What’s new?

This is a particularly irritating way to start a conversation; similar to saying ‘how’s tricks?’. No-one is quite sure how to respond to either of these, and I’m not even sure what the second one means, unless you’re talking to an member of the magic circle, which seems unlikely.

The only acceptable answer to the question posed by this blog is: nothing. Nothing’s new. We as a nation seem to have run out of ideas. Everything is a re-working of something else, and if it’s not, it’s simply a straight repeat. I do genuinely worry that in popular culture, we’ve run out of stuff. There is nothing new, and it’s just something we’re going to have to get used to.

TV is one of the worst culprits, with I heart 1975, the top 100 best family animated musicals ever, take me out (bawdy blind date), Have I got news for you, Have I got old news for you all spamming the airwaves with their unoriginal tune. TV is stuck in a mass of repeats and nostalgia, and when someone tries to be original (10 o’clock live) it’s unbearably bad, pandering to a Guardian-obsessed sub-species of uber-cool City dwellers and students that don’t really exist anywhere. Films at the cinema tend to be part of a ‘franchise’ , such as the Fast and the Furious, which I now believe has churned out 5 films (when did film sequences become ‘franchises’? I’m pretty sure I never admitted to watching the later offerings from the Police Academy ‘franchise’), or re-makes of successful films, such as the Italian Job. The hangover wasn’t particularly original, but it was quite funny, which means the inevitable sequel (a la SATC) where the plot is indentical, just taking place in a different time zone.

Theatre, often a bastion of originality, is not immune. The Mousetrap inexplicably enters its sixth decade (surely even tourists are now bored?), the Rattigan revival continues to celebrate his centenary, and there’s Jersey Boys and other assorted singalongs from the past to entertain the proles.

Music, surely? Well not really. The last really original thing I heard was The Streets in 2002, and Mike Skinner ended up sounding like the voice of the whinging chav generation. The last band I went to see was Suede, and they were going through their back catalogue of albums, one by one (again). They were great, as always, but these songs are nearly 20 years old. Manufactured pop is back in, just like the 1960s, and everyone who was anyone has reformed, from Pulp to Dollar, to feed the nation’s bottomless appetite for nostalgia. The best music programme I saw recently was a retrospective of 1990s music on bbc4, and my twitter timeline almost exploded as other 30-somethings relived the days of Doc Marten boots and global hypercolour T-shirts. I listened to some Gil Scott Heron just after his death, and the commentator prounounced that his tunes were ‘as relevant today as they were in 1971’. Maybe so, but that’s because there’s been nothing new in between. Fashion? Judging by the 70s revivial (and 80s revival) of recent years, I sense not, but at least no-one’s going to force me to grow back my PJ and Duncan-style 90s curtains.

So what is genuinely new? The only thing I can come up with is reality TV, specifically to incorporate ‘scripted reality’. Jersey shore, Geordie shore, Made in Chelsea. This is the present, and maybe the future.

So next time you’re asked ‘what’s new?’, assuming that you have irritating friends, you can tell them.

‘Nothing’s new; and so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back caeslessly into the past…’.

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My compressed 30 day music challenge – the first ten days

Impatience is just one of my many faults, and when I was kindly sent the link to this month-long challenge, the first thing I did was look ahead to the questions that I wanted to think about and to write about. They say that good things come to those who wait, but I like to grab things I like the look of rather than wait for them to come to me. I know that if I have too long to look forward to something, I’m guaranteed not to enjoy it when it finally comes around due to the length of the build-up. This is also a great thing to blog about, because I don’t really mind if no-one reads it; it’s fun to do, and therefore has some value to me. I think that people’s musical choices can say a lot about them (it can certainly tell you whether or not they actually like music) and because my tastes are fairly varied and I get bored easily, I’m always interested in what other people like and why they like it.

