Friday, November 21, 2003

HALL OF FAME LIST: The nineteenth annual induction ceremony, which will take place on March 15th at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, will honor late Beatle George Harrison, pop legend Prince, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, Texas blues rockers ZZ Top, psychedelic pop band Traffic, Detroit rocker Bob Seger and vocal group the Dells.

Tickets are going to be changing hands for a fortune on Ebay, aren't they? Baseball tickets, theatre tickets, tickets to have your head massaged - people will be clamouring to find a prior engagement they can use to cry off going to see that Brewsters Restaurant of a celebrity roast.

ROBERT SMITH WILL BE TURNING IN HIS GRAVE. WE KNOW HE'S NOT DEAD, BUT HE'S A GOTH, SO HE PROBABLY SLEEPS IN ONE: BBC Four's jazz-take trailer using Friday I'm In Love [RealPlayer] is available online at the moment. Be warned, it features jazz's Jamie Oliver, Jamie Cullum. Cullum clearly has desires to break down the barriers between jazz and rock, and open jazz to a new audience, and he's certainly worked with us. Since his commercials started appearing on television every five minutes, he's become the first jazz musician we've ever added to our list of 'pop people who will be made to pay for their crimes when we become president.' If it ever gets made, we bet he has a cameo in the Girls Aloud movie.

AND NOW, A QUICK WORD ABOUT US: Later this evening, we're heading off Texas to spend thanksgiving with No Rock's in-laws, and so service might be erratic to say the least over the next seven days or so. However, we can certainly guarantee that there will be new stuff to read here every day next week from Monday to Friday as we've prepared a small holiday feature, What The Pop Papers Said, dragging a magazine from the archives for a good working over. So, we can promise two surprise guest appearances by Pete Burns, Louise Who Used To Be In Eternal naked, Tim Burgess discovering that they have Pizza Hut in America, the birth of MTV, the death of the Melody Maker and the chance to win a Commodore 64 game. If the Blogger technology doesn't let us down, there should be a fresh edition every day at midday.

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: A MINI, BITE SIZE EDITION: So, this one will be brief as well as delayed... the NME comes with a choice of CDs this week, which a cynic might suggest is a way of bolstering sales to help the average figures kepp nicely ahead of rivals Keranng - and since the CDs are both pretty good, it'd be churlish to suggest that anyone who shells out the GBP1.80 for both editions is being jibbed in any way; but as a way of marketing, this isn't selling either the sausage or the sizzle, but flogging the mustards and ketchup in two different packages.

The cover is some horrible montage leading on it being Poll Time - which is in itself odd; in the past it might get mentioned on the cover, but to suggest "There is a form to fill out inside" is the best thing in the paper doesn't give you much hope for the rest of the issue.

The posters are also poll-themed, featuring past winners - which means you get a Rolling Stones poster again (what is this, Uncut?). They print a Robbie Williams poster, but are clearly so embarrassed about this new low, they draw horns and a satan beard on him, which is so unsatisfactory - either do a poster for his fans, or don't - lets not have this half-arsed compromise solution going on.

Talking of compromises, if you can't or won't print Selfish Cunt's name, then don't make them the Radar Band for the week, okay? Unless the reason why you didn't print the word in full was because you thought they might be ashamed in years to come that they'd chosen such a pathetic, supposedly shocking banner under which to sell their wares. Selfish Cunt. It's not even as bad as Anal Cunt, is it? At least they'd made an effort to get everyone all in a tizzy. Still a rubbish name, though.

THANK YOU KINDLY, EMI: What's that whistling sound? It's EMI stock tanking - down 12% this morning - as they get gazumped on the Warner deal. Time Warner have got a better offer from Edgar Bronfman Jr, the clown who sold Seagram (and with it, Universal) to Vivendi a few years back. Since the merger with Warners was pretty much EMI's best surviving plan for the future, it has a bit of tough time deciding what it plans to do next. It could offer more for Warners, but after years of poor management decisions the company is in no state to up the offer much further. It could just walk away, but their company line has been that the merger is vital to the company's future.

HEY, JOE, WHY ARE YOU CLAWING YOUR OWN EYES OUT?: Girls Aloud are writing their own movie, apparently - curious that a band which doesn't manage to write their own songs would suddenly decide to attempt to produce something even more complex and demanding. And it's going to be a "Scary Movie-style spoof" - so, something totally original then. They can't make a real horror movie, apparently, because if it was gory it would have an 18 certificate and then "most of our fans wouldn't be able to get in to see it."

Nicola Roberts said: "The script is still in the early stages but one of the most important ideas is that Girls Aloud are not portrayed as mindless bimbos. In our film the girls will come out on top but there will be a twist."

We'd say it's quite enough of a twist for Girls Aloud not being protrayed as mindless bimbos, which marks a sudden departure from every other public appearance so far.

Not wanting to imply that the whole project has a clammy air of being a rush job before their star finally burns out once and for all, but Nicola says the script is in the early stages, and yet they're planning to start shooting "early in the new year." Which all implies a hustle to get it into the cinemas for Easter; which we can then extrapolate one step further to their management concluding they're going to be gone by Summer Holidays.

