Archive for July, 2010

ADJUSTING THE VISION

July 21, 2010

 A couple of days ago I prematurely buried Pearl Jam – taking Eddie Vedder’s Portugese “farewell” too literally. I was ready to do the same to American Idol, taking news of the shortening of the tour dates on top of the low ratings of the most recent series as signs that this chapter of “popular” music might be over. In this case I hoped too soon. It’s not over. Recent Nashville auditions for the next series of American Idol drew the biggest turn-out in the show’s history. Doh!

Britain – who invented to “reality television talent show” genre – has long ago left “Idol” behind. In Australia the show is being “rested” for a year. Britain switched its attention to the wider (older?) demographic X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, and verified the shift with the discovery of Susan Boyle. On the other hand, although with each successive year the American Idol contestants have had less and less impact – only two were signed to recording contracts this year – America has continued to favour this concept. What does this say to us about the difference between America and Britain’s music cultures? Anything?

America doesn’t have a great tradition when it comes to supporting contemporary music on television. Why else would such great acts have to bother appearing on the various Late Shows? Recently we had the spectacle of Lady Gaga, pop’s biggest attraction of the moment, performing on the streets of New York for the Today show. Britain on the other hand – thanks to the BBC – has a long and proud tradition when it comes to music and television. It was the Brits who invented video clip generated television. The US was well behind on that score.

Idol was Britain’s latest “contribution”, and they’ve moved on. America hasn’t. I hoped they had but they haven’t.

The Idol years have been more about television than  music, but it’s the music industry that’s allowed itself to be distracted. The whole Idol philosophy is based on repeating yesterday. No contestant with an ear for the future was ever going to survive that series of public hurdles. Music lovers looking for tomorrow aren’t hanging out for what Idol serves up next. The Glee phenomena is going to put a big dint in the Idol audience.  Glee? That’s America!

In the end television has probably emasculated rock and roll. When the video did take over as the all-important promotional vehicle for music, rock and roll had to temper its evil ways in order to secure programming support. The odd video by Nine inch Nails and others crossed  the line, but in general , to get shown on TV rock deserted its place as a cultural maverick.

In recent times – thanks to social networks – the video has made a major comeback. Remember all the reaction Lady Gaga created with her “Telephone” and “Alejandro” videos, but we’re dealing with a new environment for the music video. The audience for today’s new event videos is not necessarily then going to spend their money on music. They’ve helped Lady Gaga’s fame agenda, helped her create her larger-than-life image, and maybe bolstered concert ticket sales, but it isn’t the music the music is promoting any more.

What I’m Listening To: Arcade Fire (Suburbs), Cyndi Lauper (Memphis Blues), Soundgarden (Badmotorfinger)

Advertisements

Pearl Jam : LAST KISS ?

July 20, 2010

Pearl Jam are denying that they’re about to go on hiatus.

Pearl Jam stunned fans at a Portuguese music festival last weekend by declaring the concert would be their “last in a long time”. Reading in Portuguese from a piece of paper at the Optimus Alive festival in Lisbon Eddie Vedder unexpectedly told the audience, “Thank you for coming to our last show. Not our last ever, but our last in a long time.”

However, an official spokesperson has now said: “He says that at the end of all tours, because the tour has ended. The remark may have gotten a little lost in translation”.

If they decided to take a break, we’d have to let them with our blessing. Pearl Jam is and has been everything we could ask from a band. The music – on record and on stage gave them success – and they never abused our faith in them; took a stand on issues that mattered. When asked about Pearl Jam’s legacy in a Los Angeles Times 2000 interview, frontman Eddie Vedder said, “I think at some point along the way we began feeling we wanted to give people something to believe in because we all had bands that gave that to us when we needed something to believe in. That was the big challenge for us after the first record and the response to it. The goal immediately became how do we continue to be musicians and grow and survive in view of all this… The answers weren’t always easy, but I think we found a way.”

 They did. Pearl Jam have handled themselves with dignity and integrity throughout.

