Wednesday, February 12, 2003

What the pop papers say: best grab a pot of coffee, it's a large edition

There’s only one question on everyone’s minds at the moment, but only the Daily Star Sunday had the balls to ask it: splashed across the front page - “Is Christina Aguilera the sexiest rock star on the planet?” Trouble is, they seemed to be expecting a ‘yes’ response, as if unaware that the sort of people who think that her show-me-your-ass posturing and singing about doing the rude is sexy are on a par with the sadsacks who drive home thinking “she doesn’t just sleep with me for the money... I really mean something to her.”

Christina has got one fan, though - talking to the Guardian Friday Review Wes Butters sighed that, if he was going to exploit his new position as presenter of the official UK Top 40, he’d make Christina Number One every week. The interview with the zero-to-hero chap - we can only assume the head of Radio One was misheard requesting some spread for his morning croissant, and “I want butter” was interpreted as an instruction to pluck him from Century FM - got even more depressing after that. He basically rubbished the whole concept of having the chart for its own sake which means, frankly, he’s the wrong choice for the job. The great chart presenters are like the best readers of the Classified Football results - whether its the chart position of It Bites, or Rushden and Diamond’s pool panel judgement, you’ve got to convince people that it’s important, or else what is the point of even bothering? I doubt if ‘Fluff’ Freeman ever lost any sleep over Herman Hermit’s record sales, but he made you feel like ‘I’m into something good’ sliding two to number six was of vital significance in all our lives. If you can’t make people feel like the ordering of the records you’re playng has some sort of significance, then you’re just driving another show with just another playlist. “I’ll be calling stars up on air to let them know they’re number one” drawls Wes, excited at the prospect of being the one to break the news to Christina that her record has sold a few more than the Teletubbies. I look forward to that - “You got me out of bed at what time to tell me something that the Chart People had already faxed through to my people hours ago?”

Also living in a fantasy land, though for different reasons, is Syd Barrett, who has a more than walk-on part in David Flusfeder’s novel The Gift, received by Hugo Barnacle for review in the New Statesman - Syd becomes the ultimate prize, apparently, in a battle between two couples to give the best, the biggest, the most extravagant gift. Keeping to the Floyd theme, poet Celia Brayfield uses her diary to remember a spat between Roshan Doug and Sean O’Brien over whether Pink Floyd was a better poet than the writer of Mystery Train. Celia wants to hold an Eminem versus Eliot rematch, but can’t find a poet prepared to take TS’ side against Slim in public.

Elsewhere in the Statesman, Darcus Howe trots out the predictable line on why jackson has buggered his face up - it’s not because he’s nuts, it’s because “he was a prisoner of the global corporations”, you see. Apparently Jackson was the first black person to successfully market music to non-blacks, claims Howe. It’s funny how a columnist usually quick enough to point when non-white faces are being painted out of history for convenience manages to do the same thing to Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzergerald, Billie Holliday, Harry Belafonte (and so on) when it makes an easy shot that bit easier. And if the White Entertainment Industry put the Wacko into Jacko, then why is it still possible to have a sensible conversation with Lionel Ritchie and Stevie Wonder?

