Thursday, January 01, 2004

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: The stars of the past will not be put out quietly
"If I'd had a gun, I would have shot myself." Does this mean, as the common interpretation of Pete Townsend's interview with The Observer seems to have concluded, that The Who man came close to suicide? Only if you believe that Kurt Cobain would still be alive if he hadn't had a gun, either. Generally, the suicidal look for a route to take them out of the world, and if Pete had seriously been considering leaving Daltrey as the sole survivor of the band, the absence of a firearm in his glittering home by the Thames wouldn't have stopped him. The interview with Sean O'Hagan is notable for, despite all his attempts to try and appear contrite, it's clear that he still can't quite accept what he did was wrong. The story has changed subtlely once again - it seems that now Pete wasn't researching a book when he typed his credit card details into the kiddie porn site, not was he gathering evidence to present to the authroities of child porn online; now, he says, he was trying to find people he could get to join a twelve-step plan. This is interesting, not merely because it's a new line of defence, but also because we'd always been led to believe that Alcoholics Anonymous type-groups were self-help organisations rather than set-up by people who didn't have the particular problem they were designed to combat. That they were usually the brainchild of recovered addicts, not of the well-meaning concerned. And yet it's obvious to anyone that Pete is telling the truth when he says he isn't a padeophile, and that although he paid for images of children being abused it wasn't something he did habitually.

Indeed, it might be easy to accept Pete's "I made a mistake" and move on were it not for two things. First, the extraodinary, shifting details he gives about what he did or did not do - at the time the news broke, he was adamant that he'd only gone as far as seeing as what was being offered at the site; now, he's apparently conceeding he did go further and actually look at "two or three" images; he also says that he went to the pay site after having seen a link saying it was an FBI sting. The justification for paying money to a child porn website which he had already been told was little more than a front for lawmakers on a trawl for mucky old men is tortured - it seems he thought that by putting his credit card details into the system he might meet people he could help with his twelve step programme; although surely if he wanted to reach out to help people who'd been captured wanking over buggered five year olds the place to start would have been getting in touch with the FBI rather than going to website?

The second difficulty in accepting Pete's contrition is his own insistence that he is "innocent" (despite having accepted a caution, which is an admission of guilt) and that he was caught on a "technicality": "It's tough. Although I'm at the lowest status, and it's a technicality, and I didn't commit a crime, and they didn't find anything, but I was cautioned for the use of a credit card, which is interpreted as encouraging people to disseminate more, inciting others to disseminate more." As O'Hagan points out, this isn't a technicality at all, but yer actual guilt. Not that Pete has stopped twisting - he constructs a massive, curious justification that David Blunkett changed the law so as to allow people (i.e. him) to be prosecuted for the use of credit card to buy kid porn prior to the actual passing of the law. We're not sure if this is paranoid fantasy or just fantasy - as far as we can recall, the only piece of legislation that has been enacted creating a retrospective crime in the last fifty years was designed to cover nazi war crimes - and whatever Pete did wrong, he hardly flayed a person to make a lampshade. And if David Blunkett had gone so far to try and create a constitution-twisting law merely to entrap and make an example of Pete Townshend, why then would he have let Pete get away with just a caution? Wouldn't he have insisted on a showtrial to make use of this new, extraordinary law?

Townshend isn't a paedophile. He did do something a bit (well, very) thick and - fairly - got drawn into the criminal justice system as a result. Clearly, though, he's yet to actually accept his guilt, despite taking the caution and signing the sex offender's register. If he had had a genuine defence for having given financial support to a company which made its money from distributing real pictures of real kids being really raped, the obvious line of action would have been to turn down the caution and use that defence in a courtroom. However much he might try and blame other people - the home secretary, the credit card companies, probably Tim Berners-Lee - sooner or later he's going to have to actually accept that he did a thing that wasn't just an "error of judgement", but was "commiting a crime." The Observer headlined the interview "won't get fooled again", which we think was meant to reflect Townshend's confused-into-buying-kid-porn tale, but would also cover the "lie to me" approach of the media - although, desperate to believe, most papers seem happy to play along with Pete's tales. The full interview is on the Guardian website.

