Tuesday, January 11, 2005

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY TRANSATLANTIC SPECIAL: Being a collection of things culled from papers on the American news-stands over the Christmas period.

The New Yorker decided to see if music could make you happy like an old friend, and so found a bunch of Beatles fans, hooked them up to a heart rate monitor, and played them one of the mop-top's records. The conclusion? "True love never dies." Sadly, they didn't then try playing them something by The Plastic Ono Band, but then again, there are ethical considerations even in pop science experiments.

Entertainment Weekly had a dire warning to sound: Alanis Morrisette is preparing her sitcom debut - it's going to be a music business version of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and she believes it will "dispel the myths" about her. Presumably the big myth, that she really can't be as hunourless and self-regarding as she seems.

EW also realised that - hey - maybe American radio might not be all its cracked up to be, and the internets could prove it. They featured a site called promosquad.com, which it feels shows there's a whole audience not being served by the mainly Clear Channelesque American. Oddly, though, promosquad seems to be throwing most of its weight amongst blue jean adulty rock grunts like Phoenix, which doesn't really seem to be the most obvious segment being overlooked by American radio.

Wes Anderson is asked about the way he uses film in music, and reveals that when he was making The Royal Tenenbaums, George Harrison was too ill to enable the clearing of rights to Hey Jude. So then he decided to get Elliot Smith to cover it. You might think he'd have quietly dropped the idea after that.

The Boston Globe scooped up an armfull of celeb-endorsed perfumes and got people who work with smells to give their opinions. Trash collector Nick Wozniak was one of the experts, pronouncing Beyonce's to be "like washer fluid... Windex or something" and Jessica Simpson's "like a peanut butter cookie". One whiff of J-Lo, however, resulted in "ooh, that one's bad."

Also in Boston, The Weekly Dig's review of 2004 included a full apology for having run a feature praising Dido.

Out Front Colorado spends some time with Rufus Wainwright: "After Poses was out, I got really disillusioned with pop culture and what they wanted. After a while, I just decided to be a snob... Mia Farrow and Genn Close are like these huge fans of mine..." Well, give him his due, when he set his mind to being a snob, he does it really well.

Something we've wondered about ourselves is puzzling The Onion AV Club: "Gwen Stefani is often touted as a rare 'real' personality in the pop environment, but what has she ever conjured besides the image of a Californian girl in a band with a bunch of boys?"

Paste is making Uncut's monthly CD look a little poor now - it gives everyone a free CD (this month including Alison Kraus, The Arcade Fire and Minnie Driver - but nobody's perfect); subscribers, though (and for one month only, everybody) gets a free DVD. A decent one, not the rubbish ad-box affair The Sunday Times does (was doing?). The DVD even has a mission, to try and recreate the 'oh my God what was that' spirit of early MTV.

Paste have also stolen a trick from the NME, introducing a band index - it can only be a few months before they go the whole hog and buy into the cult of Tim Jonze.

Nick Rhodes speaks of his relief when the Durans got back together: "thankfully, nobody turned up with a sitar or a heroin addiction..." - the words "or Warren" can be taken as read, of course.

The Donnas defend their decision to take part in ads for Target (Superdrug writ large) last year by pointing out it got them a gig playing Hello Kitty's 30th Birthday party.

"I'm not Britney Spears" says Neko Case, which is kind of like Rick Stein mentioning he's not running a branch of Burger King. She defends the short running time of The Tigers Have Spoken - 35 minutes - by pointing out that "just because a CD can hold more doesn't mean it should" - which is fair enough, but just because you can charge full price for half-an-album, equally, doesn't mean you must.

Paste are excited by Julie Dorion, because she's different to other indie stars. "Little could be less glamorous for an indie rocker than a profound longing to wash dishes and put the children to bed." Indie rock being, perhaps, one of the last bastions to fail to understand that having a kid doesn't mean you cease to exist.

The tale of Dan Messe and Hem is told, almost suggesting that there is a god, or a fate, or something at work: Hem's vocalist Sally Ellyson was working as a producer for CBS' 48 Hrs, missed the initial ad for a singer placed by Dan; by the time she found out about it, Messe had lost interest; he listened to her tape, but only - it turns out - by accident. There is no masterplan to the universe, but sometimes it looks like there might be.