Equally dimwitted on the same subject - but of course - comes Amanda Platell. Look, I’m not one to often direct my conversation directly to Murdoch employees, but couldn’t someone at Wapping please give her a full time job there to save us from her half-formed thoughts on media week in, week out? She conflates - admittedly quite deftly - the Bashir-Jackson bout with the Benn-Saddam meeting, but then falls apart. “Benn and Bashir proved they are to journalism what Sophie Wessex is to the monarchy - a complete disgrace.” Eh? Why on earth Sophie was dragged into the sentence isn’t clear - it’s hardly a very topical reference; like making a Will Carling joke, and the analogy makes precious little sense. In fact, the charge makes little sense, either. Whatever the shortcomings of Benn’s meeting with one of the top ten mass murderers of our age, he never pretended he was going as journalist - although the meeting was taped, it was a meeting rather than an interview. Maybe Amanda thinks when her butcher says “Ya alright, Manda, love? Scraps for the dog again, is it?” she’s being subjected to a journalistic cross-examination. “One man murders children, the other sleeps with them. How either interviewer could shake hands with these individuals is beyond me - let alone give them an international platform.” Righto, then, that’s clear. You must never run an interview with someone who’s done wrong. Otherwise, presumably, Amanda fears journalism might start to contribute to some sort of understanding about the world we live in and why people sometimes do bad things - and that would never do. More puzzling is that Amanda objects to the Jackson film - an endeavour which has led the Californian social services opening an investigation into what exactly goes on at neverland. Without Bashir’s access, Jackson would never have been given the opportunity to condemn himself out of his own mouth and his rehabilitation would have been continued. Surely Bashir’s handshake for the man has done more to protect Jackson’s sleepover buddies than if he’d just turned his back? Or does Platell believe that the public are too dim witted to pay attention to the words and arguments, and would just have been staring at Jackson’s face? [Not that that would have helped him much, either, come to think of it]

A new title this week, Word, which is (roughly speaking) an attempt to do for the monthlies what Careless Talk Costs Lives is trying to do for the alt-rock magazine market - put the quality of writing and the quality of the subject back at the heart of the magazine industry. It’s probably the desire to make the words count - “Something to read” promises the front page - that it looks so poorly designed; as if the team behind it (Ellen, DuNoyer, Hepworth) had pinched a quark template before they left EMAP and, with only that and the Telegraph Sunday Magazine as a guide, decided that was all the design they needed. In other words, it looks an awful lot like Mojo. The strapline “Music and entertainment now” recalls Q’s issue one clarion call “The modern guide to music and more.” But the writing, it has to be said, is more engaging than either.

In the opening letter Mark Ellen (who, as if declaring an interest, I should admit I would have when he was doing Whistle Test and, in fact, still would) proudly claims the launch has been put together totally free of market research. And that makes sense to a certain extent - the number of years service on consumer magazines clocked up by the team gives their gut instincts about what to publish a credibility no amount of Bourbon-munching focus groupers could claim - but the danger of publishing everything “because we wanted to read it” is demonstrated by the debut issue - presumably as a result of the sudden break from the Rule By Pie Chart EMAP empire, what Word wants to talk about turns out to be magazines more often than music - so Felix ‘Maxim’ Dennis is the very first interview off the block; there’s a feature on Found Magazine; the death of Strummer is approached through the NME picture shoot of Pennie Smith; Magazine of the Month is a regular column; Neil Tennant is introduced with the words “We first met Neil Tennant at Smash Hits in 1981...”; the report on the charts is used to scorn the new Smash Hits chart and the evil machinations of EMAP; Battle and Valiant stories getting re-run in Judge Dredd Magazine is reported upon, as is the reshaping of Kate Winslet to make her legs less offensive to GQ readers; Andrew Collins’ ‘how I got to write for nme’ memoir is reviewed in the Books section, and then Collins hi’self turns up to talk about what it’s like writing Eastenders, which gives him the chance to shoehorn in his anecdote about telling Mal Young he wrote for Q and as such couldn’t write for Brookside and the fabulous reviews section is introduced by comparisons with other magazines - rejecting the “200 albums reviewed and rated” approach (um... didn’t you guys invent and introduce the ‘more reviews than you’ inflation with the first Q magazine?). Next month, we’re promised an interview with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop. Even one of the advertisers - Jack - is a magazine. (Interestingly, Jack boasts about all sorts of awards, and yet, apart from me, I’ve never seen anyone reading a copy. Not even buying; I mean, standing in Smiths flicking through a copy - nobdy. Ever. is it a title that nobody else can see?) Now, this focus on writing about writing is fine by me - especially when it’s done as well as this - but I do wonder if Word isn’t in danger of lurching into being some sort of Trade Magazine for the Music Press. (Incidently, Mr. Ellen, if you are, and you’re looking for a poorly written digest of the music press for each issue...)