X-Ray kicks off a bold look forward into its second year, secure in the knowledge that its main competitor, Bang, is gone. To celebrate, it's even allowed itself to pretend that it's the Radio Times and covered its New Year edition with an illustration. We weren't entirely sure if the character in white spandex was meant to be Justin Hawkins with a little less hair than usual, or Iain Duncan Smith with a little extra; "Karen O" appears to be receving vaginal penetration from a tulip-shaped alien's antenna, which would account for the surprised look of pain on her face; Charisma Carpenter seems to have joined the White Stripes and we're not certain if the guy at the front is George Harrison or one of the Kings of Leon; he is equally unlike both.

It's another cracker of a CD: British Sea Power, Belle & Sebastian and Electric Soft Parade. Jet are on it, too, but every party has its bowl of cheese balls to avoid.

The Electric Soft Parade make a frankly baffling attack on Britney Spears - "she's juts being a cunt" mutters Tom, because the MTV snog-stunt "is leading people to think there's a difference between lesbianism and being gay." Um... but isn't there actually a difference between two girlfriends kissing and being gay? Isn't that rather tha point?

The difficulties of promoting rebellion from within the belly of corporate beast: X-Ray attacks Britney for "sucking Starbuck's cock", while running a full-page ad for Borders, whose eager consumers are, erm, refreshed by Starbucks. Not to mention damning someone for working a corporate line in a house magazine for part of Capital PLC, of course.

Gobsausage might be the next big thing, or they might not. We're thinking they might not be, because "a live phenomenon on the sleazy underbelly of London's art-porn scene and are given to parading tits-out through the streets of the capital" makes them sound less like an exciting, daunting prospect cutting through the taboos of society and more like a bunch of desperate show-offs with half an idea. If Malcolm Maclaren can claim to have done your act twenty-five years ago, and still be telling the truth, loves, you were born passe.

And we suspect the same might be true of Scissor Sisters, who look like Fischerspooner going to a fancy dress as Kid Creole and the Coconuts. They have names like Ana Matronic and Paddy Boom and - oh, how shocking - the band name is slang for a type of lesbian. The trouble is that they come across like they've spent a lot of time thinking about their image, but look like any half-well-funded indie band, except with some hats. It's all very well to think "we'll be a glamorous alternative", but some people just can't dress for shit.

Now, looking good are the Golden Virgins - smart, with a band uniform, and a snappy sense of coherent statements being made through their choice of trousers. It's only slightly hobbled by the black suit; red shirt; black tie combination already having been trademarked by Interpol.

X-Ray's Top 50 albums of 2003 is headed up by The Sleepy Jackson's Lovers, which just points up how the magazine is just ever so slightly more hip than the parent radio station. It also likes OutKast, of course, but so does everyone.

- You do a lot of screaming. Does it hurt?
- I found out a month ago I have a node on my vocal chords... if Christina Aguilera gets a node, she's fucked, becasue it affects the clarity of the voice. For me, because I scream, it's not so bad
- Brody Dalle, quite relaxed about having an open wound on her vocal chords.

