Sunday, 6 January 2008

Music & It's Industry.

Isn't music great? The way that without words it can convey the whole spectrum of human emotions, and even with words, isn't it amazing how sometimes someone can find the exact words to say perfectly what you're feeling or what you've wanted to say for so long now but have never known how. Isn't it incredible how it can shape your very mood and can pick you up or sympathise or just let you forget everything and dance.

So why is it then that currently you can't be heard unless you've clogged up some poor bastards tv set, howling and wailing infront of a panel of "Experts" in a desperate attempt to get the fame you've always desired because you can't handle the fact that your life isn't as perfect as the people in the American tv shows that have clogged up your own tv sets for the past 10 or so years?! These people are not going to be remembered for anything other than being the indicator that the mass market media process really can sell you just about anything in the zero decade.

Don't worry though, for the true fans you can still read about "Proper" music in certain magazines and newspapers. Well, you could if they hadn't all become a parody of themselves. NME really has become Heat magazine for music fans, we all used to joke about it, but now it actually has come true. I keep expecting to turn the page and find "Torso Of The Week" or photographs of someone from Klaxons yawning with a circle around the edge of his mouth and a big arrow pointing to a bit of dribble coming out with a hilarious caption exclaiming disbelief that he can possibly bear being out in public like this. Q meanwhile has become the music industry's MOR bitch, but then kind of always has been really. When was the last time you ever bought something, or even checked something out coz you read about them in Q? Uncut is all well and good, and I'm sure when I'm in my fifties I'll absolutely love it. Mojo still remains the bastion of good mainstream music publishing, but even they seem to recently have been prone to bouts of sucking the executives corporate money cock. How else could you explain the absolute gushing over the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss album? If you haven't heard this album, it's terrible. It defines the word "Bland" perfectly. It's like listening to your parents perfect album. Actually, thinking about it, they did this last year (or was it the year before?) with the last David Gilmour album. For those of you who haven't heard that album, it sounds like Dire Straits were commissioned to record an album for play in a doctor's waiting room. You know that scene in Wayne's World (or is it Wayne's World 2?) where Garth imagines he's at a Kenny G gig, but instead of being in a regular seat, his is a dentist's chair with a dentist performing surgery on him seemingly with no anaesthetic? That's what I imagine happening to me when I think of either of the albums I just mentioned.

All that this means is that the independent market becomes saturated because everyone believes what they read nowadays. So now everyone thinks Hadouken! are somehow ground-breaking and that Gallows are the most exciting new band to come out of Britain in years. The hype these bands have generated, especially in NME (who named the singer from Gallows as the coolest person of the year) is obscene and quite frankly hopelessly misguided.
Look at Hadouken! Oh my god, they're like, taking two genres and putting them together! Only, it's Indie and Grime! So it's fresh and innovative! Bollocks is it. Remember 10 years ago when Prodigy released "The Fat Of The Land"? (One of THE most over-rated albums of all time, but that's for another post. (For the record, I love all other Prodigy albums)) Remember what it did? It combined rock and dance! Then what happened? Every fucker started doing it! It's not new! Stop flogging it to us like it is! In reality, Hadouken! are no more innovative than the Blade 2 soundtrack. Which was shite, apart from the Massive Attack & Mos Def collaboration, which fucking ruled.
I find Hadouken! a really frustrating band, because I actually love the idea of it, and it could work. They almost make it work on a couple of songs, but they just fall frustratingly short. As if they are too aware of what they are trying do and kind of forgot to just get into it.
And look at Gallows. I don't know this for sure, but I'd be willing to be that NME have written an article about them calling them "The saviours of British rock music." The hype the press have managed to create over this band is pretty incredible. I had never actually properly heard them until today. Good god. Actually listen to them. They are so tame it's ridiculous. The only comparison I can make to them would make them sound really good. They kind of sound like Shellac covering songs by The Bronx, only, and here's where it stops sounding good, if both of those bands had virtually no talent. They sound like a metal band who forgot to plug in their distortion pedals. The production's really bad too. The vocals are way too high up in the mix, making them even more intensely annoying (due to the fact he sings like a metal singer, but isn't in a metal band, he's in a band seemingly trying to bring back and modernise the sound of 70's punk) and where's the bass?
Gallows are not young, fresh & new. They are just another average band. That really is all.

