The NME Within – Free But Shackled

First there came the rumours. Apparently, a surprisingly well-informed newsagent was now the preferred source for Time Inc to leak their big decisions. The NME was to go free from the next week. This was roundly rebuffed and things went quiet, despite the hunch that there was no smoke without fire rebounding across those still interested in print media. It was only a matter of time, surely, for a magazine with physical sales below 15,000? When the news came that the final paid for issue would hit the shelves in late July, it was rather less shocking because of that early false alarm. Still, it made headlines everywhere and a mixture of nostalgia and curiously narky bitching commenced. Bloated hacks of old dug themselves out of big chairs and narrow minds to proclaim their golden age while those who were still paying for the magazine – and I was one – were genuinely saddened to see such an iconic publication nearing its end.

The press release surrounding the news included predictably hyperbolic platitudes from editor Mike Williams, “NME is already a major player and massive influencer in the music space, but with this transformation we’ll be bigger, stronger and more influential than ever before.” This wasn’t an especially surprising comment to read. He was hardly going to say, “Aw, balls. We’re screwed. It’s all about the advertisers now,” was he?

The more optimistic amongst the audience hoped that removing the need to desperately chase disappearing sales might actually broaden the remit of a magazine that had increasingly been defaulting to heritage artist covers in recent times. Bigger and more influential, you say? A bit of risk, then, and more coverage of the music that might excite a generation. For that, anyone can put up with a bit of fashion coverage and a few more adverts.

The final issue was never going to please everybody. We all have ‘our’ era of the NME and one special edition couldn’t possibly do them all justice. That said, it brought back some lovely memories and provided a reasonably fitting send off for a maligned but still respected institution. So much of the great writing didn’t get a look in, mind you, with imagery the big focus. Perhaps we should all have taken that as a warning.

NME free

Friday 18th September marked the first day of a new dawn for the NME. The Rihanna cover was heavily trailed on Twitter and Williams even showed up on BBC Breakfast News and Sky to talk about the relaunch. He wore the benign facial expression of a man who had managed to make peace with difficult times, rather than the enthusiastic grin of somebody spearheading a revolution. Time Inc probably needed to spend a little longer coaching him on how to artfully avoid actually answering the question about how much sway the advertisers would have when it came to the final copy. The omens were not great and this was continued when my subscriber copy didn’t even arrive until Saturday. Should the people still actually willing to pay for a publication end up receiving it after the indifferent hoards queuing up in Top Man or HMV?

I think by this point we’ve established that I’m never going to be invited to write for the NME again, so let’s have a look inside the first of the free issues. Firstly, the advertising situation is entirely as expected. 32.5 pages of straight advertising, alongside three pages of ‘NME Promotion’ pieces and a full page version of the old ‘Things We Like’ feature with prominently displayed web addresses. Fair enough, though, as long as the remaining 39.5 pages are full of spikey, influential content, all is well.

‘Why The Big Bang Theory Is The New Friends’ quickly put paid to any optimism. Add in five pages of gig listings built largely around photos, the vintage ‘what’s in your headphones?’ vox pop page filler and a rebranded reviews section that seems actively at pains to use as little space for actual opinions as possible and the notion of a bigger and better NME had quickly evaporated. It’s a bit like Nuts without the boobs. It’s hard to say who it’s aimed at primarily because even in an age so prone to thundering great thinkpieces about an instant gratification culture plagued by short attention spans and endless stimuli, it’s hard to imagine any target audience quite so vapid and unambitious.

All of the talk of a 300,000 circulation is key to understanding the new NME. Until very recently, the NME was a sharp, informative voice driven by knowledgeable people for an inquisitive audience. Krissi Murison’s time in charge drew me back into the fold and it has produced a number of excellent writers in recent years. As much as it might make me sound like a fifteen year old scribbling band logos onto my folder, it still had integrity. The new NME has all the credibility and substance of a billboard in Piccadilly Circus. Being seen by lots of people appears to be literally the only goal for this publication now. The design is hideous, the content brief and lifeless and the brand is in tatters. Under a review of the new Battles album is the additional feature “The greatest battles in history”, including Alien vs Predator, Eminem in 8 Mile and, of course, Hastings. The endless list-driven sidebars are insultingly asinine and there’s almost nothing to actually read.