I’ve not spent 10 days on the list below, but I have spent a little time thinking about them, so here goes:

day 01 – your favorite song:

I’ll take this to mean my favourite song of the moment, which is ‘the age of the understatement’ by The Last Shadow Puppets. That’s Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys fame’s) other band. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the lyrics in any detail, but I love the title of the song, its epic feel and the fact it sounds a little bit like Bowie. My favourite songs ever, and by this I mean the only ones that I’ll never skip on the ipod are ‘Sugar Kane’ by Sonic Youth, ‘Davyan Cowboy’ by Boards of Canada and ‘A Day in the Life’ by The Beatles: I don’t believe that there’s any song that you can hear somthing different in every time that you listen to it, but these ones go as close as any. I remember listening to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana when I was 15 and feeling like this was the kind of music that I’d been waiting to listen to, but this sounds so pathetically teenage that I won’t mention it.

day 02 – your least favorite song:

Toss-up here. My first ‘least favourite’ would be the ‘comedy’ song, like the ones done for comic relief (yes I know it’s a good cause but they always make me cringe, when a band and some comics get together for something that isn’t funny, but it isn’t really music either). ‘The Stonk’ by Hale and Pace was probably the nadir. This tripe ties with pretty much anything done by Robbie Williams. This man makes music for people who don’t really like music. It’s not that it’s awful to listen to (apart from his rapping) but that it’s so anodyne, and so obviously designed simply to be ‘un-hate-able’. For that very reason, I hate it, even more than the Stonk. I don’t like Kings of Leon or The Killers either, but that’s mostly down to the people who feel that this really really standard music is something that borders on genius.

day 03 – a song that makes you happy:

‘Barbra Streisand’ by Duck Sauce. It’s simple, funny, upbeat and reminds me of happy times with Victoria. What’s not to like? Can’t imagine I’ll be listening to it much in a few years time, but it’ll always have happy memories.

day 04 – a song that makes you sad:

Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. It reminds me of my parents, though it’s worth pointing out that this is not enough of itself to make me feel sad. They lived in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s and it always makes me think of them as a young couple. I’m not sure why that’s sad, but that’s what nostalgia tends to do to me, even if it belongs to someone else.

day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone:

Most songs remind me of someone. Anything by Steve Brookstein reminds me of my brother, who decided that his album represented a sound purchase. ‘Crazy’ by Let Loose reminds me of him (we have a routine) as does ‘Still Take You Home’ by the Arctic Monkeys, which was the precursor for a very entertaining night out on the West Coast of Ireland. The ‘King of Carrot Flowers’ by Neutral Milk Hotel is my choice though, because it’s one of my favourite songs of all time, and reminds me of my favourite person too.

day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere:

‘Has it come to this’ by The Streets. The beat reminds me of the rhythm of the tube, and the song reminds me of London, even if it’s not quite the London I know. Mike Skinner’s first album was truly original, and I like the fact that his music provides an ironic antidote to American rap. He speaks about greasy spoons, public transport and going to blockbuster, rather than guns, bling and hos.

day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event:

‘Chasing Rainbows’ by Shed 7. Euro ’96 will forever be remembered as halcyon days. I spent much of my time in the garden in Durham watching the football and not worrying about my degree. I remember every day as being very sunny, and even remember England playing some good football at times. We seemed nailed on to win the tournament, but were then robbed by the Germans on penalties in the semi-final. It’s far more English to laud the plucky losers than the eventual winners, so I think that it’s fitting that it happened like it did. This song is from 1996, and sums up how I felt about England then, and still do.

day 08 – a song that you know all the words to:

‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet. This used to be my karakoe song, until my brother informed me just how bad I was at doing it. It probably didn’t help that we were in a dive bar in Texas at the time, and I thought it would be humorous to wear a short-sleeved checked shirt with top button done up and then give a load of hicks some real 80s new romantic stuff that they just knew they wanted to hear. I’ve since experimented with ‘You Can Go Your Own Way’, ‘True’ and ‘The Reflex’, all with limited success.

day 09 – a song that you can dance to:

I’d like to think that I can dance to any song, but even if that used to be true, it’s certainly not now. My dancing is now confined to weddings, and though I maintain my strict rule never to dance on carpet, I’m sure I still look as much of a prick as the people I’m dancing with. For this reason, I suppose I should choose (ironically) ‘U Can’t Touch This’ by M C Hammer, if only because I think my patented dance moves that come after ‘yo ring the bell, school’s back in’ are very special. The fact that ‘Out of Touch’ by Uniting Nations would have come a close second proves that any credibility I may have built up through any of these answers has now disappeared entirely.

day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep:

‘The Shining’ by Badly Drawn Boy. It’s the first song from his album ‘The Hour of Bewilderbeast’, and when I was staying in Boston with my friend Ryan in 2003, I slept on his couch, and fell asleep each night listening to this song. It’s a real slow-burner and the lazy ‘cello at the start is such a lovely song for late at night.