But the true true music fans who are looking for something different still can read any of the growing number of magazines for the more "Specialist" or "Indie" or whatever label you want to give them tastes. The problem with these is that anyone writing for them feels so massively superior, they think they can get away with any old bollocks. So instead of actually reading anything of worth that will actually tell you something about the subject matter, you're treated to some sort of ultimate sixth form wet dream where reviews are written like bad poetry. "This album is like wistfully grazing on a field of clouds and purple daisies while unicorns gambol and spread the sweetest scent around, comforting you, and then suddenly as you get comfortable, one of the unicorns kicks you in the teeth and you are sent bursting thru the cloud, hurtling towards the ground like an injured pheasant might if a guitar had been shot at it. This crash to reality makes you take stock and the whole experience leaves your mouth with an existential aftertaste..." IT'S A FUCKING ALBUM REVIEW YOU'RE WRITING FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, NOT THE COMPLETE POETIC WORKS OF THOMAS FUCKWIT!!! These magazines hail their chosen heroes and lament on how if only the world could know about them then it would be a much better place, yet at the same time they seem to revel in keeping them to themselves, choosing to conduct themselves in ways that would put off most normal human beings, so what you're left with is not so much a magazine, but more of a collection of writings by people with hideous superiority complexes, bragging about how they're so much better than you.
Instead of making an end of year best of list, Plan B magazine chose instead to run a piece with a heading that said something like "We don't make lists. We make discussions." I felt like writing a letter to them with a heading that said "You don't make a magazine. You make unbearable literary wank."
Even my personal fave Wire is guilty of such accusations. Wire at times treat everything a little bit to much like University Coursework, and let analysis get in the way of enjoyment. I have read reviews in Wire that criticise band's albums for being fun and enjoyable without any seemingly deep meaningful substance. SO WHAT?! Are Wire saying we not allowed to just enjoy music? That somehow because it isn't particularly cerebral, it has no worth? That's ridiculous! Just because you don't have to sit down and analyse it to get the most from it, doesn't mean any less effort and care has necessarily gone into it, or that it is somehow inferior and not worth your time.

Lord help you though if you turn to the local zines for an opinion. They read like the specialist mags, but without the university educated editor. So what you end up with here more often than not is a lazy-elitism. Great! Doesn't that sound fun? One has cropped up recently called House Of Tracks, and it is quite possibly the worst thing I have ever read in my life. Half the stuff in issue 2 seems to be the same as issue 1. A lot of issue 2 seems to have happened before October. The writing itself is incredibly lazy and poor. The whole thing stinks of someone with far too much money and/or connections (A second issue of a tiny free mag carrying a full back cover ad for Domino records?) who is just desperate to get into music journalism, but hasn't realised they are shit. To be fair, they could probably get a job for NME.
Also, in the interests of fairness, House Of Tracks have one decent column. Lee's Column takes up about a quarter of a page, so doesn't really have a chance to say anything, but actually reads like it was written by a human being rather than the Indie-Journobot 3000.

It would be foolish to write a piece about the music industry blaming it all on journalism and media though. Major record companies as we know are essentially going to sell their own aunties if it will make them a few quid, but do they need to make it so obvious? In the last few years, a worrying trend has started to occur. As it gets to the Christmas period, albums that were released earlier in the year are being re-released with bonus tracks, bonus discs and extra dvds. The irritating thing about this is that you know it's so cynical, but you get drawn in. I know full well that no matter how long I put it off, I am going to buy the Bloc Party album again, even though I already have it, because of the dvd with their complete Reading Festival performance that now comes with it. And the only reason I haven't bought the last Kings Of Leon album yet is because I can't decide how much I want the full gig dvd that comes on the special edition for twice the price we're selling the cd on it's own for at the moment. It's so cynical and see-through, but they know how to get you. Of course most of the Michael Buble or Paul Potts fanbase are going to want the bonus disc of them singing christmas songs. The oldies love that shit!