To return to the central Tennant, he’s asked if the music industry is going to hell in a handbasket; he laughs that when he got his contract for internet downloads they were trying to charge him a packaging deduction. Pointing at Robbie William’s contract, Neil concludes that while Cds are turning into just another bit of merchandise, the future of music might not be just in the recordings. Curiously, this means that by 2010 the basic truth of the music industry could be stood on its head - no more would tours be the loss-leader to flog the album; it could be the other way round.

Miranda Sawyer (oh, there’s that declaration of interest again) meets Mel C, who apologises for the Pop Idol “anyone can have a number one” wash that has trailed after the Spice Girls. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who was in what was - back when jokes about Sophie Wessex were cutting edge - in the biggest band in pop could remain so human and humble, and able to tell a story about being so drunk that Liam Gallagher was embarrassed, without sounding like a Gucci-toting spanker. We - officially - love Mel C.

Another long standing bunch of bsn favourites - Clare Grogan, Kim Wilde, Steve Strange and the Human League - all turn up in the Here & Now tour report. “Altered Images” on the tour are actually Clare Grogan solo, and she jumps out a cake. Steve Strange, for some reason, is dressed like a mid-ranking officer of the Greek Navy.

The big draw for issue one is Nick Cave, whose interview is fleshed out with wonderfully well researched nuggets of information - such as ‘And the ass saw the angel’ got an enthusiastic review from the Daily Mail. Curiously, Cave claims that he’s always felt an imposter in the music world but feels a lot more confident with his writing, while admitting the process that produced ‘Ass’ was taking a rejected film script and a thesaurus to Berlin.

So, in all, Word makes an impressive debut, but we’re not sure if it’s mix is going to be appealing to readers in large enough quantities to keep it as a going concern (how big was the crossover between the Human League and the Bad Seeds?). But we hope it finds a niche that will support it.

With a new kid on the rack, are the others lifting their game? Uncut have given themselves a shiny glam masthead and a free CD (something Word have said they won’t be doing) - the Uncut covermounts have really been interesting in the last few months, going beyond the usual rag-baggage and theming the tracklisting in more inventive ways - hence, to go with the Ziggy Special, we get Best Bowie Covers - Blondie, Ian McCulloch, Langley Schools Project. Oddly, on the cover Midge Ure’s solo effort is credited to Ultravox. Best of all, Black Box Recorder’s Rock and Roll Suicide is in there - “never previously available on CD” they say, though I’m sure it has been.

Joe Strummer is memorialised and Nick Cave is interviewed here as well. Loud Reed is his usual grumpy self, refusing to allow his interview to wander off the topic of music - you’d have thought that the man who recorded the ‘New York’ album might at least be able to offer a perspective on the city since You-Know-What in the context of his own work, but nope; instead he decides to say “I’m no critic, but The Strokes and The White Stripes aren’t as exciting as we were because we were new... what’s new now is the technology. I couldn’t comment on what the songs are saying as its very hard to understand the words.” Lou Reed - the man who made Metal Music Machine - is now saying“All this new music is made on computers, and why can’t you hear the lyrics?” It might be heartfelt but - hey, Lou - my dad was doing that back in the seventies.

The Ziggy restrospective is, as you’d expect, rather well done but, really, not quite as much fun as watching Velvet Goldmine.

Uncut’s album of the month is Ed Harcourt’s From Every Sphere.

Still leading the perfect bound crowd from the front, of course, is Q. This month, because its Edition 200 (is there ever a time when Q isn’t celebrating? It passes milestones the way my grandfather used to pass kidneystones - with a lot of fuss and attention, probably out of proportion to the event itself. There’s a photo book with this months, of course, which means the magazine comes sealed in a plastic bag. Which is a sweet relief, as the cover rpoepr is Courtney Love on a naked rampage. Only a superfluous barcode saves us from the first full-frontal Q cover since Terence Trent D’arby scared nearly every copy of Neither Fish Nor Flesh back into the warehouses.

Krist Novoselic offers to answer reader’s questions, but being the One That Didn’t Die and Isn’t In the Foo Fighters has obviously turned him into a Lou-in-waiting. Diana Flint, for example, is told to fuck off for asking if Kurt “had any bad habits.” Another one for the list of Bitter Men in pop.

