Wednesday, September 24, 2003

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: Inserts not included edition

In the past it was a lot simpler - you'd reach a certain age - somewhere between 22 and, at a push, 35 - and you'd freeze dry your record collection, stop going to gigs and, certainly, stop reading music papers. Your daily paper wouldn't trouble you with news of what young people were listening to and, in effect, you retired from being interested in new music. Nowadays, of course, it's all changed, and when you reach the point where, in the past, you would have decided your Cd collection had reached the 'enough' point, there's one of two approaches you can take. The first is to keep seeking out the same sort of stuff, often by the same bands, that you listened to in your youth - the approach adopted by Radio Two, and Uncut - kidding yourself that you're still at the bleeding edge and not noticing the bands who once you though would bring down the established order are now flogging mobile phones; the other route is that you still seek out new thrills, although surrounded by much that is familiar - in effect, everything you're sampling is grounded just as firmly in your past, but you're sampling artists who are still at least three weeks away from the Levis ad deal. You choose 6 Music and, of course, Q.

So, the big question when the Observer announced it was launching a Music Monthly to complement is Sport and Food titles (which originally were meant to be sold as stand-alone titles as well as coming free in the belly of the Sunday paper, but it's been a very long time since we've seen a place flogging OSM after the weekend) was: is it a 2 or a 6 title? That they gave the cover to Blur suggested it was going to be a haven for people who lean towards the former - the ones who'll buy new CDs, but probably won't have to introduce new band names into their alphabetical filing systems. In his welcome message, editor Caspar Llewellyn Smith describe Blur as "britpop's finest", a phrase which strikes more dread into a reader's heart than a promise of Julie Burchill inside (she's there too, though). Even though the Observer might have shed the dreadful torpor of the Tiny Rowland years, it's first edition of Music Monthly starts with all the signs pointing to being a little, well, Dad. You expect Paul Weller to loom at you at any point.

It gets worse before it gets better - there's a run down of the "ten greatest publicity stunts", which has elvis joining the army at one but, erm, Justin Timberlake's 'Cry me a river' video at ten (no, we couldn't quite work out why, either). Ben Thompson, who compiled the list, suggests that a great publicity stunt has to "harness the kind of energy that cannot be orchestrated", which is clearly bollocks - a stunt has to be totally orchestrated, by definition. Otherwise it's just a thing that happened. Oh, and Jarvis waggling his arse at Michael Jackson wasn't a stunt either. Not premeditated, pal. You were thinking of the Chumbas and Prescott, I'd imagine.

Then there's "the secret life of Britney Spears" - it turns out - and you might not know this - she KISSED MADONNA. And... you'll never guess... she WAS A MOUSKETEER... WITH CHRISTINA AND JUSTIN. This is akin to the paper launching a Politics Monthly with revelations that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did a deal over the leadership, and Peter Mandelson is gay.

Other misfirings are a really, really dull article about Fluxmaster Flex's New York Car Show - there is no magazine anywhere that should run an article which starts with the words "Wyclef was waiting for his sharks", and a piece wanders in having, presumably, been rejected by The Wire, about pygmy musicians in the Central African Republic - it's interesting, but smacks more of the Sunday Supplement than a music monthly. And Record Doctor looks promising - a celeb's record collection is audited, new titles suggested, and their reactions garnered - but it's thrown away by taking Jade Jagger as its subject for issue one. Nobody much cares, really.

But there are better ideas - the always worthwhile Tom Cox writes about Goths - "in goth terms, leeds is the city Nottingham aspires to be"; the albums are reviewed with the "25 best" (this week The Strokes to Arvo Part) and the worst - Limp Bizkit, if you need to ask. Paul Morley, in what we hope is a regular slot, writes about music on TV, taking the brief as a cue to be as wide ranging as possible, allowing him to observe that "Emmerdale is in no way as seedily glamorous as Placebo's gothic pop"; in a more interesting spin on the new Small Ads feature, Rhodri Marsden is going about answering 'musicians wanted' adverts - although it's not clear that this approach will have much in the way of legs, all bands in search of a bassist tending to be much the same.

