Saturday, November 02, 2002

SOMETHING TO CHEER UP A WINTER SUNDAY: The father claims he didn't hear Gareth Gates call for his daughter - "the TV was too loud". This reminds us, however, of the times the milkman would call before payday and, when we knew he'd seen the light on, we just turned up the sound on Nationwide until he went away...


THE BLAND BERATING THE BLAND: Of course, Louis Walsh must have been upset when robbie Williams called the whole Popstars set-up a pile of rubbish or whatever it was he said. And of course he had to keep the publicity flowing ("respond to the criticisms") and he has. But considering his franchise has spawned Will and Gareth and their never ending Long and Winding Road style reworkings of tunes, to call Williams a "jumped-up karaoke singer" is hardly a knock-out blow?


Friday, November 01, 2002

LIZZY THROWS MISSY HISSY: Apparently, the Queen is upset that one of the places where she spends our cash on bangles, beads and baubles has used Missy Elliot in an advertising campaign. It turns out the idea to use her probably came from Jade Jagger, whose charged by Gerrards with trying to update their image. You can see why Jade would be the person to take a company away from relying on their royal warrant for publicity - Jade isn't the sort of person to support a system where people get richly rewarded purely on the basis of who their parents are, after all.
Lets hope none of this ends up in court - wouldn't it be awful if one and a half million quid, to pluck a figure out the air, got spent on a court case which collapses because the Queen was going to be called as a witness... oh, hang on, we think this piece may be turning into being about something else.


IT'S POSSIBLY A NEW DEPARTURE, POSSIBLY A DEAD END: But we're testing out whether the wafer-thin conceit that is No Rock can survive if its applied to other subjects. So we're beta-testing The No Rock & Roll Fun Colour Supplement, with bits on Iraq, Deayton and Wimbledon FC. We might pretend none of this ever happened.


IMAGINE HOW MINTED SHE'D BE IF SHE LET THEM RE-ISSUE SEX: The Sunday Times has come up with a list of the highest-earning UK based popstars in the year to 30/09/02 - yeah, we know. They once exposed the Thalidamide scandal, and now they're reduced to calcuating what sort of return Sting must make from his commercials. Anyway, here's the list - and remember, the figures are how much they added, not how much they're worth:
1. Madonna (GBP36 million)
2. Sir Paul McCartney (GBP35 million)
3. Sir Mick Jagger (GBP24.5 million)
4. Keith Richards (GBP24 million)
5. Sting (GBP21.8 million)
6. Eric Clapton (GBP14.2 million)
7. Rod Stewart (GBP12 million)
8. Charlie Watts (GBP12 million)
9. Pete Townshend (GBP10 million)
10. Robbie Williams & Ronnie Wood (GBP10 million)
The question, surely, is what the hell did Sting do that netted him GBP2,500 an hour last year - even while he was sleeeping? Jesus, no wonder the man loves tantric sex so much - eight hours of shagging later, and he knows that his bank account has just added 20 grand to itself. If you're wondering why Madonna is on the list, it's because she has a house in London which she lives in; at least until Swept Away opens in the UK when she'll be attacked by people carrying pitchforks and burning tyres and run out of town.


OUR BRAIN IS MUSH: There's a letter in the Daily Star today which reads "I was absolutlely stunned to see Elton John with a bird on the front page of my Star. And I had a good laugh when I saw it wasn't Elton but a lookalike..."
Why would it be so odd to see a gay man - indeed, a once-married gay man - standing next to a woman? Do Star readers really get confused between sexuality and allergies?


ARE MINSTREL SHOWS PROTECTED BY THE CONSTITUTION?: We find both the original event, the university's response, and the The Volokh Conspiracy riposte here totally bemusing. Do you really need to black up to be the Jackson Five in fancy dress (well, especially if you're the one playing Michael?) And can you really not see that it'll be painfully offensive to some people? But is it really neccesary for university authorities to intervene in an issue of bad taste? Although, finally... Volokh? The first ammendment protects the right to dress in poorly-considered fancy dress? Since when?


MAYBE THEY'LL STICK UP ON LIMEWIRE: Bearing in mind the quality of some of the things they've had the cheek to pursue people for downloading of Napster, if Metallica are actually chucking stuff away as rubbish how poor must they actually be?


POLLSTERS TOLD WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR 87% OF THE TIME: So, apparently a survey for Virgin Radio says even 67% of the public want Popstars-style manufactured pop to end. And yet, at the National Music Awards - the most general-public voted pop awards in the UK - Will Young won Best Male and Best Newcomer, Gareth got Best TV performance, and the likes of Liberty X and Westlife were up for Best Band. Hey, the public, here's a tip - if you want the horror to stop, stop bloody buying their records, watching their shows, and voting for them.


MAKING MONEY OFF THE BACK OF BALI: You have to wonder sometimes at the people who rise to ther top of companies. Do they get singled out when regular health checkups discover a brain of kapok and a heart of stone, or do they start out with normal, fleshy organs that atrophy as they sit in a chrome-and-black-leather office, playing with their Newton's Cradle and wondering if the perky brunette from the staff canteen would be the sort to file sexual harrassment charges? Or maybe they're just plain incompetent to start with. Take, for example, tickemaster7.com, owned by that Ticketmaster and 7 Networks. You'd think that a company with a pedigree like that would realise that if Paul McCartney says he's cancelling a gig out of respect for the dead in the Bali bomb, keeping the booking fees will be a public relations disaster.


Thursday, October 31, 2002

THEY PINCHED THE 'IT GIRL' HEADLINE: Lousie Wener, ex-Sleeper and now author, is the subject of Guardian Online's Working IT out Me and My Spoon style column this week, which is great, except when asked for favourite sites, she nominates a bloody online poker site - is this the first newspaper column with pop-ups?


BEWARE THE PIRATES: According to the BPI website, "MP3s of multiple albums on CDR are illegal. If the offer is too good to be true (26 albums for £5) then this will be illegal.".
We've discovered a site offering what it itself admits is "fantastic" offers - Five CDs free when you buy one. If anything sounds too good to be true, it has to be such an offer. Should we tell the BPI? The site is, um, britannia music. But its too good to be true, so it must be illegal, surely?


CLEARLY HE DIDN'T BUDGIE-T PROPERLY: There's some sort of mileage to be made out of the news that former Mail financial expert Adam Faith has been declared bankrupt. Bemusingly, he seems to be blaming the flop of The Money Channel on the "dot.com collapse", which sounds like slightly sour grapes to us - and even if it was, surely a channel about personal financies that didn't take care to not overextend itself on one front alone was always going to be a risky business?


FORGIVE US IF WE'RE WRONG: But this EMI project to fight Net music piracy, which snoops on files as they're being shared over the net - is it entirely legal?


