Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Monday, 28 May 2012

"OASIS GIVES YOU RICKETS" - offcuts/notes from The Enemy review.

Luke Turner & John Doran at the Quietus are two of the best editors I've ever worked for: my Enemy review for them was way way way too long and Luke did a great job cutting the shit and keeping the flow (you can read the version on the Quietus here). These are just what the post-title says, offcuts and notes that didn't make the cut (thank fuck, but what else are blogs for other than putting stuff that won't sit anywhere else?). 

OK, first a review for the Enemy fans. Hi guys. No, don’t come any closer, I don’t want your .  . . . particles in my breathing space, no I won’t shake hands thanks I’ve just showered. OK, ready? Oh you'll fkn love it mate. It's quality. It's class. It's mint, both kinds, spear and pepper and it will provide a TOP soundtrack to a HENCH night out, a QUALITY night out that's pure CLASS and totally FOOKIN (why do you speak like that? People from Manchester don’t actually speak like that y’know?) MINT. Five stars. Enemy album of the year. See boy? See Enemy album? See  boy? Enemy album? Shiny object, see boy? FETCH. . . 

. . .( I blame Weller for a lot, for that fatal reformulation of 'mod' as not about sharpness but shabbiness, not being about chasing down the hottest black music but about shoring up the deadest white music, the prizing of authenticity and roots as a way of masking the pastuerisation & timid thievery going on. Fuck these tricks, I'm a real mod, a modernist, an English listener to black America, I love blatant thievery, not this due-paying bollocks. These Parka'd Man-U-Scholes-shirt-wearing cocks of the walk are just cocks who can barely walk, so broken and bowed are their gaits by a lifetime's absorption of rock'n'roll lies. OASIS GIVES YOU RICKETS.) . . .

. . . (Oh, and the next Cov band – or in the case of the Enemy, Kenilworth/Leamington/Ballsall Common band depending on who you believe - to continually cite The Specials as an influence really need to think about what they're missing, about those things that made the Specials great, about how they actually share fuck all with the Specials bar a postcode. The likes of the Enemy and the pack of equally shite-sighted Cov bands who bleat about Two-Tone as if they share its spirit need to shut the fuck up and realise exactly how visionary the Specials were and how much that unique vision eclipses and still renders-irrelevant the undanceable muso-pootling and posturing that seems to now be most Covband's birthright. The Specials, The Orchids, Delia Derbyshire – true avatars of this city of pop. In comparison, The Enemy and their ilk stink way too much of treacle town, of Bedworth like their hero Docherty, or even worse, Nuneaton) . . .

. . . Clarke is living proof of the theory that your voice suits your face, suspect that this is why The Enemy are, in a very real sense, unlistenable . . .

. . . Bigger Cages (Longer Chains)” is so proud of its semi-literate, half-witted lyrics you start cracking your fingers and hear just how much they've actually LOST since they were Bridges. The fills taking lumpen to some new entirely graceless new level of lumpeness, the grinding guitars beneath pitifully polite, everything with an eye on the big stage and therefore utterly uninvolving as listening experience. ‘Streets In The Sky’ straight away reveals itself as an album designed simply to 'get you ready' for the tour, the true money maker, the only chance these charmless chumps might get of securing the short-term future earnings they're in this for. It’s stadium-rock sure, but it permanently puts you in row-Z, squinting to see what the fuss is about, looking at the price on your ticket and wondering what in the name of all that is holy you were thinking of. Clap your hands. Sing along. It won’t fill the growing void ‘Streets In The Sky’ puts inside you, or allay those dyspeptic retches bringing tears to your eyes. But it might make you forget you shelled out for this shite. I envy you the disposability of your income . . . 

The only thing going on 'creatively' behind 'Streets In The Sky' is an attempt simply to remind us that this brand The Enemy, exists, are on sale, have a new barcode ready for a new season. Of course, all bands do this, but the good ones manage to mask it - throughout ‘Streets In The Sky’ the Enemy prove themselves not canny enough lyrically, or interesting enough musically, to distract you from the mediocre marketing their music embodies. 'Saturday', with it's punchably weak chorus and strange outlandish ideas about Feeder somehow being the zenith of Britrock intensity, isn't really a song. It has no life, only craft - the linear organisation of carefully considered tweakings of The Enemy's entirely un-unique selling points. It comes across not as something you want to listen to again, merely a montage of Enemy-like moments, an advert, the chosen chunk of Enemy bizness whose video they hope will get play listed and be out there barking for the cause (good luck with that guys, last time I checked it’s not really working is it?). That’s not just my cynicism – sometimes music can be so empty of rub, bereft of substance, the nakedness of its entirely commercial ambition is all that comes across.  In their attempt to avoid artifice, be solid, a band, The Enemy actually emerge as way more two-dimensional than all that ‘rubbish chart music’ they and their fans so snottily deride. The Enemy crave depth, have none, and unfortunately don't have the looks to get away with being so superficial. So the love of disciples is surely all that is in the Enemy's future, ‘Streets In The Sky’ will make no new converts . . . 

