Friday, November 20, 2009


This expensive-looking video is Cornerstone, the latest single from the increasingly-impressive Arctic Monkeys.

A commendable little pop song, I’m sure you’ll agree. The words are a joy – clever, unpretentious, great pub names. It’s in a long and proud British tradition of low-key pop gems (think Up the Junction by Squeeze, or perhaps Waterloo Sunset or Penny Lane). This, at least, is something we can still claim for Britain.

Also, we should show this to Chris Martin, or that bloke in Snow Patrol, or all the teeming hordes of rubbish poets and advise them to stop trying to convey vague universal feelings about lights guiding you home and igniting your bones and if I lay here if I just lay here and all the rest of that tedious twaddle and just write about stuff. After all, it’s not like there isn’t enough stuff to write about, is it?


Gaw said...

Not as good as the old ones though, is it?

Brit said...

Well I did set the bar rather high with those three. It's as good as Autumn Almanac and better than Cool for Cats.

This incessant comparing of eras, however (in which the contemporary is always found wanting, natch) is something we do far too much with pop music. We don't do it to nearly the same extent with books and films. It might be because music is more emotive.

malty said...

I see that I've tuned in to the anti Coldplay channel again, is it because they sang about a scientist?

Loosen up boys and girls, the ancients are back, The Osmonds, David Essex, Leo Sayer and, wait for it, wait for it, THE BAY CITY ROLLERS all together under one roof (woof?)

Arctic sodding Monkeys indeed ! here today, gone next Wednesday.

Bring back Long John Baldry, that's what we aficionados of the music scene say.

Brit said...

Did you catch any of Leo Sayer's antics on celebrity big brother a few years ago? I think it might have been the racism series. Mad as a box of frogs, Leo, but not in a nice, chirpy way as you'd imagine; in a prima donna egomaniac way. It was extraordinary.

Gaw said...

But it's surely true. All art forms have peaks and troughs in accomplishment and I don't see why pop music should be different.

Here's an interesting chart, but one which probably tells you more about Rolling Stone readers and journalists than pop music.

For what it's worth I think we'll run out of pop music before we run out of oil, but that's a whole other incessant point of controversy.

Books and films: There's an annual op-ed piece entitled 'The Death of the Novel' that uninspired arts journos share out. And it's received wisdom that the 70s were the golden era of cinema and from there to now has been a history of decline.

Brit said...

I strongly disbelieve that (about Golden Eras).

So the 70s were a musical golden age because of the Jam, the Clash and Blondie? Malty's list refutes it rather concisely.

Gaw said...

How do you rate our contemporary opera versus that of earlier eras? Or classical music more generally? Or painting? Etc, etc.

Re Malty's list, Mozart had his Salieri.

I'm sure there are some things we do a lot better, mind. I'm not arguing the past was altogether better.

Brit said...

The opera one I would grant you, but the point is that today's classical composers are playing a different game to Rossini, Puccini etc.

With pop music there's so many people at it, that the distribution of talent over generations negates any notion of bunching, which is what the Golden Era idea relies upon. Instead, at any given moment, there is a tiny percentage off good stuff and an utter mountain of crap. This is why we keep revising which were the best eras.

Take, for example, the late 60s, universally acknowledged as the golden age of pop. But have you ever listened to Sounds of the 60s on Radio 2, Sat morning, where they play the 'forgotten' stuff? Hours of tedium.

In fact, what there really was in the 60s was a handful of geniuses and enough quality one-hit or two-hit or occasionally three-hit wonders to fill a very good quadruple album. Which is why all those 60s compuilations have the same songs.

Exactly the same goes for the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. I could make you a 00s compilation as good as any of the others, but you probably wouldn't like it because it's not your golden era.

Gaw said...

Just because a lot of people do pop and the percentage of good to bad is always small doesn't mean you can't have more good in one era than in another.

Merely due to their status as originators there's more to praise in former eras than today's. And as I've said before every other art form (certainly the ones I mentioned above) has peaks and troughs, so why not this one?

To take another pop phenomenon, that of the youth cult, there's been nothing as exciting, self-generating or as creative as mod, punk, or ska since acid house.

malty said...