THIS IS NOT NEWS, ANANOVA: Struggling desperately to find something interesting to say about a Robbie Williams gig, Ananova settled on Robbie Williams stops smoking. 'Robbie Williams stops smoking' is not, however, a news story; it's a signal that it's time to pour some more petrol on him.

HE'LL NEVER REPLACE FRED: Queen sample Nelson Mandela on a new Aids-special track - well, at least it's better than getting Robbie Williams in to do the vocals, I suppose. Or Anita Dobson.

BUT YOU CAN'T TAKE THE STREET OUT THE GIRL...: We're not outraged or surprised that Nicola from Girls Aloud swore on air - even seasoned old sea dogs like Mark Radcliffe sometimes let slip a "fucking" or two - but what we do find incredible is that she has never before stayed in a hotel with a bell on the desk. Yeah, they don't have them at Reception in Haven but...

GETTING AWAY WITH IT? OH...: Interesting that both Fox News and the BBC were confidently predicting "this will be the picture on the front page of the papers around the world tomorrow" - Fox thinking of Jackson's back, handcuffed and disappearing into the police station; the BBC guessing it would be the Jacko mugshot. Who knew that most editors would still think the deaths of twenty-odd people in massive suicide bombs in Turkey might be a little more crucial for their readers to know about, eh? (That's except for readers of the Daily Mirror, whose front page is dominated by a picture of one of their journalists with a sock superimposed over his mouth - new seriousness, eh, Piers Morgan?)

Another fan, Howard Cox, said: "MJ is the kindest person in the world. He's done more than anyone to try to change the world and make the world a better place". Which must come as bit of a blow to Bob Geldof.

GETTING AWAY WITH IT?: Phil Spector pleads not guilty to the murder of what the BBC call "b-movie actress Lana Clarkson." B-movies? When did BBC News Online last go to the cinema? They'd probably be surprised to discover that they do colour now. But, really, it's one law for Michael Jackson and another for everybody else, isn't it?

GETTING AWAY WITH IT: Australian police drop charges against Chris Martin because "it would be like kicking a puppy" ("there was an element of provocation"), apparently. Sheesh... one law for Michael Jackson, one law for everybody else.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

COOLIO: Time magazine has declared iTunes Music Store to be the 'Invention of the Year' (although, to be honest, we're not sure what the inventy-bit is - persuading the labels to hand over their tracks was a leap forward, but it wasn't inventive as such. Charging a flat rate could be described as inspired, but not to the point of being a Truly Great Invention. Which leaves you with selling downloads over the internet, which they do well, but isn't new, either.

More concern for all sides in this quote from Apple's Steve Jobs: Jobs has one more reason not to be concerned about the competition. "The dirty little secret of all this is there's no way to make money on these stores," he says. For every 99¢ Apple gets from your credit card, 65¢ goes straight to the music label. Another quarter or so gets eaten up by distribution costs. At most, Jobs is left with a dime per track, so even $500 million in annual sales would add up to a paltry $50 million profit. Why even bother? "Because we're selling iPods," Jobs says, grinning.

Which is fine, and dandy, but there will come a point when everybody who is likely to purchase an iPod has bought one. Sure, there will still be upgrades and replacement purchases, but - like those awfully nice Sony people found with the Walkman - there comes a moment when everyone has the must have gadget and sales slump. Either Apple have something even better lined up (maybe the iPod will morph into something more PC-like?), or else the hardware will stop being so lucrative that iTunes will be allowed to continue returning so little to turnover. (Although having said that, a company with Apple's wobbly bottom line is unlikely to be quite so sniffy about an extra fifty mill every year.) What will happen then? Will Apple renegotiate the royalty rate downwards from a position of strength as market leader of downloads? Will the price edge upwards as consumers find they're locked into the iTunes format and have to swallow USD1.49, 2.99 a track? Or will Apple start to up its profits by dealing direct with artists? We're in for another interesting and queasy eighteen months...

YOU WEAR IT HELL: Did you know the Siemens are currently sponsoring a competition to find the most stylish student in the country?

These are the Liverpool heat winners:

What? This old thing?

The one on the right claims that her fashion sense is "inspired by Gwen Steffani", so we assume she must know an colourblind old lady who cherrypicks at jumble sales with the same name as the singer out of No Doubt. Simon Robinson of Siemens seems to suggest that they're hoping to raise the game a bit with other Universities: "Judging by the poor-style calibre of Liverpool universities' alumni, who have included Steve Coppell and the Pet Shop Boys' Chris Lowe, Laura and Charla may have a tough task ahead to be crowned the national champion." The jibe at Chris Lowe is odd, since the competition claims to be seeking "the student that dares to be different in creating his or her own individual sense of style, whether it be through their clothes, music choice or clubbing preferences and even if it's on a shoestring." - which surely is the very essence of a man wearing diving gear on stage, isn't it?