Face the Music (2)

Here it is, the long awaited second installment of my ‘Top Ten Albums’, this time from 2001 right up to the present day. The only feedback I had from my related post was that ‘it was a bit dull’ (thanks brother), so I’ve decided to listen to advice, and to improve things by justifying the choices, as well as putting a few thoughts down about music in general. Remember, faithful readers that these are the albums that I’ve listen to most regularly, rather than being those which I judge to be the best musically.

Just before the albums themselves, here’s some ramblings. I hope they prove cathartic for me:

  • I don’t actually seem to buy albums very much any more. Is this a bad thing? Not if you don’t like masses of filler (Raw Like Sushi still has my vote for the greatest load of rubbish outside the singles), but there was something nice about listening to a singer/band all the way through the album, especially if there was some concept to the album (Mansun, The Streets). Concept. How pretentious. Sorry.
  • You will always be judged on the music you listen to. This is unfair, but it’s going to happen. If you listen to Snow Patrol, you don’t really like music, and your opinion on what’s good or not is not worth listening to. You probably like elevator music too.
  • Why the argument about whether musicians write their own music or not? Why does it matter? Elvis didn’t write his music, and he’s pretty good. Granted, if the music is hugely emotional, and the performance is anguished, then you find out it’s been written by a load of grey suits, you might feel a little cheated, but we don’t expect actors to write the plays they appear in, and the same should apply to musicians.
  • You have a right to feel proud when a band you ‘liked before they were famous’ subsequently becomes famous. There is, however, nothing wrong with liking a popular band, and it’s not time to ditch them for something more obscure just because some other people like them too. Coldplay are good, aren’t they?
  • Why do so many bands now have the definite article in their names? I’m sure that we’ve reached saturation point on the number of ‘The….’ that are out there. Is ‘The Drums’ the worst name for a band since Hootie and the Blowfish, or is that just me?

Anyway, here’s the music:

2001: Royksopp – Melody AM. From one’s mid-20s, it’s time to start thinking ‘which music would go best with my sophisticated dinner party?’. Air and Zero 7 were early favourites, and I determined early to never go back to anyone who played Norah Jones, even if their basil parfait was to die for. After a couple of listens to Moon Safari, you can’t help wanting the washing up to come a little faster, and the only time I went to see Air, I fell asleep. Royksopp seemed a whole lot cooler, and I stayed awake throughout their Somerset House gig.

2002: The Streets – Original Pirate Material. Is this the last album that genuinely didn’t sound like anything that had gone before? I think so. Living in London at the time probably helped, and the beat on ‘has it come to this?’ always reminds me of the tube, in a good way.

2003: Goldfrapp – Black Cherry. ‘Felt Mountain’ is far better, but ‘Black Cherry’ still has its moments, and I did fall in love with Alison Goldfrapp one night in Hammersmith. So did Jez.

2004: Kasabian – Kasabian. The most swaggery bunch since Oasis, and just as exciting as Oasis when they kicked off. Coming from uber-sh*thole Leicester and still being good gains extra points. LSF, Cutt Off, Cluc Foot and Processed Beats would make it a good album even if only a couple of these songs were on there.

2005: Picaresque – The Decemberists. Must have been a pretty weak year. I like the Decemberists, and I don’t care if the singer has an irritating voice, and they’re not as cool as other such alt-country fellows, according to muso yank Ryan.

2006: Whatever people say I am… – Arctic Monkeys. Obviously. They were very exciting indeed, and if only for ‘still take you home’, the anthem of 2007’s Ireland holiday, they deserve the vote.

2007: Cross – Justice. Not sure if I’m too old for this, but ever since phantom no.2 was used on channel 5’s awful football Italia, they’ve had a hold over me. French music is cool these days. Who knew?

2008: The Age of the Understatement – The Last Shadow Puppets. The Arctic Monkey’s chap’s other band, and definitely more of a grower, even if it’s not so catchy. Sounds a bit like the AMs meets Bowie, which can never be a bad thing.

2009: West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum – Kasabian. Kasabian’s second album wasn’t much cop, and they seemed to be a real one album wonder (at least in my eyes). I can’t describe the sadness with which I watched ‘shoot the runner’ on the Friday Night Project, thinking how incredibly awful it was. WRPLA is even better than the debut album, and even though Noel Fielding was in the Vlad the Impaler video, it’s still a great album.

2010: One Life Stand – Hot Chip. Only for ‘I feel better’ really, and I probably haven’t even listened to the whole album more than once, but 2010’s not even over, and I’ve had enough of this list, and you have too. Probably.