Tag Archives: The Guardian

Marillion’s F E A R

Reviews of F E A R

My review of Marillion’s F E A R has now been published in The Guardian, not just in the online edition but in Friday’s print edition as well.

And yes, the album really is that good.

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Jumping the Shark?

No longer the preserve of the hardcore geek, comics are moving away from superheroes and into a new golden age of creativity and diversity. We talk to the indie writers and artists inking the changes

The way this article has been framed epitomises everything I have come to loathe about the recent direction of The Guardian’s cultural coverage.

Canadian video game journalist Liana Kerzner has called it out for benevolent sexism, rightly stating that women are people, not benevolent pink aliens. What’s infuriating to me is the implied zero-sum game. It could have praised radical new creators taking comics in exciting new directions in their own right. But no, they had to take a swipe at the things many other people love along with their audiences. And aren’t women allowed to be geeks too?

That’s before we note that the whole thing is probably a generation out of date.

It gives all the appearance of bottom-feeding clickbait, cynically calculated to push people’s buttons. I sometimes wonder how much of the “angry male nerd” subculture that seems to see any media that’s not for them as a threat is really a backlash against nonsense like this.

The irony is there may be a chance that the article itself is a fine and insightful piece. But the way it’s been framed puts you off reading.

The same sort of thing has been spreading like pondweed across the music section of late too, much of it ludicrously ill-informed and under-researched. Last summer we had thinkpiece after thinkpiece demanding that rock and metal festivals add more dance-pop to their bills in the name of gender equality, all written by people who had clearly never heard of Nightwish or Within Temptation or Arch Enemy or Myrkur. They even tried to call out rapper MIA for appropriation of Indian culture despite the fact she’s of south Asian descent herself! It got to the point where one of their own staff writers had to point out on Twitter how embarrassingly stupid that was.

There are still some good writers like Dom Lawson and Alexis Petridis contributing to the music section who clearly demonstrate a deep knowledge and love of music. But it seems their writing in increasingly drowned out by clickbait drivel.

Much as I hate to say it, I think the proverbial shark has been jumped.

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The Guardian, Coldplay and Cultural Appropriation

The Guardian posted an article accusing Coldplay of “Cultural Appropriation” over their new music video filmed in India. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the video itself, there was  an implied subtext that any western musicians who include elements of non-western cultures in their art are guilty of racism.

A band most of whom I know personally have recently released an album with lyrics strongly influenced by Indian spirituality. Does that mean that they too are guilty of racism? Does that mean I’m guilty by association through supporting them and giving their album a positive review?

Fortunately enough people whose opinions I trust have dismissed that piece as little more than sub-Buzzfeed button-pushing clickbait. It’s a largely fact-free thinkpiece that doesn’t cite sources or do any proper journalism. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to find on someone’s personal blog, but we ought to expect higher standards from a national newspaper with a long and illustrious history. It’s telling that under The Guardian’s new policy on articles that touch on race, the piece has no comment section, so they won’t get flooded with responses telling them how ridiculous it is. It’s also telling that the writer picked an obvious soft target, a hugely popular but deeply unfashionable band despised by much of The Guardian’s readership.

Cultural Appropriation is a bit of a minefield. It ought to be easy to understand why simplistic racist caricatures belong in the past, or why you should be careful when using sacred religious symbols outside the context of your own faith. Coldplay might even be guilty of those things. But Social Justice Warriors (I hate that term, but it seems to have stuck) take things much further; any attempt by white westerners to create art that references any aspect of non-western cultures is denounced as “problematic”, their term for “sinful”. The truth is there is an enormous grey area between those two extremes, but ideological absolutists don’t do grey areas. So much great music has arisen from cross-fertilisation between different cultures, something which would be squashed if those who would police art in this manner had their way.

There’s a whole cultural ecosystem of media pundits who earn a living playing on misplaced white liberal guilt. Nobody wants to be thought of as racist or sexist, so too much nonsense ends up going unchallenged. The whole subject of Cultural Appropriation is ideal territory for these people. It’s hardly surprising that it was meat and drink for the notorious predator Requires Hate who did so much harm within the world of science-fiction.

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Rights and Wrongs of Negative Reviews

Oh dear. The Guardian’s Ian Gittins has written a one-star review of Ed Sheeran protégée Jamie Lawson, and all hell has broken loose in the comments. So much so that the reviewer, to his credit, has entered the fray and defended his review. Not that I’m completely buying his defence.