ASSISTANCE: We know from peering at the Google search terms that bring people here that one of the thwarted hopes visitors have is that they'll find out about "Rhett Miller + model wife." Well, since we like to satisfy, we've asked Becky Bamboo, and she's filled us in. The wife in question is Erica Lahn, and this is what she looks like:

As for the people looking for "Holly+Vallance+Naked"... well, keep hoping...


THE COOL RIPOSTE: The NME's 50 Coolest people in rock list has actually done exactly what it was intended to, and got people talking about the paper for the first time since, oh, I dunno, the three dots got droppped. Under the headline "White Wing?" the normally excellent PlayLouder seems to blame Jack White for the mainly caucasian line-up of the fifty, and then goes on to report ("copy uncredited straight from the news pages of the nme") that the Stripes appeared on that SNL with "Senator John McCain" - why does that bother you, Playlouder? Does a guest appearance on a show with a random host mean that you're taken as endorsing that person's political stance? Does this mean that everyone who went on This Morning embraces rape and "No means you'll have to use a bit of physical persuasion?" Of course not. We bet you don't even know anything about John McCain, and his policies, do you? And what's with the payoff "This follows their recent Nissan sponsorship", as if that's the final piece of evidence? It might not have been too smart to share a stage with McCain - but anyone who knows Saturday Night Live knows that the host is usually little more than a stooge anyway; the closest role in British Televisual Life is the seat next to Paul Merton on HIGNFY?; and while, yes, taking money from a big corporation is a bit of a shame, it's not like they've ever been claiming to be Moby, is it? Certainly none of this justifies the tag of "in-bred, racist hillbillys (sic)."
More fun at the Top 50's expense can be had over at chachacha.co.uk's disseminated quiz.


JAM MASTER JAY - DMC RIP: There's not much information about the whys yet, beyond what Ananova have, but Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC has been shot dead in a recording studio in New York.


Wednesday, October 30, 2002

THEY NEED A MANAGER: And if it means that Penny Hollow might get to play round the country, we hope they find one soon...


WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: The cool edition:
There are some awards that really are worth accepting; that confer status or confirm the admiration of one's peers. Then there is the prize for being the Coolest Person in Rock, as conferred by the nme. The award - which is designed to fill a slack period before the pre-Christmas albums rush and allows the paper to run a cover with the White Stripes without having either a new release or interview to trail - is new for 2002...

news: "prepare for warfare - the vines are here" announces the nme, handing over page three to a puff for its own tour; Pete from the Libertines wore a denim skirt for their HMV instore (and looked so bloody delectable, too.) But could the nme pat itself any harder on the back? "The show was full of NME readers who got into the gig thanks to our exclusive offer for fans to see the band for free. The edgy-looking security staff were on full-alert following our revelations about the band's debauched behaviour on tour" - when, exactly, did the nme hire Smita Smittern, Sowbiz Kitten?; Kurt's diaries "could" become the biggest-selling rock book ever. Scott Pack of Waterstones says "the appeal of the book is so wide - from teens just getting into Nirvana to those who remember them from first time around" - so, that's Nirvana fans, then. It's hardly the cross-cutting appeal of Nigella Bites, is it?; Australian police have so little to do they're apparently investigating whether Kelly Osbourne drank a Bacardi Breezer in a Sydney nightclub; before you even get to the Coolest People chart, the nme announces that the White Stripe's cool is slipping. Apparently this is because they "appear on right-winger's talk show." Now, last week the paper made a fool of itself with the Oasis On The Teen Show story. This week, their rubbish grip of popular culture makes them misunderstand the very nature of - yes - Saturday Night Live; Ryan Adams, Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins are doing a benefit for the West Memphis Three, three blokes basically convicted of killing small children on the evidence of their liking heavy metal; there's a "revealed" piece on You Am I? - although we could have sworn the nme had featured them before; REM and Radiohead are bands who could possibly play Glasto next year. So too, of course, are The Bootleg Beatles and The Wurzels, who also are bands, and who also haven't signed any contracts or anything; The Hives have conquered Iceland - apparently President Bush is thinking of sending in troops to liberate Rekjavik; and Noel Gallagher had apologised to the Australians for Oasis' crap tour of Oz in 1998 offering the explanation that the band "had just got paid millions and couldn't be arsed about the tour." Yes, Noel, that's heartfelt...

the pattern's chris appelgren chooses ten tracks - love, the pretty things, the angry samoans - for a made-up cd thingy...

there's a gossip picture of Marilyn Manson and Hugh Hefner, which says it all right there anyway - but what's especially notable is that Marilyn now looks like the late-period Thatcher doll from Spitting Image...

on bands: the rain band - mancunian, of course - and the sights, who should be from Liverpool and not detroit with a name like that...

Ted Kessler makes the case that The Stone Roses are the coolest band of all time - offering such evidence as "there wouldn't be an Oasis without the Roses" and Brown's "Its not where you're from, it's where you're at" quote, neither of which really help. The Stone Roses - a great album, but as a band? A bit rubbish...

so, there's 20 criteria for inclusion on the cool list, and fifty members. Liam gallagher is at 45 because "he's dangerous as fuck" - in what way? Because he swore on the radio about two hundred years ago? The only thing that's in any way dangerous about Liam Gallagher is his habit of forgetting to use a condom...

The bloke with the goatee out of Queens of the Stone Age is at 38. The coolest thing about him is that he (Nick Oliveri) got arrested for playing in the nude. That's not really cool - there's a lady called Ruby who wanders up and down the hard shoulder of the M62 in the buff. Is she cool, too? Admittedly, her beard is a little less hokey than Oliveri's Beverley Hills 90210 idea of cutting edge...

Ryan Adams is 37, although surely calling up local papers to remonstrate against reviews is so chronically uncool as to disqualify him?...

Peaches at 35, which is fair enough, although we'd have had her higher; higher certainly than Alesha Dixon from MisTeeq - since when did Mickey Mouse Club have more cool than a strip show?...

28 - Carl Barat of the Libertines. He's cool because "he always walks around with his belt undone." On this basis, my father is the coolest person of all time. And, believe me, he isn't...

Pink. 20. Coolest thing is "her dirty mouth", according to the nme - they do love a sweary lady down IPC way, don't they?...

She does novelty singles, for crying out loud, so how the hell can Kelly Osbourne be at 18? "She shouldn't be famous and she is" trills the nme - yeah, because it's so unusual for the child of someone famous to ride their coat-tails to fame themselves, isn't it?...

Conor Oberst is at 14 - "the number one dream boyfriend amongst America's tortured teens" they reckon, almost saving the whole concept single-handedly

13 - Miss Kittin. This list is starting to make more sense now...

and the top ten:

10 - Pete Almqvist. Don't see this ourselves - The Hives are very much the Spandau Ballet of our age - you know, okay, but... turn them over, and there's no hallmark stamped in their arse. For him to be above Julian Casablancas is nothing short of a scandal

9 - Nelly. Haaaaahaaa ha ha. Ha Ha. Haaaaa. Haa Ha Ha. But, no, it gets better - the nme reckons the coolest thing about him is that bloody plaster... We're suggesting Nelly was boosted a few places to ensure the Top 10 wasn't all-white...

