Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Audacity of Hype

Lot of chatter, pro and anti and pro, about Savages

(and some more anti)

Including this review "Against Music's Reductive Obsession With the New"

Of course, what Tom Hawking really means is, "Against (Some) Music Critics's Reductive Obsession With the New"

Because, for those critics (whoever they are!), the problem is precisely that Music isn't Obsessed with the New... that in fact Music, most of it anyway, is overly comfortable with being not-new....  

(that could have been the Retromania subtitle, actually - Against Music's Unproductive Obsession With the Not-New)

Savages, eh?

Good name

Like the band's manifesto, as daubed on the cover, and incanted at the start of this video

(Although, ironically, far from instilling "silence" they have managed to add greatly to the din of discourse. They are the proverbial hot new band making a lot of noise)

and the wo-manifesto falters with the bit about "an angry young tune" -- it's like, after the build-up,  THAT's what you're brandishing? A tune?

Now, part of me thinks:

look - Malaria

sound -  Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

it's WAY too early for a  Post Punk Revival Revival

Another part of me thinks:

well maybe it's like Elastica or PJ Harvey, the form fairly familiar, the content new and fresh, the energy and urgency undeniable

(and the parallel there would be the trans-gender shift: Justine F's Hugh Cornwell impersonation, or Polly Jean insisting all her role model were male - Nick Cave, Beefheart, etc)

The pro and the anti reminds me of the  debate-flurry earlier this year re. Peace and that NME rave review by Eve Barlow:

The narrow-minded reckon their experience of history can’t be surpassed; that there’s no point in drawing inspiration from the past because it was better IN THEIR DAY. They murder people’s vibes because they’re buzzkillers. They criticise young people for being unoriginal and lazy because 58 years after Bill Haley And His Comets’ ‘Rock Around The Clock’ charted, idealistic, rebellious teens haven’t evolved beyond simple pleasures like first crushes, guitar strums, pop hooks and leopard print. This disappoints buzzkillers immensely.

Buzzkillers will use songs such as Brummie quartet Peace’s ‘Lovesick’ – about reckless abandon and skipping school – to lambast uncomplicated singers like Harry Koisser for cooing “I don’t wanna make no sense” over an updated version of the refrain from The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’. They’ll demand something more sophisticated – a unique way of saying “I love you”, perhaps. You can safely assume buzzkillers are no longer in love, detest romantic gestures and are cautious of hype bands with hippy names....

Those with one foot in the past may view Peace with scepticism, finding them over-familiar. Alright, the psych opener ‘Higher Than The Sun’ reminds us of The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ as guitars swirl through a Technicolor wash of dirge. Admittedly, the grunge ‘Follow Baby’ blasts off like My Vitriol or Mansun before hammering a Gallagher lyric of “We gon’ live for-evaaah”. Yes, ‘Wraith’ is laced with Herculean drumming and could’ve been by The Charlatans. Indeed, ‘Toxic’ is one-dimensional, employing riffs that fizz like sherbert Flying Saucers. Totally, you can sing Blur’s ‘There’s No Other Way’ over ‘Waste Of Paint’’s feral chorus. BUT ENOUGH WITH THE BUZZKILLING.

So long as teenagers exist, there’ll be eternal value in rock’n’roll this spectacular. It has no sell-by date...  Peace are intoxicated by their own youth, and all that matters is that they’re happening NOW.... Point is: music can reflect the past and still be valid. Some may see it as history repeating itself, for others it’ll be brand spanking new... As Britain suffers from youth unemployment and economic crisis, our greatest currency is the chime of a golden tune. Peace have delivered 10 of them. So what if they’re a bunch of pirates and not pioneers? This is their time.

Quite a few people of my generation found risible both the band and Barlow's review (a sort of defensive-aggressive paean). (It's interesting that so many of these 'let the young have their music' articles are couched as defences - Hawking's piece above is subtitled: A Defense of Savage. Whereas actually self-evidently new music never needs an apologia or a justification -- it is proclaimed, exalted, the trigger for a manifesto or a sermon).

Here's a great tirade from only the other day by Neil Kulkarni that picks up from a taking-the-Peace  Facebook discussion some of us were involved in April. He points out this this advance-apologetics tone of so many Peace reviews, preemptive defensive maneuvers against an imagined (and largely non-existent) army of curmudgeons.

The rhetorical stance taken by Barlow I actually thought was fine (in fact it reminded me of stuff David Stubbs wrote in his Melody Maker end-of-year 1988-Best-Year-For-Rock-Ever essay, the below-the-belt but brutally effective tactic of basically dismissing naysayers with "don't listen to them, these people are old")

What I thought was interesting was that Barlow seemed to be writing on behalf of an imaginary new-to-music teenage fan of  Peace et al (while her own, better-informed, twentysomething viewpoint is clearly cogniscant of the abject derivativeness of Peace)

Indeed in this parallel post from her tumblr (a fierce defence of the "guitar music" resurgence) she repeatedly references an imaginary 14 year old

Now as it happened, as all this "blew up", I was in the UK, spending time with  a non-imaginary 13 year old and her mother, a very dear and old friend, who I often stay with when I'm in London

Her daughter, who I've known since she was a baby and is almost exactly the same age as my son, is crazy about indie music

She is learning guitar and wants to be in band. 

(And, what is hard to get one's head around, but I suspect is both quite common and indicative of something -- she and her mum share similar music tastes -- both adore the Smiths -- and often go to shows and festivals together)

Of course this girl looooves Peace and a bunch of others from NME's current batch of young hypefuls

Confronted by such enthusiasm up-close, all of one's heard-it-before cynicism melts away

So when she played Parma Violets, Foxygen, Temple, I couldn't help trying to hear it from her viewpoint, trying to see what could be loveable about them...

Okay, Parma Violets do a good Echo & the Bunnymen (better than Mighty Lemon Drops anyway, who I made allowances for in '86, until I interviewed them) while other songs echo The Clash, J&MC, Britpop. (Many of these comparisons were actually made by the 13 year old herself, so it's not like she's unaware of the debts and derivations).  Foxygen are, what, Zombies-like or something? Temple: can't be arsed to identify the precise template but they are the most classicist and period-formalist of the bunch. I was struck by their incredibly fastidious recreation of Sixties psych, especially the drumming and the cymbal sound. .

When all is said and all is done, though, it is undeniable (contra Barlow's "this is their time") that these bands fail the test of their time.

One just wishes the ardour of young people (like the daughter of my friend), this excitement and joy of discovery -  always beautiful to witness and, up to a point, unarguable -- one just wishes that there were objects far more worthy of their passion.


  1. Well, I think that there's something wrong in the music today because I should not be extremely boring and feelin' like 'wait, I've listened this before' when I play this kind of new-old? music (Savages, but it could be other).

    Especially because I'm 22. It's very weird. I enjoy a lot of stuff these days, I really love music, but I can't avoid this feeling of 'shit, I KNEW that would sound like this' even If I didn't listen to it.

    (I hope that you'll understand what I'm saying. My english is not good.)

    Congrats for your books and texts. You are one of the few critics that are understanding the state of art (not music only)in our times, imo.


  2. Not fond of 1984 for various reasons, but NME is playing a nice game of doublespeak here: to rehash old music which wasn't even all that interesting to begin with is the youngest thing ever. I don't know, to me youth reminds me of the spirit of OMD's Dazzle Ships... in fact hedonism sounds like a very old thing to me, like disgusting middle-aged people saying things like "quality time", hectoring people around with talk of not being so immaturely Marxist, reading bloody self-help books and spending lots of money in shitty useless crap.

    Oh, and for the record, I'm 25. Grew up listening to Autechre.