If left to Peter Buck, apparently, the new REM Around The Sun, would have been "even slower and more acoustic" - which would probably be measureable in beats per hour. Meanwhile, Michael Stipe reveals something Bono once told him, which might explain a lot about recent U2 work: "every song doesn't have to be great, just do what we do." It's a curious point of view - that it's more important to just knock out the songs than to worry about making them as great as possible.

We thought Out Front Colorado might have had the most astonishing fact of the lot when it revealed that Manhattan Transfer are including Rufus Wainwright songs in their set, but then Paste announces that Tom Waits used to be really good friends with Fred Gwynne, who played Herman Munster for a living.

There's more on the state of American radio: Patty Loveless has, in effect, capitulated: "When I look back to 1994 and a detailed song like Here I Am, I wonder if it could get onto the radio today. We had to cut parts out of On Your Way Home to get it played on radio. Not words, but little bits of music. It hurt me to do it. But I did it." So, it's not enough to ensure that the lyrics are flat enough to fit the formats; nowadays, you have to cut off the spikes from the music as well.

On the other hand, there are signs of other openings: Paste now has a slot on CNN Headline News.

Any speculation that Paul Weller might be coming to terms with his status as pub quiz answer and sometimes seventh or eight influence named by skinny boy bands can be discounted: "I still have my self-doubts, but there are some aspects of my talent that I don't doubt anymore."

Maybe we can try and stir some extra self-doubt on your part, Paul. Rather than being too cruel - and playing you every dirge you've made since Mick Talbot went off to see if the hat shop would take the boater back - we'll just mention that when Skyscraper told Franz Ferdinand that American magazines suggest they're influenced by The Style Council, Alex hasn't heard of them.

"It's Paul Weller's band" chips in Nick.

"Oh, God" replies Alex.

Skyscraper is a hefty publication - it's enormous, it's perfect bound, and although we thought the reviews sections in the early days of the battle between Select,Vox and Q to be the most comprehensive had got out of hand, we never saw anything like the hundred pages of album ratings Skyscraper has to offer. And if it's weighty in its ambitions, it's even weightier in its desire to treat music as a serious matter. Very, very seriously. Franz Ferdinand are told they're not going to be treated in the same way as all the other American papers have treated them. And then The Chinese Stars are asked sternly if they take music seriously. Nervously, they say they do, only to be upbraided: "Well, why nipple rubs on website pictures? Why the all-denim (even shirtless denim) concert uniforms?" Presumably The Ramones would have got extremely short shrift from the magazine - not just uniforms, but silly names too.

Still, putting the music at the centre can draw out some interesting perspectives. Nic from !!! reveals the band's masterplan: "a journalist once said to me that when British and American music separated in the 90s it got boring and he was determined to bring them back together. Bands like the Rapture may be into that, but we've been more about bringing black and white music back together."

The Robot Ate Me's Richard Bouchard also lets something slip: "off the record, a lot of On Vaction Part II was basically making fun of [The Postal Service's Give Up] album.

You can't be sure if the prediction in My Back Pages, Denver's Twist and Shout record's own regular pop paper, that this coming year might be Denver's year, is as much hope than certainty, but with Czars, Sixteen Horsepower and Love .45 lining up, they could just be right.

A few miles north, and Fort Collins residents are able to enjoy a new freebie music paper, The Front. It's astonishing how many music papers (often free) even quite small towns are able to support in the US; and it's a pity that there isn't a similar range of publications in the UK. Mainly it seems to be a lack of advertising support which does for the titles which do try - but its not clear if British mags are just rubbish at selling ad space, or if British advertisers are more reluctant to take space.

Anyway, The Front considers the work of Marilyn Manson, suggesting he's always managed to keep the faith of gothy-esque because he's never been "too well done or too polished", which is just wrong: the only thing more polished than Manson's over-done PVC is the production sheen on his records.

Glossy Losing Today has reached issue five, albeit after a hiatus of three years. There is a promise of another edition in November 2004, but we saw no evidence of that. It comes with a CD and, yes, it's named after a Slowdive song.

Valerie Trebeljahr from Lali Puna suggests in passing that the problem with Riot Grrl was "the term was commercialized", which seems a little extreme: can any genre which hasn't generated a "Best... Album in the World Ever." Valerie's first album was Sade's Diamond Life. Thank god she discovered Stereolab.

In the Fierce Panda piece, Simon Williams confesses he turned Elbow down on the basis that they had a crap name.