8 - Craig Nicholls. Oooh, we would. Oh yes. In fact, he shouldn't make records. He should just lean against walls all the time...

7 - Marcie Bolen. Of course she's cool. Of course the Von Bondies are cool. But... she dates Jack White. Popstar boyfriends surely should knock you several places down the list?...

6 - Meg White. They don't say "she's cool because she's made incest sexy" in so many words, but we know that's what they mean...

5 - Mike Skinner. Surely the point of The Streets is that they're not cool? If Skinner really did have that icy, distant cool factor, wouldn't the whole thing fall apart?

4 - Karen O. She just is, isn't she?...

3 - Dolf De Datsun. Hmmm. We're not so sure he's in the right place. "Being in The Datsuns" doesn't cut it for us, we're afraid...

2 - Fabrizio Moretti. You're 'avin a laugh, aintcha? Isn't this on a par with thinking Alex James is the greatest one out of Blur? You can see why people might think that - the sort of people who believe that driving a sports car impresses a lady; the type of people who correct the wine water when they mispronounce the names of the reds. But the nme falling for it? Blimey...

And at One, jack White. Which has to be wrong, because he isn't even the coolest member of the White Stripes...

Interesting point: a fifth of list are female. Now, we stopped counting how few women turn up in the On Band section, but we know it's nowhere near that. Do women have to prove their cool a lot more, then?
Another point: the nme says Jarvis isn't cool anymore because he does adverts. If endorsing products is uncool, does this mean NME's Bring It On Miller Genuine Draft supplement is not worthy of our consideration?...

album reviews: badly drawn boy - have you feed the fish? - "strange, life-affirming", 8
david gray - a new day at midnight - "certainly boring, but no more so than Richard Ashcroft", 4
justin timberlake - justified - "fails to imprint his personality on Justified", 6
sigur ros - () - "there are passages which outstay their welcome", 7
gospeed you black emperor - yanqui UXO - "doesn't get much more atmospheric than this", 9

singles:
sotw - queens of the stone age - no one knows - "who needs Dave Grohl?"
not - yeah yeah yeahs - machine - "another quite brilliant extrapolation of PJ Harvey and the Banshees"
sophie ellis bextor - music gets the best of me - "what a real pop star looks like"

live - yeah yeah yeahs - new york - "huge, funny and fantastically backward"
his name is alive - london spitz - "seriously sad acoustic soul"
peaches - detroit - "hand sin pants, toungue in cheek"

and finally, "fiona, via email" complains about Missy losing weight and stealing one of the few "really bloody fat" role models. Stick thin nme hack Krissi Murison upbraids fiona for her reverse body-fascism.


A SECOND CHANCE AT FORTUNE: Maybe there is something in Simon Fuller's plans to give washed-up stars a second chance at fame. Left to their own devices, pop stars can't be trusted to manage their post-fame careers. For example, from Korea comes news of Yoon Soo-il who, faced with a slump in popularity, had to fall back on a pyramid sales scam. You know that the future holds emails from Craig David trying to sign you up to an MLM scheme...


JUST HOPE NOBODY COPIES THE IDEA: Considering that he died in an awful collision, we're not sure the habit of naming roads and airport concourses after Sonny Bono is such a great idea. It's like the JFK Shooting Range, isn't it?


WE'RE NOT CONVINCED: While the news that someone is writing a musical based on Frank Black of the Pixies is indeed diverting, and uplifting, we're not so sure its true. We'd like to see such a work though, providing it includes the time when the Pixies played Glastonbury and chose to play their set in alphabetical order.


A TV SHOW DESIGNED TO GIVE STARS A SECOND CHANCE?: Before John Leslie and Angus Deayton get too excited, the new brain wrong from Simon Fuller is actually aimed at giving duff pop stars a second bite at the cherry. This is meant to be a new concept, although getting a bunch of clapped out tossers on stage in the badly-defamed name of entertainment was piloted, surely, by The Travelling Wilburys. Names being mooted are Tiffany - who we thought had already come up with her own plan to claw back fame and, god help us all, Vanilli. As in Milli.
Of course, if the show airs next summer, it'll be just in time to catch Gareth Gates and Will Young's downward spiral...


YOU HAVE TO ADMIRE THEIR DENIAL: "If it ain't broken, don't fix it" says TLC's T-Boz, in reference to their future now that Lisa Lopes has died in a car crash - which we'd have thought was pretty much broken ourselves, but there you go. We have to pay respect to the bands decision to not release a smarmy ballad as the first post-Left Eye single, though.


COMING NEXT: DOM JOLY AS JEFF BUCKLEY: Johnny Knoxville (from the poor man's Beadle's About that is Jackass) and Christina Applegate to appear in a film about the theft of Gram Parson's body. Oh, good. This finally gives us an excuse to use those cyanide pills...


Tuesday, October 29, 2002

YOU WERE THIS CLOSE TO BEING A POP IDOL: But now, Rik Waller, the News Shopper shows that you are Legz Akimbo.


FAIR AND UNBIASED: It pains us - physically pains us - to link to Fox News, but its them who've got the piece about the return of Rod Stewart and Santana. They reckon its a response to five years of "junk" in the charts. Not quite sure how that would work, to be honest - "Shall we go out and buy a Rod Stewart album, honey?" "Well, the charts have been shit for five years, so why not?" There must be a reason why Rod's album is selling, and it's probably not a reaction. In fact, Rod's greatest trick was getting himself dropped - twice - by AOL Time Warner. Rod, in effect, wound up on a hyper-indie label (J), who were small and sleek enough to market him properly. Again, the majors have been shown up as being useless - J is run by Clive Davis, who was given the stick by Arista because he was "too old" and who now has been hired back by the people who sacked him.
Every time the RIAA tells you that mp3 is eating into their profits, wave a story like this at them, and ask "What profits?"


CD-ARSE: We peered at the "Ebay wouldn't let me sell a CD-R" story a while ago ourselves; soundbitten is very good on the actual mechanics of the bloke's relationships with ebay; we still think our original point - that the whole mess would have been avoided if Ebay hadn't been forced to set their filters to kill by the music industry in the first place - holds nevertheless.
Sigh - we're starting to wish that we weren't able to use "music industry" in the same way slightly older men with berets use "the military-indusrial complex".


THE COST OF CDS INVETSIGATED: We were just poking about in the RIAA's website, and we came across a fascinating article. It's supposed to be an answer to the question 'What costs go into making a CD?' - although, of course, there's no attempt to actually sit down and put some numbers into this. Let's listen and learn, shall we?

