Archive for January, 2010

BELIEVE IT JUST LIKE ME

January 31, 2010

I think it was Dave Grohl who said that a concert was like going to church.

I’ve been taken along this line of thought by the report of a “riot” in Chili this week during a Metallica concert before more than 50,000 fans. The reason for whatever happened are what they are. The word “riot” has long been associated with music, sometimes to discredit the music and its fans, sometimes to describe an actual eruption in the audience, which can build like a pebble thrown into a lake. When something unexpected happens in a crowd of 50,000 who have nowhere to go, no-way to escape, a pebble can cause a tsunami.

The word “riot” is also not far away from “fervour”, the state fans can be in when they go to a concert to see their heroes, when you go to “church” surrounded by other “believers”. That’s why it’s like going to church. You’re in a room with people who share your passion. It doesn’t matter (much) that most of that 50,000 won’t actually see what’s on stage with any personal perspective. Often you’ll witness what there is to witness thanks to giant video screens. You might as well be at home. But no, you’re “there”, in the midst of it. The music you love is washing over you. The believers alongside you are jumping and screaming and singing along from the same prayer book. You’re all breathing the same air, under the same sky or surrounded by the same four walls. It’s a memory you take away with you for when, you next listen to that music the way you found it, on your own. You were there.

We don’t share music enough any more. We need these public fixes – even though sometimes it’s a personal affront when you discover that what you love is also loved by so many others. Strangers. It’s affirmation but it can take away from of the thrill.

Before computers and iPods we shared music a lot more. We heard something that moved us somewhere somehow, and became its consumers, and in our excitement shared it with others, by intention or otherwise. We gathered around speakers, or the speakers spilled out our windows or through our walls to others. Another pebble! Another potential tsunami! But a virtual one, not a physical one.

Now, as you sit on a train or a bus opposite someone listening to music with their earplugs attached, how will you find out what they’re tuned into? Today we’re much more inclined to keep our religion to ourselves. And then sometimes we find suddenly ourselves part of a congregation of 50,000.

What I’m listening to: Corinne Bailey Rae (the Sea), Feist (The Reminder), Radiohead (The Bends)

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AND THE WINNER IS … (I DON’T CARE)

January 29, 2010

Here we go again – the Grammy Awards.

The only annual music awards that gripe me more are the MTV Awards, where artists get up and take credit for the videos they’ve appeared in, which is like fashion models taking the awards for the clothes they wear. But the Grammys…

They don’t have a very good track record when it comes to reflecting  music as it really is. Elvis was only ever acknowledged for his gospel records, and during the time they were the greatest sensation music had ever known the Beatles received a grand total of FOUR Grammys for their troubles, two in 1964 and two in 1964.

Apologists for the Grammys will say that was then and the Grammys have got their act together in more recent times. Have they? I know it’s easy to be clever in hindsight, but it’s actually interesting to cast an eye over the ‘Best New Talent’ category, some kind of indication of where the Grammys’ focus is at. Consistently they’ve opted for the softer option, Crosby Stills And Nash over Led Zeppelin in 1970, then the Carpenters over Elton John, and tellingly America over the Eagles. The 2000s winners in the category were Christina Aguilera, Shelby Lynn, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Evanescence, Maroon 5 , John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Amy Winehouse and Adele (!).

How does that sum up the decade for you?

Even without really trying the Grammys have to be SOME kind of reflection of SOMETHING. Take a look at the “rock” categories. Best Rock Solo Vocal performance. And the nominations are Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. ‘Duo Or Group’, Eric Clapton with Steve Winwood, Coldplay, Green Day, Kings Of Leon, U2. ‘Hard Rock’ AC/DC, Alice In Chains, Linkin Park, Metallica, Nickleback (huh? Hard Rock?) Put aside Kings Of Leon – thank God for Kings Of Leon – and it’s a pretty boring list isn’t it? Is rock dead or have the Grammys simply decided to bury it? Or is the “industry” no longer in the rock and roll business?

MGM are the other bright spot. They head (for me anyway) this year’s ‘Best New Artist’ list. The others are the Zac Brown band, Keri Hilson, Silverspun Pickups and the Ting Tings, with all due respect, not a very inspiring list either.

Everyone who is anyone will be there however. We’ll all watch the Grammys. It’ll be like a high school musical where everyone gets something. For the rest of their lives some artist will now be able to put “Grammy winner” in front of their names, like musical royal. I refuse to call him Sir Paul McCartney. I feel the same way about the Grammys.

