All entries for Thursday 23 February 2006

February 23, 2006

How To Lose Patience With NME

No one has ever been able to tell me where the phrase "Shooting fish in a barrell" comes from though I use it on a semi-regular basis. This whole article is therefore dedicated to that inexplicable concept.

Most sane people lost patience with the NME about a million years ago and gave up, forcing it temporarily into the humiliating position of no longer being the biggest selling music weekly in the country (Kerrang had the title for a while). It does however still pull in new readers, and attracts back old ones from time to time.

The reason for this is that it is not the total shitrag a lot of people would have you believe. There are some good writers in there, even if there is a lot of personailty lacking from even a few years ago. But in this day the bands can simply ignore you and leave you for your rivals or the internet, and a degree of caution seems to be necessary in all mainstream press outlets.

But the NME is seriously imperfect and pushes at the reader's patience, in a bad way, a lot. I've been reading it a long time and have seen it through several examplse of its biggest problem, its uncritical obsessive love for certain bands. It's happened with Starsailor (however much they might now deny it), The Strokes, The White Stripes, Andrew WK (who? exactly!), Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Libertines/Babyshambles/Pete Doherty, Franz Ferdinand…

I like a lot of those bands (though I'm buggered if I can recall a single note of Andrew WK's music), some I even quite love. But at times it gets a little ridiculous, a little obsessive stalkerish. I want passion in music, but drooling, unfettered adoration is another thing. A lot of 7 out of 10 reviews are given to their pet hype bands; 7 should mean "quite good, not earth shattering" but when related to a hype band it really means "this isn't very good but we can't lose face by saying that after we worshipped them so much". Even this I've been able to cope with because you know which bands are hype bands and deserve the latter 7 subtext, and who are less well known and deserve the former 7 subtext.

But the NME have now gone a little too far recently.

Cards on the table. I don't think the Arctic Monkeys are music's saviours. I think they are very very good, they have wit and invention to them. You can dance to their album and you can listen to it whilst crashed out on the bus in the morning. I love hearing regional accents, I love references to things I know, which make me smile. But theirs is not the best album of the decade. I doubt it'll be my no.1 album of the year. Top ten very likely, but no.1? Can't see it. And I think the NME's blanket arse kissing of them is just a little too much to take.

Last week they published a review of Stellstarr*'s new album. Stellastarr* are a not hugely well known New York band who are on their second album. They are no earth movers. In 2003 they predicted, on their first album, the sort of 1980s indie that The Killers and The Bravery would revive with more chart success. Their singer is very much an acquired taste, his voice can be either affecting or plain annoying depending on the listener. The music is very good, better than The Bravery, and more consistent than The Killers, if lacking the highs of the latter band. I did not expect their second album to set the world on fire. I similarly did not expect the NME review to be such an utter travesty.

It's not about disputing the mark. It got a 4, which is fair enough, as mentioned many people would give it that as they cannot get around the singer's voice. I've heard the album, quite like his voice, and think it's worth a nice solid 7, quite good, not earth shattering. However ask me about it and I'll talk about the voice, the musical strengths, the fact it lacks a track as instant as 'Somewhere Across Forever' from their debut. I might mention bands they sound like, like the previously mentioned fellow The bands, or possibly people like Pixies (they use the man/woman vocal style) or Echo And The Bunnymen (who must be an influence). I doubt I'd mention the Arctic Monkeys as they are, in indie terms, totally different. Gritty British realism against shiny American ephemera.

The NME review mentions the Monkeys nine times.

What's more it seems that nothing Stellastarr* has done is judged without some reference to the Monkeys. These are two bands I would never have even thought to lump in together. There were mentions the first time round of The Strokes and Stellastarr* but they share a home city, elements of each other's sound, reasonable grounds for comparison. But these were mentions, not hijacks of Stellastarr*'s career by the other band. NME isn't just guilty of a bit of lazy journalism here, this is full on loss of perspective. No, I will not be comparing every album I buy this year to the Arctic Monkeys. I didn't compare everything I bought last year to Arcade Fire and their album genuinely got into my heart and soul, which is not something the Arctic Monkeys have managed.

I know records are of their time, but not everyone lives in the same time, we pick and choose our culture and cannot expect it all to be interlinked. Will NME be criticising Sway or Pendulum for not being like the Monkeys? No, because Sway's a rapper and Pendulum are a drum'n'bass act. So why Stellastarr*? Ok, both acts are indie, but, as I've said, very different types of indie. NME is an indie rag, it has to realise that its constituents are aware of such differences between their bands and cannot be patronised like this. We expect more subtlety because we don't get it in the mainstream where the difference between punk, punk-pop and emo are beyond most people. It's like criticising The Constant Gardener for not being Brokeback Mountain, they are very very different forms of the same art.

So come on NME! Either give us some credit or get your heads out of your arses. We don't mind you having heroes, but there's more to the music scene than them and some people won't care for a review which mentions your obsession more than the band who are actually being reviewed. There's having personailty in your writing and then there's having moronic hyperbole instead of personality. This line has been crossed and that's not a good thing.

February 2006

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