. . . ( I blame the Gallaghers for even more. For starting that idea that facsimile of finer moments by finer bands can be enough so long as you seal it with 'attitude', with frontmen willing to spout utterly conservative viewpoints, reassuring-enough viewpoints about how shit chart-music is, how hip-hop doesn’t belong at festivals, to never alienate their audience, delivered arrogantly enough to be called 'outspoken'. Beyond Green Day's necrophilia, beyond Radiohead's spawning of a generation of corduroy choirboys, Oasis have been the most damaging band in the last two decades of British pop. Fuck 'em and their fans, and the bands those fans formed, forever.) . . . 

. . . .they miss, unsurprisingly since their God Noel was a roadie and unlike Lemmy shoulda fkn stayed one, is that music really isn't merely about what you play, or 'ability' or 'passion'. Arse about tit, The Enemy learned how to play ages ago, as Bridges, as pure facsimile, then were forced to think about whether they had anything to say, came up empty and have been vaguely getting away with that emptiness ever since thanks to the massive critical sleepiness of the mainstream media and the  similarly-hollow manoeuvres of their peers and heroes.  The pop industry, like the football industry, knows that if it blithely spews venal lying rot about understanding fans ‘intensity’ and ‘love of music’ they’ll be able to exploit that obsessiveness in ever-more profitable ways – similarly the Enemy have the business-plan worked out like a motherfucker but nothing else, and so it all starts getting unpicked, falling apart, exposed. That’s why ‘Streets In The Sky’, no matter what efforts have been put in, arrives so half-arsed into your day, so rushed, so incomplete and dissatisfying. Kids, especially when they hear exactly how lame and pedestrian and hidebound the likes of ‘1-2-3-4’ and ‘It’s A Race’ are, will call this shit out eventually and drop kick these fuckers off the map. Like I say, a little bit of pity, but not much. Not much at all when these mediocre fucks are taking time away from the bands who can truly save guitar pop, bands who speak to my Cov-bredren way more than these strength-in-depth use-the-width-of-the-park shitheads. (They're from Finland and called Cats On Fire btw and the fucking fightback starts here.). . . 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A New List From The NME, and some thoughts about pop-hackery.

If you want to feel awful homicidal awful quick click here, read this, and then read the comments.

It's not the actual list that's the problem. The list is the usual mix of shit, shinola and gold you'd expect. Terribly predictable no.1 but hey-ho. The problem is the writing & subbing of the text for each track. I mean, these are meant to be the greatest songs of their generation - does the writing communicate that sense of importance? Does the writing make you feel as excited, as bound up,  as 'Caught Out There', 'Around The World', 'Glory Box' or 'Unfinished Sympathy' do? In fact - good example, let's check out what's said about no.31, 'Unfinished Sympathy' a record that shudders like an iceberg through your heart, always swells like a fresh new bruise, the turning of personal torment, of the battle between freedom and love, fearlessness & loneliness into a whole new universal noir. It's a record you never forget for the rest of your life because so often in your life yr gonna need to hear it again. That need, that addiction, how does the NME in 2012 sum it up?

#31 "Trip hop progenitor ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is really a slick piece of hip-hop soul blessed with Shara Nelson’s broken bawl and some muted beats and cowbells from 3-D, Mushroom and Daddy G. It came out under the more politically sensitive band name of Massive during the first Gulf War and ensured the collective remained the urban sophisticate’s artist of choice for the next decade."

So, this is what music writing should do now. Place, contextualise, describe, commercially delineate. All well and good (although wtf 'urban sophisticate' means I rilly don't know) and utterly pitifully inadequate to the record itself. And if music writing keeps doing this, keeps on - in terror of the poetic and fear of the 'pretentious' - simply comprehending music and never rhapsodizing, keeps on worrying about filing without ever losing its mind, it will continue to lag behind the form it seeks to circumscribe, will continue to be so much chip-wrapping for its readers and its writers to forget almost instantaneously. How could you ever remember such lumpen prose, such cliche-ridden mediocrity, let alone recall the names responsible? Where does this writing send you? Is there ANYTHING in each write up of each track that in any way has a reason to exist, a reason to be, a reason to take up those pixels? Would the piece have in any way suffered from just being the youtube links? Would any piece in the NME online suffer from just being made of youtube links? Faced with new technologies that enable everyone to be a critic what do you do? Make criticism look like everything else, or emphasise its unique posture, its antique desire not just to reflect but to CHANGE the way pop is thought about?

#72 "Tjinder Singh penned this track about the luminous cinematic power of Bollywood actress Asha Bhosle. As it stood, it was an absolutely pleasant slice of indie pop dreaminess. "

So, this is what music writing should do now. Be factually innaccurate (Asha Bhosle was a singer, never an actress), and have the ungainly ugliness of expression more suited to a college assignment, an exam, than music writing. It reads as if music writing is actually a painful, unpleasant process for those doing it, the annoying production of actual stuff that unfortunately is still attached to the real job of connecting, networking, partying and self-promoting. These are writers surely inspired by no-one, and consequently it's impossible to hear a human voice emerging, or see an effort involved in finding that voice. Just the mechanical regurgitation of acceptable cliches, the defeated tone of those pushed around and cowed by the biz, the absolute dead-end determination to 'appeal' as widely as possible, to never use a word someone might have to look up, to never say anything that could in any way lodge in anyone's mind any longer than it takes to read it. A downright FEAR of the new idea and the dwindling-readership it might alienate, a terrified scurrying cowardly retreat into the lukewarm arms of cliche and staleness and imprecision.

