Archive for March, 2010

DON’T KNOCK THE POP

March 31, 2010

Don’t look now, but the music industry has changed, and we have Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber to thank for it. Within the last few months they’ve changed how music has been marketed.

For years record companies have been getting away with ‘special editions’ of albums, adding new tracks to already released albums, making that release more attractive to consumers and potentially forcing dedicated fans to shell out money a second time around. Along comes Lady Gaga and her album ‘The Fame’ and new tracks are recorded to top up the already popular album. We’ve learned that Gaga is an artist of extremes and she came up with no less than  EIGHT new tracks. The record company was quite happy to exploit those tracks in the manner it’s  been done in the past, but Lady Gaga announced that the new tracks would be released as a standalone album, confusing release schedules around the world. Some countries were determined to stick to “tradition”. Others did Gaga’s bidding. ‘The Fame Monster’ is now officially Lady Gaga’s second album.

Suddenly the old ‘extended play’ is back in contention. Pop stars Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber have both employed EPs to keep they fan base happy.

Bieber’s marketing team has been especially creative and innovative, launching his career with an EP and pushing out a steady supply of ‘singles’ and an album. Within just nine months 18 tracks have come out. Bieber is a force to be reckoned with. He’s reported to have grossed approximately $US15 million in total recorded music sales, WITHOUT a Disney showcase.

It’s always easy to be cynical and dismissive about pop stars and pop heroes compared to “serious” artists. Bieber is not tomorrow’s Bob Dylan or Eminem, not that we know anyway, but it’s amongst his fans that the future of music is most likely to come. You can look into the history of almost any “credible” artist and you’ll find that it’s pop rather than indie or alternate music which first ignited interest. The young Axl Rose would hold “concerts” for his friends singing Elton John songs.  Interest in Aerosmith, the Stooges and New York Dolls followed.

It’s all about exposure. Tomorrow’s music enthusiast is going to first discover something inside the mainstream before discovering what the mainstream’s gatekeepers are hiding or afraid of. That’s the real deal of course. It’s a matter of getting there.

What I’m Listening To: She & Him (Volume Two), The Avett Brothers (I And Love And You), The Dirty Three (Ocean Songs)

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NEW POST FOR THE WIERD FILE

March 30, 2010

The same week that Iggy Pop tells us that he’s given up stage diving after a Madison Square Garden audience parted rather than cushioning him, NOFX bassist ‘Fat Mike’ Burkett has written his name into the anals of rock and roll’s strangest performances by treating fans to a few rounds of tequila during his SXSW show and then showing a video of him urinating in the host bottle beforehand.

It brings to mind Jim Morrison exposing himself in Miami, Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat he thought was rubber, MC5 shitting on stage (maybe they didn’t), Alice Cooper’s audience ripping a chicken to shreds which he thought would fly off, Marilyn Monroe crotching a security guard, Akon throwing a boy into the crowd, Lou Reed getting bitten by a stage invader, Elvis Presley “fighting off” four stage invaders he thought Priscilla’s lover had sent to kill him, Red Hot Chili Peppers trying to undress a female fan before spanking her ..

It’s funny later, but how would you like to be one of ‘Fat Mike’’s drinking buddies?

What I’m listening to: Drive-By Truckers (Big To Do), The Strokes (Is This It), Dr.Dre (The Chronic)

SHUT UP OR DO SOMETHING!

March 28, 2010

There’s an old saying, empty vessels make the most noise.

It’s kinda fun seeing the Gallagher brothers take aim at each other after the years they’ve spent mouthing off at everyone else they thought was worthy of cutting down, never with provocation or justification. The Gallaghers are just a couple of bully boys. But it served their real purpose. They got our attention, at other (innocent) people’s expense. They should have then let their music do the talking. But the (former) Oasis brothers were probably as addicted to the mouthing off as they were to making music. More so, if the truth be known. They just didn’t know when to stop .. and haven’t. It doesn’t matter who they hurt.

 Courtney Love’s someone else whose mouth is much bigger than her deeds. Doesn’t she realize how stupid her blogs and tweets make her look?

