Monday, 11 July 2011

Dear 'Music' Fans

Ah, music: the lifeblood and rhythmic heartbeat of human existence. No matter who you are, how fraught your experiences or how esoteric your interests, there will always, always be someone out there creating a fusion of lyric, phrase and melody capable of speaking directly to your soul. All of which makes it doubly upsetting when some musicians take it upon themselves to abuse the medium in the most heinous ways imaginable, and still more worthless life-forms express such a gross disinterest in the form that they’ll settle for liking “a bit of everything, really” (read: Texas, The Corrs, that latest Rihanna one).

Oh, I know, there’ll always be bad records, but these things tend to come and go. The leering, date-rapist smirk of Bruno Mars, for example, is made vaguely tolerable by the comforting knowledge that in a couple of years’ time his ukulele-led amblings about afternoon fucking will have hopefully faded into obscurity. Equally, while there’ll always be tedious prog, amateur bedroom emo, uninspired pub rock, badly-enunciated ‘Urban’, crap bossa nova, Nazi punk, Republican country, funk and Ed Sheeran, much of it is thankfully destined to remain safely anonymous.

Some records, however, hang around like a bad stench, refusing to fuck off no matter how often you waft the blanket - the musical equivalent of that first post-Madras guff of the day while merrily baking in an oven of your own farts. These songs, these elite few, are rendered doubly maddening by virtue of the fact that a lot of people – I call them ‘idiots’ – genuinely really like them, and either insist on requesting them whenever you’re out, plastering them across the TV and radio airwaves for prolonged periods of time, or even referring to them as “classics”. It has to stop, and so I’m forced to stake my claim right here and now before we get so far down the road to cultural oblivion that we can’t ever turn back.

Here, then, without remorse, mercy or apology, are…


10) Metallica – “Master of Puppets” (1986)

While anyone with an ounce of gumption or musical suss knows that it’s both ignorant and reductive to boil a genre as multifaceted as Metal down to a series of bullet-points, occasionally – just occasionally - there reaches a consensus point around which all its worst traits congeal like sludge in a drain. The deathless Master of Puppets is once such moment. Turgid, lumpen, melodically banal (note to metalheads: simply shifting up a semi-tone does not constitute a tune) and clunkingly played by the reliably crap Lars Ulrich, whose timekeeping threatens to come unstuck at every attempt at even the most basic syncopation - Master of Puppets is the very definition of tiresome, hoary Neanderthalism.

Worst of all, it goes on for fucking ever. Just when you think they can’t possibly wring another chorus out of it, they chuck in five more - plus a seemingly endless slow bit in the middle for ‘good’ measure (one of the more entertaining sights in any rock club is when the DJ wisely attempts to cut it off at this point, an act of merciful charity invariably greeted by the sound of a hundred tanked-up, sweating metalheads bellowing the kind of outrage usually reserved for the moment when Osama Bin Laden spits on the Queen). Frankly, there are few sights in this world which fill me with as much despair as that of a bunch of bearded idiots for whom ALL METAL, ALL THE TIME is the only religion chanting “MASTUH!!! MASTUH!!!” in mindless, thuggish unison. Master of Puppets, then: utterly, utterly shit.

9) Bon Jovi – “Always” (1994) / “Bed of Roses” (1992)

Call it schadenfreude if you will, but there really is an immense feeling of satisfaction to be gleaned from Bon Jovi’s hopeless ongoing lack of artistic achievement. One suspects that, like that other great poser Robbie Williams, JBJ would happily trade in all the success and riches he’s creamed off clueless ‘rawk’ audiences over the years for just the slightest hint of critical respect. Sadly for him, though (not to mention the rest of the world, forever destined to be subjected to his preening, overwrought, jock-with-a-soul attempts to write something ‘deep’ and ‘poetic’), he’ll never get it. “My life is just crazy right now”, I once saw him intone mournfully on a tour documentary which depicted his attempts to purchase part-ownership of a major-league baseball team. Oh, it must be tough, Jon; it must be tough.

In terms of lyrical banality, lowest-common-denominator appeal and you-really-will-buy-any-old-shit contempt for his audience, it’s simply impossible to separate these two abominable tracks from one another. Displaying all the profundity, linguistic flair, imagination and insight of the generic verse in a last-minute Valentine’s card, Always and Bed of Roses are made doubly insulting by being symptomatic of a worrying trait in music which equates wailing while looking a bit pained with actual meaning.

