Posts Tagged ‘The Indie Wars’

Hot Leg and the pursuit of fun

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Why do we listen to music? Sometimes it’s a way of associating ourselves with something cool or exclusive. Alternatively it can be purely for the pleasure of it. Often i suspect it falls somewhere in between. When a certain type of music is makes us happy, but posesses no inherent cool factor or arbitrary stamp of approval from the media and tastemakers, we are tempted to brand it  a “guilty pleasure”. But should there really be any guilt involved in something as simple as enjoying a piece of music?

Hot Leg’s Red Light Fever could never be accused of being hip. Shamelessly unreconstructed 80s hair metal with cheesy synths and twiddly guitar solos was never going to make them a critics’ favourite, and the too cool for school brigade left their affected and ironic love of rock behind a long time ago (although the ironic rock t shirt still lingers like a bad case of crabs  – case in point Agyness Deyn pictured in this week’s Heat wearing a Jethro Tull tour t shirt. Do you think she prefers Songs From The Wood or Heavy Horses?).

 

Great music. Great.

 

However, there are plenty of people who loved The Darkness for what they were, a great rock band that made brilliant pop records, to be out in force to appreciate Hot Leg’s particular brand of “Man Rock”. We went to see them at the Academy in my old stomping ground Sheffield (although I didn’t get to do a lot of stomping when I lived there – during The Indie Wars, y’see). Interestingly enough, because of The Academy’s policy of booking two bands to play on the same night (albeit in separate rooms) we nearly went to see T-Pain by accident. I don’t know him personally, but I think Mr Pain needs to turn the bass down when he performs live, because from what I heard between the songs in Hot Leg’s set, he’s going to suffer from terrible tinnitus in later life.

So anyway. If you find the idea of calling a song Cocktails, solely to allow you to repeat the first syllable over and over again amusing, then you’re likely to love a bit of The Leg. Similarly, the titles Trojan Guitar, Gay in the 80s and I’ve Met Jesus should let you in on the fact that Justin Hawkins isn’t one to take himself particularly seriously. Having said that I can’t think of many songwriters that have emerged in the last few years that have anything like his talent for melodic, hook laden tunes. Even the B Sides are fantastic

Chances are you’re not as cool as you’d like to be, and listening to MGMT sure as hell isn’t going to change that. So leave posing to the poseurs and check out Hot Leg. Your ears will love you for it.

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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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Everything’s Jackanory

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

In the recently completed tale It’s About Time Lee outlines the hypothesis that all Britpop was shit. He’s wrong of course, but what can you expect from someone whose brain has been addled by the three pronged attack of metal, alcohol and pornography? You’d have to be pretty cloth eared to not acknowledge that the likes of Supergrass and The Bluetones released some terrific records at the time. To this end I have created another Spotify playlist: Mid 90s Non Stop Indie Disco a Go Go.

While I often claim that I fought in The Indie Wars, I wasn’t a wholehearted enthusiast, so my knowledge of the scene/era/genre doesn’t go particularly deep. In fact this playlist has the whiff of a bog standard compilation of obvious choice “Best Indie Anthems in The World Ever”, possibly advertised on telly by Egg off of This Life.

It’s with some mixed feelings that I added a track by Menswear. Not quite the nadir of the genre (that “honour” could go to anyone from Cast to Northern Uproar) but they weren’t far off. I remember this song being pretty good. It really isn’t, but has been added to give a sense of perspective. Most of these songs are pretty good. And I still like Kula Shaker.

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6 Degrees of Francis Bacon Day 6: The Doctor

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

It used to be true that if you want to know how old a British person is, just ask them to describe Doctor Who (yes, yes, I know that’s not his name). The unprecedented popularity of the new version may have changed all that however, with most people looking to the current incumbent of the role  – many people have played the part due to a mysterious Gallifreyan process known as “recasting” (gag nicked from TVCream).

“My” Doctor, like that of many others who grew up in the 70s and 80s (seeing as he held the role for the longest time) was bone fide Great British Eccentric Tom Baker, now probably best known for his narration on Little Britain (on which he seemingly reprises his role of Lionel Nimrod). I spent many Saturday evenings being absolutely terrified by his inexplicable antagonists – like that woman made out of shells that grew out of a disembodied hand, or that big penis shaped thing that lived in a lighthouse and sucked the life out of people. It’s possible that I don’t remember some of this stuff exactly.

I think it was all so scary because I didn’t have a hope of understanding it. It was a show full of horrors, unfathomable alien presences appearing like ghosts out of the darkness, and generally fucking with powerless human idiots. Many years after it had traumatised me as a child I came across an episode called City of Death, which featured Julian “General Veers” Glover tearing off his face to reveal a tentacley Lovecraftian monstrosity. It was a bit of a disappointment to rewatch that scene and see him very nearly pulling off the monster face along with the human one.

