All entries for Sunday 03 September 2006

September 03, 2006

Review: Guillemots – Through The Window Pane

5 out of 5 stars

Bugger me.

Upon reaching the end of an album, my usual reaction is to work out what CD’s going in next, decide whether I require the toilet, think about what’s for dinner (yeah, usually that one), or grunt something about the world being shit.

Upon reaching the end of Through The Window Pane, my initial reaction was “Bugger me”. My second thought was whether to replay the whole album from the start or just play Track 12 again.

In the end I went for Track 12. But then it is just shy of twelve minutes long. And bugger me, it’s an opus. It’s like taking a first-class transatlantic flight only to be told that the plane’s accidentally gone the wrong way and ended up in Kyrgyzstan. “Oh dear”, you say, “that’s a shame, I suppose I’ll have to sit here for just a little longer, sipping champagne etc.” It’s so long that halfway through it you take a double-take and see your CD player’s telling you that you’ve still got a whole Champagne Supernova left to listen to.

Before today I’d only ever heard Made-Up Lovesong #43 on the radio, and was mildly impressed, but I had no idea it came from such a stupendously brilliant band as the Guillemots turned out to be once I heard the whole album.

For a good five years I’ve been trying to find a band to compare with The Divine Comedy. I’ve often seen reviews on Amazon saying “If you like this, you’ll like this too…” only to be faced with some random, obscure drivel which completely misses the ‘pop’ element of Neil Hannon’s music. For some reason no-one’s ever said “If you like the Divine Comedy then Guillemots will give you wet dreams”. Well now I’ve said it, and anyone who searches for “If you like the Divine Comedy” in Google will find my recommendation.

To be honest, if you have even a faint interest in good music then you should go and buy this album. You remember how Avalanches were supposed to be good before they disappeared from the face of the planet? You’ll find enough of them here to be happy. Same goes for those waiting for the next Radiohead album. Same for Ben Folds. Same for anyone who liked Lauren Laverne’s early stuff. Same for anyone who thought David Gray was on to a good thing, but was a little bit… grey. And anyone who thought Damien Rice was a bit of a wet lettuce.

The Divine Comedy reference is the most pertinent one though, and is why I’m so excited by this album. The orchestration is very Joby Talbot, and while the melodies are less… ‘esoteric?’ ...than Neil Hannon’s, there’s also something a little more frantic about the way the songs are put together. Who gives a damn if not everything’s in time with everything else? This album shows you why you shouldn’t.

We’re Here is a brilliantly haunting track that is just too good for radio, while the aforementioned Made-Up Lovesong #43 has piano lines wasted at such a low volume, but subtle enough to make you realise this band is a bit special.

I’m tempted to go through other tracks and spout praise, but Sao Paulo, the final track, is still nagging at me, asking for yet more attention. It’s not so much of a song as a concerto, but somehow the many parts of the song fit together so you don’t notice.

If Neil Hannon could write music consistently, he’d make an album like this. As it is, we have to settle for one or two brilliant tracks per album. Guillemots will never be able to pull this feat off again, and I predict their second album will be shit. Through The Window Pane is sheer class.

Only as I flick through the vast expanse called the internet do I find out they’re nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, announced this week. If they don’t win, the awards should be put to sleep for good. If this album’s not better than Arctic Monkeys, Editors and Muse, then this world really is full of self-important twats.

Watch them live on Top of the Pops:

Buy their freakishly good album Through The Window Pane now. Seriously, Right Now.

P.S. This band are so freaking good I’ve just ordered gig tickets after hearing their album once.

ITV: Buggered

No, it’s not the name of a new primetime reality TV show hosted by Ant ‘n’ Dec. It’s the state of Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster.

Advertising revenues (and many would argue the quality of programming) have been sliding downwards for at least a decade and the financial state of the company is a little risky.

Their solution has been to “diversify”, developing more channels. These include the originally-named ITV2, 3 and 4, ITV Play, CITV and (until recently) the ITV News Channel. They also own Men&Motors – which is essentially the same thing as ITV4.

ITV channels

Entering into the “multichannel world” is supposed to mitigate against the sliding audience figures on the main channel. But it’s not going to work, and here’s why.

Let’s compare ITV with Channel 4 (a comparison that’s been made a lot recently by ITV themselves). Channel 4 also have a multichannel strategy, encompassing E4, More4, Film4 and the truly brilliant (!) Quiz Call.

The key to those channels’ success is that the digital channels branch out from an existing theme on Channel 4. So you can easily spot the roots of each digital channel on Channel 4 (T4/Big Brother = E4; Dispatches/Channel 4 News = More4; Films = Film4; Deal or No Deal/Countdown = Quiz Call).

Channel 4 digital channels

The reason it works (and the reason their digital channels do well) is that they can cross-promote the digital channels after a very similar programme has broadcast on Channel 4.

The reason ITV’s buggered is that it can’t.

Take CITV for instance. You might not have noticed, but since we were kids, the amount of kids’ TV on ITV1 has gone through the floor. There’s typically about 30-60mins a day now, and they’re proposing to scrap it entirely. So there’s no way of cross-promoting the CITV channel to kids. Because they won’t be watching.

Similarly, ITV4 shows intelligent drama (apparently), much of it American. But where is that sort of programming on ITV1? They can’t cross-promote it after Neighbours From Hell XXVI because the people watching that won’t give a toss about the sort of shows ITV4 does.

The saddest thing about ITV is its news, or lack thereof. Their lunchtime bulletin is being cut in half, and their late bulletin seems to get later by the week. The ITV News Channel was scrapped just as it was becoming watchable, meaning at the end of the news bulletin on ITV1 the only thing they can promote is either Corrie (which they seem to do often!) or the fairly pisspoor ITV News website.

The company’s in a mess because it’s trying to be all things to all people, but is managing to be increasingly little to everyone. The potential is there on channels like ITV3 and ITV4, but those channels won’t thrive unless audiences think there’s anything with “ITV” at the front of it that’s worth watching.

ITV might be right in saying that Channel 4 can be a bit tacky (Charlotte Church? Her own show? Brilliant idea!), but they should be more worried about their own future.

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