Thursday, February 23, 2006


As people gather for the NME awards, on the other side of the ocean Simon Reynolds sat down for a chat with the Seattle Weekly and took the opportunity to say what he thinks is wrong with the NME today. Not enough Paul Morley, apparently:

It's complicated. NME is no longer like it was at all when I was a kid. At that point, NME saw itself as a magazine about all music, not just indie rock. They would have Bob Marley on the cover, a big piece on Michael Jackson. There was a sense of journalistic responsibility, like The New York Times or something. I feel like if the NME of then was around today, they would have had Dizzee Rascal on the cover. They would have a cover story on crunk and the whole Girls Aloud phenomenon, all this stuff that's happening now. Usually now it's rubbish. It's unfortunate with the Arctic Monkeys because they are actually really good, and that's going to just reinforce the NME being so narrowcast.

SW: The level of discourse in music-writing then seems so much higher.

Reynolds: That element appealed to a minority of the readership, but quite a lot of that minority was musicians. I was surprised when I interviewed musicians for the book and they'd say, "Oh yeah, Paul Morley was gospel. We'd read him every week." But the core music-press readership is always looking for a four-man guitar band from Britain that reflects back their lives to them in a slightly heroic way. The Clash did that, Joy Division in a more existential way, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Smiths, Stone Roses, the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys. It's the same all the way through. That is precisely what someone like Ian Penman at the time would have critiqued. When readers wanted Echo & the Bunnymen, he was writing about Grace Jones and the idea of artifice.

Of course, the key words here are probably "like it was when I was a kid", as each generation measures the NME from what it was like when they were teenagers, and always finds it wanting.

What's interesting, though, is that Reynolds is in effect arguing that to make a great music paper, you have to give the audience precisely what it doesn't want, which sounds so counter-inuitive as to be unsustainable.

Mind you, we're not sure we should waste too much time on any paragraph including the words "the Arctic Monkeys are actually really good", because that's stretching generosity of spirit a little too far.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes, though, things really are worse than they used to be and in the case of the NME that is true. Their annual Brats tour (or whatever it is called these days) is sponsored by brand of hairspray!!!

Greg Smyth said...

While it is amusing that the Channel Four Haircut brigade sponsor the Brats now, you've got to give McNicholas credit for playing to his target audience very well indeed.

What the anti-NME argument always misses, and you acknowledge this partly, is that what The Kids want has changed. NME is the indie Heat now, and that's precisely what the vicarious gossip fueled thrill the 15 year olds want.

I can see where Simon Reynolds is coming from but indie is the credible chart music of the day. Putting Michael Jackson in the NME when he's flogging millions of records is a no-brainer. Much like, err..., putting Arctic Monkeys on the cover today?

The real question IMHO is whether the current good fortunes of NME will flow out with the tide when indie isn't the in thing any more. That's what happened, far as I can see, after Britpop died. There's a core NME readership and then a much less 'sticky' larger group of Arctic Monkeys fans (for want of a better way of putting it) who won't be around once the cachet goes.

Not doing the guy down at all, but it's the editor after McNicholas, after the prevailing wind dies down, that'll have the really tough job.

Anonymous said...

The NME today is very narrow in its outlook, just like the Brits really. In 1986 it had Daley Thompson on the cover. I can't remember why at the moment. 1988, Terence Trent D'Arby. Courtney Pine. Some other date the Pet Shop Boys. Fings have changed tho' ain't they. You used to learn about new acts through the NME and it was seemingly the only way you would find out about non-mainstream music. It's just glossy crap now.

Anonymous said...

The NME's main problem is that quite simply they've forgotten their job is to report musical trends. For a number of years now they've been labouring under the impression that their purpose is to create musical scenes, and the result of this is a magazine which quite often smacks of both desperation and insularity....and has lost a shedload of sales over the past decade as a result.

I gave up reading the NME a couple of years ago when I finally got sick of reading reviews which consisted of 0% reviewing, and 100% the reviewer patting himself on the back about his wonderously witty wordplay.

The point Reynolds is making is basically correct. Once upon a time the NME used to actually mean something to the wider creative musical communty, both the mainstream and the underground, it had a relevance. It's a damn shame that's no longer the case and that there's no longer a publication of that nature in the UK.

Anonymous said...

Reynolds' opinions may be tempered by nostalgia, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. My problem with the NME these days is that, as a general rule, the writing is just superficial crap. Culture has dumbed down to such an extent that the NME is just the indie SMASH HITS, and SMASH HITS itself has dumbed down to the level of abandoning its magazine form, and just becoming a television station dedicated to selling loans and ringtones.

Anonymous said...

"There's a core NME readership"

Bullshit. If there was it would still be pushing a decent circulation.

The core readership have left, and most of them now just use the website for news (the sole reason I stopped buying it - I realised there were no more articles I was interested in - all I read was the front three pages) and get their editorial from online magazines and er... dodgy opinionated blogs that will write about Grace Jones and the death of identity.

Which is where we came in.

I have no problem with any of this - I think it's all going frightfully well, what?

It's called progress.

Smash Hits is dead, NME (as pointed out above) is now Smash Hits (how long before the free pencilcase?) and will crumble the next time there's a downturn in Indie stocks - which won't be for a while... five or six years to go yet.

In the meantime look to the future. NME has no responsibility to *be* anything. It never did. The beauty of the music press in it's prime is it helped you to polarise your opinions of both love and hate in the same issue. We have many more new and interesting places to do that now.

NME is like a dying grandparent. Only able to hold understandable conversations with small children.

Greg Smyth said...

I never said the "core readership" was very big. Heh.

Anyway, I'd have said that 77k readers is pretty respectable given that nowadays there are a lot more places to get music news and reviews than just NME. The kids can clear off to the web, while old buggers like me can read any of the broadsheets or Mojo or whatever. Back in its heyday there was none of that competition.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that everyone goes on about the number of copies that NME sells under Conor McNicholas? I mean has everyone forgotten that the beginning of his reign coincided with the melody maker merge!?!

And why is 77k a good number of sales? Why not over 100k, 500k or a million? After all they only need to stick Blunt on the cover. Obviously they're doing something wrong if sales is all they're interested in?

The NME IS a shadow of it's former self and all this talk of "that's only because you're comparing it to before" is nonsense. How is a magazine that still to this day reviews albums on the week of release rather than when they leak and are downloaded by everyone reflective of todays youth?? How can the magazine maintain it's image of having some youth credibility when it's reviewing (to give an example from about 12 months ago) The Arcade Fire 6 months after everyone downloaded it and 2 months after everyone across the pond gave it album of the year?

And it's not about my personal tastes changing. I used to be able to (and I'm only talking about somewhere around 98/99 here) pick up the NME and actually "read" it, whether or not I was interested in the band they were talking about or not. Now I pick it up and struggle to actually find a proper article in it.

As for Conor McNicholas, let's not forget that this is a man who said that Antony and the Johnsons was a bit to difficult for his readers. Talk about talking down to people. Apparantly the people who read it don't even realise when they are being shit on.

The comic, for a magazine contains a little something called journalism, is a joke. Complete and utter trash.

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