Still, even that’s nicer than the spread of a naked Courtney - small child tits and ‘give her a pie’ ribcage writhing in a London street on Christmas Eve (the ghost of credibility past, we presume). Since this was a few hours after the never-quite-balanced Love had heard about Strummer’s death, you might ask whether it’s entirely ethical of the magazine to have run the resulting photos. Although, gloriously, after three pages of naked courtney, the next page is an advert headlined “Look what I picked up in the sex lottery - genital herpes”, which is either inspired, wicked, or proof of a god with a sense of humour.

Where are they now this month is Whigfield. She’s now doing tours of Finland and Estonia, you know.

To mark Q200, there’s dozens of single page interviews with the stars. So, we learn that it is possible to make Marilyn manson squirm - the self-appointed god of fuck said “enough” when his mum started telling him about his dad tying her up and fucking her; Keith richards thinks that mobile phones are microwave ovens (er... right - we think he means they’re dangerous. Because you know Keith treats his body with respect); Jay-Z doesn’t want to see naked men - we presume that means he’d rather they were behind him, sliding their fat cocks in between his saucy butt-cheeks; Ricky Gervais’ highlight of the last sixteen years was fighting Grant Bovey on the telly; The Clown from Slipknow thinks hell would be never being able to sleep; Craig Nicholls thinks Richard Ashcroft is the greatest living englishman; Justin Timberlake - when asked what side he dresses to - replies “a little to the left”, which either means he’s got a flexible one, or a tiny one; David Bowie thinks The Office is one of the funniest things he’s seen in ages (admittedly, he doesn’t get Angie writing poems for him anymore); Christina Aguilera wants to punch girls who talk shit about her in the press - she’ll need to set aside a very, very long time - and hates people who try to chat her up by saying “You’re so much better than Britney Spears” - well, who wants a relationship with someone whose opening line is a blatant lie?; Steven Tyler’s ire is for the executive who decided that that Bee Gees Sergeant Pepper movie should go into production; Johnny Knoxville’s father told him “the best part of you ran down your mother’s crack”; Moby most wants to punch himself - you know what, Moby? We’re right behind you on that one. We’d suggest following up by using a brick in a handbag; Jack White - who in the photo recreates Cher on a Navy Gun using an aeroplane propeller - suggests that God is a mirror; Avril Lavigne says that you can tell a Canadian from an American because the Canadians are more relaxed - which is curious, considering they share a land border with the maddest nuclear power on Earth - if I was Canadian, I’d be seriously digging a fucking huge trench along the coasts of the great Lakes, and filling it with explosives. Norman Cook spent last New Years Eve getting pissed with Bono and The Edge. It makes you see why Zoe left him, even if the alternative was that bloke with the teeth like Shane McGowan; Nelly nominates Paul McCartney as the greatest living Englishman, although, disturbingly for Liverpool’s tourist board, has to confirm that he’s english before he does so; Craig David gets snippy when Q makes the “what’s your flava”/ice cream joke; Dave grohl has never sent a text or done two girls at once; Beyonce Knowles made her own turkey last Christmas and Anthony Keidis really wants to punch Mayor McCheese.

Spookily, Q quite likes the new Appleton album.

Q comes sealed with the eventual cover strumpy Courtney shots. This weeks NME comes sealed with... yes, Courtney inside. Not naked, but dressed as Donald Duck. “The interview everyone wanted” pledges the banner headline - the words “after Michael Jackson and Phil Spector; oh, and probably Craig Vines” must be too small for the human eye. The issue is sealed to allow a CD to be slipped our way - it’s pretty good: Ryan Adams, BRMC; Radiohead; Ash and, um, Oasis. This week its £1.60 - is this a price rise or just another pointless fucking about with the readers?