A mate of mine knows someone who used to work as Bon Jovi’s UK PR agent. According to him, Jon Bon Jovi genuinely believes his music to be of the same cultural and artistic import to America in the last 30 years as that of Bruce Springsteen. Hahaha! What an absolute fucking tosser!

8) Take That – “Sure” (1995)

Take That’s transformation from just another crap 90s boy-band to respected, dignified ‘musician’ elders has been one of the more baffling episodes of recent years, hinging as it apparently does on the nostalgia of twenty-something girls and their glassy-eyed mums, together with the undeniable quality of just two songs: Back For Good and Patience. Certainly there hasn’t been much else they’ve ever done which hasn’t revolved around a lot of dancing, cultivated image management and mincing, dated Euro-pop; indeed, this track - the first in which they unveiled their ‘dark’ new look (piercings and buzz cuts: shit the bed!) - has always stood out as the prime reason why, for all the sell-out tours and ‘proper songwriting’ plaudits, they’ll never really be anything more than mutton dressed as lamb.

Quite aside from its horrifically jarring falsetto refrain, the video – in which the band, without explanation, appears to have kidnapped a small ginger girl – offers an ominous foreshadow of what’s in store during its mystifying extended intro, as Gary Barlow bangs his elbows on the piano to hammer out a particularly atonal melody and then says “Dance to that one, Jay”. They do, of course: badly, and in net curtains. Robbie and Mark had a hand in writing this one, incidentally – unsurprisingly, it displays and embodies all the collective ‘talents’ of both. Utter bollocks.

7) DJ Pied Piper and the Masters of Ceremonies – “Do You Really Like It?” (2001)

Since UK Garage was a mercifully short-lived fad around the dawn of the Millennium, this track shouldn’t really qualify for this list on the grounds that it’s been largely forgotten by the majority of the populace. However, if only for its permanent position in my memory banks as the first song I ever loathed with my entire being, it simply has to make an appearance.

“Do you really like it? Izzit izzit wicked?”, enquires a particularly gormless-sounding Saaaf Landan cretin against what is literally the most irritating melody ever penned, before his gabbling buddy spits back: “We’re lubbin’ it, lubbin’ it, lubbin’ iiiiit! We’re lubbin’ it like diiiis!” If ever there were an argument in favour of race or class war, this is it; to this day, Do You Really Like It? (short answer: what the fuck do you think?) is the only song that I will physically remove myself from wherever it’s playing in order to avoid it. “Enta da dragon!”

6) The Feeling – “Fill My Little World” (2006)

Of all the Christ-awful acts to have blighted the mainstream in recent years, one outfit stands head and shoulders above the competition in terms of sheer, soul-raking contempt. No single band in memory has felt as utterly suspect, as deliberately calculated in their ploy for success or as much of a willing corporate puppet as The Feeling, five pristinely-groomed, blander-than-thou Topshop employees eagerly dropping to their knees to choff down the big fat cock of major-label largesse in all its throbbing, tumescent glory.

While browsing the sale section of a closing vinyl store (something I can’t help but suspect that The Feeling’s saturation marketing, blanket airplay and £5.96-at-Tesco culture somehow contributed to), I was once ‘treated’ to a playback of their second album in its entirety. Without exception, every single track constituted a desperately twee variation on the following deep and meaningful theme: ‘Love is good / Loneliness is bad’. That’s it. That’s honestly all there was to it. Beige emulsion. A facsimile of a blank wall. Trite, facile and as cynically, faultlessly designed for unthinking mass consumption as the latest Dan Brown or Twilight novel. How dare they call themselves ‘The Feeling’ when their music displays an abundance of anything but? How dare they?!

One of the arguments I’ve heard made repeatedly in defence of this band is that their songs – this one in particular, by far the most asinine and melodically grotesque offender - are “undeniably catchy”. Yes, well, so’s genital herpes, but you’ll find anyone with a modicum of dignity or common sense doing their damndest to avoid that at all costs, too. Of all the last decade’s endless musical rebirths, a Supertramp revival has to rank among the least necessary; the public, of course, lapped it up like the dead-eyed, cum-hoovering participants of a Bukkake-filled gang-bang. Come fill my bank account right up, right up.

