Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006Music: We could have just done this post and slept all year

It's been a bit of a threadbare year, all round. You only have to look at how people have been trying to convince themselves the Arctic Monkeys (off the internet) are heart-stoppingly exciting rather than the sort of band you wouldn't mind seeing as support sometime to get the sense of a year in which the pickings have been fairly thin.

Not, admittedly, as thin as the dire attempts to try and create some interest by barking up a "war on emo", mind. We're pacifists here, but even we can't find it in ourselves to protest against a supposed war on middle-class American boys who are a bit shit at putting on eyeliner. Especially when the "war" boils down to little more than Kasabian having a pop. Kasabian against My Chemical Romance. It's like being made to read a match report from a Conference match that isn't even on the pools coupons, isn't it?

With indie filling up the doldrums, the doldrums are going to have to find space to build a holding area for the grey sludge of PR-created singerish-songwriterish who are showing the supposed democratization of MySpace up for what it is: Keith Allen's daughter and Sandi Thom comparing Ugg boots over the face of humanity, forever.

Mind you, it's not fair to blame it all on Rupert Murdoch's MySpace. The axing of Smash Hits and Top of the Pops have created a world where even if we did get a decent pop star, we wouldn't know what to do with them. And who would want to be a popstar, anyway, when it's becoming clear the lack of a proper pension scheme promises nothing more than an old age devoid of dignity?

Boy George had a taste of cold, hard reality as he got stuck into cleaning streets as a return for wasting police time back when he got confused about all the cocaine in his flat; then, he had to watch as Culture Club hired Sam Butcher to take his place in the reunited band. Having decided they couldn't take to the road with the street-sweeper, they instead chose some sort of binman version of the real thing.

Still, at least the other 80s George managed to keep out of court, although his habit of being so "tired" he has to stop his car wherever he is. Even in a busy intersection. There's no actual law against cottaging, but George's trip to Hampstead Heath could still see him heading to his solicitors - he's threatened to sue photographers who invaded his cruising privacy.

Taking a slightly less cold version of reality, Steve Strange cut hair to get himself into the Guinness Book of Records on Celebrity Scissorhands, while Jason Donovan claimed he'd allowed himself to be humiliated in the jungle to allow his kids to see a different side of their Dad. When that side is a man prepared to risk eating kangaroo bollocks in order to promote a comeback tour, you wonder if the kids might not be better off living unaware of those depths.

The winner, though, when it came to 80s popstars on reality TV was Pete Burns who - despite having a face like a badly-inflated beachball and arriving in a police-time-wasting "monkey" coat - triumphed on Celebrity Big Brother. No, he didn't win it, of course - Chantelle did, taking Ordinary Boys singer Preston as her prize. Preston was elevated to Ok! Magazine status, and his band promptly relegated from third-generation semi-serious mods to plodding background workhorses for Christmas market balladry which would shame the Andre-Jordan massive.

Burns might not have won, but he left with his star reascending and his dignity more-or-less intact. The star continues to ascend; a run of substandard digital TV programmes and a spell in the big house suggests the dignity burnt up on re-entry.

Pete Burns, of course, hasn't been the only pop star to have legal woes this year. The Bulgarian Madona has been
fighting for her very (made-up) name; Procul Harum took a disagreement about royalties to the bench;

Snoop Dogg's 21 inch baton caused a minor airport hullabaloo, although nothing to compare with his Heathrow ruck. Spike Lee has had more than enough of Snoop's sexism and general bad behaviour - but now that Tony Blair feels comfortable balancing his "respect" agenda with overlooking Snoop's caution under section 4 of the Public Order Act in order to share canapes with him.

But then it can be hard to throw off the allure of rubbing shoulders with the stars for politicians, can't it? Did George Bush feel upset when U2 and Green Day recorded a Katrina benefit single and made a video with a very slight suggestion that the US could have done more? Or would the sting have been soothed somewhat when - as Rolling Stone pointed out - Bono popped down for a photo-op with the President while he was campaigning during the mid-terms in the seat formerly held by Mark Foley, the page-flirting former Republican congressman?

It's been a crazy year for Bono, of course: he discovered he was Dutch, happily allowing U2 to avoid paying taxes at the higher Irish rate. "Who wouldn't want to pay less taxes?" asked The Edge, apparently without thinking through what it would mean for the One campaign's call for governments to direct 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid. Not easy if people avoid their taxes, surely? But then Bono seems happier suggesting that we can all just spend our way out of poverty, hilariously launching the Red campaign which wants people to use a credit card to buy stuff to 'help' Africa. The idea really does seem to be that we should remove the problem of third world debt by taking on a small portion of it as our personal debt instead. Of course it doesn't make much sense, but then he's been busy trying to force an unwanted tower on the people of Dublin to help channel more cash out of the Irish economy towards the Dutch one, and he's had the strain of that court case about his trousers to worry about. It's too much for one man, dammit.

