Saturday, January 03, 2004

WHAT WE NEED IS A GREAT BIG BAIN MARIE, BIG ENOUGH TO TAKE THE WORLD AND ALL WE'VE GOT: America and Russia are very different places. In the US, black artists embrace and reclaim "Nigga", while in the former Soviet Union, the (apparently) first black artist ever to have a hit in Moscow has created an alternative: Mudio Mukutu Pierre Narcisse says "A lot of people called me, a lot of people thanked me. This one friend from Cameroon said, 'Thank you!' I asked him 'What for?' He tells me, 'Well, they used to call us niggers and now they call us chocolate boys!'"

We're not sure that we'd see that as much of a leap forward ourselves.

CHART DEAL GOES FLAT: The BBC has announced that Coca-Cola isn't going to get its credits on TOTP and Radio One, in a tortuous re-reading of the producer guidelines. Apparently, because the broadcast world has moved on since the BPI first came up with the sponsorship idea, while it used to be appropriate to mention the sponsor at the 'event' of a first reading of the chart, in the BBC's words "the "reveal" of the weekly music chart [no loger] adequately constitutes an "event". In other words, the Top 40 is now - officially - meaningless.

Does this mean, though, the times when the Number One spot becomes a matter of public interest - at Christmas, or when there's a proper Oasis v Blur race for the title - the fizzy pop manufacturer can get its name mentioned on the programme?

That's if Coke wants to stick to the deal, which - without the artifical sweetener of the BBC plug - looks a lot less like value for money. Sure, newspapers which run the chart will be carrying the logo next to it, but without the reinforcement on air that the TOTP chart and the Coke Chart are the same thing, it's not going to have the same impact in the public mind; the shops which use the chart for the basis of their stock displays aren't going to be rushing to mention CocaCola when the company is actively building a download site to canabalise their sales, either. We'd imagine there's going to be some terse phonecalls between Coke and the BPI in the next few days. Of course, the BPI could choose to punish the BBC by taking its chart elsewhere, but we're not sure it's brave enough to unhook its chart from the state broadcaster.

"MUTT MADE ME WHAT I AM": Shania Twain has told a stunned world that she owes all her success to her husband, Mutt. While, obviously, it's nice to see a woman babbling away like a 1940s housewife, we'd like to suggest that, maybe, Shania, your worldwide success has less to do with Mutt's doubtless enormous managerial skill, and more to do with...

two clues

... something else?

OH, AIRBAGS: Following his car accident in New Zealand, Daniel Beddingfeld is going to be kept in hospital for a week. It could have been all so much worse - he's not really injured that badly, so they could have let him out to start making music again straight away.

RUSH RELEASE: We never really had Rush down as being a rowdy band - if someone had asked us, we'd have selected Yes or even Emerson, Lake and Palmer as being more likely to be making with the noise and the threats and the debauched unacceptables. And yet it was Rush bassist Alex 'Lifeson' Zivojinovich who needed police with a stun gun to arrest him on New Year's Eve.

The touble started because his son, Justin, refused to get off the stage during a celebratory event in Naples - obviously a trait he picked up off his dad, what with Rush's tendency to play tunes which lasted way beyond their welcome and usually managed to go beyond the limits of even a shy nun's politest tolerance. Somewhere during the fracas a female police officer ended up flying down some stairs - depending on who you believe, she either fell as she was trying to push Alex down them (according to Justin) or Alex pushed her down the well (according to everyone else).

And they say Canadians don't know how to party, eh?

GOSH! CRIKEY! JUST FANCY THAT: Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his victory in the almost-unwatched World Idol (The Christmas Day edition pulled in just a snifter over four million, the sort of audience which had the press nailing down the lid on Top of the Pops, of course), but apparently the whole thing might not have been a fair contest anyway, according to Alex, the Polish Idol's blog - records chosen for them by Fuller, of course, and so on. Clearly, Fuller had his own financial interest in some of the performers ("the good of the viewing public") at heart when he was making his choices. [Thanks to Claire FB for the link]

A QUICK LOOK AT THE FOOTBALL SCORES: Thanks (I think it's thanks) to Simon Tyers for this mash-up between Fatman Scoop and AFC Wimbledon [MP3]. That is, of course, the proper Wimbledon that plays in Wimbledon and not the faux Wimbledon which appears to currently be styling itself "Wimbledon at Milton Keynes", like Rock In Rio Actually In Lisbon.

(link fixed now - thanks to Jana in Prague)

Friday, January 02, 2004

BADDER AND BADDER: Over on the Blogcritics version of our 100 Worst review (it's basically cut just before the Jackson wanking gig) there's a small winter flurry of comments, one of which suggests Wannabe was always one of the worst pop songs ever. Not so. Oh, so not so.

DIFFERENT TO WHAT?: The Rub considers the total CD sales by genre for 2003 and asks "if alternative rock is the second biggest selling subgenre of rock, what exactly is it providing an alternative to?"

For what it's worth, alt rock sales grew by two million of what executives call "units"; Jazz also grew but the largest gains were in the Latin sector - almost four million extra sales over 2002. You didn't think the Latin Grammys were being given all that care and attention out of the kindness of everyone's hearts, did you? Memo to Robbie: If you want to break America - and we know you do, deep in your heart, still - maybe you should try learning Spanish.

HEY... I'VE GOT A GREAT IDEA HOW WE CAN REVIVE OUR FLAGGING CAREER: Let's not write off Girls Aloud just yet, shall we - it would be too easy to dismiss them as a worn-out bunch for whom the Knock of Opportunity has been replaced by the tap-tap of death watch beetle. But, as this picture (from GAY on New year's eve) shows, they're doing their best to cling to fame:

You said no tongue

... it's not merely an inept faded photocopier of the not-very-interesting-to-begin-with Madonna-Britney snog, is it?

We hear the band's My Little Pony diaries have got "Try to crack America" written in for May. That is, we suspect, except for Nadine Coyle's, who clearly has been picked to get the spin-off solo career. We're expecting her first solo FHM cover in July, followed by a single in September.

WE HAVE NOT SEEN THE WORST WHILE WE CAN STILL SAY "THIS IS THE WORST": Last night, Channel 4 - having used up its supply of Wife Swaps the previous evening - filled the airtime with the 100 Worst Pop Records of all time and so on. As ever with these popularity/unpopularity polls, it was a bit of a double A-side - some bits were splendid, some were just frightening. We think the possible highlight of the three hours was the splendid James Masterson patiently explaining that Vanilla's 'No Way No Way' thing was the result of a jokey bet between two record producers (although, of course, scientology was also created thanks to a bet, so it doesn't make it right.) We've said before that we have a bit of a soft spot for Vanilla - their obvious ineptness was kind of endearing, and their sudden reinvention as the only Marxist girlband in history makes Busted's insistence that they be allowed to actually plug their guitars in look a little bit lame - and we find it extraordinary that Natalie Cassey felt comfortable criticising the band's looks while sitting under the worst perm since Brian May said "what happens if you use double the amount of that liquid?"