A typical music fan who buys a CD might use that CD at home, take that CD in the car, make a tape of that CD, or using it as part of a compilation, play that CD with friends and for friends, and keep that CD for many years.

Hang about a minute... how come the RIAA is so blase about people making tapes from CDs? Is this the same organisation so attached to the concept of copy-protection that it doesn't mind putting out records which cause standard CD players to lock-up? The representative body of the major labels in the US? They're relaxed about us taping our CDs? Now, can anyone explain to me any iota of difference between making a copy of an album on a tape, and making a copy of an album on a CD? There's none whatsoever.

That's probably why most consumers, when asked, describe CDs as a good value.

Most consumers in the US, of course, buy less than two CDs every year, and so its not like the price of CDs is going to be a major problem to them, in the way that avid music consumers may find it. Surely if CDs were such good value the pricepoint would move sales upwards?

At the same time, when asked directly whether CDs cost too much, some consumers will say yes!

That's got to hurt, hasn't it? Ungrateful whelps.

Why the contradiction? Because some consumers don't understand why the sales tag on a CD is so much higher than the cost of producing the actual physical disc, a cost, which in fact, has decreased over the years.

Why would that explain the contradiction? It might explain why consumers feel there's an enormous whack of profit being made off CDs whenever they get sold, but not why people think they cost too much at the same time as feeling they're good value. What we understand from that finding is that, while people think the purchase of a CD is worth it, they're priced so highly they can't afford to buy as many as they'd like to. This has nothing to do with whether they understand or not that there's more to a CD than the cost of a thin plastic disc (although that's rather than a patronising assumption - are American consumers that stupid? Do they sit in restaurants querying why when they could buy a steak for a buck, having it prepared and cooked and served costs more? We doubt it.)

While the RIAA does not collect information on the specific costs that make up the price of a CD, there are many factors that go into the overall cost of a CD -- and the plastic it's pressed on, is among the least significant. CD manufacturing costs may be lower, but it takes more money than ever before to put out a new recording.

Oh, it does, does it?

Of course, the most important component of a CD is the artist's effort in developing that music. Artists spend a large portion of their creative energy on writing song lyrics and composing music or working with producers and A&R executives to find great songs from great writers. This task can take weeks, months, or even years. The creative ability of these artists to produce the music we love, combined with the time and energy they spend throughout that process is in itself priceless. But while the creative process is priceless, it must be compensated. Artists receive royalties on each recording, which vary according to their contract, and the songwriter gets royalties too. In addition, the label incurs additional costs in finding and signing new artists.

This really would be better performed by a man with specs in a white lab coat, wouldn't it? All those artists bevearing away for :weeks, months, or even years" - or, in the case of Robbie Williams, a couple of afternoons. They must be compensated - and writers, as well. Cash for all. Let's leave aside the number of artists who have very strong cases that they've not been compensated at all for their work, or under-compensated, or just plain old ripped off for their creative processes. Instead lets just be mathematical: don't royalties usually come in the form of a percentage of total sales? So, while this contributes to the total cost, if the price of CDs falls, so does the artist's take.


Once an artist or group has songs composed, they must then go into the studio and begin recording. The costs of recording this work, including recording studio fees, studio musicians, sound engineers, producers and others, all must be recovered by the cost of the CD.

Well, naturally. That's only fair. But a lot of these are fixed costs, aren't they? So the cost per disc will fall according to the number of CDs sold...

Then come marketing and promotion costs -- perhaps the most expensive part of the music business today. They include increasingly expensive video clips, public relations, tour support, marketing campaigns, and promotion to get the songs played on the radio.

You might raise a weary eyebrow that they seem to be proud they spend more time, effort and money on flogging the records than they do actually making the things. You may also want to ask if perhaps someone should start to ask how much of all this marketing activity is neccesary.

For example, when you hear a song played on the radio -- that didn't just happen!

Excuse me while I feel like I'm being spoken to as if I was six. Actually, being luckily able to listen to stations where the music is chosen by - whisper it - djs who go out and buy records - a lot of the time it is where I am. But what are you alluding to, RIAA guys? That you're paying money to get records played on the radio? Is this an admission that those shady guys who are buying all that survey information from Clear Channel are actually spending that money in order to get slots on air? Surely that would be payola, wouldn't it?

Labels make investments in artists by paying for both the production and the promotion of the album, and promotion is very expensive. New technology such as the Internet offers new ways for artists to reach music fans, but it still requires that some entity, whether it is a traditional label or another kind of company, market and promote that artist so that fans are aware of new releases.

"Some entity"? What, like a cyborg promo machine or something? And haven't you neglected to mention that bit about how new media promotions are so much cheaper - where once you used to have spend cash getting word out, now you assemble a couple of manky Street Teams, give the odd kid a free tshirt, and in return don't even have to spend your own time sending badly phrased spams to uninterested mailing lists?

For every album released in a given year, a marketing strategy was developed to make that album stand out among the other releases that hit the market that year. Art must be designed for the CD box, and promotional materials (posters, store displays and music videos) developed and produced. For many artists, a costly concert tour is essential to promote their recordings.

The news that nowadays, it's possible to tour AND turn a tidy profit doesn't seem to have reached the RIAA yet. Isn't it cute, though, to imagine every single album being given a little brown notebook with a unique marketing strategy inside, rather than a dull template applied to a few and some others left to just sit in racks and fester. C'mon, how many truly inspired marketing ideas have you seen for albums? Floating Michael Jackson down the Thames... erm, we're sure there's others. But if you're trying to tell us that - for a multi-million selling album like, say, Britney, the marketing plan of "some telly... release a single with a video... a couple of ads in the trade papers... some ads in teen girl mags... and thats pretty much it" works out at more than a cent a piece, we're not having it.

Another factor commonly overlooked in assessing CD prices is to assume that all CDs are equally profitable. In fact, the vast majority is never profitable. Each year, of the approximately 27,000 new releases that hit the market, the major labels release about 7,000 new CD titles and after production, recording, promotion and distribution costs, most never sell enough to recover these costs, let alone make a profit. In the end, less than 10% are profitable, and in effect, it's these recordings that finance all the rest.

This is one of those things that - far from being overlooked - is repeated so often by the Record Companies that you'd almost think they were charitable institutions.
And, I'm sorry, but it just doesn't wash.
All industries have failed products - whether its cars that scared horses or attempts to bring Tuna and Baked Beans together in the same tin can. But the fact that, say, Heinz tests and then abandons probably dozens of product ideas a year worldwide doesn't mean we've winded up paying GBP2.50 for a tin of spaghetti hoops, mainly because Heinz knows how much it can afford to risk on product development, and budgets that in to its prices.
If the big labels are losing so much on 90% of their output, you really have to question if they have a single, shining clue what they're doing. They behave as they're a proper industry, and yet their figures show again and again that the Coporate Music Industry is run by a bunch of chancers. If your greengrocer stocked up with racks and racks of thistles and horseradishes, and as a result charged ten quid for a pound of spuds to cover the costs of the stuff they're chucking away, you might take him to one side and suggest he considers retraining as something else. Nobody would expect every album released to be a massive worldwide hit, but to have a nine out of ten failiure rate is ridiculous; to say - in effect - "we're so bad at our jobs, you have to pay nine times as much for a record as you really should" and think that's acceptable is outrageous.