5) Frankie Goes to
Hollywood – “The Power of Love” (1984)

There were three notable records released in the mid-80s called The Power of Love. Huey Lewis did one, and it was fantastic. Jennifer Rush stuck her spoon in the pudding and scooped up power ballad gold. And then, like seemingly every other trend of the time – ‘outrageous’ videos, ‘wacky’ sloganeering, posturing eyeliner camp - ‘Frankie’, the musical equivalent of those tiresome student performance artists who smear themselves in shit, toss on the floor and scream “Wasn’t that confrontational?!”, decided to throw their hats in the ring. Having been released at Christmas and accompanied by a ‘man, this is deep’ video featuring, like, angels and stuff, we’re routinely subjected to The Power of Love every year from the end of September onwards, but not even Wizzard, Last Christmas, The Pretenders or that squelching Paul McCartney effort have anything on this monstrosity. Dripping in strings, churning atonally, lurching from one turgid chord to another, it is quite simply awful in every conceivable sense of the word.

I saw a great T-shirt recently which read, in bold black letters, “FRANKIE SAID NOTHING”. I’ll go one further and pitch in with one of my own: “Holly Johnson - proof positive that AIDS is good for something after all.”

4) James Blunt – “You’re Beautiful” (2005)

What follows is, tragically, a true story. I once had sex to this song. A girl I’d been desperate to bed for ages invited me round for drinks one evening and, after several jars of the good stuff, it became progressively more apparent that it was, as they say, “on”. Desperate not to let the moment pass, as events began to get more heated I promptly suggested we shift proceedings to the boudoir, an offer she duly accepted. Things were going well.

Upon entering that Chamber of Earthly Pleasures, she enquired: “Shall I put some music on?” Envisioning an absolutely diamond fuck to Portishead’s Dummy, Tricky’s Maxinquaye or some other equally lurid sonic sleazefest, I nodded keenly, barely able to contain my dribbling enthusiasm at the prospect of getting my decrepit wick damp (it had, as the aptly named Stain’d once said, been a while). Then came the million-dollar question: “Have you ever heard this guy James Blunt?”

Now, what you have to understand here is that, at that point, I HADN'T. “Holy shit!”, I thought – “Not only is this chick going to fuck me, but she’s going to introduce me to some new music as well! Could this deal possibly get any better?!”

Little did I know what was in store. The lady in question – a serial downloader with such a short attention span that she only ever managed to purloin the 3-4 tracks she liked from any album - had just four songs by the gentleman in question: High, You’re Beautiful, Goodbye My Lover and the one about those three wise men with their “semi by the sea” (just have a wank, mate, that’ll sort the problem out). This quartet played on a constant loop while we proceeded to have what can only be described as the least exciting and most mediocre sex in human history. Midway through, I looked up at her, registering the undeniably bored look in her eye while my already-flaccid member began to wane still further. “Goodbye, my lover”, wailed Blunt in the background in a voice partway between a pained squawk and someone attempting to pass a kidney stone; “Goodbye, my friend”. Honestly, I could’ve fucking wept.

The shuddering disappointment of this experience is just one reason to loathe James Blunt. The voice – more feigned agony from a bulleted jackdaw than genuine human emotion - is another. But You’re Beautiful is by far the kicker: a flagrant attempt to lure gullible singletons who get weepy at the running storyline of BT adverts into the sack, it’s just really, really poor on every level. Melodically inept, structurally uninspired, limply arranged, and topped off by bathetic, sing-song, playgroup-level lyrics (“Saw your face / Crowded place / Fuck it, that will do”) - if you’re naïve or doe-eyed enough to ever fall for this transparent ruse, you deserve to get your heart trampled on when the scumbag in question refuses to call the next day. Yes, make no mistake, you’ve served your purpose; it’s on to the next one for him via a quick round of laddish backslapping down the pub. Tell all your mates about it over a glass of wine and a viewing of The Notebook while you cuddle your giant Winnie the Pooh soft toy.