Because there's no real criteria suggested for what counts as a rubbish record, the chart has no real coherence to it - so you get things that were abominations rubbing shoulders with tracks that are great but happen to have been made by people who've fallen out of fashion. You know how No Rock feels about Victoria Beckham and - especially - Geri Halliwell, but that doesn't mean that Wannabe has somehow turned from being a Great Pop Song to the 27th worst - less merit, it's alleged, than Catherine Zeta-Jone's single. At least Michael Jackson is represented by something from his bad smell days (Earth Song), we suppose.

The "experts" were pretty much rubbish, most of their contributions being of a "watch this video and then pretend you're recalling it from when it was in the charts" nature - and, frankly, anyone who didn't know that Andrew Lloyd Webber was the producer of Timmy Mallett's Bombalurina track has no right appearing on my television set pretending to be knowledgeable enough about pop music to offer opinions. It's like Match of the Day inviting pundits aboard who've never heard of Pele.

Amongst the best bits were Harvey from So Solid Crew talking about Michael Jackson. It seems that we shouldn't criticise Jackson, because you can't see God. No, hold on, go with Harvey here - so, because we can't actually see God, "there are people sent down to represent God - and he's one of them." (Which, taken with Jackson's claim that he sees the face of God in children must mean they're a reflection of himself - the cops are wrong: he's not wanking kids, he's polishing up a mirror). Harvey gets even madder when asked about Jarvis Cocker's stage invasion during jackson's Brits performance. Like, seriously, do-some-harm mad: having offended against St Michael, "Jarvis is lucky he didn't get kidnapped." What Harvey's outburst did remind us, though, was that at the time the Jackson PR team put out a (false) story that Jarvis had trampled on children while on the platform - which we think may be the first recorded instance of Michael Jackson lying about child abuse.

Toyah was astonishing - her anger at Mariah Carey is unsurpassed only by her anger at starving asylum seekers trying to find a bed for a night; and then she proceeded to have a pop at the girl from St Winnifreds School Choir for having a speech impediment - thorry, Toyah, you're thaying what? (That girl has grown from baby-voiced frizzy haired irritant to a sexy goth, by the way.) Equally unbelievable was Sonia, who criticised Chas and Dave for being little more than a steroetyped portrayal of what cockneys are like. Whereas, of course, Sonia's cheeky scouse charm is pure mint.

A pair of country dancers were invited to comment on Rednex's Cotton Eyed Joe and Steps' 5-6-7-8, and revealed that country dancers are even more precious than indie kids: "we don't need to be taught how to count" they spat, before suggesting that things like pop and fun have no place in the square dancing circle.

Oddest thing of the night was the credit on Middle of the Road's Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep video - apparently, this vital piece of rock history had been filmed by the Central Office of Information, which makes us wonder if the government publicity department has got any more lost pop gems stored in its archive, although not as much as it makes us wonder why the hell the COI was filming this in the first place.

The top 15 (bottom 15?) were:

1.The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) - The Cheeky Girls
2.The Millennium Prayer - Cliff Richard
3.Agadoo - Black Lace
4.Candle In The Wind 1997 - Elton John
5.Fast Food Song - The Fast Food Rockers
6.Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby
7.Because We Want To - Billie
8.Barbie Girl - Aqua
9.Achy Breaky Heart - Billy Ray Cyrus
10.Jenny From The Block - Jennifer Lopez
11.Orville's Song - Keith Harris and Orville
12.Look At Me - Gerri Halliwell
13.Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
- Bombalurina feat. Timmy Mallett
14.(Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams
15.Sacred Trust - One True Voice

Which we think is a little unfair on the Cheeky Girls, who might be rubbish (and have certainly worn out their welcome) but aren't on the same level of rubbishness as Cliff's Lords' Prayer to Auld Lang Syne with concentration camp footage in the background effort was. But it's not like we're going to go to war to fight for the cheeky girl's honour.

Hero of the whole affair was Renee, out of Renee and Renato - back, now, serving up Italian Food (which, to be honest, is a far greater good for mankind than anything achieved by 98% of the music industry) who basically said "I had an opportunity, people bought it, you'd do the same thing, so do you want black pepper and cheese on my ass when you bite me?"; biggest waste of space was Jono Coleman, the world's least funny man who came to share his insights. 2 Unlimited's No Limits was "a mindless thing", apparently. Er... yes, it was a dance single. For dancing to. In a mindless way. It's always puzzled us why anyone is bothered that the words of No Limits were so scanty when it never pretended to be a song that would benefit from having an acoustic reworking by Kurt for Nirvana Unplugged. It set out to be a stupid track to bounce around waving your arms to, and succeeded in everything it set out to do. You might as well complain that Chi Mai was rubbish because it didn't have any words at all.

While Jono might have been a waste of space, the most disgraceful shame was Channel 4 inviting Jimmy Carr to anchor the rundown. With some pisspoor gags which substituted smut for punchlines, he added nothing at all to the proceedings apart from his face. Which we could do without. It's obvious that the network is desperately trying to find a vehicle fit for his talents - we'd suggest a 1974 Ford Cortina with dodgy brakes at the top of Snake Pass on a moonless night when it's below freezing.

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.

BLOWING A FUSE: While EMAP's stations (and, to a lesser extent, Sky's little trio of music channel) nipping at MTV's heels in the UK, MTV is now facing stiff competition on its home turf from upstart music network Fuse - and is playing dirty to try and squish the new competition. MTV is insisting on exclusives from some artists in a bid to try and choke off the supply from Fuse - Radiohead's There, There was one which MTV gathered up to is bosom screeching "mine" (we wonder how Thom felt about that?). At the moment, MTV is able to get away with this because of the squillions of dollars they pay to record companies in licensing deals, and because of their larger audience. But with Fuse being seen as the bright and edgy choice, it's only going to be a matter of time before artists who seek to pretend they're streety start to wonder if they might not be better off on the young network rather than the besuited Viacom behemoth.

NOISES OFF: Although it's apparent that the Tatu jig is up, their management seem reluctant to let them go, and are keeping them alive through a series of stunts in which the women themselves don't actually appear - a bit like that programme on Margo from the Good life that was on last night, only even more rubbish. So, the whole Tatu to run for president of Russia story is cooked up without the actual need for either Yulia or Lena to appear. They have to stand together so their totalled ages takes them over the minimum needed to run for office in Russia and because "we cannot separate the girls," according to the spokesman - which is funny since it's clear they've not been in the same room for several months. We kind of like the idea of the band continuing like Snatch Foster, doing things but always only in reported speech. It's certainly better than watching them.