What I’m listening to: Motion Picture Soundtrack (My Dinosaur Life), Graham Parker (Squeezing Out The Sparks), The Rollings Stones (12×5)

AC/DC’s HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN

January 28, 2010

AC/DC are providing the soundtrack for forthcoming ‘Iron Man 2’ film. The sequel to Marvel comics’ superhero film will feature 15 songs from the rockers’ back catalogue. including ‘Highway To Hell’, ‘The Razor’s Edge’ and ‘Shoot To Thrill’.

Why is this news? Because for years AC/DC have resisted all overtures to have their music included on movie soundtracks and compilations. Record companies have found these “extra-curricular” activities, including television soundtracks, lucrative methods of gaining extra monetary mileage out of existing tracks, and in some cases even managing to launch artists. The jockeying behind the scenes to get tracks on soundtracks is incredibly intense, competitive, and as such very political on a corporate level.

AC/DC have chosen to stand aside from all that, and it hasn’t hurt them one bit. They’ve also chosen not to let single tracks be bought online. The album or nothing. It hasn’t hurt them one bit. As of 2008 they had sold 200 million albums world wide.

They’ve had the luxury of course of having established themselves before the music industry started concentrating on these other methods of promotion and distribution. The longer AC/DC held out, the more it benefited them. They were not part of the pack rifling our pockets for small change.

Good planning or orneriness?

Good planning I’d say. While they’ve stuck to their guns on record and on stage, AC/DC have also managed to draw a tight curtain around their lives away from music. Not that it has been without drama. After his death did they use the lyrics Bon Scott had prepared for the album that became ‘Back In Black’? Replacement singer Brian Johnston contributed to the songs for a while. Then for several years and albums the Young brothers did it all. Were they doing a Jagger-Richards, or did Brian just have writers’ block? For a period also Malcolm Young had an alcohol problem and had to be replaced on tour. All of it has passed quietly while the music has been allowed to all the “talking”.

 The question hanging over AC/DC currently is what the future holds. Brian Johnston has had health problems. He has more than hinted that the current tour will be the last. With that in mind has the AC/DC brainstrust decided to change gear? Is the ‘Iron Man 2’ a sign of a rethink? Even so, their involvement is a sign of the position AC/DC have won for themselves through their policy to date. Their music is still valued. And a major movie release is prepared to give an entire soundtrack over to that music.

 Musically and otherwise AC/DC have done a lot of things right.

 What I’m listening to: Tom Waits (Glitter And Gloom Live): G.W.McLellan (Watershed), The Killers (Hot Fuss)

PLUGGING INTO 2010

January 26, 2010

Forty years ago this week Dr.Robert Moog unveiled a miniturized synthesiser known as a “mini-moog” a more portable version of the pioneering electronic musical device, speeding up music’s adventures with technology.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), less than a week after the actual event, The “Hope For Haiti” benefit, available exclusively through digital retailers, becomes the first digital-only album to top America’s Billboard 200 in the chart’s nearly 54-year history.

The third album from Blink-182 guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge other band, Angels & Airwaves will be released on February 14 as a free digital download with DeLonge spending up to $500,000 of his own money to fund the process, money he hopes to recoup through corporate sponsorships, touring, merchandise sales, premium exclusive tracks and videos on the band’s Web site and by selling a deluxe version of the Angels & Airwaves “Love” album with 30 minutes of exclusive bonus material.

 Owl City’s ‘Fireflies’ single, a former American No.1 single is currently No.1 in England and around the world. He’s a MySpace kid. In June of 2007 his parents were away for the weekend, and Adam Young took advantage of his parents absence to be as noisy as he wanted in his basement hideaway. He put together a bunch of songs, and the following month put them on MySpace without telling anyone. Word of mouth began to spread, creating the demand for the release of a digital album. More than 7 million profile views and 40 million plays later, under his Own City pseudonym he was courted by the non-cyber music world.

As that where we’re at ay 2010? Not quite.

The team that first worked on the MP3, which turned the music industry on its head, has revealed what they hope will become its successor. MusicDNA files will not only contain music but bring together a range of artist information, from artwork and song lyrics to tour dates and Twitter feeds. Developer Dagfinn Bach, says that the MusicDNA format is more versatile than normal MP3s. “We can deliver a file that is extremely searchable and can carry up to 32GB of extra information in the file itself. And it will be dynamically updatable so that every time the user is connected, his file will be updated.” The new format will go into beta testing with an aim to launching properly later in the year. MusicDNA is likely to receive competition however from the iTunes LP format, which also groups together music, videos and related content.