#10 " . . . rallying call against the rank hideousness of US society. It's a flame built on Tom Morello’s iconic, white-hot riff as Zack de la Rocha pours on the gasoline, taunting American forces with rhymes about racism and the Ku Klux Klan"

That language, that painfully half-witted mix of limp hyperbole and semi-erect bromide serves to render every writer for the modern mainstream music press anonymous, unidentifiable, monotone & monochrome. We're constantly told that readers don't want flouncy writers anymore, don't want imagination, purple prose, poetic license, just want THE FACTS. But what's shoved at readers are facts in the most withered, spineless fashion possible, to the point where it's only natural that those readers constantly wonder what earns the writers the right to pass judgement, what separates THEM from US? The fatal error the music press have been committing for nearly two decades now is in failing to realise it's actually commercially insane to reduce a body of staff to a unified, numb voice of one-ness, that what ANY reader wants from the music press is writing that reflects the music's variety AND excess AND concision. For pop writing to be as entertaining as pop it's got to be diverse but the writing being put out there, the writers that are paid, are almost indistinguishable from each other, much like the middling musical mulch those writers spend most of their time boosting. Hence the falling ABCs, the terror, the present/future role for the music press mapped out as mere capsule-review lubrication of commerce. All stemming from two things, a massive condescending underestimation of music fans, and the entirely fucked-up motivations behind those who want in on the music media.

#6: "Coming on like a twin of ‘Live Forever’, Noel Gallagher’s no-nonsense lyrics, a typically bolshy delivery from “our kid” and a guitar riff which sweetly echoed George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ added up to the very first Oasis classic. ‘Supersonic’ was effortless in its spewing forth of Manc cool, all self-confident swagger and utterly accomplished musicianship"

If the writers seem indifferent as to whether their words mean anything or not, then why should the readers give a monkeys if their own comments rarely extend beyond 'wank list, not enuf Oasis why isn't wonderwall in there'. Idiots have always writ to the music press, it's the way I started, and when I used to edit the letters page in the half of the inkies I worked for yup there were plenty of numbnutted barely-literate cunts telling me to 'take my black hip-hop shit elsewhere' or complaining about writers going OTT on something they thought was just wank. Ever thus - trouble is now, no model's being provided by the writers of possible ways of thinking and writing about pop - just an endlessly banal slew of platitudes, dying metaphors, meaning approaching absolute zero. Comes from talking down to the readership, the seeping middle-class assumption that any group as wide as a 'readership' needs things dumbing down, simplifying to the point of irrelevance. Where is the writing that speaks across to the readership, across the table, across the room, across the tracks and divisions to illuminate new ideas? Spiked, knocked out, or worse - not even thought of anymore. Reason? Because the WRONG FKN PEOPLE want to be music journalists, beavering hustlers and networkers, passionate ambassadors for their own needy inclusion in da biz, people so damn obsessed with getting their foot in the door they haven't figured out if they have anything more than fuck-all to say, and couldn't care less how revoltingly commonplace is the way they express that fuck-all. Style-less automatons of triteness and humbug and horseshit that criminally WASTE your time, and don't even give you a laff in doing so.

E.G, read this interview and then this interview with professional wanksnap, Hamish McBain, who works for the NME

Two quotes sing out here: "It makes it more challenging, to see how you can still make it exciting. It’s challenging for everyone – it’s a transitional period. It’s exciting in that nobody really knows what to do, and it’s exciting at the NME going to a meeting and instead of saying “right, who are we going to put on the cover?”, it’s “how are we going to put them on the cover?”. How do you make it interesting?"

And: "Tenacity is the key, really."

"How do you make it interesting"? For starters let's end the age of the pitch, the angle, the wacky juxtaposition, the let's take (insert band) to (insert incongruous location) lazyness of modern editorial. If your writers are interesting and freakish enough (not gonna happen if the people hiring are dull-as-fuck themselves or even worse yesmen to the marketeers) THEIR thoughts are the hook, the fact THEY love this band should be enough for an editor to TRUST there is a story beyond fkn celebrity endorsements or youtube hits. It's not really a writers job to give a fuck about ABCs or give two-shits about what some jumped-up little cunt wielding a piechart has to say about 'what the readership wants'. EVERY writer is ALSO A READER, what do YOU want from pop writing? Fkn get on with it then, and if you've no answer fuck off out of it until you get one, or even better, just fuck off for good. Let writers get on with writing about pop stars as if they're pop stars even if they're not pop stars because the things they make make them STARS to US. Let's unleash something entirely banned from pop writing these days - IMAGINATION - to give pop writing, and pop itself, its full magical and mysterious pull on our time again.