BECAUSE WE WANT TO: We knew this would bloody happen. Because she made an alright fist of playing herself in the Canterbury Tales, someone's now decided that Billie Piper Evans is an actress and given her a lead role in a drama. She's going to play a "troubled teenager who grows up in a care home" and is abused by the adults in charge who sniff cocaine off her breasts and pimp her out to fading djs in need of a quick boost to their profile.

WHISTLING IN THE DARK: The Californian Police, not unexpectedly, have rejected Michael Jackson's claims that he was mistreated during his arrest. The cops point out that Jacko's chaffing occured on a different part of his arm to the bit where handcuffs go, that in tapes of his time in custody he trills that he was happy and - despite a supposedly disolcated shoulder, he was whistling quite happily as he was driven to the station. Adding to Jacko's woes, they're now thinking of adding an extra charge of false reporting to his rap sheet - worryingly for Mr. J, the witnesses in such a case would be a lot more difficult to buy off. Even if he did get a shedload of money from CBS for his recent interview. Some commentators are suggesting that, rather generously, the US network paid Jackson for giving him a chance to clear his name - which is a step away from Anglia offering Pontins a few thousand to appear in their commercial breaks. CBS insist that no payment was made, which isn't as unlikely as it sounds. The station has got a massive Michael Jackson special scheduled for this week, and to let it play without at least some sort of attempt to distance him from the kiddie shagging allegations would be difficult to justify. The suggestion from Fox News was that the cheque for the special was boosted, so that while not actually directly giving the pale-faced one a payday off the back of the claims, in effect that was what happened. And, lets face it, if anyone knows about making payments to Jacko, it'd be the Fox networks, who gave him several hours of airtime in 2003 to head off the child abuse allegations the last time it happened.

We're buggered, however, if we can make any sense of the whole Nation of Islam bodyguard saga. There's suggestions that as well as keeping Jackson from the world the NOI 'handlers' are sealing Jacko off from his advisors, too. Apparently, Jermaine thinks they're doing a top job, but Michael and his Ma want them out and someone else in. Except the NOI are a little bit like Harry Potter books - once you've picked them up, they're very difficult to put down again. What makes this even more curious, of course, is none of the Jackson clan (as far as we can tell) are even members of NOI. And without wanting to be too cynical, we can't help feeling that it'd be in their interests for Jackson to go down, and provide them with a martyr, rather than be exonerated.

AN ETERNAL QUESTIONMARK: Although it seemed cut and dried that Elliot Smith's death last year was at his own hands, the coroner hasn't been able to determine that Smith was a suicide. This isn't, of course, quite the same thing as saying he didn't kill himself, just that there's a small lingering doubt. But, equally, there's no evidence pointing in any other direction.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003


Choose a week from the 52:

05 January 2003
12 January 2003
19 January 2003
26 January 2003
02 February 2003
09 February 2003
16 February 2003
23 February 2003
02 March 2003
09 March 2003
16 March 2003
23 March 2003
30 March 2003
06 April 2003
13 April 2003
20 April 2003
27 April 2003
04 May 2003
11 May 2003
18 May 2003
25 May 2003
01 June 2003
08 June 2003
15 June 2003
22 June 2003
29 June 2003
06 July 2003
13 July 2003
20 July 2003
27 July 2003
03 August 2003
10 August 2003
17 August 2003
24 August 2003
31 August 2003
07 September 2003
14 September 2003
21 September 2003
28 September 2003
05 October 2003
12 October 2003
19 October 2003
26 October 2003
02 November 2003
09 November 2003
16 November 2003
23 November 2003
30 November 2003
07 December 2003
14 December 2003
21 December 2003
28 December 2003

RADIO SIXHEAD BECOMES RADIO FOUR HEAD: As if taking over Six Music last week wasn't enough work for one man, Thom Yorke had a crack at editing this morning's Today. Unfortunately while No Rock was still enjoy a morning lie-in - but the show is still online for another week (a must for all Radiohead completists) - and the features will remain online for a good while longer.

Interestingly, Yorke was barred from doing a piece investigating the stranglehold of Clear Channel, because the Today programme lawyers were worried about Clear's reaction. Bearing in mind the show had spent the second half of this year staring down the government and Blair in the Hutton enquiry, the fact Clear Channel scares even them suggests just what a juggernaut the radio-and-ads giant has become.

HAPPY NEW YEAR: As the list of archives grows ever longer, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a prosperous 2004. Even although we're aware that Blogspot is down at the moment so nobody can read this right now.

I DO LANG SYNE: Natalie Imbruglia marries Daniel Johns out of Silverchair in a "secret" ceremony on New Year's Eve. They needn't really have bothered so much about the secrecy - Launch decided the two have such a low profile now they package the news story under a 'Lenny Kravitz' heading.

JOHN PEEL IS NOT ENOUGH: With thanks to the ever-reliable Peel Yahoo group, here's this year's festive fifty rundown:

1. Cinerama - 'Don't Touch That Dial'
2. The Fall - 'Theme From Sparta FC'
3. Mogwai - 'Hunted By A Freak'
4. Undertones - 'Thrill Me'
5. Bearsuit - 'Itsuko Got Married'
6. Mogwai - 'Ratts Of The Capital'
7. Half Man Half Biscuit - 'Tending The Wrong Grave For 23 Years'
8. The Crimea - 'Baby Boom'
9. CLSM - 'John Peel Is Not Enough'
10. White Stripes - '7 Nation Army'
11. Belle & Sebastian - 'Step Into My Office, Baby'
12. Melt Banana - 'Shield You're Eyes'
13. Nina Nastasia - 'You, Her & Me'
14. Ballboy - 'The Sash My Father Wore'
15. Vive La Fete - 'Noir Desir'
16. Sluts Of Trust - 'Piece O' You'
17. White Stripes - 'Black Math'
18. Yeah Yeah Yeah's - 'Maps'
19. Broken Family Band - 'At The Back Of The Chapel'
20. The Darkness Vs S.F.B - 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love'
21. Million Dead - 'I Am The Party'
22. Undertones - 'Oh Please'
23. Ballboy - 'I Gave Up My Eyes'
24. Party Of One - 'Shotgun Funeral'
25. Futureheads - 'First Day'
26. The Fall - 'Green Eyed Loco Man'
27. The French - 'Porn Shoes'
28. Half Man Half Biscuit - 'It Makes The Room Look Bigger'
29. Architecture In Helsinki - 'The Owls Go'
30. Camera Obscura - 'Suspended From Class'
31. Amsterdam - 'Does This Train Stop On Merseyside'
32. Maher Shalal Hash Baz - 'Open Field'
33. Neulander - 'Sex, God, Money'
34. Black Keys - 'Have Love Will Travel'
35. Mass - 'Live A Little'
36. The French - 'Gabriel In The Airport'
37. Radiohead - 'There, There'
38. Ballboy - 'Born In The USA'
39. Cat Power - 'Werewolf'
40. Broadcast - 'Pendulum'
41. Keys - 'Strength Of Strings'
42. Golden Virgins
43. Belle & Sebastian - 'Stay Loose'
44. Hyper Kinako - 'Tokyo Invention Registration Office'
45. Grandmaster Gareth - 'The Minute Melodys (Any Of)'
46. Super Furry Animals - 'Slow Life'
47. Camera Obscura - 'Keep It Clean'
48. Blizzard Boys - 'Ain't No Stoppin' This'
49. Freddy Fresh - 'You Can See The Paint'
50. The Vaults - 'I'm Going'