The music industry is a bloated monster. The mainstream failures and trappings are slowly but surely filtering through to the independents, because the monopoly the majors have now means the indies have to play along just to survive. It's ruining the industry as a whole.
No wonder Radiohead wanted to release their album directly themselves as a download and detach themselves from all that bullshit. It was a bold step and they were lucky enough to be in a position where they could afford to take it. Sure, they then released it on XL Recordings, but a physical release was always gonna happen, and you get a real sense that they're doing it on their own terms now.

But for virtually everyone else it's going to have to be the same old negotiation thru the industry, which will possibly take you in with promises and opportunities, build up your hopes and dreams, then spit you out once a newly packaged younger version of yourself becomes the next big thing. Then you can either a) split up, b) carry on, most likely on a smaller label never quite reliving your former glories, playing to crowds who only really want to hear the songs they knew 5 or so years ago, or c) split up then wait it out a while before reforming, by which point your fans will be so happy to see you again they will literally throw their money at you. Unless you're All Saints, whos reformation and album seemed to always be under the radar and was never really given a chance. As if something sinister were going on. Or maybe they were just slightly too ahead of the trend. It can't be anything to do with the quality of the album, look at Eagles. They released "Long Road Out Of Eden" in 2007, one the most utterly awful albums I have ever heard in my whole life, and yet it sells by the bucket load. I have no idea why it's so popular (but then, I have no idea why Eagles have EVER been popular. I'm with Lebowski on this one. "I hate the fuckin' Eagles, maaan."), it sounds like an old peoples home and you can literally feel your brain decaying with every hideous note, but it's the time of reunion and so by default they are very much "In" right now.
Look at Spice Girls. Their tour sold out in about a nano-second because the public never really got their goodbye, so when their reunion was announced, women in their mid 20's all over the country suddenly turned into the world's largest pack of salivating dogs who would've torn your arm off just to catch a glimpse of them all together again.

So if the music industry does die the death that many have said it will do for the last few years for various reasons or other, I think we can all safely point to 2007 as the year it all got too much. It wasn't home-taping or Napster and other file sharing websites. It wasn't the closure of venues and independent record shops. It wasn't bands ignoring record labels and self-releasing their music. It was the hideous over-saturation of the market by reality tv stars and big name reunions.
It won't die though. Ever since I first opened a music magazine, people have been predicting the death of the music industry, and what happens? Nothing. It just carries on the same as it always has.


The Purple Gooroo said...

Amen, brother.

Seriously, I couldn't believe the fucking Eagles released a new record this past year--it was bad enough when they got back together 10 years ago with that lame "Hell Freezes Over" gag. To paraphrase the guy in "Knocked Up", "The Eagles can gargle my balls".

Admittedly, I'm a sucker for re-issues and those deluxe 2-disc editions. I've bought Pink Floyd's "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" 4 fucking times now--the late 80s CD issue, the '94 re-issue, the Japanese mini-LP edition and the 3-disc'er this year (though I absolutely refuse to shell out for the 13-disc box set). EMI have gouged my pocket with other re-releases as well. And, inevitably, when The Beatles' stuff gets re-issued (again)--I'll be gouged once more. Sickening--but I'm the idiot who buys the stuff--I just hate having that carrot dangled in front of my nose, though.

I don't bother with a lot of the music mags now (unless they're free--like when I used to read them in the staff room at HMV). I did buy a few of them when I went on holiday in Sept. and I surmised that I'm not missing much. I like "Mojo", but they just seem to keep telling the same stories over and over, with a few details added each time. I got lucky with the one I bought, 'cos it centered around Syd Barrett and came with a nifty psychedelic mix CD. "The Wire" is alright as well--but yeah, reading some of the articles, I feel like I need some sort of linguistics degree (with a side in scientific theory) to figure out what the writer is on about.

I don't feel much sympathy for the fat cats at the major labels--they've been screwing the artists over since recording technology was invented. Radiohead are lucky, because they can by-pass "The Man" now and do what they want--but I hope the trend increases and even fledgling bands can do the same.

antoine said...

good post. I miss x-ray magazine.

Anonymous said...

well done axl-hole. me proud of you, is that patronizing? i don't mean for it to be, coz i'm one of those indi-journobot 3000s...

degs said...

Hey I never thought I could ever say anything positive about the Eagles but they wrote the theme tune the BBC used on the 80s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy TV series - that is an awesome bit of music!!