What’s the ultimate aim here? Is it an extension of the “punk” ethic, to repel the audience in front of you, rather than draw them to you? Ultimately that’s not enough. You cant JUST be vile. You then have to do something else. You have to deliver something. You have to make a valid statement. Even in your own terms, you have to justify your actions. Courtney Love never has. Hole was an interesting band for a moment back there, part of an energetic worthwhile “scene”, but just making up the numbers, not setting the agenda. In the end Courtney Love is known for having stood on some significant stages, become famous for being famous, and now is only famous for baring her claws. She used to bare other things too to get our attention. She was boring then. Now she’s embarrassing.

Rap stars of course are infamous for mouthing off. Just this week 50 Cent has said he’s prepared to marry Beyonce and have lots of children with her. She’s already married of course to Jay-Z, probably the point in 50 Cent’s declaration. 50 Cent says he’d also take on Lady Gaga and Rihanna at the same time if he was allowed. Are we to take him seriously? Or what are we supposed to think? What are the women supposed to think when they have the misfortune of being in his company at some music function. Is this public sexual harassment? Or does he just think that he’s expression his fans’ fantasy and that somehow they’ll think better of him for his “manly” boast? It’s just fantasyland or course. This is the man still in litigation for deserting his former partner and their son. That’s the real world.

And then there’s Kanye West. He’s the greatest. He says so.

What I’m listening to: The Unthanks (Here’s the Tender Coming) The Bird And The Bee (Interpreting The Masters Vol.1), Jeff Beck (Beck-Ola)

ARTIST OR MANAGEMENT: WHO’S BOSS?

March 26, 2010

A couple of recent lawsuits highlight the always complicated artist/manager relationship.

Lady Gaga’s “mentor” Rob Fusari – not actually ever her manager – is suing the former Stefani Germanotta demanding a bigger share of her current success than he’s expecting to receive. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case Rob Fusari played a significant role in the development of the artist we now know as Lady Gaga.

They first met in 2006 when Fusari was searching for musicians to create a female version of the Strokes.  A friend called him from a New York Club the Cutting Room where 19 Stefani was performing during a songwriters’ night. The friend put the singer on the phone and Fusari invited her to the studio. She was dreaming of becoming the next Fiona Apple. Over the course of four months, between them they hatch up “Lady Gaga”. She reminded him of Queen’s Freddy Mercury and every time she came into the room  Fusari would start singing his favourite Queen song ‘Radio Gaga’. One day he accidentally texted the words ‘Lady Gaga’.

These facts are beyond dispute. Rob Fusari is the latest in a long long line of producers/mentors/managers who find themselves somehow sidelined between the start of an artist’s career and the point where they become successful. Maybe they over-rate their contribution. Maybe they become “baggage”. The whiff of success introduces an artist to another strata of management and representation, sometimes by choice, sometimes through necessity. Record companies often prefer to deal with management they have a working relationship with. You want to work with us, do as we tell you.

That brings us to the second current lawsuit.  Guns N’Roses singer Axl Rose is being sued by Front Line Management, which was founded by Irving Azoff, former manager of the Eagles, Joni Mitchell etc etc. The relationship is a relative new one centred around the release of the Gunners’ ‘Chinese Democracy’ a decade in the making and waiting. Axl Rose must have expected his fans’ long deprivation , his fame and his new management’s clout to do all the work. When ‘Chinese Democracy’ came out Axl refused to do interviews to promote it. Now Front Line Management claims the singer owes him nearly $2 million in unpaid commissions. Their lawsuit states the commissions are due on more than $12 million in earnings Rose made for performances abroad.

Axl Rose is on top of the food chain. There isn’t another strata of management to clean up the wreckage. Lady Gaga will survive, perhaps with some collateral damage. Starting out or holding onto success, make sure you know what you expect from management and what they expect  of you. Don’t take the relationship for granted or it will bite you in the bum.

 What I’m listening to: Goldfrapp (Head First), Florence + The Machine (Lungs), Keith Richard (Talk Is Cheap)

BRING OUT YOUR DEAD

March 25, 2010

Even before it’s released the prospect of a remastered version of the late Elliott Smith’s debut album is worrying fans. The reissue of ‘Roman Candle’, first released in 1994, is being supervised by Smith’s long-time friend and now estate archivist, Larry Crane.