Which, if nothing else, is probably going to be the only list of singles you see this year that doesn't have Crazy In Love in it. Nice to see Cinerama and the Fall keeping to the tradition of the list (voted for by listeners to John Peel's show) being dominated by Mark E Smith and David Gedge; nice, also to see Amsterdam and Half Man... keeping a strong Merseyside presence there. We're not sure if the good people at 30242 aren't jumping the gun a little in making many of the last twenty years or so of the Fifty available online, but since Greg Dyke is keen for BBC licence payers to be able to access the programmes they've paid for, it's probably only half wrong.

HOW MUSIC WORKS NOW: Meet SecretsKBDB, a new band who will "blow ur mind" apparently. They've already got their fanclub sorted and, erm, plan on actually making some music sometime in summer.

PUPPET TRAPPED: Despite being seriously injured, Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets is being viewed as a flight risk and looks unlikely to be released on bond. Kirkwood was shot in the back by a Post Office security guard after hitting him on the head with a baton following a dispute over a parking place (which is, dude, so not punk rock). With his previous drug convictions, it's not looking good for Kirkwood entering the new year as a free man.

SOMETHING TO WARM THE HEART OF THE BPI: After a tricky year for British music overseas, what with the world sending back their Robbie Williams albums with the returns slip marked "We already own a Timberlake" and Coldplay - of all people - having to hold aloft the Union Jack (that's going to put Chris' back out), the Windy City Times has at least managed to spot that there's lots of good stuff going on away from the mainstream in the UK. We somehow doubt if this is going to lead to the Tindersticks suddenly dating Angelina Jolie, though, but stranger things have happened.

BEING ON BBC THREE IS NEARLY DISAPPEARING: Justine Frischmann cropped up on something jewish's clunkily-named Where Are Jew Now? feature just before hanukkah, claiming "I do feel I sort of did my bit. So you may well never hear from me again - doing anything." That's except for the BBC Three series on architecture, of course. And the judging architecture awards. And doing MIA. And dj-ing. And teaching. But apart from that...

We've got the Elastica reunion down for 2009.

IT'S THE END OF THE YEAR./ I HAVE JUST SETTLED HERE: We're not sure if anyone could be short of reviews of the year, which pad out the papers and fill up the blogworld at this time of year, but if you're looking to spend the last few hours of 2003 reliving the year just a little bit more, Blogcritics has a round-up of several reviews, and the opportunity to link to your own.

MORE FUN THAN WAITING FOR THE GLITTERBALL: Go to this website; type in some words - the database will then piece together a patchwork of those words culled from various songs and play it back to you. It's most fun when you use a line from a song and the computer, usually, finds a way that it could have been done better. And everything comes out sounding a bit like Girls Aloud.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

INTERNATIONALPOPOBIT: Anita Mui, Hong Kong based pop singer, has died from cervical cancer at the age of 40. Jackie Chan - who was with her when she died - said Mui had hoped fans would "stay calm and not cry for her." Late last week, Mui announced that she intended to step down from her role as president of Hong Kong Performing Artists Guild.

Although popularly perceived as having shot to overnight fame after winning an Opportunity Knocks style singing contest, Mui actually took a further couple of years to secure the level of success which made her a worldwide icon, albeit only in Chinese-speaking households. The fame may have been a mixed blessing; such was the level of press intrusion into her life she had to make a public plea to be allowed to receive her cancer treatment in private.

Her final live appearance was earlier this month at a cancer fundraiser.

SORRY, MR. JACKSON: Following on from the not-exactly-helping CBS interview, Stuart Backerman, Michael Jackson's chief spokesman, has bailed citing musical differences - erm, strategic differences - with the legal team who are encouraging jackson to go on really badly lit TV appearances and twaddle on about how when he sees a children's face, he sees the face of God - blissfully unaware that we were seeing his face, and in it about a dozen medical malpractice suits. Apparently Mark Geragos, the attorney in charge of Jackson's - well, we were going to say "defence" but that would be stretching it - stepped in at one point during the CBS interview to stop jackson from answering a question - which makes you wonder what he was afraid of, when you consider the stuff he let his client shoot firmly into his own foot.

ME AGAINST THE MUSIC DOWNLOADS: This year saw Britney Spears being used as a tool against the evil filesharers who would deny the management at BMG their shiny leather sofas. According to Yahoo's search terms rundown, more people took this as a sign to seek out Kazaa than to seek out Britney.

Also on a download kick, we were delighted and amused to see that a computer virus circulating the web right now pretends to be from the FBI - although it starts off sounding like it's come from Jason Pierce:

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Downloading of Movies, MP3s and Software is illegal and punishable by law.
We hereby inform you that your computer was scanned under the IP . The
contents of your computer were confiscated as an evidence, and you will be indicated.
You get the charge in writing, in the next days.
In the Reference code: #46129, are all files, that we found on your computer.
The sender address of this mail was masked, to protect us against mail bombs.
- You get more detailed information by the Federal Bureau of Investigation -FBI-
- Department for "Illegal Internet Downloads", Room 7350
- 935 Pennsylvania Avenue
- Washington, DC 20535, USA

Now, having seen the pisspoor attempts of the FBI to investigate the anthrax attacks and "terrorist" activity in the US and beyond (if they knew who the supposed hijackers of the Air France flights were, why not wiat until they tried to board the plane and arrest them?), we could almost be led to believe they would send out such a cockanamee email, but it is, of course, just a lame attempt to get people to open the attachment.

THEY TRIED TO CATCH A FALLING STAR/ THINKING THAT SHE HAD GONE TOO FAR: Something that will provide a spot of schadenfreude comfort for Victoria Beckham when she fails to get the number one slot in the slowest week of the pop year are the reports that even the one of the Spice Girls who can sing is in serious trouble. Many footballers have had their careers scuppered by a leg injury, but surely Mel C is the first pop star ever to be dropped because she'd buggered her knee?.