There was a great moment a while back when James Blunt’s mum (real name: Blount – he took out the ‘o’ to make him sound more ‘edgy’) took to the tabloids to defend her son against the constant barrage of what she saw as being unwarranted class snobbery. But dear Mrs Blount, you don’t seem to understand – we don’t hate him because he’s posh. We don’t hate him because he’s successful. We hate him because he’s absolutely fucking dreadful, and we suspect that even he knows it.

3) Beyonce – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” (2008)

She just doesn’t get any better, does she? Despite having done astonishingly little of actual worth since the Stax-fuelled firecracker that was Crazy in Love, Beyonce somehow continues to rack up the hits, shifting millions of ‘units’ with each new compendium of slushy ballads. Just occasionally though she takes a break from all the check-out-my-vocal-range caterwauling and comes out with an up-tempo bodypopper which causes even the most composed broadsheet editors to fall over themselves in proclaiming it ‘Pop Single of the Year’. Single Ladies is one such offering - and quite possibly the most offensive record of recent times.

Aside from being a clap-happy, dippy melodic irritant akin to Crohn’s Disease, it’s the sheer fucking nerve of its lyrical content which rankles more than any other factor. “Don’t treat me to the things of this world / I’m not that kind of girl”, she bleats, sporting the most designer threads on the market and flashing her hand back and forth to demand a diamond, before heading out on the town to dance the memory of that man away. But wait, what’s this? “Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve”, she cries; “Pull me into your arms / Say I’m the one you want… If you don’t, you’ll be alone”. Oh, so she actually wants him back, after all. Because above all else, what it simply boils down to is the fact that “If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it”. Hell, while you’re at it, why not just chain ‘It’ to the radiator instead? “Whuh-oh-oh! Uh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh…!”

Some may argue that this is all taking things a little too seriously. After all, it’s just pop music, isn’t it? Well, no, actually. An acquaintance of mine recently described Beyonce’s
Glastonbury headline set as “an inspiration to women everywhere”. And yet, from her unique position as one of the most famous women in the world, Beyonce insists on ramming home calculatedly false messages of supposed female empowerment – all the while doing absolutely fuck-all to back up the empty rhetoric or even vaguely further the cause. If indeed it is “just” pop music, contrast this with the poise and ideological suss of Marina & The Diamonds, Kate Nash or the outspoken P!nk, all of whom are never afraid to challenge contemporary notions of positive female role models, and even come out with tracks like the hilariously barbed Stupid Girls to prove it. (Please note that this should not be taken as an artistic exoneration of Kate Nash, since her cutesy, cloying, I've-just-written-in-my-diary-with-a-Crayola attempts at music are invariably utter dogshit).

Even before this utterly hateful record emerged, there was always something hugely dislikeable about Ms. Knowles – be it screaming as much as possible all over every single track when one note would suffice (yes, dear, we get how well you can sing), writhing around in her scrunts gazingly longingly at the camera while spouting hypocritical proclamations of God-bothering piety (alright, love, we get how ‘liberated’ you are), appearing in any number of self-regarding fashion shoots (fine, we get how hot you are), or blithely accepting a megabucks sponsorship deal from McDonald’s for the 2005 Destiny’s Child tour (“I love their salads”). And then came this, the final affront: a jumbled, all-for-one sistahood ‘anthem’ in which the height of attainable empowerment is… to get married. She’s not a single lady herself, of course; she is in fact happily hitched to Jay-Z, one of the richest men in music.

One of my favourite internet memes of recent months is a billboard which simply reads: “Beyonce is not a feminist”. Politicised buddies of mine go round the houses debating the ethics of even making such a statement but, to me, the underlying implication is obvious. As a feminist icon - any kind of feminist icon - Beyonce is at best hugely naïve and unenlightened or, at worst, a desperately cynical businesswoman. One suspects it’s actually a little of both. Either way,
it's a copy of The Beauty Myth and Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture as bedtime reading for you, “B” (not that she doesn’t sleep soundly at night from the no-doubt lucrative revenue stream flowing from her L’Oreal cosmetic range. Girl power!!!)

A Beyonce-worshipping friend of mine was once asked to justify her adoration of this song. The best she could come up with was, “You’ve got to admit that the dance in the video is amazing”. Sorry, love - must try harder.
All that money, all that fame, all that potential reach and influence, and this is what she gives us? Fuck off, Beyonce - you’re a cock.

2) Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” (1981)

Taking the thematic concerns of Bruce Springsteen’s most artful endeavours and diluting them down to the consistency of cloudy, sugarless cordial, Don’t Stop Believin’ is the absolute embodiment of the worst excesses of all-American FM rock: naff piano, overwrought guitar solos, beers at sundown with a few “bros” and men in vests hollering “USA! USA!” between stints on the karaoke mic. A perennial pox on music even before Glee’s teeth-grindingly patronising culture of self-empowerment through shit songs came along to introduce it to a whole new audience of mugs, its supposedly rousing lyrics are the stuff of tepid cliché, and about as inspiring as the fourth tug of the day. Journey have sold more than 80 million records worldwide. Let me say that again: 80 million people have bought a Journey album. If that isn’t an indication of humanity’s inherent stupidity, I don’t know what is.

Someone I know (I won’t call them a friend, since that would be imbuing them with a little too much credit) recently posted this as a status update on Facebook: “Disappointed at the number of people who paid £35 to see Journey tonight only to leave after they played Don’t Stop Believin’ ”. Needless to say, I found it difficult to sympathise - surely a more pertinent question would be: why the fuck would you be gormless enough to go in the first place?

1) Guns‘n’Roses – “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1988)

The worst of the worst. Here’s the thing: we’ve all been there. We’ve all owned a copy of Appetite for Destruction or Use Your Illusion II at one point or another - these things tend to happen when you hit puberty. But honestly, if you haven’t grown out of Guns‘n’Roses by the time you reach 16, don’t find the infamous ‘robot rape’ image faintly abhorrent or cringe at the backward-ass misogyny of Back Off Bitch, then something’s gone terribly, terribly wrong. You are destined to lead a life of semi-retardation, never quite understanding why members of the opposite sex find your insistence on wearing a denim jacket adorned with Iron Maiden patches just a little bit sad.

If you’re of a certain level of intelligence or sophistication, this soaring fist-puncher will hit the spot like a Big Kahuna Burger and Sprite. For the gents, it’s a chance to get in touch with your feminine side between bouts of fucking your “woman” and trying it on with her sister. For the ladies, it’s a unique insight into the mind of your idea of a sensitive man – one who apologises after smacking you in the mouth, and has the good grace to wait two full days before doing it again. Truly about as ‘dangerous’ as the main stage line-up at V Festival, Sweet Child o’ Mine is pungent, stinking cheese of the worst kind - a guaranteed ‘hands-in-the-air’ moment at every bad nightclub that ever existed, and a song which only those with the least going on beneath the surface could ever get emotional about. If this is you that I’m talking about, now would be an ideal time to catch up with the rest of the world: grab yourself a copy of Nevermind, turn the volume up, switch your brain on (if indeed you have one laying dormant in that calcium-clad receptacle you call your skull), and never look back.

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In conclusion, then, I hope this is of some assistance to you. Otherwise, get some taste or fucking standards.


PS - Just bubbling under…

The Walker Brothers – “Make It Easy On Yourself”
Funereal, day-ruining MOR lounge trudge whose sole redeeming feature was being bad enough to get Darius knocked out of Pop Idol on his second doomed attempt. Scott Walker was last heard making disjointed sound collages about Elvis’s conjoined twin, featuring a bloke slapping a pig’s carcass as percussion. Says it all really, doesn’t it?

Gracious K – “Migraine Skank”
Barely even recognisable as music. For the record, here are the names of notable post-1965 songs which originated as dance routines: The Macarena, Saturday Night, The Ketchup Song, Cha Cha Slide, Crank Dat (Soulja Boy), Fast Food Song, No Way No Way and Steps’ 5,6,7,8. Illustrious company, Gracious K. Illustrious company.

Spandau Ballet – “True”
Simpering, floppy-fringed, hanky-waving ‘New Romantic’ offal inexplicably beloved by those of a certain age. No shit wedding disco is complete without it. Speaking of which…

Shania Twain – “You’re Still the One”
The sound of a thousand first-dances at the unions of smug, personality-less cunts destined to lead a lifetime of bland, middle-class complacency. We’re all very happy for you. Now fuck off.