My love of the music press was built on words. I have always been thrilled by the power language has when manipulated in the right hands. It can be a truly brilliant genre and the review, in particular, is still relevant in a society beleaguered by option paralysis. The new NME seems so anti-language, so unenchanted with words, that it’s hard to imagine picking it up again. You can’t blame the writers as many of the old team are still there and their livelihoods depend upon it but, and I say this well aware of the old adage about glass houses and stones, it’s hard to imagine how they feel about what’s happening around them.

Wherever this new direction has come from, it seems a probable dead end. Those who have loved it in the past will surely hate what it has become. Those who weren’t interested are unlikely to be won over by what largely amounts to a poorly curated Twitter feed. The advertisers will stick with it for a while and the public rarely spurn anything that’s free, but this is not the NME. Whatever this weekly publication may become, it should never have taken that name in vain.

I’d like to say a few Words

In the pre-Twitter, pre-blog world of the mid-Nineties, I used to buy the NME as much for the singles adverts as the coruscatingly jagged reviews. It was a weekly event, a world of temptation and salvation, and an identity badge held between slightly grubby, inky fingers in front of schoolmates. I’ve been reading music magazines for over twenty years, graduating from Smash Hits to the weeklies, before adding an arsenal of monthly titles to bolster my curiosity and empty my wallet. They were already an integral part of my life before I started writing for one. The reviews section always felt like my spiritual home. The NME big reviews, often accompanied by grand illustrations, were urgent and biting, while the pages of Q and Select allowed you to luxuriate a little longer in the thoughts of many great writers. The losses of Vox, Melody Maker and a grotesquely redesigned Select were hard to take, suggesting that if the magazines were ailing so too was the music.

The early Noughties were a barren time for lovers of the music press. The NME had lost me, wandering off down a (now thankfully reversed) skinny-jeaned route to hell, with more emphasis on pictures than words, while Q was finding it very hard to adjust to a digital world where its original readers had moved towards Mojo, with its fifteen Beatles cover a year. New titles came and went, including the flimsy but spiky BANG! and the woefully limp X-Ray. Into a world of non-ironic Mel C covers and anti-stories about what The Strokes weren’t doing, came Word. With its lower-case masthead and dour picture of Nick Cave on the cover, it didn’t exactly scream “vital music ranting here,” but it did stand out. I took a punt and spent a National Express journey in its company. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it seemed to be taking contemporary music seriously at a time when few others were. Early issues with substantial pieces on Blur, Elvis Costello and a peculiar new device called the iPod sealed the deal.

A few months after welcoming it to the well-thumbed family, I finally decided to pursue a boyhood dream to get some music writing published and, with email the great leveller in terms of making yourself known, I set about contacting a few of my music writing heroes. When the call from Paul Du Noyer came, it took my twenty year old Literature student self a little while to take it all in but, within minutes, I’d been commissioned to write a page on Elvis Costello, covering three reissues and his jazz album, ‘North‘. Should you wish to put yourself through some slightly torturous bus analogies, you can see that article here.


From then on, I was one of Word’s reviews team for almost four years. It was a thrill which never waned, a novelty which never wore off, to go and flick through the magazine in Smiths, despite a copy residing at home, in order to see my work on sale. In a shop. Not that I was deluded enough to think anyone was buying it because I was in it. But I was in it. And that was what mattered. When the Word team rejigged the magazine and thinned down the reviews section, I was no longer required. I found it hard to be annoyed as I couldn’t quite believe I’d got away with it for as long as I had. The support and encouragement of Du Noyer and Jude Rogers, who would quickly take over the reviews section, meant a great deal and without those two particular people, I very much doubt I would still be reviewing today or writing this very piece. That is just one of the many reasons that made Friday’s announcement of the closure of The Word such a kick in the guts.

With the NME having recovered under recently departed editor Krissi Murison’s fine stewardship and Q as good as it has even been with former Word scribe Andrew Harrison in charge and a stellar team of writers in its pages, things didn’t feel quite so bleak for the music press of late. Word is beloved of many media folk but never quite seemed to attract the wider audience it needed. I had occasionally wondered how long it would continue to fight the good fight, but was always reassured by the dependable brash swagger of Mark Ellen and David Hepworth. Was it perfect? No. Is there more to atone for than just that Dido cover way back in 2003? Certainly. But was Word Magazine a creative, welcoming and enthusiastic community which offered something genuinely different? Without doubt, and I will miss it greatly. The great motto for every aspect of the music making, selling and reporting industries seems to be ‘adapt or die’, and yet here was something else which still didn’t work. Maybe there’s just no place for a wide variety of music magazines in the 21st century? Whatever the grim reality of the current situation, the end of this particular magazine hurts more than most. The complete set sits upstairs and will get revisited in the coming weeks. For all the tips, the laughs, the sighs, the ideas, the tunes and the work: thank you. Word.