Hats off Hamish, y've nailed the key to getting a job in music writing. 'Tenacity' as the sole modus operandi of the writer. Career career career career - if there's something I can say has been common amongst every great writer or editor I've ever worked for/alongside it's been none of this. They've all, basically, been music HEADS - seekers of new stuff on a constant basis, diggers of crates, record-shop ghosts, teenage-years wasted in libraries and racks with radios and players and books. They've also loved literature, loved writing almost as much as they love music. The impetus and motivation behind their writing was always clear, to say the unique thing they had to say in the unique way they had to say it. Tenacity? FUCK OFF - these loons were convinced that what they had to say DESERVED hearing by the planet, NEEDED expression or they'd explode. Tenacity, fkn tenacity FUCK TENACITY UNTIL you've actually figured out if your message is worth tenaciously trying to get out there. And if you have no message, fuck you and fuck off y'gap year cunt, get yr fkn backpack and go see the world. I hope you drown in a disused well before you fkn ever 'write' ever again. Because instead of writing what you think, you write what you think other people want to read. And as soon as you start doing that, you're fucked in the soul, heart and head.

#30 "It was no coincidence that this track was chosen to soundtrack a key moment inTrainspotting. Penned on a drunken night as Karl Hyde got bleary-eyed in Soho, the fragmentary lyrics are mirrored by the music, which hurtles between speeds and moods, perfectly echoing the state of inebriation one needs to get to before belting out “lager, lager, lager” to passersby."

Secretly, what modern mainstream pop-hackery confirms is that there's a fundamental sadness to the role of music writer, or at least there is if you let it take hold - you are employed to basically be a hanger-on, an eavesdropper, a spod, a geek, someone who won't shut up about something the rest of the world just get on enjoying. To a certain extent this is all true but the people taking on the role these days seem massively cowed, almost apologetic about being critics, fatally and stupidly too dim to realise that EVERYONE who listens to music THINKS about it deeply, has a whole barrage of prejudices and assumptions they call their 'taste', even if they don't necessarily write it all down all the time. Writers gotta realise - YOU ARE AN ARTIST TOO. Language is your medium, infinity is your potential, MATCH or even SURPASS the music you're writing about, you're just as good as those fkn musicians and writing about pop is a vital artform that actually contributes to the health, and the potential for surprise and intrigue, of a musical culture. You are not a fkn hanger-on (and spods and geeks and fans are important  in any culture - remember fans are not disciples, fans can be betrayed) you are part of an argument, a battle.Pick up yr arms and yr pens and yr paper and yr brains and fkn fight. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT.

There is still, and always will be, a world to win. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

"A hoax perpetrated on the public"

Neil Kulkarni , August 19th, 2009, The Quietus

80 quid? Fucking hell, I must've been wrong about this one — see, I had this down as a wet steaming fart of fuck-all when it came out but 80 quid? Jeezus, it must be good, no, it must be postively crammed forth with pan-roasted goodness n'est ce pas? Sure, your reflex is to run, but maybe it's like the Smiths and if you scratch the surface (hold your noses) and forget your prejudice you'll find some men making heaven. I mean, 80, eight-zero not one-eight quid. 80 quid. This crock's gotta have some fucking gold inside to warrant such elitist pricing.

Let's crunch the numbers. Two CDs (one of the album, one of bootlegs you'll already have if you're in any way fussed enough), one live DVD, innumerable bits of paper, a few bits of vinyl, 80-squids. Your funeral pal, and I hope it is soon y'rich cunt. But let's get to the really big numbers, the important ones.

1989 — Unbelievable sounds from Manchester, none of which were by the Stone Roses — 'Vini Reilly' by Durutti Column, 'Justice (Just Us)' by Ruthless Rap Assassins, King Of The Slums 'Barbarous English Fayre'. Mostly forgotten, all pointing ways unexplored rather than roads now potholed with overuse. See, if you were looking the other side of your eye when Year Zero for lad-rock got declared, if you were otherwise distracted, the Stone Roses didn't-mean-SHIT to you. And ever since then, you may have never actually listened to this album. Oh sure it's come at you. Put on in flats by folks that you love as you bite your knuckles and flick your brain into escape-route mode, mentally knocking 'em off the Christmas Card list. Dripping down from the mirrorball as you scowl at the early 90s dancefloor waiting for the 'Razzmatazz' request that never came. Demanded in the DJ booth when you're behind the decks, lads disgusted at your non-ownership of this totem, sideyed-up desert-booted monkey-strutting wankers who'd go into their own scowlpose whenever you'd spin a hip-hop tune say, lads never twigging the sartorial irony of their kangols and bucket-hats, lads never really understanding, it now transpires, what the fuck the Stone Roses might have been about.

The crux being that coming to the Stone Roses for the first time, as I am today as a 'listener' as opposed to a 'victim', I can't allow the adherents and the gruesome sap they've been squeezing out of this lemon for 20 years to affect me. There's a lot you can blame the Roses for, most of it not their fault: like Primal Scream (those other flabby false-gods) I can't think of a single good band to have emerged from their influence (bar maybe the Manics). But listening as fresh as you can right now, queerly, the record The Stone Roses reminds me most of from '89 is Straight Outta Compton. Three good tracks and a right barrel-load of shite afterwards. A similarly malign influence over a few goodies and a whole lotta baddies ever since.

