Saturday, January 02, 2010 

An alternative to the usual weekend links. Sort of.

The tradition is that on a Saturday I generally do a weekend links post. Frankly, there's so little worth linking to today, with probably this and this as honourable exceptions, that there isn't much point.

The other intention I had was that as part of the usual end of year, or in this case end of decade baloney, I was going to name the person of the decade as Katie Price, aka Jordan, for reasons you can probably guess. Then I noticed that Joan Collins in the Daily Mail did almost precisely that, calling her the non-entity of the decade. That is ever so slightly rich on two levels: Joan Collins is only notable these days for marrying numerous times, and secondly that she made her point in a newspaper which currently has the latest antics of said Katie Price as its top story on the Femail pages. If the very newspapers that perpetuate the likes of Katie Price suddenly stopped giving them attention, they'd soon fall from view. True, by the same yardstick an insignificant little nothing like me can be accused of hypocrisy for calling someone else the epitome of almost everything that was wrong with the last decade in cultural terms when I've hardly contributed to the wealth of the nation, but I like to think I don't contribute the same level of poison into the national spirit as the Daily Mail does every day.

I've spent some of the last week or so watching a load of old Have I Got News For Yous on YouTube, and it is instructive just how quickly we forget. Peter Oborne in the Mail today for example, and he's usually quite good, bemoans the "moral decline". I was only 13 in 1997 and even I can remember back then the usual suspects saying exactly the same thing, just as I remember the "Back to Basics" desperation which Major had come out with a couple of years previous. This naturally drove the gutter press on to expose as many adulterous MPs as they could, and there sure were a lot; we also now know that the prime minister himself, even if his affair with Edwina Currie had finished some time previously, had given in to the temptations of the flesh. Oborne goes on to complain:

For Cameron it is more complex. New Labour brilliantly used the capture of political power in 1997 to establish the dominance of the liberal Left across vast swathes of public life.

It now has key placemen and women in the civil service, the voluntary sector, the legal profession, the arts world, the intelligence services, the BBC and the quango state which has passed outside democratic control and yet controls so much of our public life.

These quangos are run, almost without exception, by New Labour placemen.

And were things any different back under Major? No, the quangos then, even if there were fewer, were also almost uniquely ran by Tory placemen, often the wives of Tory MPs. Will Cameron actually cut them as he promises, or will he just install his own placemen? You can bet it's more likely to be the latter. Already we've seen Boris Johnson trying to put in place Veronica Wadley, ex-editor of the Evening Standard and whom cheered him to his ascension as London mayor as chair of the London Arts Council.

As usual though, Oborne is nothing as compared to Amanda Platell, who's finally decided after years of criticising immigration to actually become a British citizen herself (complete with low-cut Union Jack dress, something she has previously criticised others for wearing). Her vision of British society and how as a selfless gesture she's becoming a citizen mainly so she can save the nation from itself is so different from mine that it's clear that we may as well live in completely separate countries. This is her summary of the best of what we have to offer:

The only areas where Britain excels - indeed, we're top in Europe - are drunkenness, drug addiction and teenage pregnancy.

Yet the nation which the Mail and the others are always encouraging us to look towards - America - is about the only other place that has a worse record on certainly the latter and more than likely on the other two as well. And she complains:

Today, too often, crude vulgarity prevails on our TV screens and on the street.

Nothing, naturally about when "crude vulgarity" appears in our national newspapers. Such as when a certain Amanda Platell blamed "equality" when a young woman tragically fell into a river while on a skiing holiday and died, for which the Mail eventually had to print a "clarification" letter from one of her friends about. And could this Amanda Platell that is always banging on about how essential marriage is possibly be the one that admits in the opening of today's piece that her husband departed long ago? No, of course not.

I don't have a rose-tinted view of the country as it stands. Certainly, things could be a whole lot better; we have after all probably just came through possibly one of the worst decades, if not in living standards but in general unpleasantness and misery for quite some considerable time. To read the Mail and some other people though you'd think that the country was about to completely fall apart, or already had, that society had also broken down entirely and that the only good, decent people left, the middle class naturally, are too scared and threatened by what's going on around them that they daren't leave their houses. The police are politically correct loonies, except of course when they're shooting dead Brazilians who look like Asians and beating the shit out of peaceful protesters; the entire country, despite being ruled by decidedly conservative with both small-c and capital C individuals for the last 30 years is a liberalocracy where you can't say anything for fear of being branded either a racist or a homophobe or a bigot or a sexist, and to cap it all, the economy's gone up the spout, even though the obvious thing to happen after the longest boom in at least a hundred years was a lengthy bust. We can rejoice though: here comes Cameron's Conservatives, ready to mend our fractured land, as demonstrated by him mouthing cliché after cliché in an especially fatuous Sun article.

Here then is my highly controversial prediction for what the next decade holds: much, much more of the same old shit. Regardless of who wins the next election, by the time it's their turn to be ousted from power, everyone regardless of political affiliation, including Oborne and Platell will be saying exactly the same things about how rotten the country is. And yet again, they'll be wrong.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009 

Most overrated and worst music of 2009.

