Tag Archives: The Guardian Music Blog

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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Nitro – Freight Train

The Guardian asked for nominations for worst music videos, so I suggested this.

Yes I know finding bad examples of 1980s hair-metal is like shooting fish in a barrel; it’s a genre that hasn’t aged well with few acts reaching the Sturgeon threshold. But this one is quite exceptional. The O-gauge steam train at the beginning is bad enough, but wait for the moment two and a half minutes in where guitarist Michael Angelo Batio goes the full Nigel Tufnel and then some.

Some people blame Nirvana for killing off the Rock Guitar Solo. But on the evidence of this I think the likes of Michael Angelo Batio have a lot to answer for.

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Britpop: a cultural abomination?

I’m seeing so many articles in the media about Britpop to mark the 20th anniversary of Oasis’ first album than I’m coming to the conclusion that an awful lot of music writers are in the throes of mid-life crises. Which is why Michael Hann’s conterblast declaring Britpop “a cultural abomination that set music back” is a welcome corrective.

If C86 had defined indie as music made by white guitar bands, then Britpop finally robbed it of any connection to its original derivation: music produced and distributed independently. Indie had ceased to be an alternative. And if it was no longer an alternative, but a hegemonic force of its own, then what was the point of it?

There were a few decent bands who got themselves lumped in with Britpop; for example, I still listen to Suede’s “Dog Man Star” regularly. But Britpop’s legacy was still a stifling musical conservatism, with a narrow vision of what a guitar band could or should be.

Whatever the merits of Suede or Pulp, nothing good came from the hordes of lumpen Oasis-a-likes that followed in the wake of Oasis and Blur’s chart success. It was all backward-looking and parochial, endless recycling of all the least interesting parts of late-60s guitar pop, exactly the sort of music 70s progressive rock was a reaction against.

Still, some good things came out of it. It was at the height of Britpop that Bryan Josh decided to form Mostly Autumn. But that’s another story entirely.

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It’s a shame you can’t even have a strongly positive article about metal in the mainstream press without ignorami in the comments dismissing the entire genre as misogynist. It’s as if some people’s knowledge of metal doesn’t extend beyond thirty year old Mötley Crüe videos. And this is a world where Robin Thicke exists…

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Critics, Set Lengths and That Cure Review

Oh dear.

Reviewer goes to gig and is very obviously not on the same page as either band or audience. Review generates all-too-predictable fan backlash. Reviewer writes self-justifying blog post in an attempt to have the last word. Hilarity ensues.

One is left with the impression that Caroline Sullivan believes that the only acceptable format for any veteran band is an end-of-the-pier-show style greatest hits set. When a band is playing a three-hour show filled with deep cuts and obscure b-sides aimed at devoted hardcore fans, you do wonder why The Guardian sent a reviewer who’s on record for saying that nobody other than Madonna should play for more than 45 minutes. I’m reminded of that awful Steve Hackett review from last year.

As anyone that genuinely loves live music ought to know, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits all length for a band’s set. 45 minutes is all anyone should want or need from a band like The Ramones, and there is a reason few metal bands go beyond 90 minutes, with 75 being common. On the other hand two and a half hours is common for prog bands, especially long-established ones, and many audiences would feel short-changed if they get anything less.

Three hour shows are really only for veteran acts who have created a substantial body of work with depth as well as breadth. While I’m not that familiar with The Cure’s back catalogue, their longevity does suggest they fall into that category.

I just hope The Guardian never sent Caroline Sullivan to review a Marillion convention with seven and a half hours music spread over three nights…

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What novels are crying out for a musical adaptation?

The Guardian Music Blog asks what novels are crying out for a musical adaptation? I jokingly suggested “Who Moved My Cheese” set to music by The Scorpions, but followed it up with a couple of more serious suggestions.

For starters, L.T.C Rolt’s “Railway Adventure“, which is cheating slightly, because it’s non-fiction. But the story of the birth of the British railway preservation movement when a group of enthusiasts took over the ramshackle Talyllyn Railway in 1950 is exactly the sort of thing that’s meat and drink for Big Big Train.

Second, Iain Banks’ “Espediair Street“. The ficticious band Frozen Gold have been described as being a cross between Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, which suggests the ideal band would be none other than Mostly Autumn. Banks’ description of the wordless “Nifedge” always makes me think of the closing section of “Carpe Diem”. Whether it’s possible to do the Great Contraflow Smoke Curtain justice in Bilston Robin 2 remains to be seen.

Lastly, HP Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness“. While their Imaginos cycle immediately suggests Blue Öyster Cult, they’re better at high weirdness than out-and-out terror. It really needs Van der Graaf Generator at their most menacing, in the vein of something like “Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”.

What combinations of books and bands would you suggest?