 When they happened to be more successful than their “rivals” Nirvana, Pearl Jam didn’t allow themselves to enter the verbal war Kurt Cobain tried to engage them in. While he ranted and insulted them, Pearl Jam just went about their business. Always too good to be true they were forced to endure Rolling Stone of all publications trying to do a hatchet job on Eddie Vedder, wanting to portray him as pursuing fame at any cost, and inventing his pre-Jam history. The mud didn’t stick.

 Pearl Jam have always considered their fans. Pearl Jam tried, but failed to break America’s concert ticketing monopoly. At least they didn’t just take the money and run off. If not one of the first bands to use the internet to effectively connect with their fans, they certainly became one of the best at it. Their official web connection is informative and rewarding for fans. Making all those live recordings available is labour intensive and not especially lucrative.

 Pearl Jam has never really been awarded its proper due. Our obsession with Kurt Cobain overshadowed our appreciation of Pearl Jam’s significant role in the “grunge” era which set 90s rock aside from the past. Commercial success aside, Pearl Jam has been similarly undervalued ever since. They were one of the first major bands to walk away from the established recording industry. Their last two albums were released under project-specific arrangements. It would be so much easier to just sign with a multi-national and have them take care of everything.

 What I’m Listening to: Cornershop (Judy Sucks A lemon For Breakfast), The Gaslight Anthem (American Slang), Creedence Clearwater Revival (Green River)

Justin Bieber : BIELIEB IT OR NOT

July 18, 2010

Are we excited? Justin Bieber’s music video for ‘Baby’ is the most-watched video ever on YouTube. More than 246 million have watched Bieber’s video, exceeding the previous pole leader, Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’.

 He’s got lotsa fans, we know, but not that many. This is one of those modern-day stats that we just have to look at, accept, and then wonder what we can measure it against. We’re looking at the passion and obsession of Bieber’s fans. ‘Baby’’s sales figures are not nearly as impressive. All we can say is that Bieber’s fans watch him more often. Or listen to him. That’s always been the case with pop heart-throbs. We’ve known it but we’ve never had a stat to prove it to us.

Another set of statistics we’ve been given to consume in recent days is Forbes’s list of the world’s richest musicians. Between them U2, AC/DC and Beyonce Knowles have “earned” a combined $US 333 million in the past 12 months. U2 and AC/DC added to their catalogue cash with turnstile takings between  June 2009 to June 2010. Beyonce was also busy, promoting her ‘I Am ..  Sasha Fierce’ release.

 U2 and AC/DC represent the old school, the days of the album-tour-album-tour routine. Beyonce represents the music business that has evolved, where a small handful of artists, by whatever means, have risen to the top and reap every advantage of being placed in that position. Beyonce has access to the proven hit songwriters and producers, her releases promoted by lavish videos, outfits  and carefully planned strategies. She’s a “product”. So much goes into everything “Beyonce” it can’t afford to fail. She’s pulled in $US88 million in a year according to Forbes. How much was spent?

 Justin Bieber celebrated his milestone with the inevitable tweet, to thank the “Beliebers” and to remind them of his humble beginnings in the same forum, YouTube. Maybe his manager Scooter Baun really did discover the singer through videos posted for family and friends on YouTube, but from that moment the story gets a lot more involved and less innocent. Baun didn’t just come across Bieber by chance alone. Baun was already part of The Machine. He’d been a marketing executive for Jermaine Dupri, and was now doing some consulting work for Akon, looking at YouTube for a singer they were interested in “developing”. It just so happened that THIS singer linked Scooter Baun to ANOTHER YouTube singer, also performing Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’. Justin Beiber.

 Scooter Baun had recently told a friend of the three acts he wanted to find for himself, one being a young kid who “could do it like Michael Jackson-sing songs that adults would appreciate and be reminded of the innocence they once felt about love.” By chance he stumbled on just the thing he was imagining – Justin Bieber. He saw what he was looking for. Bieber was hardly a YouTube phenomenon. His ‘Respect’ was one of “six or eight” videos he’d posted with a few thousand views each.

 With Baun’s guidance Bieber instantly left his “humble” YouTube beginnings behind. He moved to LA with his mother, crafted and recorded eight songs with experienced help, and was presented to “kingmaker” LA Reid.  Reid signed off on a $US50,000 budget for just the video for the first single, ‘One Time’. Compete with THAT all you YouTube wannabes!