But make no mistake, for those first three songs — 'Adored', 'Bangs The Drum' and 'Waterfall' — those bands that came at the wake seem minuscule. Undoubtedly the Roses were blessed with things they didn't, couldn't pass on. Blessed with a drummer on a lil' three-piece kit who just fkn KNEW, a bassist who'd listened, a guitarist just the right side of wanky who could write anthems and a singer who sounded like he cared and was smart, Sure you can hear the roots, you can hear a familiar lexicon of listening and learning in the years before they came together as four — it's listening that's well-obvious perhaps (Stones, Love, Beatles, Byrds, Zep, dub, northern-soul) but it's listening that's been absorbed, amplified, attempted at with a unique slant and spirit.

Reni's chops aren't showy, but they pump every moment with energy and hope, enabling and animating everything else as a drummer should. Mani is the kind of bassist you could follow and lose yourself in to the exclusion of the rest — then when you snap back and hear the whole he disappears into the melody, sits back for the hooks, does only what's right. Squire lashes together licks from his library and they're good licks and it's a good library. Let's think about the little numbers awhile, down to the fractions, the important ones. Nearly every band since '89 that's in any way attempted to equal these three tracks, the precise feel of them, has failed to remain as intact, fragile or as believable. And on those three, Ian Brown — who will never be better than The Late Show — Ian Brown pitches it just about right — he sounds like a nobody who hopes to be a star. Ever since, the likes of Liam Gallagher have got it just wrong (sounding like a somebody convinced they're a star already) but for these three songs, for all the ambition of the lyrics, Brown's voice has a grain of hopelessness amidst the hope, a glum forlornness his more macho forebears have seemingly never twigged or been able to recreate.

If the 'Roses had released these three tracks as an EP and then died in a van-crash, taken with the two singles that preceded the album, they'd be nudging the greats. And I'd have them up there with Nightmares On Wax, LFO, AC Temple and The Happy Mondays as the 'up North stuff' we gave a fuck about down here in the middle near the end of the 80s. Difference being — all of these bands had more than three good tracks and none of them have succeeded in the kind of posthumous godhead the 'Roses have. Again, not the 'Roses fault (though hugely beneficial to them). But grating when you consider just how much The Stone Roses tails off. Something sad and embarrassing happens after those first three tracks, something that should've stayed small and unheard but has been inflated into the hallowed realms of 'quality' ever since. Every Stone Roses fan I've ever spoke to has bandied the word 'quality' around — 'they're just quality', 'it's quality music' — but holdupa second, listen to this frigging record. This is quality control gone AWOL in a major, degenerative way.

Simply put, four tracks in, half the band start showing their limitations badly. Jon Squire and Ian Brown have done all they have to do, the tunes become samey (as signposted by 'Don't Stop''s direct reverse-gurgitation of 'Waterfall'), Brown's vocals attaining the same monotune-irritant value as that twat outta Blink 182, that same unlovely unlovable monotune he's been jiggling round ever since. Squire's goldmine simply runs dry and starts hacking up gunk — his imagination can't quite stretch, he sounds like he's chasing originality when clearly UNASHAMED rawk-pilfering (see the much better I reckon Second Coming) is his true forte.

Oddly enough, it's only those songs you've heard too many fucking times that actually rise out of the gruel — 'Made Of Stone' and 'I Am The Resurrection' are both way too bloody long, but at least swing with hooks — the rest ('Bye Bye Badman', 'Sugar Spun Sister', 'This Is The One') are way too dullasfuck to allow any kind of flow, intrigue or wonder to this supposed great debut, let alone explain why so many dads and dad's lads routinely vote this 'classic', hold this up as the Greatest British Yadayada of BlahBlah. Again, gotta admit — that veneration ain't the 'Roses fault, and Mani and Reni remain intriguing throughout. But for two whole thirds of this album they're an awesome heartbeat ill-served by their frontmen — something that becomes clear and calamitous on 'Shoot You Down' and 'Fools Gold' (yeah, it's the US version you're getting, like it or not).

Both songs emerge from rhythm-section jams, free floating ideas (in 'Fools Gold''s case perhaps from the 'Something's Burning' demo). One's full of space and impact, the other's busy and directed at the feet — both great grooves waiting on a vision, big open Kingston/Dusseldorf tings much better suited to hip-hop, to some real verbals, some real loops. Then look what the twats from Timperley slop on top: Brown's vocals sound like a first-go you'd ditch, Squire's attempts at Free-style silkiness and liquidity coming across way more like Reef-style lumpeness and flash. That horrible wah-wah and all those funkless chops became the bedrock of the next decade's appalling attempts for lad-rock to get 'dancey' — you can hear a whole flotilla of Kula Shakers and Ocean Colour Scenes listening attentively.

On the cack second side of The Stone Roses, John Leckie's bigsound-cleanliness and echoey aftertaste really start to tickle the gullet, but in rendering Brown charmless and self-cornered, and Squire so monochrome and one-dimensional it's a production that's finally and damningly revealing, exposing tiny tired ideas in this big open hangar of sound. On such occasions, the demos are preferable, and you realise how this record hasn't so much been corrupted by its descendents as predestined that deterioration by its own sorry endings and fizzled-out fuses — this is a profoundly disatisfying clapped-out 'classic', a deeply disappointing 'essential' to anyone's collection.