What I’m listening to: Lostprophets (The Betrayed), Marianne Faithfull (Broken English), P J Harvey (Rid Of Me)

HONEY, THEY SHRUNK THE MUSIC WORLD

January 24, 2010

An interesting revelation in the latest report from International music industry group the IFPI on the state of the global music industry is what’s been happening in localized markets. (Yes physical sales are down, digital sales up, but not enough to compensate overall losses – boring).

 IFPI notes that in France, 107 local artists’ albums were released in the first half of 2009, 60% down on the same period of 2003. New signings of French artists also fell by 60%, from 91 in the first half of 2002 to 35 in the same period of 2009

 In Spain, in 2009 no new Spanish artist featured in the top 50 album charts, compared with 10 in 2003.

In Brazil, in 2008 there were only 67 full-priced local artists’ albums released by the five major companies– just a tenth of the number (625) a decade earlier in 1998.

What do we put this obvious trend down to? Note these are non-English speaking territories.

Clearly there’s no simple explanation, Record companies are part of the blame. As their fortunes fall they’re maximising what does make money. America is the biggest music market (30-35%) and producer of music. When the American head office puts its muscle behind its latest blockbuster release whatever added sales can be garnered worldwide are the payoff. International branch offices are under pressure to add to the bottom line on the latest Beyonce – often at the expense of the local release. As the market shrinks the industry is reducing its investment. Non-English speaking countries are not alone. Their problems lets us identify the situation.

Another contributing factor to the diminishing dedication to  local artists in other countries – especially non-English speaking countries – is that as we switch from physical to digital consumption of music the “shops” where we purchase are more geared towards the global than the local. .

Ahead of his involvement in the 2010 MIDEM music conference Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien rubbished claims that piracy is killing the music industry. Instead, the guitarist hit out at the record industry for using an “analogue business model in a digital era.”  He said pirates “might not buy an album, but they’re spending their money buying concert tickets, a t-shirt, whatever. The business model has to change. You’ve got to license out more music – have more websites selling more music. You’ve got to make it slightly cheaper to get music in order to compete with the peer-to-peers.”

That’s OK for Radiohead. As the digital outlets vie for their share of the market they’ve cheapened prices to the point of cheapening music itself. They’re the ones that don’t want us to buy albums. They’d much rather a model where we consume more in smaller chunks.

What I’m listening to: Holly Miranda (The Magician’s Private Library), Beth Orton (Trailer Park), Warren Zevon (Excitable Boy)

EVERYBODY HURTS FOR HAITI

January 23, 2010

Next week marks the 25th anniversary of the recording session for ‘We Are The World’. Four days after than anniversary Quincy Jones plans to record a new version with today’s music stars to raise money for Haiti’s earthquake victims.

Bono (of course!) is already there. He’s collaborated with Jay-Z and Rihanna on a Haiti benefit single called ‘Stranded’. $imon Cowell is also making noises about producing a Haiti charity single version of REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ with ‘his’ stars, Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle. Don’t tell me we’re going to see another supremacy battle, ala Cowell vs Rage Against the Machine.

I’m not sure how appropriate ‘Everybody Hurts’ is in this situation. My take on the song is that yes you may hurt, but everybody hurts sometime, so hang on, your friends will be there. Haiti knows it hurts. Is our hurt comparable to theirs? Can we even imagine what they’re going through? Is it appropriate to just let them know we hurt too?

 The 2010 ‘We Are the World’ project, like its predecessor, will have big star power behind it with celebrities like Wyclef Jean (of course!), Sting, Fergie, Alicia Keys, Usher, Natalie Cole, John Legend, and Justin Timberlake. The single will be recorded on Feb. 1 in Los Angeles, again the day after Grammys, the moment of opportunity which allowed the assembly of the 1985 line-up as USA For Africa.

The American stars had been stunned into action by the Bob Geldof-driven ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. Harry Belafonte, singer and political activist, was embarrassed that these white English pop stars were standing up for black Africans. ‘Where was America’, he asked. Race ‘We Are The World’ was the answer he inspired. Race quickly became secondary.

The original ‘We Are The World’ was produced by Quincy Jones and written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. Michael Jackson’s memory will be evoked in the 2010 version. Of course!