In his defense Crane contends , this isn’t strictly a “remastering” because Roman Candle was never mastered in the first place. “He used really cheap mics on the record,” Crane explained. “Some sounds are really jarring. I was very timid at first, but the more I listened and altered the volume on those squeaks a tiny bit, the guitar playing just became more clear. I know it’s going to sound different to some people, but I cannot imagine that they’d have a problem with what we’ve done.”

It’s an on-going “problem” isn’t it, what happens to artists music after their death. Smith took his own life in 2003. Do we leave him and his music to rest in peace or do we somehow keep the flame alive? I’ve never liked what happened in the aftermath of Jeff Buckley’s death. He only had the chance to give us that one magnificent album, ‘Grace’. He was struggling with the follow-up, scrapped sessions, tried to find his way forward. Had he lived we might never have heard what was released as ‘Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk’, but he wasn’t around so we did hear it. And there’ve been three more albums cobbled together and three live albums. Arguably it’s all done with care and love, but we have to ask ourselves do these attempts to keep a name alive where the person isn’t eventually diminish our appreciating of that person’s talent.

Would you want someone to rummage though your scraps, maybe dressing them up, creating their version of you to keep your friends as your friends?

What I’m listening to: Mose Allison (The Way Of the World), Tom Waits (Closing Time ), Todd Rundgren (A Wizard, A True Star)

THANK GOD SHE’S NOT A COUNTRY GIRL

March 24, 2010

Late last year country music legend George Jones complained that Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood had stolen country music’s identity. This week Swift’s ‘Fearless’ album was officially recognized as the Most Awarded Album in the History of Country Music at a private dinner in Nashville. 

 ‘Fearless’  is the only album in country history to win the all-genre Album of The Year Grammy, plus Country Album of the Year Awards from the Grammyss, the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and the American Music Awards.  

 But is she “country”? That was George’s point.

 “They’re definitely not traditional country music,” he said od Swift and Underwood. “What they need to do really, I think, is find their own title.”

 Maybe that will be one of the consequences of Taylor Swift’s success – a new country genre – not that I’m a fan of all the genres and sub-genres rock and dance have divided up into. It’s been one those music industry tools which has been too clever by far, carving music up into a whole of pigeon holes instead of allowing record buyers enjoy whatever they wanted to enjoy without feeling the need to join a particular tribe. By and large country music has managed to avoid too many genres, and ironically that’s what’s allowed Taylor Swift to take hold.

 It’s what the future holds that will be most interesting. What will Taylor Swift’s legion of fans do? Will they pick up their guitars and diaries and decide to be “country” too? Will they be inspired to explore what else “county” has to offer? What will they find which will appeal to them?

 In the end George Jones might be right. Taylor Swift might have been inspired by country, she might have looked to Nashville for her path into music, but she isn’t “country”.

 What I’m listening to: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Beat The Devil’s Tattoo), Little Axe (Stone Cold Ohio),  Inxs (Kick)

U2 SHOULD BE SO GOOD

March 22, 2010

What have their contemporaries got against U2?

Gene Simmons of Kiss recently challenged U2 and the Rolling Stones.  “I would love to play on the same stage as U2, The Stones and anybody out there who considers themself a world champion,” he said. “You come on up on that stage with us baby. Show me what you got, and then we’ll show you what the big boys do”.

This week it’s Liam Gallagher’s turn.  The Oasis singer says, “I have never seen a U2 fan. I have never seen anyone with a U2 shirt or been around someone’s house that has a f**king U2 record. Where do their fans f**king come from? Where are they?

“I reckon they buy them. With all the money they’ve made, they just bought a load of people and every time they do a gig they get a shovel and pile them into their gigs to make them look good.”

It says something about U2 that Simmons and Gallagher need U2’s name to grab our attention.

Coincidentally it’s actually time to assess the career of U2. This week happens to be the 30th anniversary of the band signing their initial major label recording contract, backstage at a gig, as they announce details of their next album, not more new material as originally promised in the aftermath of ‘No Line Of The Horizon’, but a remix album, a sure sign that U2 are feeling the need to buy time to keep themselves relevant.

U2 have released  an album called ‘Artificial Horizon’, comprised of  three new tracks and 10 previously available remixes on a limited edition triple-LP. Despite its title, only four of the remixed songs are from the recent  ‘No Line on the Horizon’. The rest of the songs stretch from a Grand Jury mix of ‘If God Will Send His Angels’, released in 1997, to Trent Reznor’s take on ‘Vertigo’. Other highlights include remixes by David Holmes, Hot Chip, Justice and a reimagining of  the Beatles ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’.

