Problems with the music industry: a visual metaphor
With Spotify, the internet and the fact we can now measure the changing of the seasons by the length of the judges’ facial hair on the X-Factor (or in the case of Louis Walsh, stages of the manopause) you may think there’s never been a better time to love music. It’s everywhere. Look around, you may not be able to see music – in fact, you may not be even be able to hear it – but rest assured, it’s there, waiting to punt itself up your ear canals. But take a closer look at the modern musical landscape and you’ll see it’s not as rosy as it initially appears. While we have instant access to pretty much everything ever recorded ever, we’re also at a point in human evolution where the longest attention spans can’t be recorded because interest is lost midway through the drool reaching the floor.
Pretty much every new album I listen to I skip the first few seconds to see what it’s like. I tell myself that it’s because my time is at a premium but, as regular visitors to this blog will attest, I don’t really plan my time very constructively; I just kind of let it have its way with me. And while this bite-size approach may reduce the kind of musical bloat that once made the second Stone Roses album unlistenable for the first five minutes (or seventy, if you’re feeling particularly churlish), it may also suggest that something as good as their first album may go unnoticed. Its fragile voice smothered by ‘grimestep’, ‘nu-bass’ and chirpy Canadian foetuses called Michael Buble.
Speaking of Manchester’s finest, you can’t launch a diatribe at the state of modern music without mentioning the resurrection of bands from the past. The music fan of today is like Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park and the glorious bands of yesteryear are our gallimimus, hotfooting it away from dignity and musical credibility, which, for the purposes of this metaphor, will be represented by a T-Rex – though perhaps not of the Marc Bolan variety. Although since Bolan’s current status makes him exempt from all but the most clumsy, insensitive and probably illegal attempts at reformation, perhaps he is best suited to playing the big lizard in this laboured example.
It’s hard to begrudge all bands that get back together. This year I’ve seen the pseudo-reformation of Kyuss, who managed to expire before they received acclaim – a bit like van Gogh, but louder, hairier and with the ability to reform and play at Manchester Academy – and Death From Above 1979, who ably proved that Canada has more to offer than singing foetuses. I was actively pursuing music the first time they were troubling eardrums but, unfortunately, the music I was pursuing was largely crap.
Because the former peaked while no one was there to witness it, and the other imploded before reaching their full potential, it’s hard not to feel that getting back together is more than just acceptable. It feels somehow right. Then again, I’m completely biased because I like both bands and seeing their modern incarnations brought a shiver to my cynical spine. But let’s pretend I’m not being completely biased. In the case of the Stone Roses it’s hard to argue that they didn’t peak on the first attempt – as their debut’s place on countless best of lists, not to mention The Seahorses, will attest.
Still, one man’s food is another man’s mechanically separated mush. There are obviously enough people who didn’t see the Stone Roses first time around (though presumably not their infamous Reading performance), or just fancy an opportunity to take the mothballs out of their Joe Bloggs. And while their reunion gigs may just be an elaborate reconstruction of the ‘Climbing for Dollars’ ad from The Running Man, I’m not sure the ruthless pursuit of money is an applicable criticism any more. Let’s face it, credibility doesn’t pay the bills and selling your songs to ads seems like one of the first rungs on the ladder to having a musical career these days. So while age, common sense and their artistic legitimacy suggests they should know better, these are tough times and art is often the first up against the wall.
The larger problem is that the music industry is clearly knackered. Like an overly excited old dog, it occasionally attempts new tricks but is much more comfortable chasing its tail and licking its own bollocks. And unless anyone can come up with a better explanation for Jedward, I’ll stick to that theory. Some may argue that’s what happens when the single more powerful figure in music is someone who found early success with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Hulk Hogan and Zig and Zag and it’s hard not to agree. (I am of course talking about Simon Cowell, a human rectangle comprised entirely of wealth and body-hair).
But what’s the alternative? People say artists should be nurtured and allowed to develop but my attention span runs out midway through a trip to the toilet – much to the chagrin of my dignity, so I’ve no idea how I’m supposed to stick with someone who isn’t musically incrediballs on their first outing. It’s a Catch-22. Then again, Westlife have just announced they’re about to split, so the glass should be more than half-full. It should be overflowing with positivity. Clearly there are greater problems out there. And unless years down the line someone finds them preserved in amber, clones them and lets them escape their paddocks/stools, we should be grateful for what we’ve got. It is nearly Christmas, after all. Gawd bless.