Meanwhile, Emma Bunton claims her last single was inspired by German Porn Film soundtracks. "When I hear it, I hear something different from everyone else" she giggles. Although since the only people who still follow her career are - shall we say - men of a certain passion, I wouldn't be too sure, Ems.

A KITTIN AT CHRISTMAS: A little treat to lift these dumper days between the birth of the Lord Emmanuel and the Archbish of Canterbury's just-after-midnight New Year message: a streaming MP3 mix from Miss Kittin. Mulled wine, anybody?

THE PRICE OF FAME HAS INCREASED A PENNY - OFFICIAL: So, it seems that Justin Hawkins off The Darkness isn't going to marry his fiancee after all, because of the "difficulties" caused by the band's success (let's not speculate exactly what form these difficulties may have taken, nor if they were selected by the roadies like in the golden days of rock.) The Sun's description of Justin, however, deserves to be noted: He is, of course "the Spandex-wearing singer."

On the same page, by the way, there's reports that Macy Gray is going to jump on the badnwagon of "launching her own range of clothes" - except, erm, she's going to do it under her real name. Natalie Hinds, apparently.

MOST GOES TO HIS WIFE: Mickie Most's will has been read, with his estate being valued at GBP18 million, which isn't a bad pile to have accumulated.

Monday, December 29, 2003

COMING NEXT: EXCEL - THE OPERA: Is it just us, or has David Byrne's whimsical Powerpoint 'artwork' merely doing what Armando Ianucci did with a lot less effort and a lot more impact when he produced an end-of-conference routine using Powerpoint? "There's the problem... my dog has no nose... so, how does he smell? And here are the three possibilities... and there, the solution: awful. He smells awful..." (Maybe you need the slides for that to work...)

FEELING A LITTLE FLAT: We doubt if we'd be able to turn down their chequebook, but even so, we can't help but feel a little disappointed that Pepsi have bought Pink up lock, stock and attitude to front a new pop campaign called "international!" (the lower case 'i' and the exclamation mark are all part of the trademark, we gather.)

The launch blurb is an art trip in itself:

Pink is delighted about the signing; 'I'm really excited to be hooking up with Pepsi, it means my fans around the world will be able to get lots more of my music and there will be cool stuff for them to win too!' Pink's off-the-wall attitude perfectly encapsulates Pepsi's Dare For More message for 2004 and consumers can gain exclusive access to their favourite star through a series of Pepsi initiatives.

We know that Pink didn't actually say anything like "there will be cool stuff for them to win too" but, oh, it hurts that she allowed her manager to rubber stamp the phrase when Pepsi's advertising people ran it past them. Meanwhile, as consumers, we're waiting for the series of Pepsi initiatives that will allow us to gain exclusive access to someone whose "off the wall attitude" so encapsulates the core message of Dare For More.

Although we guess it means there will be cans with Pink on the side, so that's good. Pity it has to be the second best cola, though. Also kind of disturbing that she's happy to shackle herself to Pepsico while there's the little matter of their Walkers workers having to hold union meetings in car parks after they removed that basic human right of free association from their staff: clearly, while Pepsi's message in 2004 might be 'Dare for more', they don't want it to be achieved through group action.

Might we take this opportunity to compare Pink with damn Britney Spears?

WOULD PEOPLE HAVE STARED AT HIS WARTS OR HER BREASTS?: Like airplane near-misses and that time the US military thought the exploding Soviet mars probe was the first wave of a nuclear attack, you sometimes don't realise how close you come to horror until you find out long after it happens. Likewise, it was only long after Lemmy and Jordan failed to fix a date to record together that we find out we nearly had to endure a Motorhead/famous for having big tits duet. He's still angling for Jeff Beck to turn up and help out with his solo album, which seems to be at least twelve months in the future. Twelve months is a worrying large window for Jordan still to get in touch, we fear. Clue: we're not expecting anything on the lines of Little Baby Nothing.

HE HAS A WAY WITH THE WORDS, DOES MR. WEILAND: Scott Weiland has sent an open letter to all Rolling Stone's gossip columnists:

To All Rolling Stone Gossip Columnists | 12/26/2003
First of all let me say that Rolling Stone magazine's gossip columns exist only so rich college boys can wipe their fucking asses with the rag. As for the lad that interviewed me and then printed that I was drunk driving... get your facts straight you moron paparazzi fuck.

Yeah, dammit - he was out of his cake on designer drugs and injecting liquid oxygen into his eyeball, you moron. Or something. You'll note that Scott doesn't actually take the opportunity to give us any facts about his mysterious odd-driving incident. And he seems not to realise that the paparazzi are photographers. Wonder if he spent much of Boxing Day trying to find out how to delete messages from the website?

TALKING OF POPSTARS ACCUSED OF ABUSING KIDS: In Mexico, Gloria Trevi has gone on hungerstrike because, oddly enough, the prison authorities wouldn't let her mum come in and give her a home-cooked Christmas Dinner. (Who does she think she is: Grouty?) Trevi, of course, is popularly known as Mexico's Madonna - although so far Madonna's desperate re-inventions haven't yet taken quite so drastic steps as those Trevi is accused of - kidnapping, abuse of minors, that sort of thing. There's been more bad news for Gloria, too, as the judge presiding over her case has been told to treat the death of her daughter as a homicide - probably due to the odd funeral service Trevi chose, getting one of her backing singers to throw the body into a sewage channel in Brazil. Gloria might want to think about at least snacking a little before the trial, as she might need to have her wits about her when she starts to try and explain herself.

THE CBS EYE SEES THE TRUTH: After a quiet Christmas, then, Jackson trots out onto the telly to put his side of the story, claiming police brutality and showing off what appeared to be a mark from a chinese burn. Now, it is possible that once they'd allowed him to choose the time of his own return from Los Angeles, let him charter his own flight, met him at the airport but merely to provide an escort to the station to protect him from the media, and walked alongside him into the cop shop, that maybe the cops suddenly realised he was meant to be a black guy and knee-jerkingly attacked him, but it doesn't seem that likely to us. Jackson suggests that the police dislocated his shoulder for him - and maybe they did, but since the rest of his interview pronouncements had clearly been prescripted by a PR team based in the outer-suburbs of the capital city of La-La Land, it'd be hard to give very much credence to his claims. Didn't he have a lawyer with him? Like, at all times?

The sad thing is that he's acting (and we think that's the precise word) as if he hasn't really understood that these problems could be avoided totally if he just accepted that grown men known to have spent fourteen million buying off a child-fiddling case and other people's children should not be mixing in bedrooms. The decision to tell Sixty Minutes that he'll carry on with the totally innocent sleepovers isn't going to look good in court, but to a man whose defence is that there's nothing fishy about it all at all, it may have been that his people saw this as the only line he could take.