A reasonably concise update

It wouldn’t be the same if this blog didn’t just grind to a halt for a month or so every now and then, would it? I’d originally intended to rest it for a week or two while I delved into the Beatles remasters but a week leads to a fortnight, a fortnight to a month and, well, you know how it is. Quite a month, mind, including the live return of one of my all-time favourite bands, Massive Attack. If the new songs played on that drab night in Sheffield are anything to go by, the new album will be everything people have hoped for and a little bit more. There’s one new track, (I have no idea about the title, I’m afraid) sung by Horace Andy which may well be one of the best things they’ve ever done. The ‘Splitting The Atom’ EP emerged last weekend as a digital download and it’s a pretty impressive quartet of new material. The lolloping title track belies the fact that Damon Albarn has been involved this time around, while ‘Pray For Rain’, featuring vocals from TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, has a wonderful gear change about four minutes in which elevates it to ‘special’ status. You can sample it for yourself over at Spotify, purchase it as a high-quality FLAC download from 7Digital or even shell out £20 for a spangly vinyl edition from those Monkey-box-set-making-types over at The Vinyl Factory.

Beatles expenditure limited the funds for new music last month, but a few splendid things snuck though, such as the latest offering from Richard Hawley, ‘Truelove’s Gutter’, which is a muso’s dream and the very definition of a ‘headphones album’. Coming off the back of the really rather polished ‘Lady’s Bridge’, (hmm, that sounds slightly wrong) an album with only eight songs, two of which scrape the ten minute mark, it’s an absolute delight to listen to and it may well be his best. ‘Remorse Code’ is a remarkable beast, languidly atmospheric and beautifully recorded. ‘Open Up Your Door’ may have spent some time with ‘The Ocean’ from ‘Coles Corner’, mind. There is meant to be a deluxe double vinyl edition with free CD and signed photo springing up at some point but, with every additional week’s delay, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

The NME has a new editor in the shape of Krissi Murison and she’s already made a few changes. Icky changes, largely speaking. Making me actually wish Conor McNicholas hadn’t left after all kind of changes. The most unforgiveable change is the removal of Mark Beaumont’s weekly column, which was as good a reason as any to shell out £2.30 a week. Thankfully, Peter Robinson Vs has been retained, tucked away at the back now, or I may have had to have said goodbye. Again. Oh, who am I trying to kid. Still, it’s a shame as Beaumont was a witty and acerbic observer of the music scene, something the NME was always good at and I’m not sure how that hole will be filled.

The Radiohead deluxe editions for the latter half of their EMI tenure proved to be delightful additions to the collection, containing some splendid B sides which I’d never previously spent any time with and selected visual highlights from this wonderful, wonderful Later… special.

Put aside an hour and treat yourself. It’s really rather special. While I’m talking about all things Yorke, if you’ve not yet sampled the two tracks recently released as a (bloody expensive) heavyweight vinyl 12” single, you’re truly missing out. Click here to sample ‘FeelingPulledApartByHorses’ and ‘The Hollow Earth’, the latter track being one of the finest things I’ve heard all year. It’s in the same, slightly skittery vein as ‘The Eraser’, with a nagging hook and a thumping beat. It’s almost worth the insane amount the 12” costs. £10, by the way.

I’ve been ploughing through my record collection for the last few weeks, attempting to assemble a list of some kind ready for the launch of the previously trailed, ‘Just Played – Albums Of The Decade’ feature, which will be arriving fairly soon now. It’s been lovely to be reminded of albums like Daft Punk’s ‘Discoveryand Air’s ‘10 000Hz Legend’, alongside Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Howdy and Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Poses. There are some absolute certs for the final list, but it’s been interesting to realise some of the records I’d totally forgotten about that are thoroughly deserving of a place. More on that soon.