 That’s how it’s done now. Gone are the days when a radio dj finds a song on a B-side of a single and the artist hears themselves on the radio while working on a construction site. Those life-changing one-in-a-million lucky breaks have been ironed out of the system. Not even radio takes chances any more. We’re either led by the nose to the Beyonce/Beiber trough – or we’re on our own, missing a lot of music we might have loved if we’d known about it.

 What I’m Listening To: M.I.A. (Mia), Tired Pony (The Place We Run From), The Triffids (The Black Swan)

Pink Floyd: HELL FREEZES OVER AND PIGS FLY

July 13, 2010

When the Eagles broke up in 1980 Don Henley famously said the band wouldn’t play together again until “Hell freezes over”. But 14 years later they did start playing together again and used the quote for the title their comeback album and tour.

So could the same thing be happening with Pink Floyd?

Five years ago, on 2 July 2005 at the Live 8 concert,  Roger Waters rejoined Pink Floyd for the first time in 24 years, an apparent thawing in a very bitter feud between Waters and the rest of the band, which blew up during the recording of ‘The Wall’ but actually dates back to ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Waters was asserting his authority over the rest of the band, and the rest of  Pink Floyd didn’t appreciate it, especially when he announced his resignation by letter to the group’s record company and management and then legally tried to prevent the band using the name without him.

Guitarist David Gilmour was particularly put out. He was the one that assembled the musicians for what would become Pink Floyd’s first album without Waters —‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’. The involvement of Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason entitled it to be a Pink Floyd album. Richard Wright had left the band because of Waters and was allowed back in – as a paid musician. ‘The Wall’ producer Bob Ezrin was brought in to make sure the album was as recently Pink Floyd sounding as it could be. All done to get back at Waters.  The plan was probably no more than that, but the album did so well Pink Floyd’s career rolled on.

Five years ago, after the Live 8 concert reunion, Gilmour and Waters said all the right things, but offered no hope of ever playing together again. Roger Waters’ post Floyd solo material has been predictably ambitious and grandiose in concept, but spectacularly unsuccessful.  He’s been the one making noises about wanting to do something again.  Just two months ago he was quoted  as saying that David Gilmour is “completely uninterested” in another reunion.  

“After Live 8, I could have probably gone for doing some more stuff, but he’s not interested”.

That comment obviously relates to Waters’ plans to mount a 30th anniversary tour of “the Wall’ in September. The dates are booked. There would be room for a guitarist.

On Sunday (July 11) Roger Waters and David Gilmour performed together on stage at a chartity event in Oxfordshire to raise more for the HOPING Foundation – which stands for Hope And Optimism for Palestinians In the Next Generation. Joined by bassist Guy Pratt, guitarist Chester Kamen, keyboard players Harry Waters and Jonjo Grisdale, and drummer Andy Newmark, they did three Pink Floyd songs: ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two)’. They also did a cover of The Teddy Bears’ To Know Him Is To Love Him’.

Has hell frozen over again?

 What I’m listening to: Jimmy Webb (Just Across The River), Coldplay (A Rush Of Blood To The Head),  Lloyd Cole (Rattlesnakes)

CAN’T TAME THIS MONSTER

July 11, 2010

The Grammy Awards’ rule change  to avoid another Lady Gaga phenomena failing to qualify for the Best New Artist has made headlines – because everything connected to Lady Gaga makes headlines – but the Grammys made another important initiative at the same time, another sign that the major records companies’ control  the recording industry is a thing of the past.

The Recording Academy has invited ALL record labels and media companies to register on line, the first step in submitting songs for consideration for the 53rd Annual Grammys.  The door has thus been opened for the ever-expanding independent recording sector to get more actively involved. Whether they immediately stand a realistic chance of challenging the entrenched powers is another thing, but this is the start, if that is ever going to happen.

The Grammys have always been behind the game. The awards were instigated in the first place as a reaction against the arrival of rock and roll, designed to highlight “quality” in  the hope of putting down the uprising. The Grammys were behind from the start and have remained so.  It’s only when there’s a glaring hiccup there’s an official  reaction – a tweaking of the categories, a lifetime achievement award to plug an omission , or a rule change.