I have a bit of a theory about Doctor Who. His look is generally inspired by stuff that was going on a few years previously. OK, William Hartnell was just this old professor dude, but Patrick Troughton had a Beatle cut and Jon Pertwee looked like he could’ve hung out on Carnaby Street with The Pretty Things and Tomorrow. Tom Baker’s look is totally 70s, all hair and natural fibres,  actually in a certain light he’s a dead ringer for Orinoco. Peter Davison’s Doctor is all a bit Brideshead Revisited, and the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy incarnations both look like ghastly multicoloured 80s childrens’ entertainers. Of course the theory falls down a bit at this point when we get to Paul McGann, though I’m not sure “Whovians” even count him as canon? The boys over at MMM/Fantragic would be able to tell you. David Tennant is pure Britpop though, he looks like one of The Bluetones.

Doctor

The idea behind this picture, as suggested by Mr Jeremy Marshall over at the 6 Degrees of Francis Bacon group on Facebook, was to draw The Doctor in the style of Peter Blake. All well and good, except that I’m not the John Sessions of comics, so the best I can hope for is a picture with some vaguely Blakeish pop arty 60s references. Although Tom Baker was the 70s Doctor… ah well, enjoy.

So that means I need something cool to draw that connects in some way to Doctor Who, Tom Baker, Peter Blake or anything else suggested here. Suggestions are very much appreciated here in the blog comments, on my Twitter feed, or at the Facebook Group.

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A Wretched Hive of Vapid Celebrities and Overpriced Drinks

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

OK the new entry in the Star Wars saga is pretty interesting, but I’m not sure where it fits in the timeline. For one thing The Mos Eisley Cantina has turned into one of those ghastly sports bars. It looks worse than The Outlander Club from Episode II. Daft Punk fit right in, of course, as they look exactly like those police robots from THX 1138 and Indie Godheads Ian Brown and Noel Gallagher are now so grizzled that they don’t exactly look out of place next to Hammerhead and Snaggletooth. I don’t know about Snoop Dogg awkwardly handling a lightsaber though. The Drop It Like It’s Hot hitmaker is about as convincing a Jedi as Don-Wan Kihotay. Walrus Man is clearly disappointed with the state of hip hop today and just wants to make his feelings known.

Girly voiced male model and occasional “Soccer” player David Beckhams makes an appearance, being hassled by Greedo… or at least some other rodian – they not only all look alike but they even dress the same. Jabba wants him to play for his team – at this point I could hear a million voices suddenly cry out in terror – or at least a bunch of fanboys bleating about their childhoods being raped. Look, if Adidas is going to sell overpriced sports gear with stormtroopers on or something, that’s fine, but all they need to do to get me to shell out is flog those casual jackets that Luke and Han wear in Empire. That’s what was wrong with the prequels, no casual jackets!

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Twenty Years Of Getting Used To It

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Twenty years ago, Marillion released a double concept album about child abuse, incest, mental illness and suicide. SUPER FUN GOOD TIMES! As someone who still refers to the 90s as “recently”, I am having difficulty accepting the fact that it was that long ago. Almost as much as my housemates at the time had difficulty with the fact that I listened to Brave at a ridiculously high volume, every single day.

The band had decided to ditch their unsuccessful attempt to produce a radio friendly record, and go the whole prog hog. Recorded at a chateau in France, for a whopping nine months, it’s considered by many fans to be their masterpiece. Whilst invoking such serious themes for the purposes of entertainment is a cheap trick, it’s a very nineties trope (in fact pretty much every comic that Vertigo produced at the time seemed to have at least one character that had been the victim of child abuse).

One of my favourite things about Brave is its alternate ending. On the main version of the album, (spoiler alert) the girl on the bridge is rescued at the last moment by some dude, or possibly another aspect of her personality (hedging your bets ambiguity is another good concept album trope), and the song The Great Escape flourishes into an almost Broadway style emotional crescendo, followed by the “new, brighter dawn” payoff of the epilogue Made Again.

If you bought the vinyl album, however, the final side of the album was double grooved, so half the time you got the standard happy ending, but the other half of the time, The Great Escape would not reach its climax, and the music would drop down into an altogether more hopeless, defeated tone, signifying that the girl does in fact throw herself off the bridge, and falls to her death.

That would have been the best idea ever, had people been buying vinyl in 1994. Of course, in 1994, no one was buying prog albums, so it hardly mattered. The music industry was riding the Britpop train, and EMI, fresh from the success of Blur in particular, dropped Marillion like a shitty stick. Blur’s Parklife, was a we’re cleverer than you romp through British musical heritage (they had a “punk” song called Bank Holiday, what wags, eh?), although they never touched on at the time desperately unfashionable 70s rock. Pink Floyd’s bleak interrogations of modern life were just as much a part of the pop continuum as poncing around pretending to be The Kinks, and I’m convinced Brave is the best album that The Floyd never recorded. Marillion were always slated by the press as Genesis copyists, although they never much sounded like the Supper’s Ready hitmakers, even when they were trying to (“Grendel!”). Steve Rothery’s guitar technique always lent  more towards David Gilmour, and here, along with the more subtle keyboard work and “atmospheres”, the band basically produced The Wall, with better tunes but without the misogyny.

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