Oh, and there were those remasters I briefly mentioned at the start. I haven’t got an awful lot to add to the millions of column inches offered up over the last six weeks (and largely bought by me) so I’ll not say much. (On the other hand, recent convert, Dan of teatunes, says plenty here) Suffice to say, the more expensive of the box sets, ‘The Beatles In Mono’, is an absolute delight, with the sound punchy and remarkably clear. I feel obliged to inform you that you haven’t heard ‘Rubber Soul’ until you’ve heard the mono mix at a fair old volume – it’s a rather special moment. The packaging is wonderful and a serious step up from the fold-out card things used for the stereo reissues. As for the more widely available stereo mixes, I found that box a slight anti-climax, what with it arriving four days after the mono box had had its chance to seduce me. That said, it’s still a beguiling collection of music and those albums only available in stereo sound pretty impressive to these ears. I’ve certainly never liked ‘Abbey Road’ more than I do now. I love their catalogue now more than I ever previously have, but that’s probably no great surprise. For anyone who takes their music listening seriously, you really should get at least one of these boxes, if you haven’t already, as they are the definitive versions. Sod the money, on this occasion. Buy a few less takeaways or £40 games and treat yourself.

Oh, and if you’ve still not heard the new Maps album, sort yourself out, eh?

Aren’t Waterstone’s points great?

Where to start? Having spent a week trolling around the South East of England, I have returned with copious new records and a sizeable pile of books. The Great British Holiday – bugger all use if you’re after a tan but pretty reliable for enhancing your CD collection. I’ll start where it ended, which was the purchase of Simon Goddard‘s hugely enjoyable masterwork on Morrissey, entitled ‘Mozipedia‘. Priced at £25, but easily found online for £14.99 delivered, it’s a gargantuan study of all things Moz, with entries for every song he’s been involved with, both as a solo artist and as a member of The Smiths. There are also numerous cultural entries to offer a fuller picture, something Goddard is keen to emphasise in his introduction, imploring readers to draw their own conclusions about Morrissey by piecing together whichever entries seem appropriate. The carefully ambiguous, not to mention beautifully written, overview of Moz with which Goddard opens proceedings does the required job of stirring up a passion for the man and his music and ensuring that the ensuing six hundred or so pages are a delight to dip into on numerous occasions. Highly recommended.*

Speaking of Morrissey, the infamous 1992 NME vs Moz race row was brought back to the public domain this week as a result of some pretty heated debate on the really rather splendid Andrew Collins‘ site. It all came about due to some chronically mediocre reporting in The Guardian about offensive comedians which took as its centrepiece Richard Herring‘s new show, ‘Hitler Moustache’. Whatever your take on the imagery used to promote the show, or indeed some of the material contained within, it would surely be difficult to conclude that Herring is anything even bordering on racist. You’d think. Not if you’re Brian Logan, critic for said newspaper, who had a pretty good go at trying to paint him as a racist, or at least somebody with a great deal of sympathy for racists. Andrew Collins, with whom Herring records an often mildly amusing podcast each week, naturally opted to defend his comedy chum via his blog. As part of the ensuing debate in the comments section, a couple of readers drew parallels with Andrew’s involvement in the NME cover story about Moz, Madstock and the Union Flag (Covered in detail in the aforementioned ‘Mozipedia’. ) This, in turn, led to Andrew posting an additional article on his blog in which he attempted clarify why the two events had little in common. This appears to have simply stirred up emotions further and it has since been removed. Instead, Andrew opted to wade in on a related discussion on the Morrissey Solo Forums, where he encountered both ends of the scale: the intelligent, articulate and thoroughly knowledgeable Moz fans and those for whom Mozipedia will function as little more than a door stop. Still, all very entertaining reading and worth an hour of your time, if you’re willing.

