which we only have the pleasure of living once. For as long as society keeps such outrageous systems and restrictions in place, more songs on the subject will continue to be written, and we can continue to enjoy them in the understanding that there is hope and a shared desire for a time when this will no longer be the case.

Right, back to the jobhunt…

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