Tuesday, October 18, 2005

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: Fearlessly asking 'just how lovely are you, Robbie Williams?'

We're still not sure what the latest attempt by Top of the Pops magazine to stem its downward spiral actually says - could it be desperation? a plan to try and take on the challenge from Bob The Builder magazine head-on? Whatever, the periodical spin-off from one of Britain's most venerable music programmes this month comes with a packet of felt-tip pens.

For a slightly older audience, although apparently not much older, Kerrang! features Kurt Cobain on the cover. The strapline isn't "Yes, that's Kurt with a K", but "the songs which made him famous" isn't far different.

Uncut have spun off a sister publication, Uncut DVD (which sounds like something you'd see in a internet personal ad, preceded by an impressive claim of length). We're not sure if this the first step in a long term plan to try and allow the original title to concentrate more on music - the pairing of music and film with equal billing always struck us as being a bit arbitrary, like having a magazine dedicated to football and cookery.

The attempt by Yoko to make people notice her by dredging up the who was the best Beatle debate again led to a call going out for an expert or two. Into the Guardian strode Alex Kapranos, who ended up churning out a slightly better written version of those old letters music papers would run in quiet weeks which pleaded "the only labels which matter are good or bad". What counts, say Kapranos, is the effect they had together: "What made the Beatles greater than any other group was their unique dynamic. You don't listen for one member or another, but for the combination." That's true that; unlike with a Rolling Stones record, where people adjust their stereo balance until they can only hear Mick or Keith.

We then start to find it tricky to follow: "The idea that these supposedly inflammatory comments are reigniting some form of Lennon-McCartney rivalry is perverse. It is rooted in the mistaken presumption that any rivalry between the two appeared when Ono came on the scene. It was always there. It's what they thrived upon; simple competition, trying to outdo each other with better songs." Why would anyone think that Ono's words weren't meant to be inflamatory simply because Macca and Lennon were rivals before she appeared? And is Kapranos claiming that Macca is still battling with Lennon all the time even although John's been dead all these years?

It's an Observer Music Monthly week, and as Jim McCabe wrote to us to point out, Robbie Williams gets an easy ride: "After last month's sycophantic session with Paul McCartney, the Observer Music Magazine continues the trend with a Robbie Williams feature which makes Sean O'Hagan look like Jeremy Paxman."

It is an astonishing piece. Robbie likes Paul Flynn's socks. Paul Flynn responds by simpering: " Extremely sharp and uncommonly warm when he wants to be, the 31-year-old singer carries his emotions precariously close to the surface. He is always alert and yet somehow constantly bored. His sensitivities explain in some way why Robbie is the one pop star of the celebrity age who has to walk an eternal tightrope between public adoration and absolute vilification. "

Really? Speaking - you may have noticed - from the absolute vilification camp, I think I can say that it's got nothing to do with his sensitivities that leads us to the conclusion that he's a self-obsessed talent void who remains afloat purely on the basis of a nation's confusion between fame and value. But Flynn doesn't stop to worry about this, as he's, well, a bit in love:

"Because I love Robbie Williams as a pop performer and because I like his type, I really wanted to like him as a human being. I did. I left his company feeling slightly high[...] Certainly it is clear by now that if any pop star defines the age it is him, rather than someone such as Chris Martin, who enjoys blanket support from the record industry and whom Williams effortlessly outshone at Live8. Every pop singer launched on a major label since 'Angels' became a national anthem has attempted to touch the cloth of his frayed hem by some weird form of proxy."

Well, it's possibly true that Williams does define the age - along with George Bush, melting icecaps, idiots blowing themselves up on trains, toilet seat covers and remakes of films that were perfectly fine in the first place - but the implication that he doesn't enjoy "blanket record industry support" is just bemusing. And although the linking of Robbie Williams and the concept of touching cloth does fit together, we wouldn't have had it in the context of touching the hem of his garment.

This is the only proper interview Robbie is doing to push the new album - after all, the rest of the press will gurningly churn out acres of coverage without the need for anything as time consuming as an interview - and exclusivity has its benefits. Granted a private audience, Flynn is able to let himself gush.

"Only Kylie Minogue, ever the canny pop provocatrice, got the fact that it might be Williams himself who was at the heart of his own staggering success, and invited him to write for her on the eve of her own creative renaissance half a decade ago. Williams still openly smarts at the fact that Minogue's record company would not release the exemplary Euro club anthem that he and Chambers fashioned for her, 'Your Disco Needs You', as a single, on the grounds of it being too gay: 'Too gay! For Kylie? Imagine!'"

So... Flynn thinks Kylie believed that she twigged Williams was a self-made man. But then why did she want Chambers to actually write the song?