In other internet confusion this week, Live Here Now, the company responsible for doing immediate live recordings at gigs continued to show why they’re not really deserving of anybody’s money. A quick pootle round the web will reveal exactly how many times they’ve delayed issuing recordings well beyond the date stated in the past and so it has proved with Blur’s Hyde Park gigs. I’ve had a negative experience with this lot in the past also, opting for Richard Hawley‘s ‘Live At The Devil’s Arse’ concert CD, which arrived many weeks after the stated date. The Blur gigs were to be available for download a week after they had happened and the CDs would follow a week later. Now, even when I ordered, I was pretty certain that this wouldn’t be the case and simply sat back and waited for them to be crap. They didn’t disappoint. If you ordered the CDs, you were promised the downloads for free, as part of the deal. Those downloads were finally available this Wednesday, July 29th. As I’m sure you can spot, this is not a week after July 2nd and 3rd. Still, at least the downloads were here and grumbling can cease, eh? Well, no, actually. When the shop site first went live, it offered the recordings as CDs or ‘High Quality 320kbps’ mp3s. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, those buying the CDs would also receive the downloads free of charge. However, upon making the downloads available to those who had preordered this week, it became clear that the downloads were only 160kbps mp3s, hardly sufficient quality for a product that is being offered up professionally in 2009. As you might expect, numerous Blur fans opted to complain about this poorly encoded product and were offered the following explanation: “We do apologise for the wording of the download quality on the website and are sorry if this has caused confusion, however as per our help section as linked below the bundled/CD purchases of the shows will have received the 160kbps version of the download.” Fair enough. Except it’s not. This information was only added to the site in the last week or so and thus it is not an excuse for why the downloads are substandard. A quick search of Google, using the cache option, yesterday unveiled the original version of the help page, which simply referred to 320kbps mp3s. Frankly, if you’re going to be utter shit, be utter shit, but to then lie about it and twist the facts is pretty bloody pathetic. I’ll be glad to finally get my CDs whenever they actually emerge, but I won’t be using this bunch of unreliable, untrustworthy cretins again.

Having mentioned the acquisition of numerous records above, I feel like I should offer some additional comment, but there’s far too much to talk about in one go. Suffice to say, a wonderful time was had in Brighton, particularly in Resident Records – as good a record shop as I’ve been in since my beloved Reveal Records died some 18 months or so ago – but not to take anything away from Rounder, Wax Factor or Ape. A special mention the glorious, and rather charmingly named, The Record Shop in Amersham, at which I stopped en route, where I had an enjoyable compilation about Honest Jon’s compilations as I purchased ‘Marvellous Boy – Calypso From West Africa’ and reduced copies of two of the ‘London Is The Place For Me’ series. Something I don’t think I’m ever likely to get in my local branch of HMV. The inevitable trip to London was conducted and Rough Trade East did its best to lure me in many musical directions, with not inconsiderable success. Berwick Street was rather disappointing, with only Sounds Of The Universe (just off Berwick Street on Broadwick Street) tempting me to open my wallet. Still, plenty of good stuff was found and will be mentioned on here as I get my ears around it over the next few days. Weirdly, the album of the holiday was Maps‘ new one, ‘Turning The Mind’, which won’t be released until September 28th, but which I spent plenty of time with in order to write a review in the next day or two. It really is as good as you might have hoped. I’ll endeavour to say a bit more soon.

Finally, keep an eye on the ‘Special Purchase’ section in your nearest HMV for the next week or two, as some decent stuff has started to appear of late. The Portsmouth branch provided me with four of the ‘Talcum Soul’ series at £2 each, while the Southampton store had the best bargain, with a copy of Lewis Taylor‘s beautiful ‘The Lost Album’ also priced at only £2. Have a listen to that rather wonderful record here.

An enormous sense of wellbeing

It now actually feels a bit like it never happened. Last night, sweating furiously and surrounded by several thousand like-minded obsessives, I saw Blur at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall. They were probably better than I’d hoped. And I’d had very high hopes for this show. So utterly powerful was this Blur performance that ‘Country House’ sounded like a world beater. Seriously.

The smiles barely dropped from the faces of all four of them across the entire evening and Graham’s not especially graceful backwards roll during ‘Popscene‘ seemed to sum up how they felt about being back on stage together after nine years. Damon doesn’t appear to have aged, in fact he looks an awful lot younger than he did when promoting ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ two years previous. Alex remains one of the coolest performers gracing a stage in modern music, even if he does now tuck his T-shirts in and sweat in the strangest places. After opener ‘She’s So High’ came to an end, Dave looked out at the crowd in wonder and seemed genuinely affected by the response. Rather charmingly, that same look appeared on his face after every subsequent song, resulting in him throwing his sticks crowdwards at the end of the first encore.

Musically, they sounded indecently good for a band that are only five gigs in to the return from a sizeable lay off. Graham’s much vaunted performance on ‘Out Of Time’ was subtle but wondrous and the added brass and backing singers were deployed in an understated fashion to great effect. ‘Tender’, with its multiple false endings, seemed set to reduce the entire crowd to slightly weepy, grinning idiots but it was ‘Beetlebum‘ that seemed to leave Damon choked. He took a moment to thank the audience for its response, a response that was dished out to much of the night’s setlist. The singing was near constant, the bouncing not far behind. Fair play to the slightly chubby teen who suddenly appeared next to me towards the end of the set, clearly barely able to stand, drenched in sweat and more than a little emotionally overcome. He wasn’t alone. The audience reaction was startling and, while I fully anticipated coming across as a crazed loon, I don’t think I’d quite imagined that every other attendee would be the same. Welcomed like heroes and sent on their way by minutes of applause, Blur truly delivered.