Another man keeping busy was Pete Doherty: in between popping in and out of court, Doherty has managed to fight a photographer, kick a reporter and, apparently, stick a syringe into a comatose girl in the interests of art. Back in April, Pete's cousin was left comatose in the street outside a building in Aberdeen; this month, Pete absented himself from the scene as a man lay in the street. This time the ambulances didn't make it in time.

At least his mother has managed to spin quite a lucrative book out of the turmoil, so it's not all bad.

More families sticking together, as Madonna headed off to Malawi to adopt an orphan and came back with one whose father was, inconveniently, still alive. The obvious solution was to nip onto the television and tell the world that, when David's father said he went to visit, that simply wasn't true. She also claimed that she'd broken no adoption laws, as there were no adoption laws, before also insisting that she'd complied with the non-existent laws completely. Still, at least Maddy's trip to Moscow date went off relatively
quietly, after the venue was shifted on the bemusing grounds that the original site ran the risk of tempting students to fall out of windows.

Still, at least the baby accessorising saved us from her earlier attempts to remind us she existed: Back in March, she was reduced to trying to remind us about that time she kissed Britney.

Not that kissing Britney is that difficult. Paris is getting a go. She'll take all-comers. Except Kevin Federline, obviously.

That oddest sensation, sympathy for Heather Mills, ran through our veins as The Sun launched an attack on the woman it desperately wanted all of us to call Lady Mucca (the lame-ass nickname was so misjudged even Paul McCartney would blanch at using it.) The paper spent several days showing pictures of Heather from a sex book, frothing about how disgusting it all was, while making the pictures available online so that its readers could be disgusted in private at a time of their choosing. The paper never quite explained why it was bad for Heather Mills to appear in sexy photos, when a lot of News International business plan relies on the appetite of British public for buying pictures of young women in sexy photos.

The sympathy, though, can only run so far, and as McCartney and Mills-McCartney have continued their public war of attrition, you find yourself hoping the judge will give them a divorce and pass custody of the money to a foster family.

David Cameron's attempts to reinvent the Tory party as something other than a bunch of in-fighting toffs started to come apart when he launched a bemusing attack on Radio One for encouraging knife crime by playing hip-hop. Lethal Bizzle wrote to him to suggest he might look like a white, upper middle class member of the ruling classes by making a sweeping generalisation about music coincidently enjoyed by young black men; Cameron didn't reply but instead damned Bizzle in the Mail on Sunday on the basis of, erm, someone else's lyrics.

Cameron better watch his back: Dickon Edwards of Fosca stood for the Greens in a council election this year; surely Number Ten deserves its first reformed Romo PM? Come to that, does Jessica Simpson's departure from music hint at freeing up time for a run at the White House in 2008?

Robbie Williams was as successfully not gay this year as he's been every year of his life, although his inability to let go of the past got him into trouble when he wrote a song slagging off Nigel Martin-Smith. Victoria Newton gleefully printed the lyrics in her Bizarre column, and then not quite so gleefullly ran an apology. Newton had also claimed that Williams was going to turn up at the Take That reunion concerts. But he didn't.

Indeed, without a Robbie to ruin what would have been a perfect reunion, the band decided to do it themselves. By sticking around afterwards, doing grown-up ballads. Thank God the public sent All Saints packing and East 17 sent East 17 packing double swift.

Away from all this creative activity, the RIAA (and its client organisations like the IFPI and the BPI) have been quietly pursuing their strange new businesses. The lack of anything approaching investment in music by the record labels suggests they have embarked on a new business model of trying to get money from suing kids, bringing lawsuits and then admitting they don't have evidence, trying to force songwriters to receive less from records and even even persuading Microsoft to pay them a tax on sales of the Zune and a slice of YouTube revenues from Google.

We don't know if the RIAA companies are currently employing more lawyers than musicians, but it seems likely. They could even get them to make the records, as it can't be worse than watching musicians trying to offer legal advice. Mick Hucknall's bid to pass off copyright extension as a "socialist" measure shows where that would lead us.

Perhaps that accounts for the slightly dispirting 2006 - if you want to make it in the music industry in 2006, you're better off studying IP law than trying to learn how to play a guitar.

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