What really made the media purr was the claim that he'd rather cut his own wrists than abuse a child - although, obviously it'd be better for Fox News Channel if he could keep himself away from the knife drawer until after the trial.

Some words of support though - David Blaine popped up on television during Christmas saying that he was sure Jacko wasn't the sort to rape small boys "on the basis of a long train journey I took with him." The Neverland Team are presumably hoping for jury of twelve people who've taken the Caledonian Sleeper with Michael at some point.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY AT CHRISTMAS: 'Putting everyone on a warning that if they say 'proper crimbo' within a ten metre radius they'll be getting discarded turkey down their shirts' edition
Ah, the spirit of Christmas - peace on earth, and goodwill to all men. Except of course for Michael Jackson, who was plotting to come and spend the festive season in the United Kingdom with Uri Gellar - we're tempted to suggest that regardless of what the Ex-King Bonkerstime of Pop may or mayn't have done, nobody deserves to spend the longest day of the year with Uri - "Oh, I know... I'll bend the spoon in the brandy butter now, yes?" - but it was by no means certain that Jacko would be allowed to flee from California anyway. Nevertheless, the Brighton Argus decided to gather some opinions about the proposed visit anyway, and so went direct onto the phone to, erm, Michelle Hadaway to ask what she thought. Hadaway is, of course, the mother of one of the two little girls murdered in Wild Park, Brighton back in 1986. Quite why her thoughts on this matter were even sought is puzzling - we're picturing an editorial meeting where they realised too late she'd have been perfect local background colour for the paper's Soham Trial coverage, so they resolved to call her up for the very next story vaguely associated with children in peril. If the choice of interviewee was odd, though, the decision to run the piece anyway despite its frankly baffling lack of coherence is frankly stumping all synapses: "Jackson should be banned until and unless he is cleared of these charges. It is out of order letting him in with these allegations hanging over him. I hope someone like him isn't involved in child abuse but then Gary Glitter was my idol and looked (sic) what he did. It is difficult to know who to trust these days so it is better Michael Jackson stays where he is. If the allegations are false and he is cleared then we should welcome him back." Really, the paper would have been better off running a story about some lost kittens or something in the space.

As if being told to stay home by the mother of a dead child, things got worse for Michael Jackson when Ulrika Jonsson used her News of the World column to call for Jackson to be banned from Britain in total. And that meant from the radio and the muzak-tubes of the nation's stores. Apparently the woman who single-handedly created the John Leslie episode this year has taken to flouncing up to cowering sales assistants and demanding they take Thriller out the CD machine. Going a bit far, surely, Ulrika? If it was Earth Song, though, we'd be right behind you.

One of the best pieces of music writing of the Christmas period came, oddly, in The Economist, which took three pages out to consider the state of music on the Congo. Pieces such as this in, say, The Wire or Observer Music Monthly usually suffer from a double-entrapement for the writer, who assumes the audience to have a working of background knowledge of the far-flung music scene in question, (which often we don't) and then feels the need to score some points with a little showing-off (trying to demonstrate they know more than the level of background they've assumed, erroneously, we have). The Economist explores the scene with the same assumption they bring to articles about the Azerbaijani Oil Industry - the compliment that we're interested without the expectation that we're initimate with all the basics. We've always like Papa Wemba's music, but we've never before been offered the context that explains why he makes the music. We'd also missed the news that Wemba had been detained in France, facing charges of smuggling several thousand Congolese into Europe under the guise of his "entourage."

Talking of the Observer Music Monthly (we were, a moment back), the December issue had a bloody scary photoshoppy-airbrushy Beyonce on its cover and a slightly sad Top 10 Party Animal List. Keith Moon at One, perhaps, but Belinda Carlisle earns position six on the basis of once waking up having bought a greyhound and Lee Ryan from Blue is at number ten. Hey, why not include Will Young on the strength of the awful Leave Right Now video where he pretends to be needinga good throwing out of an art launch?

The secret life of Elton John reveals - shhh - he's got a knighthood, buys a lot of flowers and supports Watford. Shhh... just between you and me, okay?

Raymond Briggs gets the Record Doctor treatment, resulting in a prescription of Morrisey, Van Morrison and Nick Drake (the ultimate 'May cause drowsiness - do not drive or operate heavy machinery', we'd guess) - Briggs had reservations about the Moz, but hated Van - "couldn't stand it - just terribly crude and oh, god, just miserable."

Paul McCartney writes up his trip to Russia, offering the OMM the chance to use lots of erroneous 'Back in the USSR' gags - although the USSR doesn't exist and he'd never been there before anyway. Paul got told not to cycle round Red Square because it was "sacred" and responded "But I did a concert here last night", which we guess is the closest he's ever needed to come to having say "Don't you know who I am?"

Uday Hussein used to be the patron of the Iraqi pop radio station, Voice of Youth, and would dictate what got played. Kind of like Johnny Beerling at Radio One, then, only his reign of terror went on a little longer. This information came from a piece of Baghdad's answer to Westlife, Unknown to No One. Actually, "answer to Westlife" doesn't quite convey the full horror - "they grew up listening to Air Supply, Whitney Houston and Phil Collins."

The evils of the West are further explored by Luke Bainbridge, recalling the Christmas when The Saint Winifred's School Choir got to number one with "There's No-one Quite Like Grandma." The scary fact here is that the Winnies' recording career lasted longer than that of the Beatles. Onto 2003, and the Darkness' attempt to write an 'I wish it could be christmas every day' for the jaded, post-ironic market is lauded as "song of the month" - now, we like The Darkness as much as the next man (except on those rare occasions when we're stood next to robertshaw), but we were cursing them for trying this even before we were visited on the Christmas Eve by the ghost of Christmas future who took us to a place where the track is pumping out of every fourth doorway in the mall, from the end of October until the start of January. We really could have done without another Thank God Its Christmas, thank you.

Ardal O'Hanlon meets Cliff Richard, thereby offering a sweet 'one small bomb' possibility - no more My Hero, no more relaxed-Christmas-pop-with-a-christian-message. Instead, we find out Cliff uses Nioxin, a shampoo designed to reduce thinning and receeding hair. "I've only been using it about six months, and haven't noticed that much difference. I'm going to check it out in six month's time. I'm going to give it a chance because I think we move on from things too quickly these days." Blimey, Cliff even treats his grooming products with Biblical charity. He truly must be the greatest man ever, right? Of course not. "I mean, I cannot beat Jesus. It's just impossible" he chides.

The trouble of loving Jesus and playing the devil's music is one familair to Cliff, of course, as it is to others. Beyonce - OMM's artist of the year - admits her public personna is "distorted so that people can be entertained. At this point I don't try to make it less confusing because I can't prove anything to anybody and I don't feel I need to." Which, in a line, is what Marilyn Manson has been struggling to express a billion times since he paniced in the Columbine aftermath and wanted to distance himself from his act. It's easier for Beyonce, of course, because she's walking a line that's familiar to many - wanting to be good, but feeling good - whereas Mazza is trying to simultaneously be a philosopher while making clown rock.

