Posts Tagged ‘Tenacious D’

Uncool Britannia

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I have recently been playing Guitar Hero a lot. No, stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this. The game, if you are unaware, involves tapping buttons on a toy guitar, in time with renditions of popular rock tracks. That makes it sound boring, pointless and, frankly, ludicrous, but it’s actually great fun and after a while you really feel like you are, uh, rocking out, no matter how stupid you look.

Listen to that video crowd!

The fact that the Guitar Hero franchise is on it’s fourth release is proof of it’s success. Everybody loves it, even musicians (the original game featured mostly copycat cover versions of its songs, the recent iterations feature mostly original recordings). However, I suspect that if the same game had been released fifteen years ago (not impossible, as it is based on an extremely simple gameplay system) it would not have been half as successful, at least not in this country. This is because, at that time, Britain was in the vice like grip of a cancer, a vile, fetid abomination known as Britpop. And it was not OK to rock under Britpop.

I’m being overly dramatic of course (it’s fun, you should try it). Obviously there is good music as well as bad in every era, and genre. But Britpop brought with it, or at least walked hand in hand with a deeply unpleasant attitude. The movement grew out of indie (as useless a description of a musical genre as “prog”, but you all know what I mean), which was characterised by introspection, a modicum of pretentiousness, and generally low expectations, particularly with regards to commercial success. But indie bands started to sell records in great numbers and became the musical mainstream, and there was an attendant arrogance, and this coincided with the rise of “lad culture”, typified by Chris Evans’ TFI Friday and Loaded magazine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the problem with ironic sexism, ironic racism, and ironic loutishness is that they are virtually indistinguishable from actual sexism, actual racism and actual loutishness.

The beginnings of the movement were clearly an attempt to reject the overwhelming cultural stranglehold that “Grunge” had in the early nineties. Hosting a one off TV special featuring British bands at the time, Blur’s Damon Albarn bemoaned the band’s lack of success in their earlier years: “Unless you were Nirvana, or a diet Nirvana, you were nothing”. Presumably, now it was de rigeur to be a bargain Beatles, a cut-price Kinks or a second rate Small Faces. 

I remember a particularly stupid NME review of sarcastic US rockers Ugly Kid Joe’s album Motel California (what wags eh?) in which the writer pronounced that it was useless because “we don’t even have motels in Britain”. Of course, it is only natural that after the hegemony of American music was over, British musicians, writers and commentators would be slightly full of themselves but it annoyed me no end (at the time I remember being late for a night out because I was at home watching Alice in Chains Unplugged on MTV. My indie kid pals were not amused).

The Bluetones: they look like any old mimsy shimsy indie wasters, but they wrote some brilliant tunes

The era’s most memorable, and idiotic moment, was the (largely media created) competition between Oasis’ Roll With It and Blur’s Country House. It didn’t really help that these were both fairly awful, self parodic records (although, it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been Stereotypes), and the “conflict” escalated from being merely about record sales and (supposedly) divided the nation into North versus South, Working Class versus Middle Class, Stupid versus Clever. Blur won the battle, but Oasis won the war by selling more albums. Blur had the last laugh by retreating and changing their sound (ironically, to more resemble the American alt rock that they had earlier affected to despise), while Noel Gallagher bought himself a very big house in the country (true).

For an entertaining overview of the period, check out John Harris’ The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock. Although I can summarise it here: Suede and Blur hated eachother, Elastica took loads of heroin, and Pulp wrote all the best songs. Less comprehensive, but just as enjoyable is Alex James’ autobiography Bit of a Blur, which is full of floppy fringed charm (sample line: “Famous people are just the same as normal people, except a bit more famous”) -and he even remembers to mention Me Me Me.

However, Britpop eventually faded away (I blame Northern Uproar and Cast), and we were faced with the atrocities of Nu Metal. Now, Limp Bizkit are all very well if you’re drunk and Rollin’ is playing at ribcage shattering volume in your local dirty rock club, but it’s hardly music for the ages is it? I think the idea was to ransack the work of Rage Against the Machine and that Judgement Night album, which is as good a goal as any I suppose, but the trouble is you got stuff like Crazy Town (Chili Peppers aping oafs), Linkin Park (anime obsessed whiny rap metallers with “I hate you mum & dad” songs) and Papa Roach (someone shouting over the top of old Iron Maiden riffs).

Fuckin' kick it with a tasty groove!

However, at this point every successful band was keen to point out how brilliant and what a big influence Black Sabbath were. Sabbath were The Beatles of the late nineties. Weirdly enough, up until that point, throughout a thirty odd year career, Sabbath had always been severely underrated. To all intents and purposes, they invented metal, and I suppose critics never forgave them. Now they were being praised left right and centre, and covered by everyone from Elbow to Mercury Rev, and sort of went from being underrated to overrated. And rock gradually became acceptable for mainstream audiences once again. I think The Darkness and Tenacious D are also partly responsible – although ostensibly parodic, both were deeply rooted in a love of classic rock. We even now have bands like The Answer and Wolfmother who appear to be completely without irony. Of course, for a lot of people this meant just wearing ironic rock t-shirts, but rock, proper rock, seemed to be a lot more popular. And continues to be, if all the hoo ha about Zeppelin’s recent reunion is anything to go by.

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VALHALLA I AM COMING!

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I just finished playing through Brütal Legend, an absurdly badassed videogame, in which “Eddie Riggs” (the world’s greatest roadie, voiced by Jack Black) is transported into a Sword & Sorcery Fantasyland, seemingly based on every Heavy Metal album cover ever. Here he finds he can make people’s heads explode by playing guitar, and sets off to unite the rock loving population against some S&M demons (lead by Tim Curry).

Although it inexplicably turns into a Real Time Strategy game, not a genre I have ever excelled at, it has enough action/adventure/exploration stuff to keep me happy. Unsurprisingly, given that the project was masterminded by Tim Schafer of Monkey Island and Day of The Tentacle fame, it has a terrific storyline and cast of characters. It’s these, as well as its loving tribute to the absurdity and awesomeness of the world of metal, that are its strongest elements.

In fact, the characters and design of the game are so strong that it seems to me Brütal Legend would totally work as a movie. Some time ago I bemoaned the fact that with all the “epic fantasies” being adapted by Hollywood, in the wake of the Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter movies, none of them has had the balls to have a full on metal soundtrack. Bombastic fantasy imagery fits perfectly with bombastic music (see also Flash Gordon). When Eddie first comes face to face with demonic scumbag monks, Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave comes creeping out of the mist. Escaping a glam metal “Pleasure Palace” in a souped up hot rod is soundtracked by Dragonforce’s furiously hyperactive Through The Fire and Flames, and battles with the goth faction Drowning Doom are fought to the symphonic black metal sounds of Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and Apostasy. Elsewhere, bonafide classics such as Diamond Head’s Am I Evil, Budgie’s Breadfan and Motörhead’s We Are The Road Crew can be heard. As a game it’s a wonderful romp, but as a cinematic experience, it would be a riot.

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