2009 was the year in which the music industry's chickens came home to roost. Convinced that it's impossible to make money from "new" music, only the surest bets and most blatant copycats of already successful discoveries have been given even the slightest chance to shine. The result has been one of the worst years for mainstream music in quite some time, and hardly a stellar one for the "indie" scene either. It's no coincidence that the round-up of best of polls featured only two debut records, one of which shouldn't have even came close to being in the list in any case.

The real soul-destroying thing about the insipid nature and monotony of most of mainstream music over the last 12 months is that it continues to be so willingly lapped up. The road to stardom no longer even seems to involve a contrived start-up on a social networking site: increasingly we're back in the late 90s when anyone and everyone seemed to be creating either an all-boy or all-girl group simply by advertising for auditions. This was how we came to be lumbered with Pixie Lott: just another of 2009's attempts to jump into the by no means over-saturated market which Amy Winehouse "created" and which was filled further in last year by Adele and Duffy. We should be perhaps grateful for small mercies: rather than just one name, Pixie has two, although the stupidity of both doesn't help. Ms Lott, like Adele and Kate Nash before her went to a performing arts school, and is just as manufactured as those unlamented late 90s groups were, yet in an age where Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor now completely dominate music almost as a whole, no one seems to care or even be cynical in the slightest. Her single, Mama Do, has to be the most overplayed and most aggravating song of the year: if the cliched lyrics about her being hurt by the ubiquitous no good boyfriend weren't bad enough, the chanted "WOH OH WOH OH" throughout makes it close to intolerable. It naturally shot straight to number one, and the only hope must be that she goes the way of Joss Stone, who had similar but thankfully short-lived success a few years back and has since sank into oblivion.

Pixie is however musical bliss personified when compared to her contemporary Paloma Faith. Like with Lott, a key to her relative success seems to be the heavy rotation which all of her material has been given on Radio 2: once the station seen as irredeemably naff until Radio 1 got its act together, it now has the blessing of those who once preferred its sister ageing and growing into its supposedly inoffensive nature. Faith's Wikipedia page introduces her as having grown into her career as a "singer" thanks to her efforts at mimicking those she admired, but has now developed her own style. She has, but probably not in the way in which either the writer or Faith herself believes: she still mimics poorly those she admires, but it's her voice which defines her style. The nasal twang with which she squawks can only be compared to that other least-likely to be singer of recent times, the thankfully vanished Macy Gray, who was best herself compared to a being strangled Marge Simpson. Gray at least though didn't sound stupid when she warbled through I Try, something which can't be said when Faith squeals through the title song from her album, which is rendered by her as "Do You Want the Trooth or Something Bootiful?", for which she presumably has to pay royalties to Bernard Matthews.

Faith can at least sing, even if it isn't the most pleasant noise to listen to. Saying that Florence, out of Florence and the Machine can't sing is however it seems one of the great unmentionables of the year. No critic has been brave enough to admit that they were greatly deceived by her Lungs album, which despite being decidedly average still managed to get to 8th place in the poll of critics' polls. The proof of the pudding has emerged, both from her execrable live shows, where she seems determined to attempt to outdo Craig Nicholls of the Vines in being a tit on stage stakes, and he has the excuse of having Asperger's syndrome, and from the truly painful attempt by Florence to cover Halo by Beyonce in the graveyard which is Radio 1's Live Lounge. Halo isn't the greatest song in the first place, it being an obvious attempt to do Umbrella all over again, but only someone with the singing talent of Florence could make it sound like she was killing a cat whilst going through the motions. This, coupled with the dirge which is her truly unnecessary cover of Candi Station's seminal You Got the Love, easily deserves her the prizes of most overrated act of the year and worst cover versions of the year.

The true musical crimes of the year were however those committed by the usual suspects, the Black Eyed Peas. In one of the very few amusing things to happen on Twitter, Perez Hilton made a desperate plea for help after allegedly questioning the musical value of the group's latest album to the face of front man, a critique that resulted in an assault. It's mystifying as to why responded in such a way: to write such awful music you either have to have the knack of it and know what you're doing, or get incredibly lucky. Having spent the last six years having huge success, it's pretty certain that in this case it must be the former and not the latter. In other words, must be an intelligent man and know that his music's shit; why then respond with violence to the truth, unless the truth hurts, especially coming from someone who wouldn't normally know it even if it swam all the way up his posterior?

Shit isn't really an adequate description for the majesty of "Boom Boom Pow", nor does banal adequately describe the refrain of "I Gotta Feeling", the feeling being that tonight's gonna be a good good night. As for the album title, the inspired The E.N.D. is meant to reflect that the idea of the album itself is dead, now that you can pick away at them on iTunes like "scabs". When even you are inadvertently referring to your music as scabs, perhaps you don't need anyone else to be rude about your life's work.

Tomorrow: the best music of 2009.
Thursday (probably): Top 10 albums of the year.

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