It's while we're reading Kazu from Blonde Redhead talking about how they've signed to 4AD that we suddenly realised something: more and more American bands are (like Scissor Sisters) signing their primary deals with British labels, and yet American magazines are writing about more and more British music - three quarters of the live reviews in Losing Today are of gigs in Britain; there's also a lot of fairly obscure Brits like Fiel Garvie interviewed. We don't know quite what it means, though. Perhaps we're just swapping.

Maximum Rock and Roll readers are angry. Not because of Iraq, or even Bush winning again. No, what's pissing off Karl Bakla is "punk guys dating Abercrombie and Fitch chicks." So, we're not quite in the realm of open-minded punks yet, then.

The magazine itself has more important things to worry about: Javier Couso Permuy of Sin Dios files a report from a visit to Iraq, the primary purpose of which is to pay homage to Jose Couso, the journalist assasinated by the US military during the war. Not the sort of thing we expect to see in Heat any time soon.

Back with music, and MRR has got news of what Thee Headcoatees are doing now that Billy Childish has made them obsolete: Kyra Rubella and Bongo Debbie Green are now trading as the A-Lines, producing "Lasy Punk" and singing sometimes in Flemish.

Resonance also delivers its music with a political stance, although it allows Kathleen Hanna to get away with her usual slightly vague "whatever you do is fine" approach: "Isn't every person on the planet political in one way or another" she says. No, Kathleen, a lot of them aren't. That's the problem. Johanna tries to make some sense of the claim, offering that "status quo politics are invisible", which is bollocks. The work done to maintain the status quo - the central banks, the courts, the G8, trade agreements - is anything but invisible. Thats kind of why it's so difficult to shift.

And, still hanging about in the corners of some Borders was the November Wired, the one which came with a free CD to demonstrate the wonders of Creative Commons licences. They don't ask the Beastie Boys - who offer a lot of support for the rip and mess approach - how it is they managed to let their music come out on copy protected CDs in Europe, which is a bit of a missed opportunity.

But they do strike gold with an interview with former RIAA head Hilary Rosen. First, she reveals just how weak the music industry's grasp of the issues actually are (again). Defending the plea for copyright extension, she bristles "farmers can leave their property to their children, why shouldn't songwriters be able to leave their songs to their children?" But they can, Hilary. Some day, the Beckham kids will inherit Beckingham Palace; some day, Rufus Wainwright will be able to take his fan Mia Farrow back to Loudon's old place. What farmers kids can't do, though, is go to the baker's kids and demand money for the corn their dad delivered to them in 1903.

Then, though, Rosen does make an astonishing admission: the RIAA legal campaign against illegal downloaders has lead to "a chilling effect on other, legitimate users [of P2P networks]. Many musicians and consumers fear using pieces of other's songs, even for non-commercial purposes." In other words, the "educative" aspect of the RIAA war on its own consumers has totally failed. It hasn't stopped people who are downloading; it's just scared off people from actually using music in ways they've always been able to. Brilliant work, gang.

And finally: we don't have anything to bring you from the Improper Bostonian. We just really like the name.


Phillip said...

Good stuff. I only just discovered your blog but really like it.

Paul said...

"She defends the short running time of The Tigers Have Spoken - 35 minutes - by pointing out that "just because a CD can hold more doesn't mean it should" - which is fair enough, but just because you can charge full price for half-an-album, equally, doesn't mean you must."

On the off-chance you're not joking here...

What the fuck has the running time of an album got to do with how good it is. Extra tracks aren't necessarily better value and the extended edition isn't always the best version.

Perhaps if you're the type to slap in a CD in your five disc changer and hit shuffle then, yes, that 35 min running time is going to hurt. But if you'd rather listen to an album from beginning to end as a complete package and it makes its mark in those 35 minutes then why begrudge that it hasn't got those extra 30.

I guess what I'm saying is: length isn't important, it's what you do with it.

Anonymous said...

The "length isn't important" argument would mean that double/triple/etc albums shouldn't cost any more, which of course they tend to. I suppose people can charge what they like, but we're used to paying less for novellas, less for a screening of a 45-min short film, and less for mini-albums.

--Alan Connor

Eric Kleptone said...

But no, I like Paul's original idea lots more - In fact, from now on, let's price everything by absolute quality, rather than quantity.

Every album released will have to pass through a randomly-chosen bank of twenty experienced reviewers who independently assess the correct market value of the album, then it gets shipped out to the shops at a fair price.

