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.

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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What is the purpose of music awards?

The announcement of the nominations for the Mercury Music prize along with the press coverage for the Prog Awards begs the question; exactly what is the point of these awards and their associated ceremonies? Are they really about celebrating the best music in all its diversity, or is the whole thing just a PR exercise to sell records? Or just an excuse for a party?

I am more and more of the opinion that it’s the latter. The Mercury, voted on by secretive panel of expects, does seem to have as its prime purpose selling records to the people who buy two or three records a year but like to think they’re far edgier than they really are. Even when I find that for once I actually own one of the nominations. Perhaps that explains why their gig was so full of hipsters?

As for the Prog awards, with half the awards chosen by a committee, and the other half voted by readers who were forced to choose from a seemingly arbitrary shortlist chosen in an opaque manner by the same committee, does winning an award actually mean anything?

But given the way the awards ceremony has gained a lot of favourable press coverage including being reported by the BBC, is quibbling over who did or didn’t get nominated simply is missing the point? Does it matter who the awards went to if it gets progressive music in the press?

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The context was actually Manga, but the advice from a convention panel goes broader than that. “Be thick-skinned. you need to be able to take both good and bad reviews“. Because, to quote Serdar Yegalulp, “Sometimes praise can be as damaging as insult, and the damage is not always as palpable“. This is just as true with music, especially in this social media age. I’ve seen artists surround themselves with sycophants, and it’s all too easy for them to lose their edge as a result.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

The Pros and Cons of Classic Album In Full Sets

A Guardian piece claims that  the ‘classic’ album set is ruining festivals. It actually makes some good points, but those points are so clumsily-made that the whole piece reads far more like provocative clickbait than perhaps it should. The last sentence on this quote is a self-evident load of tripe.

This week, there’s even an entire festival in Chicago and Denver dedicated to artists too lazy to write a proper setlist. Weezer, Slayer, Jane’s Addiction and seven more will plough through their biggest albums front-to-back at Riot Fest, so if you want to hear a band you used to like perform a track they wrote as filler 20 years ago, knock yourself out. Be honest: when was the last time you actually played an album, including all those rubbish “skits” artists are so keen on, all the way through?

The “Play a classic album in full” thing got started because fans were getting bored of older bands playing the same standards tour after tour as if they were their own tribute act, and it was an opportunity to shake things up and perform the odd rarely-played song live.

This was a fine approach for bands who have made albums as consistently great as “Moving Pictures” or “Blackwater Park”, but once the trend caught on too many bands who hadn’t actually made a flawless classic jumped on the bandwagon. For them, some of those rarely-played songs were rarely-played for a reason.

There were two such sets on the Prog stage at High Voltage in 2011, Uriah Heep playing “Demons and Wizards” and Martyn Turner’s Wishbone Ash playing “Argus”.  The latter worked really well, it’s an album that’s stood the test of time, and it made for a more enjoyable set that the blues-rock workouts you get from Andy Powell’s official Wishbone Ash nowadays.  The Heep set was far less effective,  much like every 70s Uriah Heep album there was a lot of filler and some of the album had dated very badly. A greatest hits set cherry-picking the best songs from their 40 year career would have been so much better.

Which all goes to show that album-in-full sets are neither a good thing or a bad thing in themselves, but they depend on the band, and on the album.

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No, Guardian, “anti-riffs” are not a thing.

This week’s Guardian Music Blog clickbait is “What are the best anti-riffs in rock”, a piece bemoaning the fact that a Radio 2 poll on greatest riffs is full of classic rock rather than the sort of music the writer likes.

It’s true that the original list is so predictably dull it deserves to be mocked mercilessly. If it was any more musically conservative it would be called “Noel Gallagher”. It feels like it was voted by people who’s knowledge of rock is limited to a compilation “The Best Classic Rock Anthems.. Ever” bought at a service station on the M1. As other commenters have noticed, The Rolling Stones seem glaringly absent, and aside from Slash there no guitarist there who isn’t white; No Hendrix, no Chuck Berry. And they’ve clearly never heard Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe“. Or realise Deep Purple’s “Burn” is infinitely better than the lumpen meat-and-potatoes of “Smoke on the Water”.