Flynn seems annoyed that other bands - ones that do more than waggle their eyebrows, rely on one song written by someone else and try to prove their heterosexuality by spittling over every woman they come within five steps of - get treated like they're more interesting than Robbie. He lobs Williams a soft question to this end:

"[Are] group such as the Arcade Fire are considered more noble [than pop acts] - because they're ugly people singing songs about death?"

"Yeah. But I can never not be pop" sniffs William in reply.

Then, god help us all, Williams starts waving metaphors to try and explain Pete Doherty:

"'I believe that if you're fucked up - and I'm still fucked up, but just not on drugs - then it's a bit similar to being in an elevator,' he says. 'There will be floors where you can get off and recover. There are sobriety portholes. The lift doesn't stop all the time and I think Pete's probably just missed a floor. He's had an opportunity to get out and just missed his floor. But the lift will stop again."

But with a lift you can choose where it stops - indeed, you're in control, aren't you? This is typical Williams - it's an area where his limited triangle of experience should give him some sort of insight, something significant to say. But he has nothing to say, nothing to add - his journey has left him with little more to bring to the story than a Heat picture caption. And before long, Williams stops trying to bridge the gap between what he thinks is needed and what he's able to offer, and so just brings the conversation round again to how terrible it is to be Robbie Williams:

'Addiction is different with Pete Doherty. He's different and we live in very different times. It isn't the Sixties any more. People don't have to die because of their addictions: they get clean. It's quite simple. It's not the same as it was for Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison or even Kurt Cobain. And it's not as if people haven't reached out to Pete. There is still some evidence that there's a romance to that rock'n'roll myth that hasn't died with addiction changing. And I'm not being funny, but there's a sense of his addiction being quite pretty. You know? He stays up all night off his head and then the next day at midday he goes down to the beach with a supermodel wearing a silver ballgown to shoot tin cans off a wall. It's appealing.

'My addiction did not look like that. I'd end up with any old idiot who'd talk shit with me till the early hours. That wasn't pretty."

Robbie didn't say very much at all during this meeting, but that's okay; the few words from his lips leaves more space for Flynn to fill with flattery and flim-flam. The new album has echoes of Morrissey all over it; Williams nails a "very modern condition" because he doesn't want to die but is rubbish at life. Williams spins tales that are "almost Alan Bennett-esque"; Williams shares Tracey Emin's genius for self-analysis.

Even describing William's clumping press meet - he sat the invited journalists down and read bad reviews he'd had from them in the past before playing tracks from his new album - is treated gently. Poor Robbie, decides Flynn, "is his own worst enemy." Wrong conclusion. Robbie Williams is Alan Partridge. We wonder if he went to look up moribund.

A quick flick through this week's NME (last week's, if you live in Camden) has Peel on the cover. By way of tribute, music people offer up a band who Peel introduced them to, kind of like a harvest festival. Steve Lamacq was gifted Adam and the Ants, and Graham Coxon provided with Samhain. Sadly, there only seems to be space for four of these.

Mark Beaumont enthuses over MySpace, although the strapline promise that it's "free, unreleased music without The Man getting in the way" is slightly undermined by the (unmentioned) detail that My Space has a small "prop. R. Murdoch" sign hanging on it.

Peter Robinson takes on Carlos Santana. Carlos forgets to hang up the phone before insisting to his people that he never wants to do an interview with "a person like that ever again", which makes it perhaps the sweetest victory yet.

Kate Bush hitting number one with Wuthering Heights is the occasion for the archive raid. Apparently when she knocked Abba off the top of what was still then the all-important Top 40, the Daily Express was moved to sigh "Wuthering Wonderful!"

fleeing new york - manchester dry bar - "a sludgy, sexy vision"
babyshambles - southend chinnerys - "we're feeling optimistic"
young offenders institute - manchester dry bar - "maybe we just weren't on the right drugs"

we are scientists - with love and squalor - "coiled, brash rock", 7
mew - and the glass handed kites - "you won't escape its hypnotic lure", 8
gay for johnny depp - blood: the natural lubricant - "a throbbing vessel of pornographic hardcore", 5

totw - mia - galang - "indistinguishable from that [previous release of the single] last November"
vanlustbader - here we go again - "shake the cobber-POP beast by the genitals"

and finally, someone in the picture department must really love Towers of London (which we can only assume means Dan Tourette's mum works in the NME picture department), as his picture gets wheeled out to illustrate the gig guide twice in one issue.


Anonymous said...

Music and film - arbitrary combo. Like cookery and football. What? Haven't music magazines always reviewed film and television? Are film magazines allowed to mention soundtracks?
Looking forward to the new football/cookery magazine tho' - presumably Gordon Ramsey on the first cover.

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

Oh, Ten Bob, I'm not suggesting that magazines have to stick purely to their remit, and I used to love the NME when it wrote about politics; it's just that Uncut giving equal top billing to music AND movies has always puzzled me - why not books and TV too? It just seems such a curious decision...

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