Music Opinion Blog

Opinions and occasional rants about the state of the music scene. The views expressed are entirely my own, and do not represent those of any artists or publications with whom I may be connected.

The news that Muse are to headline Download Festival 2015 has predictably drawn out the tribal idiots of the rock world. If The Prodigy can headline the same festival, and Metallica can headline Glastonbury, then a band as over the top and bombastic as Muse ought to go down a storm at Britain’s premier metal festival. Surely people can remember “Knights of Cydonia“?

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Punk Warriors Strike Again

No, I don’t have particularly high hopes for the new Pink Floyd album “The Endless River”. When the two remaining members of the band have more or less made it clear that it’s warmed-up leftovers from twenty years ago, I think it’s unrealistic to expect something to rival “Meddle”. Of course there’s always the chance it will be a pleasant surprise; few people expected three-quarters of the original Black Sabbath to come up with something as strong as last year’s “13″.

But when I see a national newspaper review the thing, and the opening line is the hoary old cliché “This is why punk had to happen”, my hackles start to rise. I guess the reviewer deserves some credit for laying his prejudices on the line so openly, but with an opening line like that you know there is absolutely no point in wasting any time reading the rest of the review.

Now punk delivered some great back-to-basics rock’n'roll records that stood the test of time, and that ought to be its legacy. But the whole “Year Zero” thing was always total hogwash, and it’s still galling to see generations of music writers who were too young to be around at the time swallowing the narrative whole.

There are old punks for whom two minutes of adrenaline-changed stripped-down rock’n'roll is the peak of musical perfection, and more power to them. But I’ve always suspected that for some of them, it was all about the excitement of being part of a “scene” and they didn’t really like the actual music at all. Unfortunately far to many of the latter group ended up in influential positions in the media, and music has been the worse for it ever since.

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Today’s unsurprising discovery: finding new music through recommendations from trusted friends is a far more reliable method of filtering out the forgettable mediocrity than promos from record companies chosen on the basis of their overheated PR blurb.

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I’m waiting for the BBC to commision an all-star cover of Meshuggah’s “Bleed” being murdered by 1001 fashionable but mediocre guitarists.

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Any list of “Greatest guitarists” that excludes both Tony Iommi and Nile Rogers deserves only ridicule. This counts double if either Eric Clapton or any three-chord punk idiot is very high on the list.

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Steve Hackett and the Genesis Documentary

Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Odeon

No, I haven’t had the chance to see the BBC’s Genesis documentary for myself yet, I was out at a gig when it was screened. Judging from the comments on social media including a lot of retweets from Steve Hackett himself, it seriously downplayed his contribution to the band’s music, and completely ignored his prolific solo career. While he wasn’t airbrushed out of history altogether like the unfortunate Ray Wilson, he surely deserves better.

There are a lot of parallels with AC/DC’s Malcolm Young here. Only the most ignorant dismiss Malcolm Young as an anonymous and easily-replaceable sidesman; anyone who understands their music knows his playing was the heart of their sound. It’s the same with Steve Hackett for 70s Genesis.

If you want proof, listen to “Wind and Wuthering”, Genesis’ last Studio album before Hackett left the band in 1977. Then listen to “Burning Rope”, the best song from the Hackett-less “And Then There Were Three”, and imagine how it might have sounded had Hackett played on it. Mike Rutherford’s workmanlike playing is a pale imitation.

Though not known for his stage presence, Hackett is a hugely talented musician, who managed to invent a completely new language for rock guitar. He took the electric guitar way past its blues roots, and in his way he was as groundbreaking as Jimi Hendrix a few years earlier. And he was also a maestro on classical guitar.

Hackett has been the “keeper of the flame” for the music Genesis made in the 1970s, music which Banks, Rutherford and Collins have sometimes seemed embarassed by. While it was fashionable for many years to claim the 80s stadium-pop Genesis to be the real deal, much of their later output has dated badly, and it’s the music they made while Steve Hackett was in the band which has stood the test of time.

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Matt Stevens asks for help

On Matt Stevens’ Facebook page:

I’m not moaning, but sometimes it’s a challenge making music that doesn’t fit in. Promoters etc want to fit you into easy boxes. If it’s not “traditional prog” or “straight post rock” (as some one described their taste in music to me) or something else that it’s easy to define then it makes it difficult.

I think me and the band are lucky to have an audience at all and in the UK at least through hard gigging and shaking hands it’s kind of worked. But on paper if you’ve not seen us it can be a “hard sell”, no vocals etc

I’ve previously described Matt’s band The Fierce and the Dead as “A punk version of King Crimson”, which I know doesn’t really do them justice, but was the best I could come up with at the time. His own solo material is more varied and touches a lot more bases, especally on his most recent album.

