Sunday 29 November 2009

Gaga 4 Kid A

In one of those obligatory and inherently unsatisfactory fin-de-siecle lists that gets everyone terribly hot under the collar, I’ve written a piece in today’s Observer Music Monthly justifying the inclusion of Radiohead’s Kid A as runner-up in the Album of the Decade stakes. Ain’t subjectivity a gas? Find out the winner and the full Top 50 - and, naturally, take the chance to unleash the full force of your scorn for the entire enterprise - here. Also, I collect my old friends Ms Gaga's end-of-year thoughts and make a – brief – case for her as the future of pop. "I've been trained to love my darkness," indeed.

Monday 23 November 2009


"Scottish pop music is less about a distinct musical identity than a shared sensibility, primarily communicated through a voice that, like the country as a whole, often doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, hit or hug. Scotland has always had its stand-alone mavericks – the great Alex Harvey, an explosive mix of Jacques Brel and Bar Brel; Billy Mackenzie, perhaps the nation’s most complex and innately gifted pure pop star; and Bobby Gillespie, who for all his studied posturing has refused to allow Primal Scream to become a fixed entity – but in the main the body has been Zelig-like, an often thrilling patchwork of borrowed identities. Perhaps that’s why, while there has been no shortage of talent, it’s hard to argue that many artists – aside from [Lonnie] Donegan and the Postcard bands, whose legacy lingers in modern groups like Bloc Party, Vampire Weekend and Franz Ferdinand – have been particularly influential. More followers than leaders, perhaps; more craft than ­innovation; more heart than head..."

Prior to this weekend’s Homecoming concerts, the Sunday Herald asked me to write an essay teasing out the common threads and oblique points of consensus which have emerged during 50-odd years of Scottish popular music. What, I replied, you mean explain what links the Sensational Alex Harvey Band to the Blue Nile? You can read the results here.

Friday 20 November 2009

Sound & Vision

Although there's next to no money to be made in writing for film, and all along the line the musician's vision is subordinate to that of directors, editors and producers, the chance to be a mere cog in a much larger machine seems to offer welcome relief from the essentially solipsistic nature of songwriting. All that autonomy, freedom of expression and relentless self-analysis can be burdensome.

"One of the hardest things as an artist or musician is that you're expressing yourself, and you sometimes feel you're not ready to do that," says Damon Gough. "When something like this comes along, you can detach yourself from it emotionally. I felt attached in many ways, but when you're writing music for someone else, you can step back. Basically, it's not about me – that's what makes it easier. Trying to please other people is different and enjoyable." Writing for film was a way to escape the inside of his own head.

Featuring interviews with Karen O, Goldfrapp and Badly Drawn Boy, you can read my cover story about pop musicians writing for film in today’s Guardian 'Film & Music' supplement.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Tricky Words

The new issue of The Word is out now in which, among other numerous delights (and a heroically grumpy cover star), I review a very good album by A.A. Bondy, a very dull book about Rick Rubin, and the reissue of Tricky's Maxinquaye, the album otherwise known as Skunk Induced Paranoia: The Musical.

"Maxinquaye is the zenith of a very Bristolian obsession with documenting psychic terror in slo-mo.... A deep, daring, difficult record, the muffled beats thudding like a bailiff’s footfall, each clear thought scrambled by blunted synapses, everyone from Radiohead to Burial has since taken readings from the strange, phantasmagorical smoke signals it sent out."
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Monday 9 November 2009

Crash Burn Howl

Long-standing favourites of this blog, Howl Griff's ace new double AA single – "Crash Burn" / "Bluebirds" – is out today. If you know what’s good for you, you will proceed directly to here and download it.

The band are supporting the single on Friday at the Toucan Club, Cardiff and on Sunday at The Windmill, Brixton. Get along and catch some extremely fabulous pop vibes, top notch harmonies and an abundance of supremely sticky songs. Also look out for the new album, The Hum, due early in 2010. For news on that and more on the Welsh wonders, go here.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Suede Head

"The former Suede singer is clearly a very different man from the one who burst onto the indie scene in 1992, singing of chemically-fuelled sex in council houses and admitting that he wanted to “make his mark on pop history”. Ask him now what he hopes to achieve with his new solo record, Slow Attack, and he replies, “Absolutely nothing. I don’t have the same sets of goals I once had.” This much is clear from his music."

I talk to Brett Anderson here.

Monday 2 November 2009

Buon Giorno!

The Italian printing of I Shot A Man in Reno now appears to be on sale, expertly translated – or appallingly translated, how would I know? – and published by Arcana. I know a few visitors regularly pop in to this blog from Italy; it can be bought here, and no doubt at other reputable libro-vendors.

And what do you think of the pink?

Also, ambling into the party a mere 15 months after publication, but no less welcome for that, there’s a review of Reno on the Uncommon Threads blog, which calls the book “compellingly readable and expertly handled… the greatest feat for an entire book written on a topic such as death was the fact that it never grew obsessively morbid or morose, and eventually resolves poignantly and resolutely. Though we all stand in the shadow of death, the ability of the greatest artists (and of someone such as Thomson himself) to look that reality in the eye, and live (or write or sing) even more fully because of it, is what makes living worthwhile.”

Finally, read my – admirably even-handed, I thought – review of the new Stereophonics album here. Easy to mock (the title, the earnest acceptance of every rock cliche, the lyrics, the lack of ambition), much harder to be constructive. But not nearly as much fun, admittedly.