But the suggestion for “Anti-riffs” is no better. It does make me feel that the author hasn’t got over ending up on the losing side of the punk wars, and resents the fact that 60s/70s classic rock has stood the test of time while the scratchy C86 style stuff John Peel used to play late at night hasn’t, and means little to people who weren’t in their late teens at the time.

No, an “anti-riff” is not a thing. But here are a some great pieces of guitar work that don’t fit the conventional blues-derived classic rock formula.

  • Opeth’s “Windowpane“. The evocative rippling guitars are a thing of beauty. It took some nerve to open with this when Opeth played the Metal Hammer stage at High Voltage in 2010, but that’s exactly what they did.
  • Chic’s “Le Freak”. I’d rate Nile Rogers as one of the greatest rhythm guitarists of all time, and rock fans who ignore his music are missing out. This one’s the Whole Lotta Love of funk.
  • A lot of the Alex Lifeson’s playing on Rush’s classic “Grace Under Pressure”. It feels like he was constantly thinking “What would a classic rock guitarist play here?”, and played something altogether different and better instead.

What are your suggestions?

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A great post on Echies and Dust by Dave Cooper a.k.a. HippyDave: Coming home to Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering Heights tells how Kate Bush’s first single changed a five year old’s life.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Listening to “Lovehunter” and “Ready an’ Willing”, I’d forgotten just how crass some 80s Whitesnake lyrics were. Probably the only thing that saved Whitesnake from Robin Thicke-style student disco bans was that the worst stuff was never put out as singles.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments

Alt-Fest – The collapse of a Kickstarted festival?

We’ve already seen kickstarter-funded board games fail to deliver. Now it looks like the same has happened to a festival.

As reported by Metal Hammer:

The inaugural event in Kettering, Northampton, was to take place in just over two weeks – on the weekend of August 15-17. Headliners included Fields Of The Nephilim, Marilyn Manson and The Cult. Also lined up were Gary Numan, Killing Joke and over 170 others.

Manson tonight updated the gig listings on his official website and on Facebook, with Alt-Fest now marked as “cancelled”. Other acts due to play, including Cradle Of Filth, have also reported that they have been told the event is off.

While there has been no confirmation by the organisers, this slow-motion collapse seems very reminiscent of Memories of Woodstock back in 2009, when an over-ambitious promoter bit off more than he could chew, booked a lot of big-name bands and then failed to sell enough tickets to cover their fees.

With the way news is leaking out via the bands while the organisers have merely promised some sort of announcement on Monday, I’m seeing a lot of recriminations flying online. It’s very difficult to imagine the festival actually taking place.

In retrospect, the whole thing looks ridiculously over-ambitious, with 170 bands across seven stages in an already saturated UK festival scene.

Update: Altfest have posted on Facebook confirming the festival is cancelled. As suspected, lack of ticket sales is the reason, and reading between the lines it looks as though poor financial planning played a part. It does look as though the organisers lacked the necessary experience to put on a festival of that size.

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Dream Theater T-shirts in the news

It has not been a good day for Dream Theater t-shirts. First there is this story of dodgy vet struck off for knowing animals in the (ahem) Biblical sense, with the BBC News story showing the guy wearing a Dream Theater shirt. (And if you click on that link, don’t say I ddn’t warn you).

Then there is this ridiculous story about Mike Portnoy.

You know how it’s a faux pas to wear a band’s shirt to see them live? It seems like it’s an even bigger faux pas to wear a Dream Theater shirt that was printed in the last four years to a Mike Portnoy signing.

Portnoy is of course the former drummer for DT, and left with a bit of drama behind it. So, when a fan showed up to a signing this weekend wearing a Dream Theater shirt with the artwork for Dramatic Turn Of Events on it, Portnoy was none too pleased.

Rather than letting it go, he decided to hop onto social media and rant…

Now, knowing a few members or former members of bands that went through acrimonous splits or worse, and I own quite a few t-shirts that I would never wear to some other band’s gigs, especially if I’m going to be anywhere near the front.

But I’d still expect musicians to behave professionally should they meet any fan wearing the “wrong” shirt at a gig.

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So a bunch of gamers are celebrating the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons by burning their 4th Edition books. It seems the D&D Edition Warriors now make Yes lineup purists look like rank amateurs. Accusing me of being the president of their record company for writing a three-star review of their new album just can’t compete.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments