Sunday, April 11, 2010

What the pop papers say: NME reborn

So, that new-look NME in more-or-less full, then. It's probably the least-worst redesign the title has had since it abandoned newsprint, which is something.

I could have done without the ten cover stunt; it seemed rather a weak statement to use for your relaunch issue and really passed without anyone much noticing. As I said earlier in the week, the choices for the covers were spread from the somewhat surprising to the godawfully predictable; as random chance would have it, the postman stuck Kasabian through my letterbox on Wednesday. Kasabian.

The theme of the issue - what is the state of music today - felt like a big idea that never quite made the leap from the flipchart to the magazine. Perhaps partly because the only people they asked were people who'd make a decent front cover. It would have been nice to have heard from, say, Guy Hands, or Sharkey, or maybe even Gennaro Castaldo. But that would have reduced the number of covers they could have done.

To make matters worse, the people they did talk to weren't that much use. Jack White just moaned about the internet for the whole length of his interview, and Ben Swank never really made any attempt to examine his moans:

-Who or what is the enemy of music right now?
The internet. The internet. Your mom, and the internet.

There are a million follow-up questions that suggest themselves to that - like, perhaps 'oh, don't be such a twizzler, the internet isn't even sentient, and isn't something that allows people to discover new bands and old bands without having to wait for permission a great thing - oh, unless you're worried that the kids might discover acts you were planning to 'introduce' to them through a collaboration before you tell them it's okay to like them'. But none are asked. It seems the NME team have gone out with a questionnaire on a clipboard, like kids running round the Science Museum on a school trip, which strangles any hope of getting a discussion.

The rules the allow Swank to ask if we should all accept that recorded music has to be free - which is a rotten question, managing to be both leading and closed at the same time. White answers it with a lousy response - something along the lines of 'why don't we all sneak into the cinema', which utterly misses the point. You can put a door on a cinema in a way that you can't with a file on the internet.

The Rihanna piece is unintentionally hilarious - asked how artists can take back control from the "machine of the music industry", Rihanna reveals:
"After the first two albums I just said 'I'm ready to do it my way, completely'. So a couple of us went into the studio, cut my hair, died [sic] it black."

I'm pretty certain The Clash included a line about that in Complete Control.

Away from the main pieces, there's a pleasing sense of revivalism about the 'new' NME - the words New Musical Express have been restored to the front page (I'm pretty certain they never appeared anywhere in the previous incarnation); 'Tracks' has reverted to being 'Singles' (and with a guest reviewer, too - although that's a bit more Record Mirror than NME). There's even Anthony Thornton writing about The Libertines - although I'm not entirely convinced by the argument that they had to revive now, because if they did it next year it would look like a tenth anniversary cash-in.

Archive-raiding snatches the best bits from an old copy chosen, it seems, more or less at random: they've started with 1974, and a Syd Barrett cover:
"The next time Syd's face would grace the cover of the NME would be in July 2006, a few days after his death."

And there's a cartoon. A three panel strip cartoon. Which is funnier than The Lone Groover. Okay, everything is funnier than the Lone Groover, but still. It's a lovely thing to do.

On the downside: somebody dropped Trevor Hungerford's name from the crossword. And it's headlined "the legendary NME crossword", which is a bit like introducing yourself as "I am the famous Mr Osborne". There is the same byline drawing, though, which is wonderful - a design element which dates back, ooh, at least to Danny Kelly's stewardship, surely.

The fonts are all over the place - a serif over here, all block sans-serif caps over there, a dreadful thing that looks like it was designed by a guy down the market trying to have a go at the Rolling Stone masthead style scattered across the pages.

On the offer of a free mixtape to download, there's the bemusing small print "one zip file per person" - what possible problem would be cause if someone downloaded the files twice? Would Feargal Sharkey die?

Next week: it's another list issue: the greatest lyrics ever. Coming so soon after the biggest cult artists (or was it cultiest big artists?), this 'state of music' one and all the other list issues, there's a horrible sense that the editorial is nowadays consisting solely of threads lifted from ilx. The new design has fixed a few holes in the vessel; but there needs to be some freight weightier than pub arguments to make it worth putting to sea.