Clearly there are many costs associated with producing a CD, and despite these costs the price of recorded music to consumers has fallen dramatically since CDs were first introduced in 1983. Between 1983 and 1996, the average price of a CD fell by more than 40%. Over this same period of time, consumer prices (measured by the Consumer Price Index, or CPI) rose nearly 60%. If CD prices had risen at the same rate as consumer prices over this period, the average retail price of a CD in 1996 would have been $33.86 instead of $12.75.

Hang about a second - the reason why the price of CDs has fallen so sharply between 1983 and 1996 isn't because a generous recording industry started price cutting in the consumers interest - 1983 was the dawn of CDs when there were very limited production facilities, and they were aimed clearly at a luxury market - so all CDs were full price. Since then, with a massive increase in supply of pressing plants and the spread of the format to become the main music delivery method on the planet, costs fell like a stone and mid and low price Cds started to reach the market. A better comparison would be the price of a vinyl album in '83 and a CD in '96, which doesn't look quite so generous. The comparison with the CPI is a red herring.

While the price of CDs has fallen, the amount of music provided on a typical CD has increased substantially, along with higher quality in terms of fidelity, durability, ease of use, and range of choices, including multi-media material, such as music videos, interviews and discographies. Content of this type often requires considerable production expense and adds a whole new dimension that goes beyond conventional audio.

The amount of music has increased? Pity the creative industry that measures its achievements in minutes and seconds rather than quality of the music. And while this might be true in America, let's not forget that the industry lobbied in the UK to enforce a reduction across all singles releases from four tracks to three tracks. And don't try and kid us that a few simple flash animations and the scanning in of a couple of stills add greatly to production costs. Putting on videos may have a cost, but... haven't you already claimed the cost of producing these videos back in marketing? Or do you have to recreate the video from scratch all over again if its for a CD? It's not even as if putting extra stuff on makes the CD any heavier to transport round the country...

In contrast, CD prices are low compared to other forms of entertainment and one of the few entertainment units to decrease in price, even though production, marketing and distribution costs have increased.

Apart from VHS videos, DVDs and even computer games, of course. And have production havent increased, have they? Surely the cost of making the plastic CD, pressing and so on has fallen, while the costs of creativity are variable depending on the whos, the whats, and the whys...?

In a USA Today article entitled, "Spending a Fortune for Fun: The cost of entertainment is rising along with our willingness to pay it ," the reporter observes, "though some factions of the industry see price resistance -- CD prices are relatively low and home videos rentals are still a bargain -- consumers don't seem to balk at the rising price of fun in this strong, family-friendly economy." The prices of other forms of entertainment have risen, on average, more rapidly than has music or consumer prices, with most admission prices for other forms of entertainment having increased more than 90% between 1983 and 1996.

Ah, the USA Today viewpoint. Who's ever heard of them being wrong? But didn't we start off this trip with the RIAA saying that some consumers do balk at the costs. And haven't we just been told that CD prices are getting cheaper, whereas USA Today is talking of rising prices? It's almost as if they couldn't find a better quote to support their case, isn't it?

By all measures, when you consider how long people have the music and how often they can go back and get "re-entertained" CDs truly are an incredible value for the money.

A survey a few years back found that the average number of times each CD gets played in America is less than once. So, while theoretically it could work out at less than a cent per minute of entertainment, often it's bucks and bucks for the same time.

Interestingly, this whole piece misses out entirely the costs of distribution, and storeage and so on - all the aspects associated with the physical CD itself, in fact. Surely this isn't because the RIAA fears in an economy that shifts to electronic distribution, where the retail price per track is identical or more than the same price today, that any patronisingly written paragraph about how "many consumers seem to forget that the CDs have to be packaged in big cardboard boxes and get driven in large vehicles we call lorries to shops and warehouses - none of this is free!!" may be waved at them to ask why?


ANOTHER DUH SURVEY: Who'd have thought? People, given the choice, would really rather their CDs weren't copy-protected. 82% want to be able to back-up their CD collection; 77% want to be able to make copies to use elsewhere (the "different one in the car" approach) and 60% want to be able to copy their CDs for family and friends. Doubtless, Hilary is already recasting this as "More than half the Americans want to steal music" for some press release or other, but even if you're sympathetic to the RIAA's canute like attempts to turn back the tide, this survey shows just what a massive job they've got on their hands. If more than half the population believe its okay to give copies of CDs to their family, how is the RIAA ever to get a weight of public support for any form of copy protection?


MARIAH SCAREY: Further to our lament on the state of cover art in the music world, we offer you Rocktober's long hard look at the cover of Mariah Carey's Charmbracelet.


DO YOU SUPPOSE THEY ASKED ALEX NEEDHAM IF HE HAD ANY PLANS?: The descent of Rolling Stone continues, as now RollingStone.com asks its readers "who should be naked on the front of a future edition?" - you can almost smell the stale cum on the magazine's breath now. It wouldn't matter as much if the sub-FHM covers were part of a whole package of ideas to save the magazine from decline, but it really is clear that, no, that's it: run a story that lets a half- or three-quarter-naked woman appear on the cover. Some rescue bid.


THE MUSIC FOOD CHAIN: Pink complains about being compared to Britney; The Donnas complain about being compared to Pink. We love The Donnas, of course, but it's a bit rich to have a pop at Pink for not being very real in a context where they chose new label Atlantic because "the girls decided to make the jump when Atlantic allowed them free reign to record their own material and play their own instruments -- something other major label offers didn't include." This just seems incredible to us - we thought that we couldn't be surprised at how little understanding the US music industry had about music, but that all but one label would have signed the Donnas, and then forced them into singing other people's songs over other people's music. What, exactly, would the point of that have been? It'd be like hiring Michealangelo to do colouring-in. Obviously there must be some people in the US music industry with some common sense; we'll keep looking and if we come across them, we'll let you know...


Q ROCKED: Changes for the bloke wearing the slightly-knowingly-ironic green eyeshade at Q, as current ed Danny Ecclestone goes to work on some sort of vague "new music project somewhere else in the building, or certainly in one nearby", and Paul Rees, currently pondering ways of making another Foo Fighters cover for Kerrang seem interesting, moving to replace him.