WHEN ALBUMS LEAK: Various music execs blub about having to bring release dates forward when tracks leak onto the interminter - "oh, you have to spend more on advertising to promote the new date" they sniff. Well, yes, but since this sort of thing is happening all the time, here's a clue to the labels: why not cut the gap between the album being completed and the thing hitting the shops?

Steve Bermann of A&M tells MTV "we're at a point where we can't control this" - which makes you wonder what the whole deal with the prosecution of music consumers is all about; the record industry is saying that it can't stop its own employees from leaking music out there, so if it can't even put a bolt on its own door, why put so much effort into trying to catch people taking advantages of its own weaknesses? The dam (to hop across metaphors) has burst, but rather than try and fix the dam, the music industry is sticking 'No Swimming' Signs downstream.

COBAIN REMIXED: New stuff is being added into the paperback edition of the Kurt Cobain journals. The new material - something to do with a serial killer, and how much Kurt hates himself, we'd imagine - wasn't in the original because, says editorial director Julie Garu "we thought we might be able to boost sales and sucker some hard line fans into buying the book twice over by releasing a revised edition later on" ("I think the first time, we thought it would skew the appreciation of all the material that was in here. Now that the hardcover has come out and the journals have been judged and read, we thought people could handle it.")

MAKES EXCUSES AND LEAVES: Robbie Williams quits his own launch party after six minutes - everyone else turns to each other and mutters "I thought he was never going to leave."

Robbie says that flash music industry parties aren't his style. What a pity self-serving publicity stunts are, eh?

THAT'S GOTTA HURT: "CBS continues to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, announcing late yesterday that it had yanked its Michael Jackson special after California police issued a warrant for the pop singer's arrest..." - Isn't yanking Michael Jackson exactly what caused the problem, Washington Post?

Conor McNicholas has just been on Today talking about the troubles of Michael Jackson - the poor lamb seemed to have inherited Iain Duncan Smith's cough, although we can understand why - it's very tempting to rush to judgement on Jackson, but you still need to have a mental lawyer vetting everything you say; it's just slightly more obvious when you're doing this on live radio. Conor thinks that this could be the "the end game begining", and we think he could be right. In the interests of balance, Jane Dexter was on to speak for Jacko - she'd been to the Neverland ranch and she was having none of it (but then, she's not a small boy.) Challenged that his creative impulse had more or less died, she stuttered that the new album was a collection of number ones, so we'd have to wait to see what the new material was like - blissfully unaware that the last three slabs of new material were pisspoor - and then suggested that Michael is "a different type of person to us; he lives in a different environment; his heart is pure." Unfortunately for Jane and the other blinkered Michaelettes, he lives in California and his heart is going to be examined live on Court TV as soon as he turns up.

YOU'RE A CELEBRITY? GET THEE OUT OF HERE: As if rock stars haven't had it bad enough from the property market, what with Brian Jones being unsuitable as a street name, they're now being barred from buying the estate of Ron Stewart - careful with that 'n', typesetter - whose Stately Scottish pile is up for grabs but on the strict understanding that it doesn't go to the likes of Heather Mills, Cilla Black, Rod Stewart, Mick Hucknall or Simon Cowell. Ah, but let's see him actually put that into the contract to prevent the new owners selling on to the Beckhams...

FULL PAGE PUZZLERS: Two full page adverts in yesterday's Guardian - one was an open letter from Kazaa, appealing over the heads of the music industry direct to the people with a (basically true) message: The only reason why people can't pay the music industry for the stuff they download over our network is because the music industry won't create a way for them to do so. True, but we'd imagine the BPI will be rushing forward to list a number of objections. The argument isn't new, but arena is.

And what on earth possessed Oxfam to take a full page - in colour, no less - to declare its love for the Glastonbury Festival and the lot of good work that the event does for charity? We'd imagine it must be the time of year when the licence comes up for debate down in the Mendips, but we're not entirely convinced that it represents the best value for money for a charity to be buying ads like this.

THIS IS A STORY/ A VERY SPECIAL STORY/ IT'S ABOUT BRIAN JONES/ THE ONE IN THE ROLLING STONES: Trouble in Cheltenham, where residents of a snooty new Bryant Homes housing estate have objected to their street being named after Brian Jones, what with his drug use and bad end and general hell-raising (presumably they think that it'll have a negative effect on house values, although the attractiveness to Rolling Stones fan of a standard, thrown-up semi on a street named after Jones would suggest a premium effect to us). The developer is now attempting to get the street name changed to glorify John Moore. The local writer, not the musician, although we do hope it'll end up called John Moore Expressway.

IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR POP PAPERS: We're a little worried in case the NME took our "we'll cancel our subscription" gag seriously last week, as our copy of the world's biggest selling rock weekly hasn't turned up yet. Hopefully, Pop Papers this evening...

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

THIS JUST IN: Stone Temple Pilots split - we're a bit surprised they thought they were still going, to be frank...