I can’t really pick a highlight as there wasn’t a moment where I wished they’d chosen a different song or a performance that didn’t quite take off. It was a consummate performance from one of our very best bands. That said, ‘For Tomorrow’, ‘This Is A Low’, ‘Popscene’, ‘Trimm Trabb’ and ‘The Universal’ were genuinely rather moving from where I was standing. Inevitably, I’ve popped a few YouTube videos below to illustrate my point, although I would still send you dashing off to the post with the videos from Colchester for some startlingly good amateur footage. Rest assured, Glastonbury has its highlight in waiting. What with Blur occupying the Sunday night slot, it’s a fairly safe bet that the majority of the set will be shown on BBC2 without too much Whiley interference. Cancel everything, turn the telly up and enjoy.




Just after posting this, I read that Steven Wells, you’ll have known him as Swells, had died at the age of 49. I am a music press obsessive and anyone who read the NME while Swells was writing for them will remember what made him such a great writer. Whatever else he was (and he oh-so-fucking-many things) he was absolutely hilarious. While so few of us that attempt to write about music ever get close to the linguistic perfection that Swells could achieve, he was an inspiration for so many people. I may have to do a detailed review of the new Bloc Party single in tribute to him tomorrow. All the best, Swells. Your time on earth will be remembered by many for a very long time.

Swells’ last article

NME tribute

A curator, if you will

I’m not even sure what radio show it was, back in the day, one of the stations I listened to used to do a music press review on a Wednesday. Actually, it might have been in the early days of 6music when Andrew Collins‘ afternoon show (RIP) was still called ‘Teatime‘. Anyway, I used to love hearing the cherry-picked highlights and treated it as a buyer’s guide. Sadly, there isn’t enough music press to make that particularly worthy these days, but, on this occasion, indulge me.

There are two things I’ve been meaning to share with you. The first is the rather excellent list of ‘Things heard at the Latitude festival‘ in this month’s Uncut.

Some of my favourites:

  • “Pimm’s me up to the power of two!”
  • Heard over a walkie-talkie: “Child control to the Poetry Arena!”
  • “Seriously, I thought it was called Ricky Pedia. I assumed it was a bloke with a really popular MySpace page.”
  • Woman on phone telling her friends where to meet her: “I’m directly below the cloud that looks a bit like Cyprus.”

Splendid stuff.

The second item of note is in today’s NME. Now, I know that every few months I keep saying almost nice things about this magazine but it really has shown signs of improvement recently. For a start, the woefully pretentious letter from the editor – and his picture, for that matter – has disappeared from the third page and the writing just seems sharper and funnier. Mark Beaumont having a weekly column can only be a good thing. Anyway, this week, the main feature is a huge interview with Noel Gallagher. Say what you like about Oasis, and most people do, Noel is fantastically good value when it comes to interviews. Never one to disappoint, this time around it’s regarding Jay-Z.

“I never dissed that guy. But there’s no point going on about it or you end up sounding like Heather Mills.”

Fair point, well made. It’s worth £2.20 to read the whole thing.

And finally, today’s new music mutterings:

They describe themselves as ‘ambient/electronica/pop’, which’ll do for me. That said, one track, ‘Handcuffs‘ is pure indie joy from start to finish. If you’ve already visited the VJ myspace then that’s the track that blares out at you when the page loads. Good, innit? They’re good Welsh boys, are Man Without Country. That’s who I’m on about, by the way. There are delightful moments in the aforementioned track where you’re left in no doubt about the band’s country of origin and I can’t deny that I love it all the more because of that. The other tracks that you can hear on their Myspace and iSound pages have a little more of that ambient feel to them, but if you love innovative, energetic songs then you should give them a few minutes of your time.

