An inevitable by-product of reaching the end of any decade is that there will be the endless obsessive lists and highlights of that decade reprinted in all the magazines and newspapers (and on Christmas TV too, no doubt). In the middle of the deluge, Pitchfork have been a real highlight, managing to at least have a decent view of music trends and a fairly decent top 20 (among a choice of 200 - count 'em!) albums of the decade list. By contrast, the NME's top 20 seems pedestrian in contrast, even with some surprise choices in there (Primal Scream's XTRMNTR - for what it's worth, their last good moment and symbolically that of Creation Records too; PJ Harvey at six; elsewhere The Delgados at 46; erm, that's about it in the top 50).
I'll admit that Is This It is a fairly decent indie-pop record which you could appreciate - can appreciate - for it's raw instinct, and particularly if you're at a certain age. And this list certainly isn't as irritating as that deeply irritating NME 'cool list'. However, listening to one track from each of those albums on this WE7 link, one thing that strikes me is how cynically produced some of those records - particularly that Strokes track, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs track at 6, that rubbish Libertines song, etc. - really are. The deliberately distorted vocals and production on those songs give the impression that they are desperately aiming for 'authenticity', when it's pretty obvious that huge amounts of money have been spent on these albums. It's as if they don't want you to think that these albums have been produced in expensive 36-track studios, which they almost certainly were. I guess the converse is that you could argue that it's just as well these records weren't overproduced, which is probably true. But, listening to a lot of these bands that were at their peak in the early to mid 00s, I can't help but think how horribly contrived some of this stuff is: the skinny jeans, the deliberately 'raw' production, and (in the Stroke's case) studied air of cool (you know, the 'authentic NYC gang' image - ignoring the fact that they probably weren't exactly paupers) masking an ephemeral talent.
When you contrast it from their NYC contemporaries (not applicable to The Libertines, obviously), it's obvious that acts such as Liars and Oneida have turned out to be vastly more interesting, with the former actually becoming more sonically inventive with each album (culminating in the incredible 'Drum's Not Dead'). GoodnightLondon could blather on about a whole heap of great bands at this point from the other side of the pond that aren't on that list - from Atlas Sound to Wooden Shjips, and a cast of many others, not to mention some acts on this side of the Atlantic - but, in relation to above, what's clear is that time has become the great leveller in deciding what bands have longevity and originality and what don't.
I guess there are a small amount of fairly good choices further down the NME's 100 list, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor and others. And that includes the Liars, in at 58 - but rated lower down the list than Hard-Fi. Need I say more?
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Am reading JG Ballard's The Drowned World at the moment, which has turned out to be a deeply prophetic read, particularly after the floods in Cumbria that have happened in the last few days, the latest in what feels like an annual event in England, as well as the omniprescent advertising for disaster movies like 2012 (something that I touched on with a previous post about Ballard here). You could argue that the flooding has nothing to do with global warming, but somehow it feels like their continued existence cannot be attributed simply to normal weather. But it's also eerily accurate in matching the description of what James Lovelock has predicted will happen to the Earth in The Revenge of Gaia, as well as other predictions of future global warming, particularly with this excerpt that mentions a future migration to the North and South poles - exactly what scientists, in fact, have predicted:
"All over the world, mean temperatures rose by a few degrees each year. The majority of tropical areas rapidly became uninhabitable, entire populations migrating north or south from temperatures of a hundred and thirty and a hundred and forty degrees...during the next thirty years the pole-ward migration of populations continued...only within the former Arctic and Antarctic Circles was life tolerable."
Ballard wrote the book in 1962, which shows just how prescient he could be. Did he know something that we didn't?