MISLEADING HEADLINES OF OUR TIME: Music Sales 'To Keep Falling' - actually, what they're predicting is not that the sales will fall, but the value of those sales will fall - a subtle but important difference. Equally odd is this bit:

Vinyl album sales are also set to plummet over the same period, according to the report, from £4.3m to £1.8m.

Since when was dropping from 'virtually nothing' to 'almost nothing at all' constitute a plummet?

FOR ONCE, WE'RE SIDING WITH THE ROYALS: Ooh, isn't that Robbie Williams a card, eh? He's told Norway he thinks the British Royal family look like bulldogs. A-ha-ha-ha. Except, of course, they don't look anything like bulldogs, which are pudgy and beady-eyed, whereas the British Royal family have round faces, balding pates and sharp little features. Anne looks a bit like a horse, Charles like a really sad hatchet, Andrew as if Edward Heath had drunk a rejuvenating potion and Edward... well, Edward looks like someone who's perpetually forgotten where he left his umbrella. But leaving all that aside...


... you look as if you might have a bit of Phil Windsor's blood in you, if you know what we mean, Robert.

SO, THAT'S ALRIGHT THEN: Michael Jackson's lawyer aserts that Jackson will not 'flee the scene.' Erm... he doesn't actually need to, does he, since he's not actually at the scene at the moment, is he? We're not quite sure how the whole allegations stack up, though - it's claimed that the abuse came out during the kid's therapy sessions "which started some months ago", and yet the LA Times reckons the incidents for which the arrest warrant has been issued only happened two months ago. Hmmm. A kid in therapy and attending the Jackson mansion, eh? Do the US not do child protection?

"IF I RAN FOR PRESIDENT/ AND ONCE WAS A MEMBER OF THE KLAN/ WOULDN'T YOU CALL ME ON IT/ THE WAY I CALL YOU ON FARRAKHAN"?: Almost as unlikely sounding as 'Tony Benn meets Saddam Hussein' and 'Patrick Kielty being allowed to interview anyone at all', Ja Rule and Louis Farrakhan have done their own little chat show. Rule claims it's all part of his desire to put an end to his tiff with 50 Cent (although Mr. Cent has already dismissed it as a 'stunt' - no fooling ole fifty, is there?). It's not exactly what you'd call a hard hitting interview; even Nigel Williamson's Blur piece looks ballsy compared to Farrakhan's line of questioning, but - if you could leave aside the queasy nature of some of Farrakhan's public statements - it's arguable that he is actually, genuinely trying to help here. We wonder if this means we can look forward to Richard Caborn wading in to try and settle the fued between Busted and Britney?

TIMBALAND MAY HAVE HAD ONE TOO MANY PIPES: The only artist Timbaland wants to work with is Coldplay, he's told MTV. We read and re-read the piece to make sure he said "work with" and not "work over", but it seems to be true. The prospect could be quite compelling, producing something quite extraordinary and it'd make a nice change for Coldplay to be in the studio while their records were being made, but overall, we're hoping friends will be taking Timbaland to one side and playing him the Wu Tang - Texas collaboration. Or at least giving him Noddy's number.

Maybe he just wants a shot at Paltrow?

WE'VE SUSPECTED THAT, TOO: Britney says Justin's got a tiny cock. Not so much with the Timberlake, then.

CAPITAL CHOICE: In what might be the first ever ironic-gag media takeover, Capital extend their grip on the ears of London by buying Choice to add to their portofolio in the city of X-FM, Capital FM, and Capital Gold.

There was an interesting piece in media guardian by Capital Gold's Lyn Long a couple of week back in which she bemoaned the lack of an FM frequency in London for Capital Gold. At the time, it seemed to be a strange whine - the whole point of the station was it was created to provide an alternative service to Capital Radio on FM; this was when the Thatcher beast had threatened to remove any frequencies from stations who were simulcasting on both FM and AM because it was a waste of opportunities to sell the licences onto other people ("a finite national resource"). It was the sudden, panicked response of the station owners - to split into (usually) oldies on the medium wave band and Top 40 on FM - which buggered the radio industry in this country for good. Suddenly, running costs more or less doubled, while advertising rates plummeted (because advertisers were suddenly being offered half the size of the audience per ad they were before.) The end result was all the small players - the truly local services, like Radio City and Aire FM and Southern Sound - couldn't carry on and wound up being subsumed into the few big players we have today. It's the end of Long's article that's most telling - despite running stations covering every square inch of England, Scotland and Wales, Capital haven't been awarded a single new franchise since 1973. Its skill is not in providing radio programming, but in acquiring radio stations.

Which brings us back to Choice - could this purchase be made in the expectation that those awfully nice people at Ofcom might not be quite so strict about transfering Capital Gold to FM as the outgoing Radio Authority had been?