Now that'll make the labels work harder...

"Damn, the new Britney came back with a valueindex of only 2.5"

"Why don't we stick on a Leonard Cohen cover? Should get it up to 4. It worked for Jeff Buckley..."


Paul said...

Actually, I didn't quite mean it like that...

There's obviously some cut-off point where an album becomes an EP. What's not so obvious is where that point is.

However, I think if a recording says all it needs to in one coherent piece in around 30 minutes then I would rather listen to that (and pay full price for it) than have it padded out by lesser pieces or self-indulgent twaddle.

I'm thinking, in particular, of any number of rap CDs that I've got that would be a forceful blast if they came in did what they had to do and left. However, it seems because there's 72 minutes to fill, 72 minutes will be filled, and what should have been a tightly focussed 40 mins has become a sprawling and slightly tedious 70.

That need for the extra half hour has just given customers more rubbish music than a roster full of Britneys or Ashlees.

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

Well, I was half tongue in cheek - I agree that it's better to pay your tenner and get thirty minutes of sublime beauty than get seventy minutes of rubbish, and naturally I'd happily shower Neko Case with cash just for being her. On the other hand, if I had a ten pound note and no Neko Case Cds, i'd feel less likely to buy one with just over an EPs worth of music than one with a full hour to enjoy.

But then there's the whole can of 'should Blue Monday cost the same as Velocity Girl on iTunes' lurking round the corner.

Anonymous said...

Hi Simon,

Longtime reader, first time poster. Imagine my surprise while reading this post to come across an item on the Franz Ferdinand interview that I conducted in Skyscraper! At any rate, glad you liked the interview (even if it was attempting to be ultra serious) and the magazine. The next issue should be out sometime in February or early March. The deadline for submissions was yesterday. The feature topics list that I was sent back in November included:

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (Austin) -
Battles (New York) - www.bttls.com
Beep Beep (Omaha) - www.ilovebeepbeep.com
Black Lips (Atlanta) - www.bomp.com/BlackLips.html
Bloc Party (London) - www.blocparty.com
Breather Resist (Louisville) - www.breatherresist.com
Call Me Lightning (Milwaukee) - www.callmelightning.com
The Coachwhips (San Francisco) -
Das Oath (Netherlands/New York) - www.das-oath.com
The Faint (Omaha) - www.thefaint.com
Isis (Boston) - www.sgnl05.com
Tim Kinsella: Joan of Arc & Make Believe (Chicago) -
Lords (Louisville) - www.lordsoflousiville.com
The Mae Shi (Los Angeles) - www.mae-shi.com
The Mean Reds (Los Angeles) -
Measles Mumps Rubella (New York/Washington, DC)
Modey Lemon (Pittsburgh) - www.themodeylemon.com
Moving Units (Los Angeles) - www.movingunits.com
The Oranges Band (Baltimore) - www.theorangesband.com
The pAper chAse (Dallas) - www.thepaperchaseband.com
Pinback (San Diego) - www.pinback.com
The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower (San Diego) -
Red Eyed Legends (Chicago) - www.redeyedlegends.com
Rolling Blackouts (Los Angeles) -
Single Frame (Austin) - www.singleframe.net
Sluts of Trust (Glasgow) - www.slutsoftrust.co.uk
Smoke and Smoke (Seattle) - www.smokeandsmokepracticespot.com
Vaz (New York) - www.thevaz.com
Wives (Los Angeles) - www.coldsweat.org
Wrangler Brutes (Los Angeles) - www.wranglerbrutes.com

I know for a fact that Sluts of Trust will be in there, because I just finished that interview/feature. Trail of Dead, Battles, and Bloc Party are also confirmed, along with a piece about Brian Eno's influence that will include an LCD Soundsystem interview. I don't know about the rest of the bands, but surely it'll be a good read. And the review section will surely be chock full of good information. Let me know if you have any trouble finding a copy of the new issue when it comes out, and I can send one to you free of charge. I've been reading this blog for a long time, and it's brought me countless bits of excellent information. I figure I owe it to you! Keep an eye on the website: www.skyscrapermagazine.com.

Jeremy Willets

Simon said...

I wonder if Alanis got the idea for "a music business version of Curb Your Enthusiasm" when she guested in Curb Your Enthusiasm at all?

Karl Bakla said...



Thank you, your article is very good

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