Monday, 20 June 2011

Dear Great Musical Artists of the World

They say you always hurt the ones you love, and so it’s with a heavy heart that I’m able to offer no apologies for what I’m about to do. Oh, I know that we can’t all be perfect in our artistic endeavours, but when you raise the bar as high as the following candidates, even the most minor slip-up is going to be in for a serious kicking. These, though, are the kind of sins which even Jehovah himself would have trouble forgiving. What can I say? Sometimes you just have to be cruel to be kind.

It’s with that thought in mind that I hereby now unveil…


[Note]: Rage Against the Machine’s bewilderingly shit trio of straight covers on Renegades (Down on the Street, Kick Out the Jams and In My Eyes) are exempt from appearing here on the grounds that the band’s artistic conscience actually didn’t want them released in the first place, and promptly quit. Good lad.

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10) Crowded House – “Skin Feeling” (from Together Alone)

It’s not nice to speak ill of the dead (unless of course it’s Jade Goody), but in the case of deceased Crowded House drummer Paul Hester, we’re unfortunately going to have to make an exception. Granted, as the band’s resident clown he provided the wit, spark and character of the group, even going so far as to offer up an absolute zinger like Italian Plastic once in a while. But Skin Feeling is a song which simply reeks of “oh, just-let-the-drummer-write-one”. Frankly, this is a barf-inducing slab of sexed-up white-man funk, the kind of thing which would’ve sat innocuously enough on their early albums but simply has no place on the LP which constitutes their bid for immortality.

Indeed, while in and of itself it probably wouldn’t constitute such a serious crime, for absolutely ruining the otherwise impossibly graceful
Together Alone (which, lest we forget, contains a trio of songs of such sky-scraping quality – Distant Sun, Nails In My Feet and Private Universe – that most artists would gladly trade their wanking-hand for a piece of the action), Skin Feeling is the musical equivalent of someone handing you a cheque for £1000, only to find they’ve wiped their sloppy arse on the back of it.

There’s a fairly risible Hester-penned joke track on the band’s B-sides compilation, entitled My Telly’s Gone Bung. That it’s actually much more palatable than this should tell you all you need to know.

9) Bruce Springsteen – “Factory” (from Darkness On the Edge of Town)

“ - Hey, Boss! We’ve got 10 minutes before the album goes to press, but need to plug this two-minute gap with something. Have you got any spare songs knocking about?”

“Actually, I’ve got an entire album’s worth of decent material which I’ve decided to sit on for the next 25 years before releasing it as an LP in its own right.”

“ - Yeah, that’s not really gonna cut it, I’m afraid… can’t you just knock something together on the hoof?”

“Uh, sure, why not. Let’s see… ‘working man… factory… shattered dreams… lunch break’… will that do?”

“Er… well, it’s just a slowed-down version of the song directly before it, but I suppose it’ll have to, really, won’t it?”

- Not bad, just crap. Come on, Boss, you’re better than this.

(n.b. Has anyone ever wondered why Bruce is tugging his mime cock here?)

8) The Levellers – “Make You Happy” (from Truth & Lies)

When the history of British music in the 90s is written, only a complete ignoramus could fail to acknowledge the awe-inspiring majesty of The Levellers’ 1991 opus, Levelling the Land – just the first in a run of outstanding albums which cemented their as-yet scandalously unrecognised legacy as one of the era’s most vital bands. Unfairly pilloried by the press, and ultimately their own worst enemies, they soldiered on manfully but, by the turn of the century, a decade’s worth of partying and excess had taken a serious toll. Somewhere after their (excellent) major-label blowout, Hello Pig – one of the most baffling acts of career suicide in musical history – reared its frazzled head, they seemed to forget what it was they were all about, and dithered around with a couple of albums of mostly forgettable filler before finally regaining their mojo on 2008’s stupendous Letters From the Underground.

- All of which is well and good, but did they really have to sink quite so low before bouncing back up again? I mean, sure, the firey social commentators of old have ‘done’ personal before, but it’s generally been mediated through the filters of spiritual disarray (Elation), mocking satire (Celebrate), cryptic platitudes (Far Away) or lacerating self-analysis (Confess). And then, on the other hand, there’s this: three minutes of over-produced, wishy-washy piffle which displays all the fire and passion of a soggy greetings card. To the band’s credit, they’d probably be humble enough to admit that, like around two-thirds of the Truth & Lies album, it’s a bit arse. But that still doesn’t make it go away.

As if to add insult to injury, this was the cover of the single:

- ’Nuff said.

7) Weezer – “Where’s My Sex?” (from Hurley)

Not many bands can boast a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card as potent as the peerless double-header of The Blue Album and Pinkerton, but then Weezer used to be no ordinary band. This is going back a good while now, of course, but for every duff album they insist on serving up, there’s always one or two absolute corkers buried in there somewhere to keep the flame alive: Troublemaker, Hold Me, If You’re Wondering… (I'll even admit to rather liking
Beverly Hills. It’s supposed to be a joke, right?)

Let’s face it though, their latest, Hurley, really is a bit of a rotter, and this Neanderthal lyrical affront is the Prosecution’s Exhibit A. I mean, look at the title, for fuck’s sake. I know we’ve grown to expect this sort of thing from Weezer by now, but this really is an indefensible slap in the face.

Truth be told, it’s actually not as awful as one might suspect, and the chops and changes in tempo between verse and chorus are quite cool. But in repeatedly referring to his “sex” as an object, it symbolises every time the band’s long-suffering fans (of which I am unfortunate enough to count myself one) have offered the hand of friendship over the last decade, only to be greeted by a festering stink-palm in return. If it looks like it and smells like it, Rivers, it is.