ONE AT ONE? ARE YOU ON ONE?: Musicologists declare, following some hours peering at graph paper and using computers to declare One by U2 the greatest song ever. Well, at least it's not Bohemian Rhapsody, but even so, it goes to prove that musicology isn't really a science at all, if that's the sort of results it spews out - it's like physics people getting together and announcing that gravity is a type of sauce.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

NOTHING UP MY SLEEVES: Back when I was a mere slip of a thing, the art teacher would keep the class quiet for a weeks out of every term by getting us to produce a new sleeve design for an album. I did Heaven and Hell, not because I was a fan, but because it gave me an excuse to draw an angel and a devil, and i was good at both horns and wings. It was, of course, an exercise totally without merit, which produced nothing of lasting value besides freeing the art teacher up for a quick grope round the back of the hall with the sports master. It now turns out, though, that we should have kept tight hold of those dreadful twelve inch squares, as apparently they were proper art. We could shudder at the things done in the name of alternative record sleeve design, but Alan at the LNR Journal has beaten us to it. The Who one is going to give us nightmares tonight.

IS JACKO SWEATING?: As fifty cops search Neverland after a complaint from a 12 year old, we'd imagine his palms must be feeling slightly clammy right now. (You could almost feel sorry for George Bush, who came all the way to Merrie Olde England to meet the Queen and got upstaged by Jacko and the Leeds United Rape saga. Almost, but... )

Watching Fox News coverage of the search was a hoot, as the anchors and reporters competed to remind viewers just how shoddy the Jackson brand has become over the last few years. Would this be the same Fox who, following Martin Bashir's deft attempt to let Jacko talk his way into sounding like a kooky paedo, gave Jackson chunks of airtime to prove that he's a family-style, fun-loving guy, but not the sort to touch children in a bad, behind-the-trees, don't-tell-mommy way? Yes, it would, but Fox News seemed to have forgotten all that, and the sympathetic ear they leant Jackson for his claims that he'd been shafted by Tonight.

The highlight of the Murdoch empire's news gathering for the evening, though, was the live phone interview done with someone, which they only twigged was a fake when the caller claimed the boy's allegations were that Jackson made him watch Howard Stern over and over again. We don't watch Fox that often, but this is the second time we've seen them get their fingers burned because they stuck an interviewee on air in such haste they didn't bother to check who they were first. It makes you wonder how many fakes they miss because they don't take it too far. Is, for example, that chap who pretends to be vice-president really just a bloke who works for a petrol company?

IS EMINEM IN A SWEAT?: Apparently, The Source is planning to out Eninem as a racist this very day - the magazine claims its got a tape of Marshall mouthing off about black people, which it says it can verify with all the certainty of Lord Dacre giving the thumbs up to the Hitler diaries. It's not known at this stage if the tape includes Eminem calling on believers to wage a jihad, but we're keeping our options open.

"SOMEBODY'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR: It's the guy from over the road/
and he says that he shares our obsession/
and he'd like to join in with our session/
and the others can't be arsed either way/
so I say/
I think we'd better let him in/
I hear he's got a theremin..."

LOAF SLICED: It's the time of the year when your thoughts turn to who you might take a punt on for the sick sad celeb death game, and in that case the news that Meatloaf has been admitted to hospital might make you want to move your odds slightly.

It could also be worth pondering if he'd be a good bet to pick up some awards next year - sickness always helps, as Delta's clearing up at the Australian awards, Johnny Cash's Country Music Awards and Luther Vandross's two AMAs earlier this week amply demonstrate - when did Vandross even last get nominated for anything there?. On the other hand, Christina's got bronchitis and we're not thinking she's going to get a lifetime achievement award anytime soon.

WE SENSE THE START OF THE END: "It's degrading being called a Boy Band'" whine Busted, suggesting they're rather wasting the opportunities being number one give to them - if the only way they're being degraded is by getting enthusiastic write-ups in Smash Hits, they're really missing out.

Now, we know that Busted have a degree of smarts about them, and they're not strangers to the ways of the pop world. So you'd think they'd know that no matter how much you yearn to be taken seriously, you should never demand it. Especially not in terms like this:

"Anyone that calls us a boy band obviously doesn't know much about music.
"It's a very naive thing to say because if anyone was a fly on the wall in the process of making a Busted album they'd see it's not done the way a boy band does it.
"Boy bands just have to go in and sing the songs and the album is made very quickly. For us there's a certain amount of time to allow because we have to write it, find the producers, go in and record it. It's a completely different process."

Now, all of this it true, but the trouble is blurting it out in interviews does make the people who are buying your records think "They're saying they're too good for me." Of course Busted want to reposition themselves as a credible band with a future the length of Sting's ahead of them, but crossing from being a boy band (get over it) to simply being a band is something that has to be handled with tact, care and a certain amount of being prepared to go on SM:TV and talk to a puppet. The mantle of credibility takes a while to win (and we do think Busted might manage it), the support of the preteens is easy to lose. And you don't want to piss off the hairbunch market when you still need them to underwrite your careers while you turn yourself into rock gods. Busted need to take care - carry on like this and they'll be taking the East 17 bus to oblivion.

HOW EXACTLY WILL THE RIAA SPIN THIS?: Despite something like - what is it - eight billion tracks being legally downloaded, and a kazillion illegally downloaded, CD sales in the US are expected to rise this year. Turns out all it took was a price dropped to a more reasonable level.

