Sunday, June 05, 2005

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: Look, you have to wait for our old landlord to pop the NME through our new front door

There's been an element of "see?" about web reaction to Conor McNicholas' UK Press Gazette interview (marking his anointment as Editor of the Year), mainly focusing on his admission that his tenure in charge of the NME has been focused on bringing in a younger readership - and while we agree with DJ Martian that this does leave a bit of huge gap in the target market for IPC Ignite's music magazines, we're not entirely convinced that McNicholas was wrong in trying to get teenagers buying the NME again - after all, while old sods are great, the paper has survived for fifty years not by hanging on to the people who were reading it in 1952, but by regenerating itself time and time again. And while we wouldn't agree with everything he's done, there's no question that he's managed to stop the paper going the way of the Melody Maker: "Frankly, when I joined [as editor] about three years ago, there was a whole generation of 18 year-olds who didn't actually know who the fuck we were," he adds. "An absolute mainstay of popular culture and nobody knew who we were. I thought that was a travesty." Leaving aside the question of how you can have a generation of 18 year-olds, it's worth remembering it wasn't long ago that the NME had lost its crown as the world's biggest selling rock weekly to Kerrang. It's taken McNicholas' paper a long time to settle down - and it wasn't helped by following blind alleys like Andrew WK and hiring that woman from the Daily Star to edit the news pages, and it's clear he's listened to a lot of the criticism and done a lot to return a bit more bottom to the paper. That he's managed to reverse the aging of the readership, though, isn't a criticism. I started reading the pop papers when I was 12 (although my initial spiritual home was Record Mirror, which ran more topless pictures of Martin Gore) and it's surely more vital for the long term health of the magazine (and the UK music scene) for the NME to be tempting the smarter twelve year olds into its world than to keep the thirtysomethings. Frankly, if you think that the NME is getting too trivial for you, it's possibly as much because your musical tastes are starting to get a bit Dido at the edges as because the paper has dumbed down.

On the other hand, with Oasis on the cover this week, clearly McNicholas needs to make the paper even less relevant to grumpy old men who should know better. Frankly, we can't really describe quite what Liam Gallagher but if you remember the TV series Horace, he looks a bit like the lead character from that. Only more daft.

News focuses on the Stone Roses reunion rumours (it's not going to happen, unless the Inland Revenue demand a large slew of back taxes); Thom Yorke turning up at Parliament to demand something be done about global warming, and the Killers turning down the offer a headline slot at Glastonbury - even they thought that would be taking the piss.

Peter Robinson's face is at the top of his page, but his name has disappeared: in other words, it's Spooky Unnamed Hand versus Maxi Jazz from Faithless. Jazz is happy that having been banned from driving as he's saving a fortune in petrol. The rest of the world is happy that he's banned from driving as it's one less cunt who believes that it's okay to drive after a couple of pints providing you've had a snack on the road.

The letters page has a complaint from someone that there's never any news about Placebo. See, Record Mirror, if it was still going, would be finding two or three excuses a month for a near-naked Brian Molko to be spread across the cover.

Even if Johnny Borrell thinks you're a genius, if you were really smart you wouldn't go round telling people, would you? Ryan Needham doesn't seem to spot the problem - he's singer with Komakino (they take their name from a Joy Division b-side, which couldn't be any more modish if the were called Dutch Vote Nie) who get a nice write-up as a thank-you for leaping into the gap on the NME new music tour when Nine Black Alps remembered they'd left the iron on.

So, the big Oasis feature is based on questions from fans - by which they mean goading from readers. Liam's response to being asked how drunk he was when they played Wembley in 2000 is to suggest the questioner's name is "rubbish"; and he says he's glad that Bloc Party - "them cunts" - don't like Oasis. Noel starts to get a bit frothy when he's accused of being lazy: "I work 18 hours a day and ended up playing Knebworth..." (you try telling kids that today, they won't believe you... oh, hang on, he's not stopped yet) "... ask Kelle from Bloc Party how [calling Oasis unambitious] sits this time in two years when he's working in his Dad's garden centre while I'm playing Red Rocks..." Do you see what Noel has done there? He's confused pleasing the lowest common denominator with being ambitious - if ticket sales told us who was the most risk-taking artist, then Celine Dion must be shaking our world to its roots.

In a really nice piece, Jeff Maysh answers the Busted/McFly management ad from a couple of weeks ago and - although Maysh can't sing - gets given an option to try out for "another project." They should have sent Tim Jonze, of course, who would have been given some nice trousers and a contract on the spot.

reviews
live
boy kill boy - camden koko - "every song is an anthem"
m83 - kings cross scala - "your brain is being ejected into outerspace"
the bravery - leeds blank canvas - "you won't trust them - they look too good, sound too good"

albums
foo fighters - in your honour - "your partner trying on costumes and gadgets [while you realise] they wouldn't have had to bother if you'd shown them more love in the first place", 7
the tears - here comes the tears - "an embarrassment of riches", 8
of montreal - the sunlandic twins - "a trip to Ikea with Kate Bush", 8

tracks
totw - kid carpet - £1,500 and a bus apology - "it wobbles but doesn't fall down"
neils children - always the same - "like syd barrett with 21st century bits"
keith - hold that gun - "nothing that sounds like it was made by a band called keith"

There's a Crazy frog interview, too. But it's a spoof. Now, this means either the answers are going to be (a) a stupid noise or (b) revealing that the Frog is actually erudite and witty and finds the concept of being famous for going"bing bing bing" a little embarrassing and that he really wants to be known for his songwriting. We won't spoil it for you and tell you which one they went with.

In The Guardian Guide, David Stubbs said out loud something which we'd felt for a long time - The Tube wasn't actually that good. "Paula Yates, draped sluttishly over Midge Ure, smugly asks him if he's embarrassed by old photos of himself. This from a woman in a pink puffball dress and mauve boots, interviewing a bloke with a pencil moustache and wearing enough Falcon hairspray to weld girders." Our main memories of The Tube are of Go West doing never-ending tracks, that bloke who used to blow up hot water bottles and the feeling that it was a very long time until Channel Four News would be on; even with enough airtime to allow three Shakespeare plays to be performed, when they did book a decent act, they'd fuck up the timings and run the credits and the Tyne Tees Television caption while the band would be half-way through their first song. Week in, week out, Whistle Test would out-perform them. The Tube would offer Paul Young, already with that "the game is up" rictus in his neck, while Whistle Test would have Sudden Sway; The Tube would make way for Ian Astbury to flounce about in a blouse three sizes too large, while Whistle Test would have the first live performance from the Pet Shop Boys. The Tube - by U2's own admission - would play a major part in creating the Bono-ego-machine (Malcolm Gerrie, the Tube producer, would routinely drop large chunks of U2 into the mix), while Whistle Test offered Ivor Cutler. The Whistle Test-Tube split is the same as the Swap Shop-Tiswas fracture, and just as the commercial kids show seemed to be brighter, busier and more fun, it was the BBC programme here, too, which actually offered something to watch. "Some of our audience might look bored" Muriel Gray once told Smash Hits, "but we wouldn't give them balloons and funny hats to try and disguise it." Nope, but then you wouldn't need to when there was the Paula Yates one-woman sideshow sucking down acres of camera-time to do that.

And finally: also for the Guide, Steve Lamacq offers a guide to making the perfect wooing mix tape. But... "before you get carried away and think that you can make a kiss-and-make-up compilation, trust me, it never works. By that point buy her something she really does want."