But where OMM really scores is some excellent, revealing interviews. Kitty Empire meets the Distillers, whose Brody talks of playing with Garbage on tour, claiming that their music went "over the head" of Garbage fans - although, Brody, if you're able to delude yourself that people who cherish Garbage are not going to be able to relate to songs of bitterness and hurt, it's not the Garbag-ites who are missing something, is it?

The Blur piece finds them unguarded - Alex James admits that he wants to "feel relevant" (by doing Fat Les?) and then, in a fabulous moment of self-delusion, Damon sighs that in the US, "we're a cult band here, always will be." Actually, Damon, you're not - you're one hit wonders, the band who did the 'woo-hoo' song, the one in the movie and the adverts and the trailers. In the States, you're not viewed as a Moldy Peaches' kind of band; you're more a less successful Blink 182.

But there's more - when the talk turns to politics, Damon says "it is WITHOUT QUESTION that our energy was used as a smokescreen for New Labour" (our emphasis) - really, Damon? You really believe that the sweeping to power of the Blairs was done behind a front of the Blurs? These, at best, sound like the words of someone who's grip on reality has loosened to the point where the shopping's about to tumble over the floor; surely Damon hasn't got to the point where he actually believes that, has he?

Then, the quiet man of the band pipes up about Damon's anti-war campaign. Dave: "I'm not a pacifist. i think that sometimes war is an appalling thing [sometimes? are there some jolly wars we've missed out on hearing about?] but sometimes people killing each other can be justified as the lesser of a whole bunch of evils. Damon's view is not mine. Absolutely. I took a decision early on out of respect for him not to turn around and contradict him" - presumably the Observer isn't considered "public", then, which might account for the candour.

More surprising open mouths for the Hearsay piece - Bill Holland, from Universal Classics & Jazz, talks about their new signing, the million-pound-handed Myleeene Klass. "Myleene is not the world's greatest pianist; we're not pretending that she is, [although encouraging her to insure her hands for one million quid might suggest otherwise], but she's so attractive, she appears in hello... that makes it easier for us to target a broader market - after all, we're a business and we've got responsibilities to the shareholders to make money." Yeah, you know they think it - but for a senior record executive to basically say "our artist is a bit shit, but she's got nice tits and does the chat shows, we can flog her" is surprisingly Ratneresque, don't you think?

Meanwhile, Myleene's former colleague Kym Marsh is trying to make sense of it all; why did it go wrong? "They didn't like that we lifted the lid on the whole thing" she explains, sounding as self-importantly paranoid as Damon in her own way. Who are "they", Kym? The Industry? But how could they have punished you by making people get tired of you? And in what sense did Hear'Say "lift the lid" anyway - if I recall, it was the TV company and the judges who made a series about how easy it is to fling a band together - it's not like Danny and Noel were undercover investigators or anything, is it?

Elsewhere in the OMM, Sharleen Spiterri reviews the new Blondie album - I'm afraid to report bland, poorly written, there's a vague idea of what it wants to say but no real grasp of how to do so. The album, on the other hand, sounds quite jolly.

So, not a bad first issue, then - as you'd expect, they're stronger on the long articles and getting a decent interview from unpromising subjects than they are on the tricksy window dressing; and I'm not sure they'd get away with it in a paid-for title, but it's well above the sort of standard you might come to expect from sunday paper supplements (especially if your memory stretches back to when the mail on Sunday spent four tortuous weeks giving away, bit by bit, a jeffrey archer novel).

Onto the nme, then - coming with "art prints" this week, like the melody maker used to - actually, some are very nice indeed (karen o, especially) but why on earth is there one of Jet, a band who nobody actually likes, and a band so unpleasant that they probably don't even like themselves?

The cover has got Benny and Joon on it... hang on, no, that's jack and meg, isn't it?