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10 of the best: Yes

I’ve often been critical in the past of The Guardian’s lack of coverage or rock and metal in their music section, especially when it comes to progressive rock. So after some conversations on Twitter I ended up writing something myself, which they published today. It’s part of their “10 of the best” series, about Yes.

There were something like 250 comments in the first few hours. Yes, there are one or two the yet again demonstrate that middle-aged former punks are not only the worst bores in music fandom, but the worst in any fandom. But the vast majority of comments are overwhelmingly positive, which seems to suggest there are a lot more prog fans reading The Guardian’s music coverage that previously thought.

A few words on the choices I made. For starters, it’s ten of the best, not the ten best. I could have picked an entire list taken from “The Yes Album“, “Close To The Edge” and “Going For The One“. But that would have been boring; instead I chose a cross-section from right across their career, going beyond the obvious standards to include less well-known and sometimes overlooked classics. I was aware that “Don’t Kill The Whale” in particular might raise a few eyebrows, but it’s a good example of their shorter, more commercial work.

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Prog Conservatism?

I remember a discussion a few months back with The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis where I suggested that the aggregated best-of lists that appear in many music publications tended to be boring and predictable. They often end up reinforcing a lowest-common-denominator consensus, and frequently exclude the more eclectic choices of individual contributors. For example, none of Dom Lawson’s excellent choices made The Guardian’s top 40 of 2012

The top 15 of 2013 from The Dutch Progressive Rock Page seems to bear this out. Despite containing many great albums that also appear on my own best of the year list, it does give the impression that it takes a very narrow definition of “Prog”. It’s true that Riverside, Steven Wilson, Haken and Big Big Train have all made great albums that deserve to be honoured. But there’s no place for the likes of The Fierce and The Dead, Luna Rossa, Ihsahn or even Fish, all of which fall under the broad spectrum of progressive music, but don’t fit a narrow neo-progressive template. It’s also notable how male the list is; only one band out of the 15 (Magenta) have a female lead singer.

It would be easy to blame this on musical conservatism on behalf of the site’s contributors, but I strongly suspect that when a list is defined by what it excludes, it merely demonstrates that such aggregated lists are of limited usefulness.

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The Guardian: No overlap with me

So The Guardian’s end-of-year album list has zero overlap with mine. I recognise that despite their positive reviews of both the album and the Albert Hall gig, Steve Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused To Sing” was never going to be Guardian enough to feature, but I did wonder if Goldfrapp’s “Tales of Us” or perhaps even Black Sabbath’s “13″ would make the cut. But they didn’t. For those who might be interested, their album of the year was Kayne West’s “Yeezus”. I don’t know enough about hip-hop to be able to say whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, but they closed the comments after about 12 hours in which 700-odd people were decidedly unimpressed with their choice.

Sadly The Guardian’s list is yet again a rock-free zone. The top end of the list seems to be made up almost entirely of hip-hop and mumbling indie, as if they were the only genres that exist. Those records might well be the best hip-hop and mumbling indie records released this year, but anything properly resembling rock is conspicuous by its absence. As is anything strongly based around melody; where, for example was Goldfrapp’s beautiful “Tales of Us”

No, I’m not expecting the whole list to be filled with rock and metal releases, but there’s not even a token presence there. It comes over as so NME it’s quite embarassing; Paramore are the closest to “rock” that it comes, and they come over to me as rock music watered-down for people who don’t really like rock music, mainly marketed to children.

I’ve listed to a few of the YouTube videos or sound clips attached to their features whenever the description made it sound as if it might be worth a listen. But I haven’t heard anything at all that makes me want to listen further to any of them. A lot of it comes over to me as far too scratchy and tuneless to hold my attention. It may well be deeply symbolic of man’s struggle against his social-political environment, but lacks any compositional depth or instrumental flair.

Indeed, Kitty Empire writing about White Denin gave the game away with the line “Bands this proficient can easily end up making pointlessly masturbatory virtuoso-rock“. I found White Denin boring, a band playing well below their abilities is if they were trying too hard to appeal to people like Kitty Empire.

Yes, there are plenty of people out there who like that sort of thing; but it leaves me feeling that a publication that’s not supposed to be a narrow genre-specific one like Kerrang it ought to be covering a far broader spectrum of music that it does, and cover the sorts of music that appeals to a broader range of age groups that just spotty yoof alone.

One wag made a comment suggesting that the list was by thirtysomethings writing about music made for twentysomethings then being sneered at by fortysomethings in the comment threads. But it does make the point that there isn’t nearly enough music in there for grown-ups. And there isn’t nearly enough rock.

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There is something distinctly galling about witnessing mainstream media commentators gushing about Glastonbury signifying the beginning of the British summer festival season. For those of us who enjoy music that allows for a touch more aggression and energy than Mumford & Sons, the true start of the summer comes with Download” – Dom Lawson tells it like it is. Never thought I’d read words like that in The Guardian.

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