Lady Gaga wasn’t the first artist to miss out on the Best New Artist award because success took longer than the rules catered for. She’d managed a dance nomination in 2009 which meant that in 2010 she  wasn’t “new” any more. There had been other examples of the same thing, but that was the rules then, and that was bad luck. This time the Grammys looked bad and something needed to be done. Sorry Gaga.

Something else will happen further down the line. That’s what I love about music. It just won’t be tamed by the system. Music  consistently finds a way of breaking the rules the “industry” sets for it. A Lady Gaga comes along and everything is suddenly different. While the business scrambles to catch up there’s someone somewhere out there dreaming up something which will make it all different all over again tomorrow.

Every time I put on a new song or a new artist I’m ready for my world to change. And I’m not talking auto-tune!

What I’m listening to: Sleigh Bells (Treats) , M.I.A (Maya) , The White Stripes (White Blood Cells)

THE KING IS DEAD, WHERE’S PRINCE?

July 6, 2010

Is Prince still a visionary and a maverick, or has he lost the plot?

This week he releases his 27th album- 20Ten – in Europe free as a giveaway in newspapers and magazines in England, Ireland, Belgium and Germany. It’s not the first time he’s used this method of marketing. He also once threw  a spanner into American best-seller computations when he “bundled” his latest album with concert ticket purchases. If we’ve learned anything about the Artist-Who-Used-To-Be-Known-As-Love-Symbol, he’s not adverse to challenging the established system.

This week he’s also stated that he will never sell his songs on the inter net, insisting web-based outlets will soon disappear because they are no longer “hip”.

He says, “The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.
The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it becam e outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

Of course Prince’s engagement with the brave new world of music distribution has not been a happy one. In 2007 he sued video sharing website YouTube.com as well as eBay.com claiming they “are clearly able (to) filter porn and paedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorised music and film conten t which is core to their business success.” He waged a campaign to force the closure of fan sites dedicated to him and his music – pissing off the very people who worshipped him most – and then lo and behold Prince launched his own interactive site where we could listen to and buy unreleased Prince music. Apparently there are vaults of the stuff.

All you needed to do was pay LotusFlow3r.com a yearly subscription of $77. But the site was a disappointment to fans – and probably Prince himself. There were technical problems. Prince didn’t seem as personally interested as fans might have thought. The fans weren’t as interested as Prince might have expected.  Earlier this year, after a2 months of frustration, the site went dark. Experiment over.

What’s important of course is the music, and Prince’s music just isn’t important any more. There’s nothing new. New songs but no new ideas. Once he was the artist who had Michael Jackson worried. Prince turned MJ “bad”, made him reach for his crotch. Ironically Prince has turned “good” in the meantime. The singer who once had a bed on stage now refuses to perform his most sexually explicit songs, his greatest songs.  That’s fine. We like conviction, whatever it is. But he hasn’t replaced that conviction with another.

Even Prince the performer isn’t what he used to be. Thanks to all that dancing on height-enhancing boots Prince has reportedly needed double-hip-replacement surgery since 2005 but won’t undergo the operation unless it is a bloodless surgery. Those same nearly discovered Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs are in the way. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions.

So not everything that’s not happening in Prince’s career is the fault of “the system”. Some of the fault lies at Prince’s own feet. But is he right about music and the internet?

What I’m listening to: 3OH!3 (Streets Of Gold), Dirty Projectors (Bitte Orca) R.E.M. (Green)

Pop superstar PRINCE is adamant he will never sell his songs on the inter net, insisting web-based outlets will soon disappear because they are no longer “hip”.
The Purple Rain hitmaker has long battled to keep his music offline – i n 2007 he sued video sharing website YouTube.com as well as eBay.com clai ming they “are clearly able (to) filter porn and paedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorised music and film conten t which is core to their business success.” Prince has also moved to ban fansites using images and anything linked to his likeness, while a home video of a child dancing to one of his song s on YouTube was pulled down in 2007 after the star’s Universal Music Pub lishing claimed the recording infringed copyright.
The artist is still refusing to allow websites to sell his music and he ‘s adamant fans will soon move on from the internet.
He says, “The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.
“The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it becam e outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”