SO, BACK ON INNVERVISION BY 2007, THEN: After all that huffing and puffing and court casing and claims of 'professional slavery', George Michael has slunk back to Sony with his tail between his legs. Or something between his legs, anyway. We wonder if he kept those oh-so-amusing parodic 'FONY' headphones he featured in his first post-Sony video - he could put them on his ears if the Sony staff say anything like "they always slink back in the end", "welcome home, slave boy" and "I'm sorry, this sandwich has cheese in and you know I'm lactose intolerant."

'ACTUALLY, WE LIKE THE IDEA OF GORILLAS BEING SLAUGHTERED' - EMI: Perhaps it's for the best, as there was something slightly undiginified about Adam Ant's reworking of Stand and Deliver as Save The Gorrilas, but even so for EMI to block the release of a charity single at the 11th hour is pretty damn shady. Jillian Miller, from the charity who Adam had made the track for, says she thinks EMI have acted as they did because Marco objected to the track being reworked in a bid to try and save an endangered species. Whatever, since the video of the song has been floating around the interweb since the start of last month, couldn't EMI have made its objections known a little earlier, saving the chairty from investing five grand in the project? At the very least, EMI and Marco might want to show their goodness by writing a cheque to make good the money they've basically wasted on behalf of a small charity.

SAYING A LIE TWICE DOESN'T MAKE IT ANY MORE TRUE: Undercover Music news headline contradicts not only previous story, but the story it headlines:

a visual thing, sorry

Monday, November 17, 2003

MARDER, SHE BROKE: Trouble for J-Lo as Maureen Marder, the welding dancer who Flashdance was based on, launches legal action complaining that when J-Lo made the I'm Real video as a homage to the movie, she inadvertently also lifted Marder's lifestory uncredited and unrewarded. What makes it worse is that since abandoning the weld-gun for the tutu, Marder has had a serious injury and is finding it hard to make ends meet, and so a few dollars from the Lopez Organisation would have been a really nice gesture.

We note that Marder didn't bother to sue Geri Halliwell, who also lifted chunks of Flashdance for the clip which accompanied her desecration of Its Raining Men. But then Marder probably thought Halliwell too absurd to be worth pursuing through the courts.

2 LEWD: Luther Campbell has kept himself out of jail by pleading guilty to obscenity charges in South Carolina. Campbell, once of the 2 Live Crew, admitted he'd been "aiding and abetting another person to expose body parts in a lewd and lascivious manner" - though we're not sure what that means; how do you help someone get their cock and/or tits out? How difficult can it be? - and got off with a ban on making paid appearances in the State for the next five years. Which should be a fairly simple line for him to walk - we can't imagine there's many venues that want to book a 42 year old man trying to persuade younger, firmer people to expose themselves. Unless there's a place called 'It's Yer Dads' or something.

AH, BUT WILL IT BE ANY GOOD?: Michael Stipe promises new REM album will be crystaline and real - we presume he's talking about the music on it and not suggesting it's going to be coming out on some new, untried format.

Although maybe they are planning to release it on this new "CD killer" format - invented by genuine "boffins", according to MacWorld - which is some sort of plastic that can store a gigabyte of information inside itself, somehow. Which is of course, good news for the big Record Companies - they reckon this will be ready within five years, so if they can just hold on until then they might be able to flog us the same tracks all over again, all over again. The plastic is incredibly cheap and light to transport round the country, so we'd expect it to retail at a 75% mark up on standard CD prices.

NOT THAT SHE'S BITTER, OR ANYTHING: How curious that Christina Aguilera should launch a tirade of abuse against Britney Spears. Britney, it seems, is not a "proper artist" and she needs "gimmicks" like kissing Madonna at the American MTV Music awards. Those of you with long memories might recall that Christina was not only also at those awards, but also on stage at the time and, oh yes, also planted a smacker on the lips of Maddy. And this, of course, might be the root of the sudden little burst of spite: "Just look at the way they [MTV] handled the kiss I had with Madonna. They didn't even screen my kiss properly - they cut away instead for a Justin Timberlake reaction shot. How predictable and how pathetic." Because, presumably, when Christina kissed Madonna, it was an artistically justified kiss rather than a slightly sad attempt to hijack publicity. So, the subtext is 'Christina pissed off that press focused on Britney snogging Madonna and completely ignored her" here, then; but is it any wonder? Christina has been trying to give off the impression that she gets humped, snogged, felt up and violated by anything that crosses into her path, so its understandable that 'slightly unclean girl kisses desperate hag' lost out in the headline race to 'We know she stopped with the virgin and the schoolgirl about three years back but even so Virgin Schoolgirl Type Snogs Madonna' angle.

But what makes Christina stamp her little feet even more is that it was her idea, dammit: She said she had suggested she kiss Britney before Madonna was booked to appear, but Spears refused and insisted on snogging Madonna instead. "I was up for it but she wasn't," said Aguilera. Apart from it not being such an inspired idea - Britney/Christina kissing has been a feature of internet fanfic writers since little Christina first waggled her training bra in a bid to keep up with the Britneybehemoth - of course Britney wasn't going to kiss you but jumped at the chance of Madonna, Christina. Does the phrase "looks like you might catch something" ring any bells here?