Listening to The Stone Roses for the first, and gotta admit last time in my life (I just won't get as angry in the clubs when one of the hits comes on), the tragedy that emerges isn't that the Stone Roses 'won' their cursed-future as touchstone/bible (for all bibles are misunderstood); it's more that some people in bands can be bossier than others, can win out within the band-unit itself, can waste possibility in the dead-ends of a stunted imagination.

By the album's end even those first three bombs seem diffused, seem like the sound of a band rushing forth but also running out of ideas. And it's in that faffy, wooly second-side that I recall just why I hated the Stone Roses so much aged 17. It was because they were being hailed as gods but they sounded so earthbound, so (blame Leckie again) like the shit we thought we'd left behind by '89. There's a claggy clogged-up taste, a pristine feel to the sheen on this album that makes it oft-sound like some nightmare conflation of Del Amitri, the Lightning Seeds amd Steve Lilywhite. The Stone Roses might not have actually given us Oasis, Kasabian, The Libertines, every great shite hope since — but they gave us the template of fleeting brilliance and overwhelming mediocrity that's been more-than-enough for a whole generation of musicians now. And the fleeting brilliance, the sound they get on those first three songs has gone altogether — on the first three songs they don't sound smug about what they're doing, they sound like they're discovering it. The rest of this monolith, and much of what it's inspired, is lazy, coasting, kindling, contentment — nothing to make you part with your cash either then or now.

Because no, you weren't wrong the first time around. There was SO MUCH MORE than this going on in 1989. Doolittle. 3 Ft High & Rising. L'eau Rouge. Playing With Fire. Paul's Boutique, 33/45/78, The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, Margin Walker, Done By The Forces Of Nature, A.R Kane's 'I', The Cactus Album, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, Walking With A Panther, Batman, Streetcleaner, Ghetto Music:The Blueprint, Altars Of Madness, Nice & Smooth, Road To The Riches, Unfinished Business, Youngest In Charge, Beneath The Remains. They were fearless and they went all the way and like The Stone Roses they spawned plenty of ugly offspring. But all of them really are 'classics' in the livable-with, imperishable and cherishable sense — they won't all get the 80-quid deluxe spunkathon-treatment but they're things you want to protect and keep because they still sound immortal. They don't fail, they don't fall-off and none of them now sound like a hoax perpetrated on the public. In comparison to the real highlights of '89, whether they bequeathed whole scenes or slipped into oblivion, The Stone Roses is some over-rated filler-heavy bullshit.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

"I DON'T love music more than anything else"

And when I say 'European Album Of The Year' I mean it. Get. Now. 

 Here's what I thought of their last album, the beautiful 'Our Temperance Movement', as run by The Quietus  in 2009 . I love love love this band and I love the Quietus for letting me 'go long' on this stuff.  