In today’s music climate U2 might just be the last great (uber-successful) rock band. It’s hard to imagine any of the current crop lasting 30 years in the mainstream with major label support. It’s not the way we’re going. Dubious accolades as they might be we have to acknowledge that  ‘No Line Of The Horizon’  gave U2 a No.1 album in the US and Grammy nominations. When was the last time Kiss or Oasis were in that stratosphere?

U2 didn’t climb on anyone’s shoulders –ala Oasis and the Beatles . They took the time and put in the work to invent themselves from scratch. They created their own sound and their own dialogue with the music of the past and the music of their time. Once they were “there” and recognizable they repeated the process as a live act, setting new standards of scale and creativity for “arena” rock. Then it became tough not to repeat themselves. They’ve been trying really really hard to reinvent the recording process, using the studio, the technology and their team of producers as inspiration and a resource for creativity as they do might a musical instrument.

That’s the music. The other thing  U2 has managed to do is keep to themselves, despite their success and Bono’s visibility as a political activism. They’ve managed to marry and divorce and raise families and suffer personal tragedy away from the public eye. Professionally they’ve manipulated the system, staying in the game through clever marketing and strategic releases, staying relevant at the same time.

 Where would Kiss be without the pyrotechnics and the make-up? What happened when they were “unmasked”. Aren’t Kiss and Oases two of the most over-rated bands you can think of? You can strip U2 back layer after layer and even at their most “naked” you’d find something worthy, original and interesting.

U2 might be an easy target, but hard to bring down.

What I’m listening to:  MGMT (Congratulations), Big Star (No.1),  Bruce Springsteen (Greetings From Asbury Park)

WE SANG, “I’M IN LOVE”

March 21, 2010

The Alex Chilton tributes are justifiably flooding in.

 Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie has weighed in by saying Chilton’s musical output was “as good The Byrds or The Beatles.” Whatever you think of that statement, Chilton certainly was as influential, as the Byrds at least. And yet despite his ironically named group Big Star, he was never a “star” as such. His records didn’t chart. He wasn’t mainstream. Chilton was a delicious “secret” that a generation of music lovers whispered to each other from the mid-seventies on . The fact that he kept coming in and out of our our sight didn’t help his bank balance or career momentum but ensured his legendary status. Every time he surfaced there was something exciting to whisper about.

He had been a “star” once of course, when he was 16, as lead singer of the soul-tinged Box Tops, known for their hits “The Letter” and “Cry Like A Baby”. You’ll still hear those songs on the radio. He subsequently was offered the job of becoming lead singer of Blood Sweat and Tears but turned it down as being “too commercial”. Been there done that.

Not that his subsequent work wasn’t “commercial”  – if the music definition of that word is “accessible” and “infectious”.  Where Chilton was initially significant to his many fans was that he was able to offer the post-Beatles generation of music fans their own Beatlesque music experience.  Similar joyful, wide-ranging, melodic eclecticism, and heartfelt and sexy with it. They say that Velvet Underground spawned a thousand bands. The same came be said of Big Star, which reunited Chilton and his Box Tops mate Chris Bell. But there was more than that, a long trail of pop and rock gems to be discovered.

Something about Alex Chilton opened people’s eyes to possibilities. Bobby Gillespie talks about taking Primal Scream to Memphis, Tennessee to record their early material at Arden Studios purely on the basis that Chilton and Big Star had recorded there.  The Cramps either borrowed, hired or stole a car to drive to Memphis in order to persuade him to produce their first album. The Replacements wrote a song about him.  Part of the chorus of that song is “Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round. They sing, I’m in love.”  REM’s Peter Buck once described Big Star as “a Rosetta stone for a whole generation”. 

 Incredibly influential in their own right, these artists’ association with Alex Chilton is a measure of his influence.

 Chilton was the very definition of “cult hero”. He never chased it or became a parody of himself to hold onto the worship afforded him. He just was. His music told you what was important to him. Seeing him perform live has remained me forever, because of the songs, and the sheer dramatic simplicity of the stage craft. His only concession to presentation was a single very ordinary white light bulb dangling above the stage, which he would hit with his hand occasionally to keep it swinging.