Hey, we’re trying to complain over here…
For those who’ve managed to shamble over to the remote control and dodge one of Autumn’s biggest televisual letdowns, series 2 of The Walking Dead has thus far concerned itself with one storyline: the search for a missing girl. In some ways this is quite audacious: my worst memories caused by the magical flickering box in the corner of my room over the past few years have concerned storylines that are way past flat-lining and have done their best to tarnish what was thus far a fairly enjoyable journey. I’m thinking of Kim Bauer’s Groundhog/Mountain Lion Day in series 2 of 24, or the prolonged voyage of sexual discovery that Vito took in the last series of The Sopranos. Every-time I heard the roar of a big cat, or saw Vito divert his puzzled gaze from a plate of johnny cakes to an actual Jonny Cakes, I knew shit was about to get real, in the worst possible way.
Now, I don’t think The Walking Dead has scaled the heights of the former, so the fact that it’s basically spent seven weeks staring at its un-dead navel is less disappointing, but no less un-entertaining. The lack of storyline momentum may be fairly realistic – they are, after all, survivors from a zombo-apocalypse who’ve spent the previous few episodes doing a more than passable impression of the Littlest Hobo chasing his tail – but for some reason they seem posses completely inconsistent character traits. There’s one guy who’s gone from being an encyclopedic illustration of a ‘loose cannon’ (redneck sociopath, lost his brother due to the careless actions of the group, probably on ‘the meth’) to resembling a Care Bear with a crossbow in the space of a few weeks. In the last episode he actually went through this transformation and back again in the space of three scenes.
The only way I can explain this is that every scene in punctuated with an unseen blow to the head – perhaps from a series of carelessly discarded rakes left around Hershel’s farm – that wipes their collective memories. Or maybe they just got the script pages in the wrong order? Easily done when the scene headings only seem to consist of: ‘EXT. FARM – Complaining’ or ‘EXT. Woods – Looking for Sophia’. It’s hardly surprising that it’s come to this; there were rumours of budget cuts that suggested the new series would take place in static locations with fewer zombies. It’s a bit like the makers of The Cosby Show removing alpha-Huxtable, Cliff and replacing him with a few pre-recorded offstage soundbites and a body double in a terrible knitted sweater who leaps out of the pantry at irregular intervals to take the piss out of Theo.
Unfortunately, The Walking Dead series makers can’t fall back on their writers, since most of them have already been purged in the real-life climax of the first series, following a nadir that featured a talking computer. Unsurprisingly they decided to decapitate their writing team (figuratively, at least) but now, with a rumoured budget cut, they’ve had to attempt to re-attach the severed head and ask them to get them out of this mess. And with seemingly no money to make anything happen they’ve attempted to manufacture depth and pathos through a string of emotive scenes featuring dishevelled actors squinting at each other, or, in the case of Shane, a man attempting to knock his eyes out by stretching his eyelids and repeatedly hitting himself on the head. So far he’s failed. Sometimes these scenes will feature a single zombie appearing from stage left, sometimes they won’t.
It’s strange really; Shane wants to kill zombies and move on, which wouldn’t just good for the team, it would also be great for the viewer, but he’s portrayed as a bug-eyed loon (perhaps not unfairly). It seems everyone would rather just sit around and work out a way that will enable them to keep sitting around in the same place for the foreseeable future and not bother with the inconvenience of finding somewhere with no zombies and a warmer welcome. It’s a bit like the end of Shaun of the Dead when they re-unite with the opposite group who’ve had a far more interesting and exciting journey than our heroes. But this has lasted for about 7 hours…and isn’t remotely funny – well except for the moment it seemed Carl had been shot by a deer, which would also offer a far more interesting twist than what was eventually revealed on Hershel’s farm*. There’s clearly a far more exciting tale out there, they just need to go and find it.
* For the record I thought they might turn out to be cannibals on the farm. SPOILERS: they weren’t.
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