DAVID VAN BRENT: Hats off to David Van Day, living proof that you can't kept a stupid man down. Last Christmas, plucky David fought promoters who tried not to pay him for his part in what they said was a substandard line-up; this weekend, he organised a charity event which involved a group of masked men storming the hotel, firing fake-but-realistic guns, in order to take a member of the crowd "hostage" for a hi-jinks style raising of a ransom.
David Van Day claims ""I had been busy organising the evening and had no idea so many people had died. The idea was to kidnap Robbie and for bids to be made for him to be released." Now, while it is possible that his Saturday had been taken up with buying toy guns and gaffer tape, not knowing the Moscow Theatre Seige had eneded so badly (or, to keep the Junior Tebbits at biased bbc happy, in such a glowing victory for the war against terrorism (and theatre going)) is fair enough. But does this mean that Van Day thinks that it would have been appropriate if it had merely been 800 people being forced to piss and shit in an orchestra pit by shady people with massive bombs strapped to their bellies instead?
Thanks to Morag for bringing this to us.


J-LO TO GO?: Now, while we think some of Jennifer Lopez's stuff is pretty fine pop, a combination of a never-ending desire to remix herself and layer lo-quality rap over her songs, a huge element of Diva behaviour and the residual Mariah Careyness of her general demeanour, we're aware that its only a matter of time before she becomes just another Whitney Houston. Which is why her announcement that she'd be prepared to give up her career for children is encouraging. Like a modern day Blue Peter, we'd be happy to collect any unwanted children you might have laying around, parcel them up and send them on to the woman who does, indeed, call herself "The J-Lo." We reckon if we can manage a couple of dozen children, she might stop working altogether. C'mon, do it for J-Lo.


Monday, October 28, 2002

ROBBIE BLASYS TALENTSHOW TV: "It eats into my market share - how many people would have pre-ordered escapology if it hadn't been for that Will Young album, eh? I'm the safe choice for Aunt Flo, not him..." (erm, apparently it's cruel).


SIMON REYNOLDS - HE'LL TELL US WHAT TO DO: It's nice to see blissblog appear, as Simon Reynolds bows down and joins the Blogmunity, or Bloggapeliggo, or Bloggarina or whatever stupid term it is we're meant to be using this week. At the moment he's testing his ftp uploads by waving sticks at Kirk Degiorgio, which is, to be honest, a bit like the NME's You Cock column without the benefit of constraints of space, but we enjoy Mr Reynold's writing and look forward to what's to come.


THEORIES AND WRAPPERS: We've got a theory that the music industry moved from drug of choice being spliff in the 60's to the current obsession with cocaine as a result in changing format sizes. While the large cardboard area offered by a 12" vinyl album package gave plenty of room for the preparation of a joint (or - as Justin Timberlake tremulously reveals they're known - a "blunt"), the smaller jewel case of a cd is just right for chopping up a line.
Whatever, the shift to smaller boxes has been accompanied for certain by a decline in the quality of cover art, and that's undeniable. Rather than seize the challenge of trying to say as much in a smaller space, designers have repeatedly given up, and fallen back on either pretending they've got 144 square inches to play with, and not bothering that the consumer can't see the detail (hey, if they're that interested, they can go look at the poster in the shop, right?) or else fallen back on an over-simplistic form of design which makes Windows 95 icons look well-thought-out.

With this in mind, No Rock is proud to present this week's UK Album Chart reviewed solely on the basis of the sleeve image.

1 - Foo Fighters - One By One Image
After the run-up campaign ("Announcement. The new album from the Foo Fighters", etc, in the style of a newspaper small ad) we'd had hopes the sleeve might have been similar, with something a bit Bonzo Dog Doo Dadist like "This is the new album from the Foo Fighters" typed across the front. Instead, there's a woodcut effect, with some jungle-like foliage appearing to form a heart-shape. It says more "ITV Drama Premiere" than "yes, I'm on that Nirvana album, too, but you'd be better off with this one."

2 - Nelly - Nellyville image
Big close up of Nelly's face. He's wearing that bloody sticking plaster. Do you think his brother asked him to do that? Or that he'd rather Nelly just shut up about him being inside, as it'll hamper his chances when he gets released and goes for a job at the Alabaster Eaterie that the whole world now knows that he's done porridge? Anyway, the whole picture has been ineptly photoshopped, with the end sepia-tinged rsult making it look as if Nelly has stuck his head through one of those things you get at the seaside, where you pop your head in a hole and have your photo taken looking like a body builder. The Parental Advisory sticker is bigger than the Jailed Brother sticker.

3 - Human Conditions - Richard Ashcroft image
Straight from the school of "did you lose the dimensions of a CD booklet", this is the sort of doodle that would look more impressive blown up. Richard's head is shown side-on, like a keyhole, through which a huddle of other images are, almost literaly, glowing. The idea is, we think, to say that many things, many journeys, many parts make a man. Sadly, it comes across more as a pretentious attempt to buy the world a coke.

4 - Will Young - From Now On image
Perhaps the curious combination of bad 70's shirt and bad, bad 70's wallpaper is some misguided attempt to cash-in on the retro chic offered by a Firefighter's strike - "seriously, Will, it's going to be 1977 all over again before you know it. Now, of course, we can't scare away points by punking you up, so we thought "bland, asexual bloke singing songs on telly on a Saturday night" and came up with Val Doonican..."

5 - S Club Juniors - Together image
This must be a tricky one to carry off. How do you pitch an album by a bunch of tots into a market that's topped by gynacological pictures of Christina, and yet not make it look like you're appealing to the Gary Glitter market? The answer seems to have been to take the S Club Juniors for a happy meal, grab a snap of them with a disposable, and stick that on the album. Presumably the ever-present threat of the sudden development of testicles and/or teenage strop hormones at any moment would have made investment in an expensive photo shoot too risky to consider. The result looks so cheesey even Five Star would probably have rejected it.

6 - Feeder - Comfort In Sound image
Feeder used to go for big, bright, clunky cover images, very robot-wars friendly. Now, with one of them dead, the music's got darker and more personal, and the artwork has got more sober with it. Having a badly-drawn angel on the front could be seen as just a step away from putting a sticker on the front saying "One of us died. Please buy generously", and the fact the angel is female doesn't help. The music may struggle to say things that need to be said; perhaps something plainer for the cover art may have acknowledged the struggle rather than attempted to clone the emotions?