Cats On Fire 
Our Temperance Movement 
Matinee Recordings

 Edith fucking Bowman, how shit is guitar music right now​? No wonder those off-the-peg indie-duds H&M and Topman are making such a killing with are in such infant-sizes – indie-fans must be fucking starving, malnourished, Biafran on these rations, these crumbs in the dust. 14 years ago I wrote this about indie-rock nearly-rans Sleeper- “Indie is four people getting together wanting to create something sublime and immortal having had their lives swallowed by pop and needing to do the same, surveying the infinite possibilities and deciding three guitars some drums and some good songs will just about do.” I wrote it whilst frowning and not getting any, but in 1995 it seemed like a fair response to the 2nd gen tide of unpleasant big-sideburned britplop swilling around the stevelamacq-skidsmeared u-bend of our everyday, an era in which we were being earnestly told by all kinds of earnest movers & shakers in rugby shirts that Echobelly & Republica & Cast & The Verve were more deserving of our attention than Sepultura & Killah Priest & Tarnation & Pizzicato 5 ( i know! sheer madness!), an era in which the foundations & blueprints of that crucial RETREAT of nerve committed on our behalf by a shitscared media (the retreat that we can now blame for our current Britschoolumni hell) were being drawn up and decided by pusillanimous pie-chart wielding chuckleheads across the capital (now in higher-waged dotages across our airwaves thankyouverymuch) . Now, in 2009, in this permanent 85 we're in Jeez, 'some good songs' by a guitar band would be a godsent mannabomb from heaven, now that the 'craft' has been so thoroughly ambushed and owned by Xenomania & Gary Barlow (show me an indie-rock song from the past 3 years that's been better - let alone sounds better - than those Take That singles? ) & fucked up and fallen-short of by virtually everyone else (especially the kind of suppurating arseholes currently forming bands faster than Zane Lowe can empty the spitoon.) I'm not holding my breath for a big indie pop band to care about again, but I do try and keep my mouth shut - like you would in a festival toilet - whenever exposed to indierock in case some of the particles get in my mouth y'know? Kings Of Leon to the left of us and Kasabian to the right of us and all that Oasis in the middle and hippies twiddling everywhere else. Never mind giving it ten minutes, we need to leave indierawk the fuck alone for a year or five just to shift the stench.
On the upside we can't deteriorate further than the plateau of ordure we're surfing on at the moment. For the longest time the wrong people have been forming bands and are getting signed & hyped & played & supported by those same kinds of wrong people currently running tings across this industry-that-will-not-die. You've seen the next-decade's-stars the past 12-years of withered expectations and ambitions have bequeathed us: walking the streets with Peavey bags on their backs, our future captains of pop - not-really-posh-honest-off-the-peg-shabby fucks for whom music is everything maan cos they don't have anything else to fucking worry about, too many beanies, way too much facial hair and nowhere near enough care, poise or genuine ostracized commitment. Never in the past five years have I felt like I'm listening to a band who's music has to negotiate the cracks in their life (apart from the one in their arses obviously), or for whom music serves any purpose beyond itself. There are no cracks in their life, no bigger battles, nothing the campus indie-soc/Oasis doesn't know about music: crucially all this bad art they're making never lost these chumps any friends, it inevitably finds them entire circles of wankers to applaud their planet-sized smugness. The atrophy & pffft that's crept into schmindie songwriting, it's inability to stop either whining undeservedly (Radiohead, Elbow, Coldplay, U2) or whoop smartarsedly at it's own mistranslated-fortune-cookie profundity & pissweak satire (Los “Hipsters' Scouting For Girls” Campesinos, U2, Radiohead, Elbow, Coldplay)or simply be about utterly pointless shit (Kooks), it's crippled inability to step anywhere beyond relationship-advice, text-speak self-pity or wtf confusion – pop squeezed out in the gap year, pop who's vaunting ambition is to find itself scratching it's stubble whilst getting it's arse kissed on the T4 couch, pop in loathing of any language you couldn't read in the Heatmag advice pages. Pop which, time and time again, when confronted with the very real threat of Jools 'Someone Shoot Him He's The Piano Player' Holland throwing down some hoary ol'dogshite boogie-woogie piano over it never responds with the frenzied fists the viewing public crave, always only the nod, the smile, the shrug, that masonic-handshake made of laid-back gestures that ushers you into club Sunday Supplement-Pop. Such beige horizons and the immortal belonging they promise are wide enough to include everyone from the most globulous dinosaurs to the spikiest new straplings,

Fatally, this sick mainstream is fed by an equally spineless underground. So the grisly authenticity of most chartpop remains unchallenged by all the noodledoodling in the peripheries – all that proof that sonic confection is nothing without conviction. Aimless meandering muchly - I'm not remotely suggesting that wanting to form a band should be reason enough for imprisonment or detention (I'm thinking thumbscrews & waterboarding might be more effective as it goes) but can't somebody stop these gurgling giggling galoots gathering together after dark in their rehearsal rooms and recording studios, can't something be done once we've figured out bands have nothing to say to stop them saying it anymore? This whole decade of indie guitarring, when whittled down to only what is top pop quality extends as far as the first two Strokes albums, the first Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys singles, the Good Shoes & Vampire Weekend albums and what else? The decade of Oasis and Green Day if we're being real, the twin middle-aged millionaire perpetrators of GENERATIONS of damage to young hoaxed pop minds. That's a separate case to be brought to the European Court of Human Rights in due course but for now, for the next thirty minutes, don't worry about it is the message. The Finns have sorted it out for everyone. Don't they always?

See, I can't stop playing this Cats On Fire thing. It's not the greatest album of the year, probably – that'll be a toss up 'tween far hipper, more self-promoting outfits from nascent scenes across the planet. Cats On Fire are actually getting dissed on tinternet for their lack of self-promotion, and the first thing people seem surprised by is that this be Finnish and doesn't sound like Darkthrone. If this record slips on by 2009 it'd fit, accidentally, with the sound and the songs – for these are special and precious and perhaps not for these times. For starters, you can hear them (a lot of what I'm about to say sounds like the kind of thing your mum and dad said about pop when you were a kid for which I can't apologise). No fog, only the fireworks that can happen between clean, pure unpedal-affected guitars and drums. Strong rhythms. Killer tunes. No new production tricks, a 50s radiance and shimmer with a 70s warmth and an 80s pose - down to what's important, and all is important. Needed at this groggy stage for rock – some purity of purpose linked with a purity of sound, some fucking balls, some proper dignified campness shot through ennui and standing up for a vintage cynicism, an unrequited endless love, a heroic warmth that's the coolest response to this cold dry age. Right now who cares whether guitar music's being 'inventive' or 'innovative' enough? Cram all that doodaddery, guitar music needs to rediscover the art of songwriting again, wipe the slate clean, earn its right to piss about again cos we're drowning in the lukewarm yellow stuff down here. And only what's noble and dignified is gonna save us, something that sinks in rather than sinks us in that fathomless portabog that noughties indierock has become. At times like these the clear and good-hearted stops being a tradition to kick against with confusion and aggression, starts becoming the real alternative to all the faux-extremity and frowning.