Click here to listen to God*


The NME website is currently allowing you to stream the new Weller album, ’22 Dreams’, ahead of its release on Monday. My advice would be, do so. It’s really rather good. Perhaps even as good as some of the recent orgasmic reviews have suggested. Listened to ‘As Is Now’ on double vinyl today for the first time. It really is a wonderful record and I remain baffled by its failure to sell. If you haven’t bought it since it’s come down to, oh I dunno, £1.27 or thereabouts, then you’re a muppet. I know I risk alienating the casual reader with a remark like that, but there you go, eh? Life’s too short to hold grudges. Apart from in the case of George Lamb, obviously. What was I saying? Oh yeah, go here…

NME Weller Page

and scroll down to the Paul Weller Media Player section. You’ll need to register, but they don’t want much info. Then click and you’re off. Enjoy.

*It’s a track on the album.

Plus, you can hear the new album from, the rather fabulous, Ron Sexsmith here. I’ve not listened to it all yet, but if you like the old stuff you’ll like this. A little like Spiritualized, each album has plenty in common with the previous one, but if you like one, you’ll like them all. Have a listen. It’s free. That seems less of an endorsement than I’d meant. Never mind.

Vinyl Rotters at your service

Fair play to the NME, their piece about people getting attacked as a result of their musical preferences is a decent read and long overdue. That said, once the Daily Mail had said that ’emo’ music was dangerous, you’d like to think that most sane people realised it was quite the opposite. Their coverage was centred around the recent rulings on the murder of Sophie Lancaster, a 20 year old Goth who was attacked last August as a result of her and her boyfriend’s appearance. They quoted a truly brilliant post from one of the Goth message boards, “no group of Goths ever beat up a chav.” The idea that musical tastes will lead the nation’s youth astray is hardly a new one, although you can’t blame publications like the Mail, as all of the evidence would suggest that in previous cases this assertion has been proved to be complete and utter bollocks. Which is how they like their ‘news’. Do I need an allegedly here? Allegedly.

Something else that came out of reading the article was a sense of disbelief at the name ‘Faris Rotter‘. Apparently that’s the name of the lead singer of The Horrors. I guess he deserves a smidge of respect for supporting the message of the article before I wade in with a torrent of abuse. There it was. Right then, ‘Rotter’? ‘Rotter‘? What, as in Rotten? Well, good idea, not like that’s been used before. The ever reliable Wikipedia reveals that his name is actually Faris Badwan. Obviously he couldn’t use that as it’d make him sound too much like some simpering twat who’d stick out his little finger whilst supping a mochachino in the back of a limo on the way to being fired by Sir Alan. Yeah, sticking up for the real people there! Being true to yourself, etc. Such begging for credibility has not been witnessed since Sporty Spice unleashed her cover of ‘Anarchy In The UK‘ on the unsuspecting crowds at V99. The piss couldn’t be flung quick enough.

Anyway, having allowed by ire to subside – all this based on a name, I know – I was then confronted by a member of My Chemical Romance. They’re just shit, really, aren’t they? I’ve no qualms about defending people’s right to listen to them, dress like them and all that, but their very existence in the first place is what bugs me. In my dim and distant past as an occasionally published, and even less frequently read, music reviewer I gave Green Day‘s ‘American Idiot‘ an almighty shoeing but this lot almost arouse pangs of sympathy for that bunch of middle-aged wankers in their three-quarter-length trousers. It strikes me that if you’re going to have to battle against narrow-minded, knuckle-dragging fuckwits in order to submerge yourself in a particular musical culture, shouldn’t the music be good enough to warrant the fight?

As readers of this blog will be aware, every so often I go through a period of acknowledging that the NME isn’t actually that bad only to become completely disillusioned a couple of weeks thereafter. Once again, reading the new issue today I found it quite a pleasant experience and was delighted to reach the back end of it and find an interview with Roger Daltrey. Top man.

The NME review of The Long Blondes‘ ‘“Couples”‘ was reasonably close to the mark, although it represented my view of the album after a couple of listens. After a few more listens, the seemingly cold and insular sound opens up just enough to let you in. It’s still pretty claustrophobic, and not what I’d expected, but it’s a lot better than I first thought it was. ‘Century‘ has really grown on me, despite initially hating it, while next single, ‘Guilt‘, is already on the VJ muxtape.

But where’s the indie chart?