7- Rolling Stones - Forty Licks image
A very long time ago, the now-defunct Samantha fanzine ran an angry article about bands who changed their logos (presumably the writer was upset at the knock on costs involved in updating the back of maths books, re-biroing on army surplus bags and the time it actually takes to chip tipp-ex off a Doc Marten in order to paint on the new look.) The trouble with consistency , though, is that some bands wind up with an image that looks rubbish. The Rolling Stones is a case in point. The lips, the tongue - yes, I'm sure it was a great moment of inspiration, but didn't anyone stop to think that however many years later, they'd still be having to work with something that a commercial organisation would have abandoned years since. It reminds me of nothing so much as that strange little cartoon character Goodyear used to have flogging their tyres back when Will Young's shirt would have been fashionable. I hated that, too, but at least Goodyear realised that whatever it was - a moose on wheels? - made them look shabby and rubbish and dumped it. That the Stones have clung to their caricature-based stamp all these years says a lot about just what a dead eye for detail they have - see also: calling restaurants Sticky Fingers, shagging Mandy Smith, Mick Jaggers catsuit years. For this best-of, they've made the tongue into the number 40, added colouring based on an idea rejected for a lolly by Lyon's Maid, and let that stand. It clearly says 'the Rolling Stones'; it clearly says 'nothing much inspired beyond collecting the hits.'

8 - Coldplay - A Rush of Blood To The Head image
"Hello, did we mention we had a friend who's been to Art College? He's done us this drawing, right, for the new album. It's very meaningful. It's like this person, only the top of their head has been flattened, so, its like they have no eyes or ears or brain, just a mouth. It's really, really, meaningful. We asked him what it meant, and he said 'Don't you know?' and we said, yeah, we do know, actually, we just didn't know what he thought it meant. And he just smiled. So, right, it's dead clever, actually. Proper art."
Okay, we take the piss, but at least they're trying. Especially after the last album looked like a Simply Red sleeve with Mick Hucknall painted out.

9 - Pink - Missundastood image, like you've not seen it before
D'you know, we're still not sure if we're looking at Pink on a toilet floor or a white leather sofa; everytime we see a different reproduction of the album sleeve, we change our minds again. Of course, that could be the point - is she in the lap of luxury, or down on her luck? - but we bet it isn't. Everything about the album's debut last January was designed to lure the unsuspecting purchaser of Can't Take Me Home back to her's, only to beat their heads about with angst and pain the moment they'd got their shoes off - so, as the lead single was Get The Party Started, the sleeve of the album was the ole' perky Pinky, just enough buttcheek poking through, the pink hair, the party girl. The clue was in the album's name - this is what you think I am, but.... Of course, this sleight of hand also allowed her to pull off an album cover which those who'd seek to compare her to "damn Britney Spears" would expect. Deft. We also wonder if the whole album title thingy (bad spelling, exclamation point madness) was a sly dig at Y Kant Tori Read?

10 - Elvis - Elv1s image
This is more like it, Rolling Stones. The classic presentation of Elvis, the huge 'name up in lights' version that Gates hilariously attempts to recast as 'Gareth' for his cover of Suspicious Minds, the "I" replaced with a "1"; white on a gold background - and a very tasteful shade of gold. Of course, when your vulgar ego has expired 25 years beforehand, it's easier for a design team to sell a good idea, but you put the sleeve of this next to the sleeve of forty licks, and one of them ends up looking like a school project. And we won't even mention the horror of the cover for the Beatles Number One collection...


WILL HE GO BACK AND SAVE DAVE?: A rare treat for regulars over at BT's Dotmusic, with three acoustic tracks from Graham Coxon to stream over. Two from the The Kiss of Morning, Coxon's new solo collection, and a Nick Drake cover which has, in a very zen-way "appeared on a collection of unreleased material" - very one hand clapping.
Anyway, settle this down next to Gorillaz and Fat Les, and wonder who the musician in the band really was.


ARETHA FRANKLIN LEFT HALF-HOMELESS: Luckily, the house which burned down was only one of the properties she owned in the area. What's curious, though, is that while it was Reet's house, it was one of many properties which had a lien against it...


THE CHILL WIND OF THE DEATH OF DANCE CONTINUES: As we've been expecting for, like, forever, Ministry magazine is folding, as the Ministry of Sound organisation try desperately to come to terms with a world where people don't really want to pay shedloads of cash to be packed into a sweaty little hole watching chubby bald blokes playing records they have a financial interest in - the only interest anyone has in them. We'd imagine Mixmag, DJ and Muzik are now praying they can last out until the other two fall over, and at least have the market to themselves.


WONDER WHAT HE GOT FOR THIS?: Justin Timberlake admits to smoking cannabis; presumably would have added "with Britney" for the front page?


LET'S HAVE A RE-HEATED DEBATE: So, Chuck D and Bruce Dickinson pulled out, but in a nifty spot of replacement re-jigging, Chris Wright, Chief Exec of Chrysalis found himself insisting that free music would kill the music, eyeball to eyeball with Doug D'Arcy, who doesn't accept that and should know better, having co-founded the company Wright works for. There's a fine report on proceedings here, and another here, which is slightly more generous to the motion's proponents. What comes across is, in the flesh, the RIAA's Hilary Rosen is just as happy to issue statements that aren't true as fact ("there has been no copy-protection CD released in America", indeed? And, even if that were true - Hilary? Oxford? We're in the EU, miss, not America.) and the level of their debate resides in re-interpretation of pie charts of data and facts to support what they have to say, while the pro-sharing lobby back their claims with more common sense and experience and anecdotal evidence. The vote went 72-256 against Rosen and her chums, which isn't quite a landslide but suggests that even with a bunch of Harvard MBAs and research gimps at their disposal, the Recording Industry can't really muster much of an argument against filesharing - or at least, depict it as a convincing boogeyman.
Martin Lloyd's report suggests that he felt that all the executives on both sides were passionate about music. It could be true, although that Jay Berman can say "Each generation has had their own music. For your generation it's filesharing. And I think thats a pretty terrible thing" and mean it backs up our impression of everyone we've ever met who has their own office funded from the music industry - they started burning with a passion for music, and still feel like they love the process of making and playing and buying and selling, but their impression of where music is, and the music that they love, gets fractured the moment they move from being involved in creation to the marketing of it. To suggest that file swapping is the current generation's music is as ridiculous as telling punks "you don't have music - you have the compact cassette", or for kids in the fifties to have been lambasted with the words "if you really liked music, you'd be playing the piano, not putting discs on the Dansette."


CLEAR CHANNEL PUFF: We wondered why the Hollywood Reporter chat with Clear Channel CEO John Hogan was billed as a 'dialogue' rather than an interview, but having read it, we can see the reasons; soft questions not even lobbed so much as passed on a silver platter, with no attempt to bite on the results. So, asked about San Diego - where Clear Channel have slapped dominance over the market by buying stations over the border in Mexico, Hogan's response is: "I'm proud of the company for working well within established rules and regulations to create a situation down there that works really well for us." Doubtless you are, John, but that doesn't actually square up to whether you're behaving well or properly or even honestly, does it? There's a difference between sticking to the letter of the law, and behaving within the spirit. Hollywood Reporter, however, don't seem to be concerned.