The 'Big Picture' news story is Johnny Cash (face split down the break in the page, unfortunately); and the news proper kicks off with another strong Libertines piece, breaking the details of Pete's appeal and doing a deft recycle of a Guardian piece from last year by a chap who'd done the same sentence in the same prison as Mr. Doherty.

Travis are back... yes, just in time for autumn. They've got "political", writing a song that Fran announces as being "about the time the British Isles were going to war." Hmm, if you're going to do a little bit of politics, Mr. Healey, you might want to start with the basics - such as the difference between The British Isles, which are a geographical feature, and the United Kingdom, which is a State.

Brody Armstrong has become Brody Dalle again, having dropped the 'Armstrong' in the same way she dropped Tim, her husband-from-rancid. The NME has taken to calling her - apparently without irony - the "punk princess." Further in the issue, Tim from Rancid gets a chance to put his side of the story - "it's been six months [since the split] and I'm still super sad." he then goes on to claim that his band aren't "postcard punks" - maybe not, but only because you're so fucking ugly.

There's a report on the loss of the studio where Nirvana recorded Nevermind - destroyed in a freak truck accident. Rumours that it was driven by a cackling blonde woman dressed as Donald Duck are still being investigated.

Chris Moreno does the CD thing - cat power, Mogwai and Hank Williams.

This week Peter Robinson versus Tim Polyphonic Spree. Tim says "the smaller people are, the more intimidating they are", for all the world like a man scared of Jeanette Krankie.

Radar band are The Killers, whose name is so dull we can't even be arsed to acknowledge their existence; Gruff from the Super Furries selects Dead meadows as his favourite new band.

Apparently there's some nastiness between the Von bondies and the White stripes, which jack insists predates his dumping of Marcie Bolen.

Have you spent the last week desperate for the second half of the Strokes interview? No? Oh. Anyway, its here. The band promise never to pose in their bathing costumes, and say they'll never get in a helicopter "because that's how musicians die." Interestingly, they don't swear off drugs despite those claiming more rock deaths than helicopters - in fact, we can't actually think of any rock star who died in a chopper crash at all. Nick thinks "all the attention was making us seem like a cheesy rock band" - why, presumably, they've released a cheesy rock single as their comeback track.

Hope of the States wera the military jackets because "it's like putting on your armour and going to war." We wonder if this was the same reason Danny Ooberman took to wandering round dressed as an admiral in a eastern european navy.

There's an email/fax interview with Michael Alig, who apparently puts on game shows in jail for his fellow inmates - jesus, and we thought Pete was having it tough; at least in wandsworth you don't get caught in Alan Partridge's Fantasy World. (And, yes, Alig nearly does say he gives everyone a Wagon Wheel).

In amongst the tributes to Johnny Cash, all Fran Healy can find to say is that he didn't like the tone of the reporter from the BBC doing vox pops about Johnny Cash, which suggests his first real memory of Cash was hearing the news that he'd died.

peaches - nottingham - "far too funny to fit in", 9
deftones - rock city - "Moreno refuses to release Nottingham from his sweaty grasp", 8
blueskins - king tuts - "hairy diamonds in the rough", 7
yeah yeah yeahs - seattle - "Karen deep throats the microphone like a classy porn veteran", 8

various - desert sessions 9 & 10 - "cranky, self-indulgent, unpredictable and improper", 8
rufus wainwright - want - "elegant without being excruciating", 7
dido - life for rent - "david gray fans", 2

sotw - chicks on speed - we don't play guitars - "demented"
guided by voices - best of jill hives - "indie thrill"

this week, dustin hawthorne loves Morrissey - he once won a can of pepsi for looking a bit like him.

And, finally, back in the OMM, there's an advert for the latest Ocean Colour Scene album. So desperate to find a positive review to quote are they, they have to fall back on BBC Ceefax, a service read exclusively by your grandparents. OMM might be more 6Music than Radio 2; OCS don't even scrape into Radio 2 territory any more.

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