But it's not just Britney who Christina is pissed off with - the whole concept of the MTV America awards outrages her: Britney and people like her "aren't artists, they're just performers - fake and superficial, like the entire event."

Maybe the MTV awards are fake and superficial. Didn't stop Christina from pocketing a sizeable payday hosting the even-more-fake and considerably-more-superficial MTV Europe awards this month, did it?

SOULOBIT: Arthur Conley, the 'Sweet Soul Music' man, has died from intestinal cancer at the age of 57.

Although best known for Sweet Soul Music - a spirited reworking of Sam Cooke's Yeah Man - Conley built up a repertoire of soul gems, including the US Top 20 hit Funky Street and Otis Sleep On, a memorial track for his early mentor, Otis Redding. More recently, he released work under the pseudonym Lee Roberts. Despite worsening health, he had continued to keep his connections to the music world, offering advice to a Dutch band led by Gunter Giesen. Conley had lived in Ruurlo in the Netherlands since quitting the States in the 70's to escape "the pressure."

"DAMON, JUST HOW MULTI-TALENTED AND WONDERFUL ARE YOU?": The Bonoisation (or, if you prefer, the Stingification) of Damon Albarn continues with a hagiography in Scotland on Sunday by Nigel Williamson.

It's a piece to treasure for so many reasons. There's the desperate attempts to make the demo album seem something more than just a piece of self-indulgent wonk, up there with the Melody Maker piece which hailed Lennon as a genius for a brave new album which turned out to be the test signal sent out in error:

is latest wheeze in his seemingly endless desire to deconstruct his own pop celebrity is the release of Democrazy, one of the most extraordinarily non-commercial albums a major artist can ever have released.

Clearly not heard much of Prince's stuff.

Recorded last summer while on tour in America, it consists of a wasted-sounding Albarn warbling a bunch of improvised, unrehearsed and half-formed song ideas into a four-track tape machine in his hotel room. Untouched by subsequent studio tinkering, it’s not so much lo-fi as no-fi. The tracks can’t even really be called demos, for they’re several notches below even that level of non-sophistication. One of them is called ‘Half A Song’, which is a considerable exaggeration. Another track sounds like he’s recorded his hotel room door chime. On yet another, you hear what sounds like someone using the bathroom.

Erm... so, this is such a major leap forward it's a bit like that Richard Ashcroft video, then.

Albarn makes no effort to sing in tune and the lyrics are spontaneously random observations ("I was at the Niagara Falls today, and they really didn’t make me want to jump in, that’s good’). The instrumentation is rudimentary - acoustic guitar, melodica and up-turned wastepaper basket for percussion. He knows it’s going to alienate mainstream Blur fans, which is why the record is appearing on vinyl only in a limited edition of 5,000 copies. When his old Oasis enemies Noel and Liam hear it, they will fall about laughing, convinced Albarn has finally lost his marbles.
And yet there’s another view. Listen closely and you can detect how these inchoate ideas could easily be worked up into mature songs, for within them are snatches of great tunes and cleverly inventive rhythms bursting with imagination. It’s maddening to hear them left so undeveloped. But then you realise that every great Blur song from ‘Country House’ to ‘Beetlebum’ must have started life like this. And heard in that context, Democrazy is a fascinating insight into the raw stuff of the creative process.

Except, of course, the Blur classics would all have had a significant input from Graham Coxon. And, we suspect, Dave going "sounds a bit wanky, Dame..." It carries on like this, even past the point where even Damon must have been wondering if Nigel Williamson had lost his marbles, too:

Whether you regard it as hugely audacious or incredibly self-indulgent will depend on your view of Albarn. But few artists of similar stature can ever have exposed themselves quite so fearlessly. When I first heard Democrazy, I was shocked by its nakedness and his neck-on-the-block bravery in releasing it. So when I spoke to him on the way to a Blur gig in Madrid, I felt compelled to ask what on earth had possessed him

You would be compelled, Nigel, who wouldn't be compelled to ask someone so bravely exposing themselves in the full public glare of a 5,000 record pressing (=2000 to the media, 2000 to the shops, 1000 held back to sell at inflated 'rarity' prices on Ebay).

Luckily, Damon is still being brave and can come up with an answer:

"It’s a mad idea, I know," he answered. "But I felt it was time people should put records out like this because it deconstructs everything the music industry has built up. I didn’t pre-write anything at all. I just turned the tape on and ran with what ever came into my head. So it’s all first takes and it’s amazing what you can come up with."