The idea for the ‘Stranded’ song came from producer and rapper Swizz Beatz. He contacted Jay-Z and Bono simultaneously. After three hours of phone tag the all agreed on the project which was recorded with the collaborators united in purpose but geographically separated, with extra production work from The Edge. Swizz Beatz told Rolling Stone “The idea of the song is ‘We’re not gonna leave you stranded’ and that’s what the chorus is.”

What I’m listening to: Midlake (The Courage Of Others), Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker), Blue Nile (Hats)

STATE OF EMERGENCY

January 22, 2010

Excuse me, but something’s bothering me. What’s wrong with this picture?

What we know is that Wyclef Jean started twittering the world for help the moment the Haiti earthquake struck his homeland. The earthquake hit on Tuesday January 12. The following day he arrived in the country with his wife and cousin to aid in the relief effort. By his own statement he spent Thursday “”picking up dead bodies, all day that’s what we did. There’s so much bodies in the streets that the morgues are filled up, the cemeteries are filled up”.

He also shot footage on his flipcam which he shared with the world sitting on the couch with Oprah Winfrey the following Wednesday. Three days after piling up bodies in Haiti Wyclef Jean was back in America raising awareness and defending his charity foundation.

Presumably he’s more of use to his people back in America, raising money and organizing charity concerts.

 Haiti needs a hero. By his actions over several years Wyclef Jean has given himself the role. He wore his Haitian heritage as a badge of honour. It’s become a tattoo. He has to deliver.

What I’m listening to: Laura Marling (I Speak Because I Can); The Decemberists (The Hazards of Love); XTC (Black Sea)

WHO’S THE LEADER OF THE GANG?

January 21, 2010

Aerosmith is still threatening to replace Steve Tyler – promising it won’t be a nobody; while Stone Temple Pilots is putting the finishing touches to a comeback album with Scott Wieland’s return after a stint with Velvet Revolver – still looking for a replacement ; and we eagerly await the return of Soundgarden, back in harness with Chris Cornell after his stretch with Autoslave.

Lead singers can play havoc with a band’s career.

Whether they are genuinely the leader or they start as one of the boys, the result is the same, the one who happens to be at the microphone and gets all the attention. Few bands survive the departure of their visual spearhead. AC/DC managed to replace Bon Scott. Van Halen boast a career with THREE singers. But these are the exceptions.

Twelve years after the death of Michael Hutchence INXS are STILL struggling with his “departure”. Throughout these twelve years we’ve had a sense of their frustration. There they were, once one of the biggest bands in the world, on the comeback trail (maybe) and Hutchence “tops” himself, accidentally or otherwise. When their grief subsided you could imagine their dilemma. ‘What about us?’ Sad as it was, were they supposed to give up music because one of their number was missing, through a stupid act? It’s a dilemma they’ve never resolved, still unable to move forward as today they prepare for the release of an album of new versions of their best loved songs performed with guest vocalists.

It’s a situation which dates back to The Beatles – thanks to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. To resolve a contractual situation singles were released in both Holly’s name and the Crickets’ name. The Beatles – and their generation of Holly-inspired groups – decided not to be John Lennon and The Beatles or Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, and the singer’s name disappeared from the front of group names. Obviously not their “importance” of course.

While we think about all of this, all the current goings on, once again doubt is being raised about the future of The Rolling Stones. Does Charlie Watts want to stop touring? Are The Stones refusing to tour until Ronnie Wood gets his act together? Ronnie’s response has been to announce solo tour dates. Whatever the outcome, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are Stones for “life”. That was decided some years ago. Keith Richards’ long-held ambition is to keep the Stones together for as long as possible. Ages ago he said that the Rolling Stones were breaking new ground. There isn’t another rock band that’s been around so long and he wants to see just how long they can keep recording and touring.

 The only thing that could spoil Keith’s party, is that lead singer phenomena. What if Mick Jagger left? Back in the mid-eighties The Rolling Stones signed a new recording deal and one of the conditions was solo albums for Mick. Keith was not a happy man, while Mick seriously engaged thoughts of solo music without the Rolling Stones and a career in movies. Keith decided to act. He recorded a solo album of his own, with one main objective, to spook Jagger.

The album is called ‘Talk Is Cheap’, and the way Keith tells it there came the day when he asked Mick around, put the album on and then excused himself so that Mick HAD to listen. ‘Talk Is Cheap’ was the music, the future, Jagger was potentially throwing away. It’s one of THE great rock albums. It did what Keith wanted, brought Mick’s mind back to main game. There were more solo Jagger albums, but no more thoughts of leaving the Stones.