The OMM's choices for the year's best:
single: Crazy In Love
band: The Darkness
gig: The Roots (London Jazz Cafe, January)
fashion icon: Christina Aguilera (actually, OMM, girls have been dressing like colourblind hookers for about the last five years round our way)
album: Blur - Think Tank (hmmm)
object: the iPod
idiot: Pete Brame

"I'd heard rumours the new [Top of the Pops] presenter could be Alan Rickman or Eddie Izzard" whispers Paul Morley, confusing TOTP with Dr Who for comic effect. Paul frets that there's no real role for ver Pops now - "a steam engine in a world packed with jumbo jets" - but along with every single other piece we're read about TOTP since Peters refreshed (okay, fucked-up) the programme, it misses the point. There was a similar review in the Christmas Private Eye, suggesting that the revamp has failed and its time to put the show out of its misery. Well, the revamp has made a failing entertainment worse, that's undeniable, but to suggest that the displacement of a couple more million viewers is going to spell the end for the programme is to ignore what Top of the Pops is - it's not a show in its own right, the Friday night edition is merely the centrepoint from which the brand is spun. The function of the Pops isn't to deliver viewers, but to continue to fill the BBC with valuable archive (the Corporation has probably made enough from flogging old footage of Slade to Christmas nostalgia shows to more than cover the next year's costs of production) and to be the heart of the format machine - there's seventy-nine thousand TOTP clones onscreens around the world, not to mention the magazines flying under the banner, and the games and puzzles and so on. To worry that Tim Kash is a crap presenter and not fit to kiss the cigar of Jimmy Saville is like believing that Treasure Planet marks the end of for a Disney Studiowhich has long since given up caring about the cinema and started concentrating on flogging Winnie the Pooh wall friezes and blankets.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and we're wondering if Colin Pillinger is using his to weigh the value of getting Blur to record the "Beagle has landed" fanfare for Europe's Mars probe Beagle2 - the tune that has yet to be heard (at time of writing) some three days after it should. For the first time since they released 13, the entire universe (or our part of it) is actually desperate to hear a Blur song, and the bloody thing isn't coming through. Alex James wrote about how Blur came to be involved in the whole project in the New Statesman, suggesting that having Blur's name inolved helped the mission along (more, apparently, than the various Universities did, which might tell you more about the poor status of science in our country than it does about how great Blur are.)

Also in the NS, William Cook clearly got a little bit too pissed listening to School Reunion: The 80s at the Statesman Christmas Party before writing his piece on the Here and Now tour - the 80's had "the camp, self-deprecating couplets [of] Noel Coward", Boy George's "disarming insouciance recalled the heyday of oscar Wilde." He even applauds Ben Volpeirre-Pierrot for telling him "when you're hot, you're hot - and..." (prepare yourself, dear reader) "when you're not, you're not" - this is, apparently, "philosophical" rather than aged marketeers speak.

The Smash Hits Poll Winners Party has been cancelled - allegedly because the American winners can't be arsed to fly over to dance around on a stage in the docklands in front of the rapidly diminishing British preteen market - which means, for the first time in donkeys years, the Reader's Poll results come in the year end issue, with the acceptance speeches printed instead of yelled into a microphone against a backdrop of screaming.

So, whowonwhatthen?
Best Band In The World, Ever: Busted ("winning awards is such a cool thing!")
Best dressed male: Duncan from Blue ("winning awards is cool thing!" - that's almost a consensus now, then)
Worst single: Fast Food Rockers - The Fast Food Song ("We love that we've won - at least it's just a novelty record" - kind of implying they're doing a service taking the heat off 'proper' artists, as if they intended the fast food rockers to perform the role of pop scapegoats. Unfortunately, if it hadn't been them it would have been the Cheeky Girls who took the title, and they really do need to be told that - while we all enjoyed the joke - it's perhaps time for them to withdraw to babecast TV or somewhere and stop trying our patience).
Most fanciable female: Beyonce ("Oh, wow")
Best Male Solo Artist: Gareth Gates ("Thanks")
Best Dressed Female:: Rachel Stevens ("Wow - my second award as a solo artist." Yes, and its for sitting around in Pretty Polly knickers, Rach.)
Most fanciable Male: Justin Timberlake ("I can't believe so many of you think I'm so hot" - you came just ahead of Gareth, Timbo, I wouldn't start plotting your career as the new face of Calvin underpants just yet)
Best International Act: Westlife - we're frankly surprised that they're still stinking the place up. I mean, we can understand the teenage mums who got knocked up to them dialling in during little Kian's third birthday party to give them ITV's Record of the Year, but frankly, the only way we can figure they got this award was that a large number of the current SH readership didn't know what the long word starting with "I" meant and so skipped this category.
Top Pop Mop: Mattie Busted
Flop Pop Mop: Kelly Osbourne ("Kelly understandably decided not to comment")
Best female solo artist: Christina Aguilera
Best Dance Act: DJ Sammy ("Thank you, amigos"
Best Album: Busted - Busted
Best Video - Beyonce - Crazy In Love
Hot New Talent - Girls Aloud ("It is unbelievable that we won" - yeah, you can say that again)
Pop song of the year: Madonna-Britney-Christina
TV Show of the Year: Pop Idol (these last three suggest that mash its readers don't ask for very much)
And the best single... Gareth Gates - Sunshine. Crazy In Love didn't even make it into the top five.

While we're flicking through Smash Hits, when did it become a girl's magazine? There's some sort of 'what sort of dancer are you?' quiz which just assumes without a word that you'll be wearing a skirt and fancying boys. Okay, so that doesn't rule out every boy, but we think we might have worked out why the sales figures have collapsed so amazingly in the last few years. A further disturbing trait is the slapping of an amusing thinks or says bubble on the middle of every picture - we're using the word "amusing" at the limits of its tolerance here. But then the magazine seems to think that Avid Merrion is some sort of comedy genius, so what would you expect.

Javine is put in charge of the problem page, which she deals with the sort of bland 'love yourself' guff you'd expect a Popstars Loser to dispense. But even she can't quite deal with one poor soul - Heidi from Wales - who writes "A lot of people say I've got a face like Gail from Coronation Street." "Get a facelift" advises Javine, tactfully, before trying to say that she had it bad, too, because people told her she looked like Angela Griffin. Except Angela Griffin is incredibly gorgeous, Javine - so it's like someone saying "please help me, I've got a face like an arse" and you saying "I feel your pain, I look like Alyson Hannigan." Except it's not even that, as you don't look anything like Angela Griffin, Javine - maybe people said you looked like the Midland Bank Griffin?