So on one level the perfectly-monikered 'Our Temperance Movement' IS just 'some good songs'. And hallelujah, It will more than do. It's an album I love because it's so likable, possibly that likability wouldn't survive the perils of modern fame – but I hope Cats On Fire make it because they've made this and they deserve it. Tempted to toss it at first. The guys' voice was so Morrisey I felt furtive. But the band made it impossible to leave. Opener 'Tears In My Cup' throws down trump cards and silver with such controlled joy, the sound rich with a swing and punch that aren't pushy or perfect, just locked-on, confident, beautiful. In a flabby age where even the boiled down seems too loud Cats On Fire make the revolutionary leap of sounding just right, hit all the right balances. It's a sound that's close but not forced down your throat. In the room but not petulantly raw. A sound informed by all sorts but somehow unique to the characters in this room and thus able to fly where the words take it. The sheer chest rush of 'Tears' masks its conciseness, how the gorgeous melodic ease (or the illusion of ease which is the neatest trick of all) from Ville Hoppenen's Fender gets the tune cleaved to the heart within a minute's exposure. Most miraculously, for the next 30 minutes and 9 songs there was no fall-off, only new shapes of the same sweetness and fire, vocals that mattered, harmonies that mattered just as much. Even weirder, by the time I emerged dancing in the daze of a crush with guitar music again I was most in love with the man up front, the star who should be, dishy dreamboat Matthias Bjorkas.

He's gorgeous which helps. Cats On Fire all look amazing as it happens. Very pretty, very fuckable. As pure eye-candy and heart-quickener Bjorkas twangs the same straps as the young Edwyn Collins, but if you can't pick your heart out of the lines he sings and the way he sings them you have my full permission to continue running the planet.”Expel the Marxist ghost the cynical consumerist remains” he nails himself a minute in, thence come tales of misplaced arson ('Garden Lights') , the skewered precocity of “Letters From A Voyage To Sweden” (on deck amidst the meatheads and stag parties the teenage Bjorkas takes a fringe-hidden 'great pleasure in being right'), the wondrous 'Play With Fire'-feel of 'Never Sell The House', the Love-like 'A Steady Pace' (“you're not into art/The moment someone wants you to be/ And I could leave you here/Tie my shoes and prance away”) and the pre-Army Elvis stylings of 'Lay Down Your Arms' & 'Horoscope' (“We should have gone a long time ago/Now Sweden has drifted too far away/You come from a family who can afford to be eccentric/Go back and cry to them”). Throughout 'Temperance' the lyrics are male without being lairy, wonderfully & winningly fogyish as only the young can be and okay I'm naming soundalikes but Cats On Fire are a band smart enough to know nothing's original but the people putting it together. Bjorkas has a voice that you want to hear again and again because it can be more than one thing at a time: arch and witty without causing resentment, Lothario and feather lite,heartfelt & sentimental whilst still confident and convincing, because his voice has that thing, that real in-the-room/unreal beamed-in-from-Venus thing that makes your insides flip, that thing everyone in Cats On Fire plays to. And it's been a long fucking time man – you lot had the Smiths. I could never get over my prejudices with them. For me vis-a-vis boy-guitar-pop I've found something to listen to once 'Between The Buttons' has run out. Yeah, a long time. No filler because each of the ten songs here become killer at different times in your relationship with this record as it unfolds over the coming months. You want to spend time with it. You don't feel you ought to. And that's miraculous.

Miraculous. That a record so thoroughly traditional in sound never sounds like it's copped-off or desperate or over-stretching itself. For something just to be beautiful inside and out. That you're hearing a band neither hiding in distortion's familiar cushions or stroppily minimalising what needs oomph . That you're hearing a band uninterested in guiltily making moves on electronica's perfection and ironing out all nuance, a band careless about the testosterone and permatan and ruffled machismo and mithering sanctimony modern rock production offers with the tug of a knob. A guitar band only interested in making the best pop music they can. A band simply & naturally existing in their own sound in their own room at their own imperfect pace armed with songs worthy of such a four-man marvel. Let's avoid (as some unfortunates already haven't) hysterically tagging Cats On Fire as 'the rebirth of indie' like what's going on here is defibrillation. The corpse is gone – put the tag on the toe & close the draw NO what's going on here is truly beautifully great pop, pure and simple and jeez people, keep your voices down. Nobody let the bastards tromp in and spoil this, don't let it be corrupted by anything so vile as being on today's pulse Cats On Fire are smaller & way more important than that, too cherishable to give up to modern-pop's spectacular irritations and infections. Amidst the blather and blare of all those bills and gongs elsewhere, 'Our Temperance Movement', a guitar record free of cacophony, feels like the moment an entire genre can get over it's inferiority & superiority complexes, and start genuinely competing with the best of pop again, start swimming in the same place as Britney & GA & Outkast & the important playaz who really own your days this decade. On the quiet like.
Of course I secretly hope it blows up like the godfather, to whit a quote for the ads: “Best Scandinavian pop album since Gran Turismo or Arrival” but let's make this youknowhat, and everyone else from Bowman to Wylie to Fearne and Vern and Conor and all those Marks and Alexes can just step the fuck OFF of something for a change. Not for you fuckers. For us starlets. So good it hurts your heart.
(Neil Kulkarni)