As is apparently the new tradition, the cover story spreads over the first few pages of the magazine. Apparently the whole plane thing was a stewardess on a power trip “after September 11” - really? wasn’t an - ahem - emotional rich woman throwing a strop because she was too tight to buy her friend a first class ticket, then? The Q pictures are apparently the subject of legal emails - she feels they were published “out of context”, although we’re not quite sure what the context would have been in the first place; talking of photos, the nme gets inexplicably excited about its “exclusive” picture of Starsailor standing next to Phil Spector - as if, say Starsailor had denied ever working with him, or it was vital evidence in the murder case. Really, “Band have studio photo taken with producer” isn’t much to get excited over; the new White Stripes look is “dying country stars” because, um, there’s no honesty left in country music. apparently; “Eventually Eminem and 50 Cent will be considered the two biggest artists - period” predicts, predictably, 50 Cent - file next to “T’pau will never be forgotten, claims Decker”; Steve O is perhaps the most rubbish person in the world; Tom Morello reports the “anti-war movement is growing fast” as the NME publishes the results of their online, and as such not really worthwhile, survey of readers (we presume the promised War Special has been held back to make room for the NME awards specials?); Willie McCool, one of the Space Shuttle people, had taken a copy of a Weezer album into space with him; Polly Harvey is going to work with Queens of the Stone Age - oh, good, I really can’t wait. let’s hope nobody slips the master tapes into a NASA flight.

We’d like to extend a welcome to new NME news editor Mel Myers, by the way - or at least, her name has finally appeared on the pages. So far, no great change. But give her time...

Hats off to ITV who are trying to bark up an audience for the Brits by running photos of John Prescott in a sou’wester - yes, we know why, but in trying to pass the event off as exciting and dangerous you’ve spent a fortune placing full page ads of an ugly old man wearing the only clothing not even Cerys matthews could make sexy.

Ryan Adams does the CD thing - Don Henley; Slayer and Bonnie Raitt

Justin Timberlake continues his “Please like me - but seriously” tour of the world. But still, the only time he touches base with interesting is when someone asks him about Britney.

Because its Valentines Day, the NME lists the ten cutest couples in rock - Bert McCracken and Kelly Osbourne? Angus Andrew and Karen O?; Har Mar Superstar (yes, they’re still hoping we’ll care) gives his top ten Valentine Tips, though why anyone would want advice from a man whose left hand won’t even return his calls is anyone’s guess.

Better, though, is How To Shag A Rock Star: Karen O goes for big dick and ‘Pussy Dont Fail Me Now’ gets her in the mood - bad news for us, we don’t own a Missy Elliot record; Carl from the Libertines seems to be pretty open for anything, apart from cooking breakfast in case it’s flatmate’s food; Sharin from the Raveonettes finds bad kissers a turn-off and likes the Kinky Viking position and Dick Valentine from Electric Six would offer an assortment of pies before shagging, and a choice of bagels in the morning.

Charlotte Ash and - ahem - casey Spooner offer love advice while Harry (from Dirty Harry as was, until Clint got grumpy) has to choose between members of - yes - The Darkness.

The Polyphonic Spree have a dark side - but its not on the next record. Actually, we suspect that making another record is pretty much an act of willfull evil...

singles... singles first? how they play with our perceptions
sotw - the hiss - triumph - “it sounds like the future”
the rain band - easy rider - “the tunes to bolster the bravado”
the music - the truth is no words - “like the datsuns, but not sexy”

the sleepy jackson - the sleepy jackson - “between the Spree and Nick Cave”, 9
the go betweens - bright yellow, bright orange - “the work of indie pop royalty”, 8
good charlotte - the young and the hopeless - “Jimmy Eat World with something to say”, 8

jay-z - london wembley arena - “rhymes over a tape. and really, that’s enough”
starsailor - london astoria - “a glorious future”
electric six - cardiff barfly - “can electric six transcend trhe novelty of their triumphant opening fanfare?”

and finally:in response to a “cut Craig some slack” letter, Simon Lewis trumpets “but we have to report... The TRUTH!” Maybe. But over five pages? With graphics? Sure, there’s the truth. And we’re all nosey. But it does all smack a little of “we need another Kurt.”

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