A Heartfelt Plea by Chris Dawson

Music Shouldn't Read Like This

 

That the amount of music is out there is overwhelming is not in any doubt. More of it is produced every day and more albums from the archives are pronounced as "lost classics" with every passing week. Most of us need a guide. Not someone to tell us what to listen to-god forbid-but someone to make us aware of what is out there. They might, every now and then, give us a friendly nudge in a certain direction but that would be the sum total of their direct influence. Good guides are, sadly, hard to find. Right now we have a stark choice between the filleter and the egotist.

 

The filleter

 

The filleter masquerades as a filleter. He provides us with a small selection of "essential" or "important" albums every month and he rates them so that we don't necessarily need to read the review. He also tells us what other bands they sound like, to make sure we get the idea and to make sure that all possible creativity in the writing is removed. If the album is mediocre, but by a big name, it will receive a large review. If the album is great by someone (perish the thought) you might not have heard of, then the review will be small and might even be shunted to a side of the page as a part of a round-up section. You might think that a magazine would promote a great album irrespective of the person behind it, but you'd be wrong. You'd be wrong because these magazines essentially trade on the past.

 

To be fair, they are pretty open about it and there is certainly a market for it. Once upon a time men had kids and then they stopped buying records. Women didn't buy records past the age of 17. Now though there is 50 pound man. He's 30/40/50 and every now and again he pops into his megastore and buys a few albums and a few DVDs . The filleters cater for this man. (And it usually is a man). The music they review is fairly safe and undemanding. It will invariably be 'well done'. It will be professionally made. Think George Michael's solo career. What these magazines do not have is any passion (much like most of the music they cover). There is no amazement, wonder, anger, joy - in comes a review with two stars and a comment that the album is, "mildly disappointing. The band covered the same ground with more conviction and purpose on their 1987 album........"

 

Oh, for heaven's sake, fuck off. The filleter though, seeing the great service that he does, decides to find other things to divest of all passion and interest. Films – let's review them. And let's have some features on Al Pacino/Robert De Niro/Martin Scorcese every other month. And if not them, then some other cock-based actor/director. Brian De Palma perhaps. Let's do books too. I think the next stage for the filleter is to have a monthly food chart at the back, so you can see what you are supposed to be having to tea whilst listening to Van Morrison or watching Apocalypse Now.

 

The Egotist

 

Then there are the egotists. They love their music alright, and what's more, they love all kinds of music. Trombone and improve. Flute ensemble? Love it. Glitchtronica? Bring it on. So where does the trouble lie with the egotist, as clearly she is not narrow minded and filled with musical passion? Well, her passion tends to get misplaced. Knowledge is used to crush, not to build. Humour....well, the egotists are generally not aquainted with such a concept. Artist A releases record A which is difficult, obtuse and rewarding. Egotist Z is aghast. Egotist Z is not mildly disappointed. She has been betrayed by artist A.

 

Artist A has spurned her talent, has been tempted by vulgar commerce. For the egotist, artists don't change direction, experiment, grow older/happier/sillier/sadder, they lose their powers, become awful, become evil. They lost the plot, they forget the reason why they are making music. Which is not for themselves, of course, for an audience, but for the egotist reviewer and others of their ilk. The egotists like all kinds of music as long as it is not too popular. You wouldn't want to go out on a bender with an egotist.

So....

 

You can read The Wire or you can read Mojo. You can read Empire or Sight and Sound. The middle ground (whatever that is) doesn't exist anymore. Does this truly reflect the realities of the "market place?"  It didn't used to. NME used to be able to cover the top pop groups of the day and find time for bands verging on the avant garde. It also used to have some decent writers. Nowadays it is a piss poor fanzine filled with lazy masturbatory articles on whoever the band of the moment happens to be. Melody Maker went the same way before someone decided to put it out of its misery. The internet's fine for personal sites. There is good writing if you can find it. But what about a magazine that is essentially exploratory, promoting new bands and sounds, and doing so in a spiky, spirited, silly, daring and funny way. A magazine that is not po-faced and humourless. Can such a thing exist today?