New Year, New Musical Express. And what fresh delight do we have offering us the prospect of joy and discovery in the untested, virginal 2004? The fucking return of Oasis. Apparently, their sixth album "promises to be their best album yet" - quite a claim, since they haven't recorded a single note for it yet, and the lumbering back into the recording studio of the musical version of the Guardian's Slack Dad column is greeted with a sense of hoopla at Kings Reach Tower that doesn't reallt feel like its matched in the wider world. "Only Radiohead are at a comparable stage to Oasis in their career" claims the paper, fighting for breath (the nme can only think of two bands who have released six albums?); the new Oasis, out in September, "is their most important yet" and the two band's relative critical fortunes are depicted in a little graph, showing Oasis pulling ahead of Thom and his mates with this album, having got a lower mark on all but their first album so far. Except, of course, Hail to the Theif has been recorded, played and rated, whereas the surge for Oasis is achieved purely by the assumption that - when this new album is made - it will get nine out of ten. But how likely is that? Talking to one of the three (THREE!) journalists it took to put together the single page, Noel admits he's run out of things to say, and songwriting has become "a constant struggle to say the same thing differently", and promises the album will sound like a cross between Highway 61 Revisited, Their Satanic Majesties Request and The Stone Roses. In other words, at its freshest, it's going to sound as bang-up-to-date as 1989. But why would Noel have let himself be influenced by the modern world - a man who thinks Chris Martin is a genius but fails to understand the Flaming Lips - "Come on, you weird fucking cunt, try and play a gig without some twenty foot vegetable behind you" (harsh words from someone who shares half the writing credits on his next record with a man who makes corn on the cob seem like intelligent life). Part of the reason Liam will be getting a few quid extra for his songs this time is Noel is too busy to write much - "now I've got kids and this and that, I don't have time to write as much as I used to." I'm sure people working a double shift down the hospital laundry will feel the requisite level of sympathy for him.

But Liam and Noel aren't the most-clapped out double act featured in the nme this week, as Chas and Dave crop up in a full-page picture thanks to their Libertines warm-up. Actually, that doesn't mean Liam and Noel aren't the most clapped-out double act, does it? And, to be honest, Dave looks better than either of the Gallagher boys these days and - whatever else you might think of them - the old-joanna-hammering duo's distinctive style is all their own, rather than some pastiche of a shimmering McCartney past, and while we wouldn't claim the Sideboard Song is better than anything Oasis have ever done, it's still better than anything they've done on the last four albums.

Ryan Sult, of and the nme's man in detroit was an eyewitness to the Jack White - Jason Stllsteimer punch-up, and it sounds like he'll wind up being a material witness too. His version of events won't, it has to be said, help White's defence team very much. Anyone who's ever been lucky enough to have an argument with someone off their tits on coke will find the events sounding kind of familiar.

Courtney Love has faxed the nme to tell them that she's alright now, and the new album's going to be out soon and Brody Dalle is her new best friend, and everything. The lyrics to the first single from the new album, "mono", are going to make us "stop dead in our tracks": "well they say that rock is dead/ and they're probably right/ 99 girls in the pit/ did it have to come to this?" Oddly, we're finding we're still ambulatory so far - maybe it'll be the chorus that does it.

Peter Robinson takes on Sophie Ellis-Bextor, but she is pregnant and lovely so its not a fox-and-chicken shake to the death. Sophie knows there's a difference between a school disco and School Disco (TM), and that's reason enough in our book to cherish her.

Scissor Sisters are in the nme, too, look, as Radar band. But now jake Shears looks a little bit more like Justin Timberlake than he used to.

So, Oasis' comeback is one of the 101 reasons why 2004 will be great. Some others, slightly more convincing are:
Albums from The Streets, the Libertines and The Vines
The tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, 20th of Marvin Gaye and 25th of Sid Vicious
Hooker Chic apparently being "in" (which means that Hardman Street in Liverpool has been waiting for 2004 for the last seven years or so) and the first new crappily named scene of the year: Art Wave (listen to Kling Klang and look like Justine Frischmann is our understanding of it, neither of which are bad things in themselves)
A website about plimsoles
The possibility of a new Chris Morris series
Oh, and a festival in Lisbon which is going to pretend its Rock In Rio. I see.

Single of the week, as record shops start to get back to proper business after weeks of fending off enquiries like "have you got the single about primal scream therapy from the movie about the rabbit?", is Peaches and Iggy Pop - Kick It. This is a perfect pairing, of course, and just further points out why the Marilyn Manson meets Peaches photo in the last edition looked so plain wrong.

And finally: in the Observer, Colin Murray suggested the best thing about last year was the Darkness, and the worst was the re-appraisal of Elton John's early career. In other words, he's desperate to try and prove he's in on the joke, but doesn't actually have the first clue what it's about. It's like claiming Mike Yarwood is the greatest commedian of modern times without knowing who Harold Wilson is.

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