6) Ben Folds – “Errant Dog” (from Way to Normal)

We all know that Ben Folds likes to lark about with a smirk on his face for a fair proportion of the time and, generally speaking, we love him for it. But seriously – ‘Errant-fucking-Dog’? Is this really the work of the same bloke who gave us Fred Jones Part 2, Evaporated and Boxing? What the unholy fuck was he thinking?

5) The Lemonheads – “Dirty Robot” (from Varshons)

Albums of cover versions are a notoriously mixed bag, particularly so when they’re produced by idiosyncratic scatterbrain Evan Dando and inspired by mix-tapes of leftfield obscurities made for him by chief Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes. Nevertheless, after getting over the now-customary disappointment of having Dando take £10 of your money and proceed to piss about for 40 minutes, Varshons eventually manages to establish itself as an agreeably quirky grab-bag of offbeat throwaways.

Outside his own pantheon of admirable covers, Dando has a history of successful duets with unlikely partners – he pulled off a convincing impression of Gram Parsons to Juliana Hatfield’s Emmylou Harris on
$1000 Wedding, crooned soulfully alongside Kirsty MacColl on Perfect Day, and even allows Liv Tyler to make a creditable appearance somewhere on this album. But this track – barely even recognisable as an actual song, let alone one capable of standing up to scrutiny - has Kate Moss on it. KATE FUCKING MOSS! Unsurprisingly (since, as I’ve said before, KATE MOSS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ROCK & ROLL), she can’t sing worth a shit. Seeing as how it’s not even one of Dando’s tunes, we should technically let him off the hook, but really, that’s got nothing to do with it. There is simply no excuse for this whatsoever.

4) R.E.M. – “Animal” (from In Time: The Best Of 1988-2003)

The very essence of half-formed, Animal is the sound of a band having an irrevocable mid-life crisis but being too caught up in the “vibe” to notice. Hinging around a dribbly, Monkees-esque Sitar hook, it somehow manages to take in the band’s most by-numbers chorus, piss-poor, I’ve-got-a-sore-throat vocals from Stipe and crappy pseudo-rap interludes culminating in repeated use of the word “Whoah” across four utterly forgettable minutes. To this day, I’m absolutely convinced that the only people who actually like this song are Mike Mills and Michael Stipe – certainly, if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to witness the resolute non-reaction from the crowd while they strut about performing it live, this bears out the theory. Just – just – beats out Wanderlust, which at least had a decent bridge on it.

(For the record, Shiny Happy People is absolutely fucking great, and anyone who says otherwise is a po-faced twonk who’s just trying to make a point about something).

3) Rancid – “Last One to Die” (from Let the Dominoes Fall)

Rancid: possibly the last true bastion of '77 punk spirit in an increasingly sanitised mainstream, capable, at their greatest – as on …And Out Come the Wolves and Life Won’t Wait – of bettering even The Clash. That’s right, you heard: they're even better than The Clash.

Unfortunately, the moment Tim Armstrong got his poor heart smashed by sex-siren Brody Dalle and opted to take the P!nk songwriting megabucks, it all went a bit tits-up. The band’s gradual retreat into A-list millionaire-punk complacency reached its sorry nadir on the quite pathetic Let the Dominoes Fall, of which Last One to Die is arguably the most galling offender. It isn’t the worst track on the album, by any means – that dubious honour goes jointly to the unforgivably lazy acoustic knock-off which rounds out the record (“Going on tour… Hanging out with friends… Making some music… Dooby doo doo…”) and the quite spectacularly bollocks LA River, which actually contains the lyric: “Boom-shacka-lacka-lacka-lacka-lacka-lacka-lacka-boom / Shimmy-shimmy-shimmy-shimmy-shake, shimmy-shimmy-shimmy”. However, for the band’s stunning effrontery in offering this song up as the first download from the album (thus proclaiming to their fanbase: “This is it, mate; this is the one. This is the shit right here!”), Last One to Die has to take the cake. Even Lars Frederiksen – a man of such ferocious passion that he usually sings as if there’s a jar of wasps rattling at the back of his throat – sounds bored on this; hell, even the ones where they let Matt Freeman sing are vaguely preferable (LA River excluded, of course).

In short - sort it out, lads. This is not the sort of behaviour we expect from the world’s greatest living punk rock group.

2) Death Cab For Cutie – “The Sound of Settling” (from Transatlanticism)

A miserable blemish on the otherwise near-perfect Transatlanticism, this is the kind of incidental, Tellytubbies-esque bilge that only O.C. fans and people who don’t really ‘get’ the deep stuff like, mostly by dint of its quite stupefying inanity. Aptly employing a wanking euphemism, Ben Gibbard’s admitted that the whole thing was tossed off in about five minutes, and by God, you can tell. Tragically, the band still insist on playing this live - which is a bit unfortunate, as it really is absolute rubbish. “Bah-baaaaaah…!

And the crappest song ever by a great artist is…

1) The Beatles –
Love Me Do (from Please Please Me)

As the daddy of them all, it had to happen. Granted, they couldn’t have been expected to mine 100% pure gold with such a high strike-rate, but it’s not Yellow Submarine, Octopus’s Garden, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer or even Revolution 9 which romps home in first (all of which - barring the latter, which really is a complete fucking waste of everyone’s time - I’d happily defend to the hilt). No, the primary offender is this weakly shuffling slab of drippy pseudo-skiffle. “Love, love me do / You know I love you”? Fuck me: no wonder Lennon “didn’t believe in Beatles” towards the end – this song’s continued existence in their canon is a bit like someone repeatedly dragging up that time you pissed yourself back in the first year of primary school. I know it was their first single and everything, but really. Come on now.

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I do genuinely hope we can still be friends; I just want what’s best for all of us.