Being difficult to pigeonhole is a double-edged sword. It can be harder for promoters to get a handle on them, but it also gives opportunities to have feet in multiple camps. For example, TFATD’s occasional partners in crime Trojan Horse played a prog festival, and the next week announced they’d be supporting The Fall. A more generic neo-prog or post-punk act would not be able to do that.

The next thing is to get gigs outside the UK, without losing lots of money. That’s the challenge. How hard can it be?

Any suggestion? Matt built up his audience in Britain by doing a lot of supports, where his solo instrumental act was something a bit different from the typical acoustic singer-songwriter, and by tirelessly flyering the queues for just about every prog gig in London. What would work over a wider geographical area?

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Mastodon’s “The Motherload” and the backlash

Mastodon’s video for “The Motherlode“, which sees the band accompanied by twerking dancers has gathered an awful lot of negative criticism. Dom Lawson didn’t pull any punches writing in The Guardian, calling it misogynistic.

It’s probably ironic or something. Well, no. It’s still sexist. I don’t care how much irony you throw at this. It was sexist when it happened in past videos and it’s still sexist now. The fact that Mastodon are an ostensibly bright bunch and very much not from the heavy metal old school – where, back in the hallowed day, sexism was widely tolerated – is not a sufficient get-out clause by any stretch. Neither is this video excused from being tarred with the sexist brush because a proportion of women immersed in alternative culture have decided that it’s OK.

On the other hand, there is a very different perspectice from one of the dancers in the video, who defends it from the full bingo card’s worth of social justice accusations, uncuding the charge of “cultural appropriation”.

Another is the concern for cultural appropriation. From us and from them. The fear of metal being “tainted”, the fear of the band using a dance form associated with black culture for their own gain. These fears boil down into my one response: we all belong.

Much as I respect Dom Lawson, maybe it isn’t always for white males to decide what’s sexist and racist?

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Metallica: Oasis’ part in their downfall

Today’s Guardian Music Blog clickbait is Oasis: the band that changed our lives – by Lars Ulrich

It was Oasis and the Supersonic single. Thus began a long and very rewarding relationship with a sound, an approach and a way of looking at the world that has had a huge impact on me and helped shape who I am today … for whatever that’s worth.

Yes, you read that right. Lars Ulrich has claimed Oasis changed his life in the early 90s. Let’s take a closer look at the chronology, shall we?

1) Metallica produce the groundbreaking and seminal “Ride the Lightning“, “Master of Puppets” and The Black Album.

2) Lars hears Oasis and it changes his life

3) Metallica release “Load“, “Re-Load” and “St. Anger

So, as well as setting mainstream British guitar music back 20 years, can we also add ruining one of America’s most important metal bands to the Gallagher brothers’ charge sheet?

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Bob Lefsetz, One Direction, and American Psycho

I’m not sure that there are many people who still take Bob Lefsetz seriously; after all, this is the music industry pundit who told David Bowie he needed to be more like Mumford and Sons. He’s got to become a good music pundit litmus test, in that anyone who takes him seriously cannot themselves be taken seriously.

His blustering patronising style and detemindedly anti-hipster stance leads him to praise the most vacuous examples of corporate rock as works of artistic genius; he’e even claimed that anyone who doesn’t think Nickelback are the world’s greatest rock band is a pathetic loser. Some of his more ridiculous rants remind me of those often-quoted monologues about Huey Lewis and Phil Collins from Brett Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho”.

But this piece about One Direction goes beyond patronising and descends into the disturbingly creepy.

It was incomprehensible.

Furthermore, if you weren’t there you probably didn’t know it happened, despite the act selling out two dates and nearly a third, on a Thursday, a school night.

And that was who were there. Students. Girls. Wanna get laid? Go to a 1D show. You won’t see odds this good at the prison of “Orange Is The New Black.” An endless sea of barely pubescent girls, screaming their heads off. You’d think it was the new Beatles.

Only it wasn’t.

Maybe these kids know the Beatles. But they’ve got no idea who U2 is, never mind want to hear their music. And U2 didn’t sell as many tickets in Pasadena. Because the generations have changed and those in charge don’t want to admit it.

You’re done. History. Kaput. Your children have replaced you. Because they’ve got one thing you do not, PASSION!

What’s scary is that if you read those first few paragraphs side-by-side with Patrick Bateman’s infamous Phil Collins monologue , his One Direction piece is actually creepier.

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