Since I mentioned his negative reviews of Steve Hackett and King Crimson as a reason not to take his word for it in the comments, he also responded directly to me:

Hello Kalyr. I think we have safely established now that we don’t see eye to eye on Steve Hackett and King Crimson! However, I thought Steven Wilson was great at the Albert Hall a year or so ago, and raved about it in the Guardian. Believe it or not, I am not pathologically anti-prog…

This was my response:

Ian,

First, you deserve a lot of credit for coming into the comments defending your review; most writers won’t do that.

About that Steve Hackett gig. I was reviewing that show for another publication. I had volunteered for that one not because I was a huge fan of Steve Hackett but because I was a friend of the support act, singer-songwriter Anne-Marie Helder. I knew it was going to be a nostalgia show, and thought Hackett’s newly-released Genesis Revisited album was a rather pointless record which added nothing to the original 70s recordings.

Because the publication I was writing for wasn’t high enough up the food chain to get more than one person on the guest list, I had to double up as a photographer, and there was no photo pit for that gig. Which meant I had to position myself along the side of the room about a dozen rows back and use a telephoto lens. So I had a very good view of the audience, and how they were reacting.

I have no idea what part of the room you were in, but from where I was the atmosphere was absolutely electric throughout his set. It’s true that there was little verbal interaction with the audience between songs, and Nad Sylvain is no Peter Gabriel, but that wasn’t the point, the music spoke for itself. For much of the audience it was music they’d grown up with but had not heard performed live for thirty years. There was a lot of passion in that performance, feeding off the energy from the audience, and it sure didn’t feel remotely like a bunch of has-beens going through the motions like a few other 70s bands I could mention.

My golden rule for reviewing is base everything on how you feel the moment you walk out of the venue; are you in a state of euphoria or is it a case of “thank God that’s over”? For me, and for almost everyone else I know who was there, that was at least a four star gig, not a two star one.

You are entitled to your opinion, of course. But I’m far from the only person who thought you misjudged that gig very, very badly.

I know we prog fans can get very defensive about critical reviews in the mainstream press. But that’s because no other genre seems to get misjudged so frequently.

What got me about his Jamie Lawson review was the mean-spirited nature. It might be true that the subject is a mediocre talent who’s been the undeserving recipient of media hype. It might be equally true that one irritatingly simplistic and sentimental song has become a massive hit with the sorts of people who are not normally music fans. But that’s no excuse for a spiteful review that reads more as a personal attack on the artist than a critique of his art. And like a lot of this kind of review, there’s an implied subtext of an extended sneer at his audience. Like the all-too-common ritual dismissals of progressive rock, it’s a sort of lazy faux-iconoclasm, going after targets who already fall into the writer’s outgroup for cheap applause.

We prog fans get very defensive about this sort of thing. In part it’s because we’re all sick and tired of the ritual dismissal that harks back to the days of punk. But it’s also a consequence of the incestuous nature of the current prog world where there’s a blurring of boundaries between artists, critics and fans. That sort of scathing review simply isn’t possible; as the saying goes, you can’t shit in your own bed. There needs to be a space for critical reviews, of course, but if you want to avoid being ostracised from the scene you either have to frame things constructively or carefully pick and choose what you review. There have been cases where I’ve been disappointed with records when I’ve known the artist, and have told editors that I wasn’t willing to review for that reason. As I’ve said in the past, criticism is as much about what you do and don’t write about as it is about what you actually say.

You only have to look over the wall at the toxic cesspool that Science Fiction fandom has become in the wake of Requires Hate and the Sad Puppies to recognise what happens when empathy-free criticism is actively encouraged.

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Backpfeifengesicht

backpfeifengesichtI liked The Guardian far more before it started racing the Daily Mail to the bottom when it came to button-pushing clickbait trolling. Jonathan Jones’ appalling piece of the late Terry Pratchett (which I refuse to link to, Google for it if you must) writing him off as a mediocre writer of potboilers is probably the nastiest individual piece I’ve read online since Arthur Chu celebrated the Charlie Hebdo murders in The Daily Beast. It’s not often I read something that makes me want to take the German word “Backpfeifengesicht” literally, that that was one.

I guess in the wider scheme of things it’s not as serious as their misreporting of the Tim Hnnt affair, where the paper became part of a co-ordinated campaign to smear an innocent man. But still, you have to wonder quite what the editor of that section was thinking on deciding to publish that piece.