Now, at this point any decent music journalist would be punching him and asking why he believes his first drafts are in any way interesting - it's like going into a bakers and getting given some half-mixed dough with some Banana Corn Flakes in it - "Yeah, I just ran with whatever went in my head and wanted to deconstruct the bread-making process." But Nigel knows he is in the presence of an Artist, so he nods, and goes 'mmm', adjusts his bow tie and continues:

The record is not coming out on EMI’s Parlophone label, Blur’s regular corporate home, but on Albarn’s own boutique imprint, Honest Jon’s. What does EMI think of it? "Well record companies are bound to get terribly nervous about something like this," he concedes. "That’s why it’s coming out in a very limited way. I don’t want to upset people because I know they’ll find it hard to listen to. But there are tunes there that you could turn into hits. I thought it would be really interesting to show people a whole side to the music-making process they never get to hear. I hope this gives other artists the confidence to do it. I’d like to make it a series."

Here's an idea for you Damon... why not turn the tunes into hits, rather than sticking out the Look Around You guide to the artistic process? I mean, if you want to make stuff like that available, fine - shove it on your website; a hell of a lot of artists do (perhaps they don't realise they're being brave?) but they don't expect an already heavily put-upon market to fork out for their doodles. But then again, they think they're just sharing their new ideas with their fans, rather than bravely exposing the music making process.

That Albarn has emerged as the smartest and most adventurous British pop star of the past 10 years has caught many by surprise. At the time of Britpop, he appeared just another brash and bumptious pop star with plenty of flash and attitude. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker was widely held to be the cleverest of the Britpop crew, the ‘arty one’ who was most likely still to be making interesting records in 20 years time. Yet disappointingly, Cocker has come up with little of note since his 1995 Mercury Prize-winning album Different Class and it has been Albarn who has enthusiastically expanded his musical horizons far beyond the insular world of Britpop.
Unlike Suede, Pulp and Oasis, all of whom have seemed content to repeat themselves with ever diminishing returns, Albarn sees music as "a journey". "The day Blur make an album that’s not better than the last one is the day we quit," he says. "I get impatient with people who repeat themselves because if you have to do that it means you didn’t say it clearly enough the first time. You have to go out and find your sense of identity as a musician. I’m still looking for that and I expect I’m going to spend my whole life doing it. I don’t think you ever arrive. But hopefully through that process of searching, you find yourself.

So, even by the most generous standards, Blur should have split when the turgid Thirteen came out - although some people will argue that 'Blur' was so inferior to all their previous product that this would have been the point when Damon called it a day. What's curious is Williamson's strange belief that Suede and Pulp are still repeating themselves - maybe he hadn't realised Pulp split up two years ago and Suede have gone since, and a man whose musical acuity is such that he thinks he's lucky to be made to listen to a ripped faux cockney pissing, banging a wastepaper basket and mumbling like a six year-old dictating a 'What I Did On My Holidays' essay can hardly be expected to see the differences and development between, say, My Legendary Girlfriend and Trees; or Metal Mickey and Obsessions. Or maybe Nigel can, but he's just too drunk on being near Damon, this latter day DaVinci, to care.

Then came Think Tank, which confirmed his capacity to absorb new ideas and come up sounding fresh and different every time. Yet when his non-Blur activities are referred to as side-projects, he’s swift to issue a correction. "To me it’s all music and all the records I make are equally valid. I like white rock music. But its insularity sometimes annoys me. There’s a much bigger world of music out there and it’s shortsighted and blinkered not to embrace it."
Today Albarn looks back on the chirpy cockney character of Blur’s earlier work with something approaching distaste. He dismisses Parklife as "a joke, a satirical record that should be filed in the record shop under comedy, alongside Monty Python".

Hmmm. Interesting. Makes you wonder why they're still dragging Phil Daniels up on stage for a knees up, then. Or is it just that he finds the songs distasteful, but quite likes the noise they make when they're converted into pound coins?

But even Williamson can't have the stars dazzle his eyes to the missing facet of Blur:

The singer himself insists Blur are a democracy. But he appears to contradict this view when I ask him about Coxon’s departure.
"We weren’t fighting. But Graham got to a position where he just wasn’t comfortable with me calling the shots," he says. "That’s why he’s not in the band any more. He wanted to call his own shots, which is fair enough. For me it was no shock when we came to the parting of ways."

Hang about... Nigel suddenly realises that that may have sounded like a criticism of the Great Man. He quickly clarifies his thoughts:

The rest of the band sensibly know it’s in all their interests to let Albarn push Blur in whatever new directions he thinks fit. As Rowntree puts it: "You have to have one person who enjoys standing up there and saying, ‘Look at me.’"

Ah, yes, Damon may rule with a rod of an iron, but what a lucky band they are with such a leader to follow. Dave and Alex are like little elves at play, overseen by their mighty brained father figure. All Hail Damon! All Hail The Sweet Leader!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

"... AND JUST THE SMALLEST BRANDY": Two weeks ago, Wynonna Judd presented a show about the greatest drinking songs in country music. This week, she was caught driving while pissed. To be fair to her, though, unlike Scott 'no, I just carreered around for a while and then ran away' Weiland and Diana 'I just have this problem finding my nose and the alphabet is a mystery to me' Ross, Judd fessed up right away. Drink driving is a shitty thing to do, but at least Wynonna had the balls to admit she'd been caught, and deserves some respect for that.