If for some unimaginable reason he did leave now, with Keith desperately clutching at Mick’s heels as he walked away, Aerosmith could really try for “someone”, the real thing instead of the pretend Mick Jagger they’ve worked with all these years.

 What I’m listening to: Retribution Gospel Choir (2); The Feelies (Crazy Rhythms); Richard Thompson (Henry The Human Fly)

BAND ON THE RUN

January 20, 2010

I’m not sure why I’m even bothering with this – except that it’s all over the internet – and it involves Paul McCartney.

Paul McCartney was never in consideration for Them Crooked Vultures.

Let’s go back to the source of the speculation that he was – as reported on the NME website on January 18.

“Paul McCartney has revealed he asked about joining Them Crooked Vultures on bass, only to be told by Dave Grohl that John Paul Jones had already beaten him to it.

McCartney said he was first told about Them Crooked Vultures by Dave Grohl when the two went out to dinner together after playing together at last February’s Grammys ceremony.

“We went out for a bite to eat afterwards and Dave told me he was starting this band with Josh [Homme],” he told the Daily Mail. “I asked him who was playing bass and he rather sheepishly told me he’d approached John. So you read it here first; Paul McCartney was nearly the bass player in Them Crooked Vultures.”

FACT: In January Them Crooked Vultures had already been in the studio working on their album together. In February McCartney learns about the project. He was never in consideration.

Working with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones is a dream come true for Dave Grohl. Playing with McCartney on the Grammy stage would have been another dream come true but his passion for Led Zeppelin goes back a long way. Grohl’s Zeppelin worship goes all the way back to his teenage years, when he got the first of three Zep-inspired tattoos. Admittedly Dave’s specific Led Zeppelin passion was for drummer John Bonham.  Dave has three tattoos of Bonham’s three-circle Led Zeppelin IV logo, one on his wrist and the other two on his shoulder. He did the first himself when he was 16.

A collaboration between Grohl and John Paul Jones was first publicly mentioned by workaholic Grohl  as long ago as 2005, in an  interview with Mojo, in which he declared “The next project that I’m trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme on guitar, and John Paul Jones playing bass. That’s the next album. That wouldn’t suck.”

The thought became a reality on January 14, 2009, three weeks before the Grammys and the Grohl/McCartney dinner. Grohl gave himself a birthday treat by inviting John Paul Jones and Homme to a medieval  banquet a themed night with lots of meat and a jousting show, a “blind date” to see whether they could work together.

Paul McCartney is nowhere in the picture. So is that “Paul McCartney nearly joined Them Crooked Vultures”  headline just another runaway internet story, or can we blame Paul McCartney? Was it at a throwaway line we’ve taken far too seriously, or was McCartney trying to make himself relevant? After all, he’s made this ‘Revelation”  a year after the event.

Paul McCartney does a lot of rewriting of history. Surprisingly, the man seems awfully insecure and in constant need of admiration.

What I’m listening to: These New Puritans (Hidden): Balmorhea (All Is Wild, All Is Silent), Cocteau Twins (Tresure)

$IMON$

January 19, 2010

Are the rats deserting a sinking ship or are they just gnawing elsewhere?

Simon Cowell is leaving his ‘American Idol’ judge chair at the end of the current series, and now, ‘Idol’ franchise creator Simon Fuller has stepped down from the company which owns and runs ‘Idol’. But don’t despair – or do despair – we haven’t heard the last of the Super Simons. Sarcastic Simon Cowell is leaving ‘American Idol’ at the end of the 2010 season to bring to America a version of his own reality talent show – ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ – the show which of course “found” Susan Boyle. Sumptuous Simon Fuller has left CKX Inc – the company which owns his 19 Entertainment as well as a majority stake in Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion – to start his own new entertainment company and to find a new boy band with self-proclaimed pop guru gossip blogger Perez Hilton. Another leech.

Oh boy, I can’t wait.

Simon Fuller will continue to “consult” for the ‘American Idol’, ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘If I Can Dream’ programs for the next five years – as long as those shows are still on air. For his “troubles” Fuller will continue to earn 10% of those shows, $US5 millionup front advance against that 10% for 2010, and $US3 million advance every subsequent year. That’s a lot of money. Simon Cowell reportedly turned down $US100 million to stay with ‘American Idol’.

America’s got talent. Britain’s got talent. The world’s got talent. But the substantial Simons have the money.

What I’m listening to: Editors (In This Light, On This Evening); Daft Punk (Homework); M.Ward (Hold Time)