NOT THAT I COULD CARE/YOUR PAPER'S FULL OF SHIT/ I ONLY READ IT FOR THE GIG GUIDE ANYWAY: We'd been happy to give Ryan Adams the b of the d over the throwing the heckler out incident (which he's done on more than one occasion, as it turns out) but his reaction to the original report - in the Tennessean - suggests that he may actually have a bit of a problem brewing. From their gossip column, this is the message he left on their answerphone: ''You're just so smart, aren't you, man? You're so (expletive) smart. 'I'm so smart. I'm so post-collegiate with all my (expletive) little references.' 'Punkish hardcore.' What about 'Quintessential (expletive) band,' moron?
'What the (expletive) is wrong with you? Little redneck newspaper. Ooh, The Tennessean. Blah, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. You wouldn't know a (expletive) good show if it bit you in the (expletive).
'You and your senior citizen, little redneck (expletive) (expletive). Whatever, you know? Let's like ? let's create it, let's judge it, you know? Like, 'Let's turn it into what it's supposed to be.' But you don't know (expletive). You and your (expletive) (expletive) paper. (Expletive) you.''

Erm... Ryan. Music reviewers do judge music shows, that's what they do. And if you want to convince them that you're a quintessential fucking band, the best way to do that is by being good on stage and impressing the reviewer, not calling them up afterwards. And, most importantly: you twat. If you really care about what local papers say so much that you ring them up and leave rambling messages on their voicemail, don't try and pretend that you don't care what they say anyway. A star with an international profile should be better able to cope with a bad review - if you can't, you might be in the wrong business altogether.


THEY'RE MY FAVOURITE: Try to not let the news that Marah Carey is covering Def Leppard stop you from considering the way pre-publicity for the comeback album Charmbracelet is focusing on the line "I was stigmatized for being black and white" - surely, Mariah, you wouldn't be so low as to try and claim the panning your last album got was a result of racism, would you?


NOW, THEY'RE COMING TO YOUR OFFICE: The RIAA has widended its attempts to bully people into working as its unpaid policeforce, sending a vaguely threatening letter to companies in the US to try to bounce them into forcing their employees from downloading music via workplace computers. They trot out the dishonest "it's like stealing a CD from a shop" analogy (no, its more akin to photocopying a page in a library book), and then hint that employers may be held liable for breach of copyright if employees download material without their knowledge - which, as far as our understanding of the law goes, is completely wrong. If it is with the employer's implied consent, perhaps, but if the company is ignorant of what's going on, how can they be found guilty of having criminal intent?
The trouble is, the letter seems pointless anyway - the sort of company who is going to react to a muscular piece of lawyer-rattling is probably going to be the sort of firm who already have built in so many systems to prevent their employees doing anything other than behaving like mechanised drones (firewalls, filters, small cubicles, men with orange blazers staring over their shoulders) that the chances of them flash-downloading a Neil Diamond best of are slim in the first place; the sort of company who appreciate a small spot of mucking about on the web at work will file the letter in the bin anyway. Not for the first time, we suspect that the RIAA doesn't really know what its doing; instead of helping its case, it's now making itself look like it's on the side of snooping employers and cubicle snitches.


A GIFT FROM THE GODS: So, Robbie Williams believes his voice is a gift from God. I hope he kept the receipt so you can change it for something that works properly.


Sunday, October 27, 2002

AT LAST! ELTON JOHN DOES SOMETHING TO BE THANKED FOR: HearSay really are leaving public life in a dignified manner, aren't they? Now Noel is blaming Elton John for the end of the band. He seems to think that it wasn't until Elton pointed out that Danny looked like Shrek that the public started to take potshots at the bunch of Family Fortunes winning song-slappers. Noel, we were being disparaging while Elton was still ironing his frocks...


A MARK OF RESPECT: That's why McCartney';s cancelled his Melbourne gig [as reported by the nme], nothing to do with him being scared, oh no. "It's not the appopriate time for a rock concert" he says - suggesting that Australia should, perhaps, be in a period of two month's mourning. Maybe Australian TV should stop making Neighbours, too, and they should close the cinemas until Christmas at the very least?


IT MIGHT BE THE START OF THE END: We can but hope that the news that Pop Idol 2 has been put into a total holding pattern until next year - not even auditions before next spring - is a sign that the current generation of Opportunity Knocks is coming to an end. Amusingly, the programme makers are "aware there is a danger of overkill" - right up there with Henri Paul going "I think we might be travelling a bit fast." The pisspoor figures for Fame Academy are being cited as one the reasons for the realisation that this particular golden goose is shagged out.
See, the problem with Fame Academy isn't the big sing-off editions - they work quite well, in a Op Knocks meets Weakest Link way. But it's the endless programmes in mid-week that bring the whole thing down. Clearly, the BBC thought it was going to be Kids from Fame but with a Big Brother element, but of course its not. The endless hours of rehearsal are dull - there's a reason why behind the scenes stuff is usually behind the scenes, and while the odd spot of sneaking about round the back can be fun, lots of people in legwarmers being useless is a bit tedious. The other stuff, where Richard Park shares his knowledge with the wannabe musicians, is curious but also bad telly - he's giving them great, solid, valuable advice about the music industry, which is on a par with telling a swimsuit model how her bikini fabric was invented. People interested in the mechanics of a music industry career tend to take a more traditional route into the industry than go on Vince Purity's You Should Be So Lucky. In addition, of course, while music biz seminars are great for people who want to be label bosses or pluggers, they're incredibly dull things if you're not actively participating. So, in effect, the BBC is serving up live coverage of what amounts to a sales conference with participants who'd rather be off learning the moves from the Its Raining Men video all through the week. By the time the quite-well-thought-out sing off comes round, people have already associated Fame Academy with the equivalent of having museli rubbed into your face, and so they don't bother.


AS OIRISH AS A GREEN PINT OF GUINESS ON ST PATRICKS DAY IN BOSTON: Bono and Gavin Friday write a song for Andrea Corr. Oddly, they've decided to call it In America rather than, say, Beggorrah, or The Land of Little People And Bogs. We think it might be Bono's way of reminding that he's Irish.


KYLIE KNICKERS IN A TWIST: You might have thought you could trust an MP. [Pauses for laughter to die down]. Yeah, but even so, who on earth would try and pass off 'a pair of knickers from her clothing range' as knickers that Kylie has worn - even setting aside the disappointing lack of DNA for cloning possibilities, that's gonna be a bum deal, isn't it? Although we do like the idea of the Australian Labour Party being so bankrupt both fiscally and morally that they're reduced first to flogging worn pants and then to sink lower down to flogging faked sold pants - maybe it'll be soiled schoolgirl undergarments next?
The Ananova report is curious, though - it ends: "Kylie has promised to send the successful bidders, one of who spent AU$5,000 on the items, proper signed photographs and said she would reframe items at her own expense." Which makes us wonder - why did they come out of the frame at all? Did she need to sniff 'em to see if they were hers after all? Has there been rigorous testing undergone?