What I’m listening to: Bill Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore (Dear Companion), Magnetic Fields (Realism) Graham Parker and the Rumour (Howlin’ Wind)

YOU TUBE KILLED THE VIDEO STAR

March 20, 2010

Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ video boasts over 20 million views since it was released. It will be interesting to see how or whether that translates into music sales. It will be hard to gauge because Gaga is just so popular anyway.

It’s potentially a deceptive statistic anyway because it doesn’t mean that 20 million individuals have had a look at the video. It could be that one very keen person has seen it 20 million times. Unlikely of course, but you see what I mean.

I’ve been a bit suspicious about the relationship between music and the internet for some time. Are the people glued to their computer screens necessarily the people who will buy music? I suspect they might not be. I suspect that we’re dealing with two mind sets, that something which proves popular on YouTube isn’t guaranteed to end up on iPods.

We’re also dealing with a different kind of consumerism. If we like a song we don’t have to wait for it to come on the radio or TV clip show, and if we’re really keen actually obtain our “own” copy so we can hear it any time we like. I can do that without “buying” it. I can watch and hear ‘Telephone’ 20 million times.

At the same time comes the news that Universal Music in America will test a new pricing structure in the second quarter of 2010 , with  CD singles at $10 or less for new music,  offset by deluxe versions of albums which can be sold at higher prices to the dedicated music fans.

Too late? The record companies should never have allowed their music to be sent to the Amazon and iTunes bargain basement, and if they’d made albums more worth owning they might not have lost the album as a consumerable item in the first place. You can see what they’re going to do. They’re going to beef up albums we already love and make us but them again and at the same time they’ll throw music out into the gutter hoping we’ll greedily play along.

What I’m listening to: Broken Bells (Broken Bells), Imogen Heap (Ellipse), Kev Carmody (Images And Illusions)

WANNA BE RE-STARTIN’ SOMETHIN’

March 18, 2010

What a difference death makes.

Before he died nine months ago, the only reason Sony Records still had anything to do with Michael Jackson was their shared ownership of the Beatles’ catalogue, Sony hoping to prize it out of his hands as Jackson’s finances woes overwhelmed him. Now, with much fanfare and great expectation Sony Music has signed a seven year, $200 million guaranteed contract with “Michael Jackson”.

The last album Jackson gave Sony was 2001’s “Invincible’. He had been waiting for the licence on his existing catalogue to revert to him, wanting to promote the old material without Sony getting any of the action. He discovered that he wouldn’t be getting his hands on his catalogue as soon as he expected, and that the lawyer who had acted for him at the time had also been working for Sony. Just before releasing ‘Invincible’ Michael Jackson told Sony he was leaving, and the company cancelled all planned video shoots and promotions.

In 2008 Sony planned a 25th anniversary release for ‘Thriller’, hoping Michael Jackson would want to come to the party with new material for a “second” chapter to the most famous album of all time. It would have been a big seller for Christmas 2007, but Michael’s reluctance to play along caused the album to miss its deadline by two months. ‘Thriller 25’ came with remixes and one new track.

During the eight years between ‘Invincible’ and Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009 a lot happened in Jackson’s life. “Whacko” Jacko was regularly making headlines, but we heard no new music. Now and again we’d hear he was in the studio. Collaborators would boast about working with him and how brilliant he was, but nothing was released. As far as we can tell he had no recording contract.

Michael Jackson has sold some 31 million albums since his death, most of them Sony releases.

In “Michael’s” new deal with Sony one of the 10 projects proposed will be an album of never-before-released Jackson recordings that will come out in November. We’ll find out then whether the “genius” was still there. Maybe his troubles overwhelmed Michael’s talent. Maybe in his own desperation to top ‘Thriller’ he lost his way. Maybe we’re about to rediscover Michael Jackson’s talent. Whatever’s about to unfold Michael Jackson won’t be there. He won’t have a say in what’s released and how it’s released. After Jimi Hendrix died a lot of people decided how we should hear what was left behind. It took Hendrix’s family many years to gain control and win back Hendrix’s creative integrity. Can we trust Sony and the Jackson family to do the same?

What I’m listening to: Shout Out Louds (Work), Jeff Beck (Emotion And Communication), Concrete Blonde (Bloodletting)