Last week I decided to give the NME another chance. Partly as a result of my recent obsession with my Britpop-infused youth and partly because I wanted a bit of follow-up on Glastonbury. I realised that Maximo Park had escaped my attention because I wasn’t really scouring enough channels for new music – the NME being one of them. So, I coughed up my £2.10 (a week! Not in my day) and settled down for a flick through the latest issue of a rag that used make me genuinely excited when I woke up on a Wednesday.
It’s not as thrilling as it used to be. But then that might be me. Perhaps I’m not as easily thrilled as I used to be. However, it’s pleasing to see that there are some quality journos still working for them, including a few from my era. In addition, the anarchic spirit of sections like the letter page remains as blunt and sarcastic as it ever was.
Most important though, was the ‘Radar‘ section (for new bands) and the reviews section. While browsing the reviews I happened upon a positive review for the new Air Traffic album, ‘Fractured Life‘. Never heard of them, I thought. But the review made it sound like I really should have. So, today, whilst browsing in the local indie store I decided to take a punt on it. I have to confess to be being bloody surprised that it actually turned out to be a really decent album. Piano-heavy rock without being Keane. It’s not like Ben Folds either, mind. I’ll try and review it properly in this coming Sunday’s ‘Revelations.’
Anyway, I’ve learnt my lesson. Give the NME a chance. I’m such an obsessive when it comes to music mags that I’m already trying to decide if the subscription offer’s worth a punt.
P.S. Mojo can fuck off with their free badges and shabby 80s supplement this month. What a load of old toss. The magazine itself isn’t much better.
Uncut looks alright, but then it’s a 10 Year Anniversary issue, so bonhomie is carved through it like Blackpool in a stick of rock.
Plan B has a huge interview with Bjork and a free CD from Rough Trade. Sounds more like it.

Something Changed

I fucking loved getting off the bus on a Monday evening and dashing across the road to our town’s one and only independent record shop. You had to go down a little set of steps to get into Dominion Records. It didn’t mean an awful lot to me until Britpop kicked off. I can vividly remember standing by the 7″ section, flicking through the new releases and trying to decide if I could justify spending £2.29 on the vinyl of ‘Country House‘, when I’d bought the tape for the same price the week before.
Across those halcyon years in the mid-90s, every spare penny I had went into the till in that shop. You felt like no record would be a bad move. Nothing that you picked out would be shite – it was Britpop, and Britpop seemed invincible. That said, I never stooped to buying a full price Shed Seven single (I ended up with ‘Bully Boy‘ in some kind of ‘buy three for £1.50’ clearout deal, but we won’t count that.) ‘Marblehead Johnson‘ by The Bluetones and ‘The Circle‘ by (say it quietly) Ocean Colour Scene were the two CDs that proved to me that I was besotted with this particular ‘movement’. Never before would I have justified paying, gasp, £2.99 for a single. But, in October 1995 I got my first CD player, and thus the additional avenue of multiple CD sets entered the fray. I can remember being pissed off that both Woolies and my beloved Dominion Records wanted the best part of £3 for The Bluetones. I wasn’t too worldly-wise, but I knew that a single by The Bluetones was hardly a gold-encrusted cultural document.
Anyway, what Britpop offered to me was a route into an obsession. My love of music was vastly accelerated by those years, those issues of the NME and those hours spent glued to Lammo and Jo on Radio 1. The Sesh, as nostalgic wankers such as myself now call it, was a nightly appointment with two cool friends who seemed to have all of the new records long before we did. (Remember, this was a time before the internet was the first source of a band’s new single) I can remember Jo Whiley‘s articulate, compassionate and incisive interview with Nicky Wire when the Manics were taking their first, tentative steps as a three-piece. I’d make a mental note of any particularly good songs played across the week, and then hope to God that Dominion would have them in on the Monday. I can remember having to wait for the family trip to Bristol to rummage on the Gloucester Road for a copy of Marion‘s ‘Sleep‘ on orange vinyl. Still a cracking tune, to these ears, although probably not worth the petrol involved.
The afore-mentioned NME also played a huge part in my development. I was an NME snob, and I couldn’t bear the Melody Maker. It wasn’t as clever, it wasn’t as well designed and it didn’t get such good interviews. Occasionally I’d buy it for a Manics or Blur interview and sniff with derision as I flicked through it on my way to the important interview. It was a period where you had to speak up for whichever side you were on, where lines were drawn and allegiances fiercely protected. I loved it.
I get hugely nostalgic for it now, and that’s why ‘Something Changed – The Britpop Years‘ will be an on-off series for the forseeable future on this blog. Please have your say via the comment option.