I suppose the audiences at Mozart's operas were bemoaning the fact that 'this stuff isn't as half as good as Old Henry Purcell's'
Anyone tried sitting through a Boulez, Cage, Messiaen or Maxwell Davis concert?
Like having ones scrotum refurbished with a wire brush.

Brit said...

I take the point about giving marks for innovation, but that's a slightly separate point, and also as we've already established beyond any reasonable doubt, hardly anything has been innovated since the Beatles.

My golden era ought to be the 90s, but I take a John Peel/Andy Kershaw sort of view of pop - I see the good bits in all of it, without feeling any sort of tribal/football supporter-like loyalty to one particular era or movement.

Brit said...

The other thing, of course, is that the categories are much more fluid in reality. Were the Jam just part of the punk movement, or inheritors of the Beatles (Start! is after all, just Taxman speeded up), or precursors of the Smiths (Morrissey covered That's Entertainment), or the fathers of Britpop (Weller and the Gallaghers were big pals)? You can divvy it up how you like, it's those old...

Platonic forms again.

Gaw said...

I'm not doing anything as vulgar as football-supporting. I'm making a cool, comparative, critical assessment.

Let's look at these high-performing samples taken from groups of population:

For pop-rock:





Or for popular dance music:





A clear decline. Also my youth cult point? I think part of the reason for the decline is to be found there.

worm said...

My favourite era is that golden age of the early 1980's, when Black Lace bestrode the charts like an open-shirted collossus

Brit said...

Magnificently arbitrary, Gaw.

How about this for a 'dance' music story:

Jackson 5, Parliament-Funkadelic, KC and the Sunshine Band, Happy Mondays, Chemical Brothers, Portishead, Basement Jaxx, Gnarls Barkley.

Or guitar music:

The Shadows, Cream, New York Dolls, Television, Pixies, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes.

Clear decline or progression, or just a load of different talents?

Gaw said...

Your dance music story: I couldn't have done better to demonstrate my point. Your last five are quite hilarious comparisons to make with Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, (I could go on for a lot longer) and even your selection, one of the weaker dance music acts of the latter part of the era, The Jackson Five.

You're insisting on the relativistic and modish 'everyone must have prizes' approach. It's probably difficult to admit to yourself that the musical era that provided your formative experiences was mediocre (near rubbish, in fact), but I'm afraid there's nothing to be done about it.

worm said...

dance music story could be:

gary glitter, boney m, ottowan, stars on 45, blondie, new order, orbital, prodigy, daft punk

its totally arbitrary

Brit said...

Doin' a Skipper, are we, Gaw? We've already established I have no loyalty to 'my' era. I was mostly listening to the Floyd, Led Zep, the Beatles, Beethoven and the Smiths when Blur/Oasis was on, though I liked both the latter. That said, I'm taking Radiohead, Primal Scream, Underworld and Aphex Twin over Martha and the Vandellas any time.

Also, all my real heroes have produced stuff over multiple eras: Dylan, Springsteen, Tom Waits, Bowie; and are their own 'genres'. etc.

Gaw said...

Now that's a low blow! (Nearly as low as mine). But don't you dare dis Martha and the Vandellas! That's really beyond the pale.

Anyway, let history, sorry History, be our judge. If we're still around in forty years, when the Owl of Minerva will have taken flight (probably to the tune of the Birdy Song), I think the pattern will be clearer and I shall be justified. Now, please do have the last word.

Brit said...

Very well.

You, of course, are the relativist here, only you're unaware of it because from where you're standing it looks objective.

In 40 years time people will be complaining that music is rubbish compared to "the late 20th century guitar/electronic sound" like the Beatles, Pixies and Radiohead - who will be lumped together in a single Category, just as our categories of classical music now take in whole centuries.

It will probably be called The Golden Era.

malty said...

There's a fair smattering of fluid reality about this mob that's the group, not the American air force base near Rüsselsheim.

Tobias Rapp, that's surely not his real name, or is it?

Jim said...

Crying Lightning is also very good:

Actually, their current sound is so good I can't believe it's the same band.