So, onto the NME double issue, which featured the Libertines dressed up like Victorian Urchins on the cover - "a rock n roll Christmas carol", apparently, although for some reason Carl and Pete are clearly The artful dodger and oliver, which is quite a different book.

The big picture is Marilyn Manson and Peaches, as Mazzer attempts to try and link his sideshow onto the Peaches big top - it doesn't work, of course; Manson's now pianfully self-conscious and cartoony, while peaches isn't; it's like a meeting between Vera Duckworth and Anna from This Life - they're both made-up people, but the fictions which support them are just so far apart as to make their meeting seem like an error in space and time. It's less a meeting of minds, more internet slash fiction made flesh.

"Happy new year from the White Stripes" promises a prodcution-deadline cursed nme. "There are rumours Jack White will have to go back to hospital" worries the paper - yes, that badly bruised hand will need a looking at, we're sure.

The Pet Shop Boys do the made-up CD thing - Colin Blunstone, propaganda and kraftwerk. Mmmm.

Peter Robinson takes on Dave Grohl, who is lovely, as you might expect. "I don't have much body hair, so Queer Eye wouldn't have to wax me" explains Dave. Oh, Mr. Grohl - waxing has nothing to do with unwanted body hair, my friend. It's about seeing how much pain you can take before you start screaming.

You know, one of the things that makes us happy is seeing all the Libertines back together; it's like Tim and Dawn wandering off holding hands:
Pete - Did I ever go to midnight mass? Yeah, I used to go with my Mum and cry
Carl - I used to go with your mum and cry as well.
Of course, it'll all end in tears again before 2004 is out, but let's just enjoy it while we can, eh?

The Kings of Leon don't bother with a question asking them what Kate Moss was like, because they met Satan, who they think is more famous. More famous? When did Satan record a song with Primal Scream, or dance in a White Stripes video? Best he could do was a walk on playing the fucking violin in The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and that was a bloody long time ago.

Get various stars to draw santa and then have their pcitures psychoanalysed - a long, roundabout way to find out Steve Bays from Hot Hot Heat is "possibly emotionally unstable."

One of the ten distinguishing characteristics of 2003 festivals: "Keith Allen no longer officially a celebrity sighting"

Pub Golf! This is what Christmas is all about. And it's called pub golf this year, which is right, and they've got some proper people in it - Mira from Ladytron, who we'll be worshipping as a god this year, we've decided and Hank Von Helvete of Turbonegro. Of course Hank bloody wins. He's dressed up as a man with spiders for eyes, isn't he? Of course he wins.

Unfortunately, the rather fine Christmas edition of the nme starts to flag by giving three pages over to Avid Merron. This time - oh, please, stop it - in the characters of Michael Jackson, Elton John and Justin Timberlake. It's like the karaoke part of your office party. We put our hands over our eyes and wonder why the BBC never treated Rock Profile better.

Aggie and Kim from Channel 4's Do You Live Like This, You Disgusting Person? God, I Shudder To Think What Your Foreskin Must Be Like - Look, You've Got Bloody Flies In Your House - Flies, Like In the 19th Century, Dammit ("How Clean Is Your House") are called in to look at Elbow and Electric Six's tourbuses. Aggie worries Elbow need to wash their sheets once a week at sixty degrees and that Electric Six don't bother emptying their ashtrays.

Jeremy Vine - one of No Rock's hero-god figures, of course - Vicvky Pollard and Charlie Busted do the annual single review thingy - jeremy observes that "even if some White Stripes songs are quite ropey, it's about the sound" and "what eminem did with a hammer and a chisel, 50 Cent does with a mallet." Ouch.

Album of the year is Elephant - Think Tank comes in at a more realistic 21 here, and fever to tell, which is what we'd choose, is at five.

Another slight embarrasment - if the Bo selcta piece is the karaoke at the office party, then the claim that Lennon's Happy Xmas is "one of the most important protest songs ever" and attendant piece of flammery is the boss standing up to make a couple of weak jokes and blether on about how next year we should all be pulling our weight and looking forward to a successful year (i.e. ill-judged nonesense that even he himself doesn't believe in.) "Of course it's not bigger than 'White Christmas' in terms of sales, but it's bigger in a sense that this generation relates more to 'Happy Xmas'" opines Yoko. She was talking "recently", apparently - although before the Idols cover version proved what we all knew anyway; it's seen as just another piece of meaningless shopping soundtrack. Nobody hears the little school choir and thinks "You know, maybe we should try and do something positive in Serbia, otherwise the election of indicted war criminals may lead to another bloodbath right in the heart of our continent" - they think "Would aunty Kath like that tray with the chickens on? Will this song be over before I get to the front of the line? Do Marks and Spencers take credit cards yet?" Of course Yoko likes to claim that her hubby's work made - makes - some sort of difference. But in a world where even Band Aid now gets flung out over the Christmas Carvery speaker system, it would only be a self-deluding fool who believed that.

Fab Morretti chooses his favourite band to enthuse over. He chooses guided by voices, which makes us suddenly look at him with a new degree of respect. Good choice, fella. But the second album is still lacklustre.

NME single of the year is - uh-oh-uh-oh oh no - Crazy In Love, although the obvious statement of fact is undermined a little by the way they try to pull a "Ha, you didn't expect that, did you?" on us. Yes, yes, we did expect it, but that's okay - choosing Beyonce over seven nation army and even the year's other 'look at my surprising choice' Outkast demonstrates that there's still so much right with the nme, that the spirit which sniffed punk coming and warned us that we were going to like Public Enemy is still around there somewhere. That the stuff that we're meant to believe the nme actually cares about - like Jet at 47, or Kelly Osbourne (nowhere) or Andrew WK (nowhere) - does so poorly when the writers are asked to choose what they want, rather than made to write to the needs of AOL focus groups - makes us just wish we'd get a bit more instinct, a bit more "what we play in the office" rather than "what we're told will play well in the University shopping centre." Because, you know what? We still love nme. We spent a happy hour stretched out reading an issue cover to cover in the Dallas Airport Marriott Courtyard North early on in this month, and it made us smile as much as it made us cross. And we're aware that the pop papers is usually hectoring, and especially so about the nme's faults, but that's because we love the paper. Now, we know that beating up on something you love is domestic violence, which - hey kids - isn't cool, but that at least entitles us to the tear-stained "it's just you make us so mad when you go on about Kelly Osbourne like we should care, nme." And so, at this most magical time of the year, we wanted to take you all under the mistletoe, and kiss you. One or two of you we're going to fondle in inappropriate ways, too, but all of you deserve a kiss. Because for all your faults, Wednesday would be a darker place without you. [Pausing to wipe our eyes]. Now, don't you go and spoil the moment by doing something shit like an Oasis special next week, will you?