But look on the bright side. Perhaps it’s one thing that might unite the fractured tribes of SFF fandom, seeing the Rabid Puppies join forces with the acolytes of Requires Hate to rip Jonathan Jones a well-deserved new asshole?

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Birth Defects of a Nation

Great piece by Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian on the terrible Charleston massacre.

Race and guns are the birth defects of the American republic, their distorting presence visible in the US constitution itself. The very first article of that founding document spelled out its view that those “bound to service for a term of years” – slaves – would count as “three fifths of all other Persons”. Meanwhile, the second amendment enshrines “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”.

It’s a sad fact that any attempt to tighten laws on guns is a lost cause in America, such is the cultural and political power of the gun lobby. Not even the terrible massacre of children at Sandy Hook could shift the Overton Window. The gun lobby considers that dead children are an acceptable price to pay for the right to bear arms in the same way that road accidents are an acceptable price for personal mobility.

The differemce is that it’s impossible to imagine any motor industry successfully lobbying against every single proposal to improve road safety in quite the same way as the NRA opposes every measure to make it marginally more difficult for would-be killers to get hold of guns.

And when it comes to race, it’s notable that Republican politicians refuse to name what happened at Charleston as a race-hate crime. It’s as if they think racists are an important voting bloc…

Addendum: Some background on the “3/5ths of a person” in the quoted part of the linked piece. I know Wikipedia isn’t a completely unbiased source, especially for controversial subjects, but it’s a starting point. Not that anything invalidates Freedland’s central point about the structural racism that goes back to America’s early history.

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This is what I like to see

Noel Gallagher's iHigh Flying Birds: Chasing Yesterday - Unft for Takeof. Steven Wilson's Hand Cannot Erase - Sonic and Spiritiual Modernity

A screencap from The Guardian showing Dom Lawson’s five-star review of Steven Wilson’s “Hand Cannot Erase” alongside Alexis Petridis’ detailed review of one-time media darling Noel Gallagher’s allegedly ‘seismic’ new album that could be summed up with the word ‘meh’.

It’s difficult to imagine this a couple of years ago, when it would have been very unlikely for The Guardian to acknowledge artists like Steven Wilson.

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Autoplay Video Ads Must Die

SpamI know websites that don’t rely on paywalls need to raise money somehow, but I know I’m not the only person who is thoroughly sick of the auto play video ads with audio that have started infesting many big media sites of late.

You know the ones I mean. They’re the ads that suddenly erupt in the middle of the screen as you scroll through the article. Until a couple of days ago you could click on the [x] in the corner of the ad so you could shut them up before the audio started playing, but now that option has gone away.  It’s as if the people running the ad server noticed that everyone was closing them the instant they appeared, so took that option away.

If, as many people do, you’re listening to music while surfing the web, these things are intensely annoying. Your only option seems to be to close the browser tab without reading the rest of the article. Which is precisely what I’ve been doing.

I’ve seen them so far on The Guardian, The Independent and Forbes, so it’s not confined to bottom-feeding clickbait sites who are cynically concerned with selling eyeballs and nothing else.

Charlie Stross once said that all advertising devolves to the state of spam. Which would imply that, much like your typical make-money-fast or fake Viagra seller, these people know they’re ruining your UX, and just don’t care. Or maybe it really is just a case of sufficiently advanced stupidity being indistiguishable from malice.

What’s a more pertinant question is whether the management of The Guardian or The Independent care.

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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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Where are the defenders of western liberal values?

Great post by Jonathan Calder on Liberal England in response to the appalling front page of The Guardian following the Woolwich murder, and the equally awful coverage by the BBC.

Almost as depressing as the Guardian front page was the discussion of the Woolwich murder on Newsnight yesterday evening. One participant, the impressive Maajid Nawaz, spoke of the need for a Western narrative to challenge the world-view of Islamism. But you only had to look at the people with him to see there was little chance we would hear it last night.

There was John Reid who, as a Communist while the Soviet Union was the greatest tyranny on this planet, never bought into the Western narrative in the first place and is now employed by the security industry – though Newsnight never reminds of us during his frequent appearances. And there was Alex Carlile, a Liberal Democrat who long ago threw in his lot with the most repressive elements of Labourism.

It seems that the so-called liberal media is not giving nearly enough airtime to defending the values of western liberal democracy, instead giving a soapbox to people like the ridiculous Anjem Choudary  or the totalitarian thug John Reid. While at the same time the usual suspects ranging from white supremacists to militant athiests are using the whole thing to peddle their predicatable message of hate.

It’s all very depressing.

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