Thursday, October 20, 2011

Third Coming



There is nothing to gain by being the refusenik; every band of any note, now realising their back catalogue is their pension (live fast, die old!), returns for another moment in the sun. So they did it. ‘Our’ band – The Stone Roses – are back. Their harshest critics would say there is not much of a live legacy to spoil as even their memorable gigs – Blackpool Empress Ballroom, Spike Island – passed quickly over musical appreciation into mythic event.

But with the four lads [three reds and one blue – who held out the longest] cracking wry jokes in the presser it felt like a welcome nostalgic trip into 1989 from 2011. We had never forgotten them, the cool quartet that represented Manchester and the country at a moment of rupture, an era high on hope and the possibility that the bottom-up cultural upheaval of rave would bring wider change. The Es were maybe making Brown a bit messianic but the old mod, soul and scooter boy needed that to transform from the rather average performer he’d been until Sally Cinnamon showed them a way forward. And we all bought into it. Unlike the post-Hac, post-Gunchester surly nihilist drug proles the London media wanted and got with the Gallaghers, they didn’t pose with their football shirts on, talk about their tough existence, yet they were idealistic, hated Thatcher, the Tories in general and the monarchy and didn’t take any shit, as their record company, manager and arts show presenter found out. Different times; different images. But then Geffen came calling with cold hard cash and the idealism faded. Differing drug habits and interband animosity grew hand in hand. We heard nothing for years, so were grateful the second album wasn’t shite. In fact it was quite good, but we’d all moved on. The Second Coming would not be sitting at the front of our pile of vinyl. We never forgot them, but they were no longer our focus.

Weird to say for four northern lads but Stone Roses were my exotic Other. In limbo between classes (blue collar parents slowly moved us up house by house but we were bereft of the ‘culture’ that usually saturates a bourgeois life in the form of books, art, cuisine) and waiting for the confidence (or at least identity) university freedom would deliver, it took me a while to actually hear them but the Melody Maker reviews, the baggy clothes, the Pollockesque covers, all of it reeled me in. I finally got the album (on tape; I lost it on a school trip to Newcastle). And it’s, er, traditional 60s jingle-jangle pop. But pretty good jangle-pop. Actually very good. With a subversive edge too, all that shooting down the badman it’s curtains for you elizabeth my dear. And Resurrection as a final track is some statement. Then Fool’s Gold came out, twinned with the Mondays’ Madchester Rave On EP, and pop music’s crown was theirs. 1990 arrived and practically everyone turned on to them; all the singles were re-released; Fool’s Gold kept coming back too as it was a summer holiday hit. Can’t wait for the second album…

Put the four of them in the room and something ‘magical’ comes out, Mani said. And it’s that talk of magic that is one of the best confidence tricks bands tell themselves. ‘Still got it’, they claim, so let’s do it all again. But the reality was always very different, a band who had spent much of the 80s defining their identity, line-up and sound who then struggled for output even at their recording peak in 88/89 (the love of one-trick backward B-sides seemed more convenient than any breakthrough sonic experiment). And despite the individual skill of Reni, Mani and Squire, the majesty of The Stone Roses album owed much to John Leckie adding an ecstatic wide-eyed atmosphere that portrayed the spirit of the time, as well as the producer being able to tame Brown’s voice (notice how his vocal style has evolved to match his solo music’s slower tempo and become a more acceptable talking-singing-rapping hybrid).

They wanna be adored. It was precisely this desire, this arrogance and this contrariness that made the Stone Roses the ‘legends’ they are generally assumed to be. In an era of techno utopia, they wanted us to believe that the basic 60s influenced danceable indie jangle was the best thing you’d ever heard and we went for it. They had a name that was basically the Rolling Stones but we just said ‘cheeky! Nice one lads’. They wanted to head straight into the rock pantheon on the course of just one promising debut album, and they did. And they wanted to stay there on the basis of precious little additional output. And they did. No experimental mid-period and back-to-their-roots final years for them. Sometimes blind faith and steely conviction will get you all the way, and for these lads it did. One belter of an LP and one brilliant single (yes, Fool’s Gold) and they have their place in history. And if nothing else, that tried and tested ‘we’re the best fucking band around and you better realise it’ template still offers us laughs when the next big thing tries it and fails it in a much changed music market.

Heaton Park on June 29-30 will be the place to be. Don’t be surprised if their contrary spirit kicks in and they either don’t turn up or balls the moment up. And though I admit there’s records from that era that had more life and mean more to me now, for a while this band took over my dreams and embodied my youthful optimism about better times ahead. They had the force and don’t blame them for wanting to get it back.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wanna be a playa; don’t care how I get there


Last year’s X Factor winner Matt Cardle gave the Independent on Sunday his first major interview as his album nears release. He was the anti-Essex ‘bum’ who stooped on sheepishly and charmed the nation with his obsequious turn, ‘please sir simon sir, I’d be forever grateful to be able to play my song (so you can get me out of self-induced drudgery)’. This is the lad who turned Many of Horror to When We Collide. Who cared that his rock heroes Clyro didn’t like it, it was Christmas number one!

Usually any words out of the willing industry meat among the X Factorbots wouldn’t elicit any attention but Cardle’s on the usual themes preoccupying musicians as they hit the spotlight, selling out, credibility, fame, were startling for the way his priorities were so arse-about-tit yet so sadly in tune with the modern need to join the celebrity rat-race.

I’m not peddling the purist anti-‘selling out’ line. Any artist wakes up and smells the expensive coffee the moment they realise their sacred art is actually ‘product’ that has to interact with the market, bands especially do it all the time if the blind rush of adulation is what they want. First-album drive and desire become sophomore desperation and cliché. Questionable ‘change in direction’ struggles to be justified to a quizzical press, fanbases change, a little something within them dies (the muse) but they ignore it. What was interesting about Cardle is that he did all this with somewhat careerist preparedness before the mainstream glare, ditching his band, his throaty rocker rasp and his musical styles. X-Factor called after a friend sent in a video of him doing a solo turn, and he wasn’t about to tell them about his band. Not the right format for primetime Saturday fayre. They were not fit for the purpose of getting him ‘where he wanted to be’. Cardle says he was ‘fucked’ if XFctr failed because he had alienated everybody and himself to get there (he hasn’t yet renounced the thirst for getting ‘spannered’ but I’m sure that will come, or at least evolve into the publicity friendly version).

Unfortunately Cardle’s reborn act will never draw the ‘credibility’ of the rock and metal acts he has drawn weed-induced solace and inspiration from, as he seems to acknowledge in an anecdote about being out of place at the Kerrang awards. After a couple of listens to his work you revisit fatwas on the James Blunt and Morrison to see if yet more severity is possible for this latest apostate. Sure there will be a veneer of praise for his work, in the form of industry hangers-on if he sells units and the most sycophantic layer of the press, like the pop and gossip columns, but don’t expect Mojo or Rolling Stone or indeed Kerrang to come calling any time for an in-depth article on the man and is music soon. His is a different orbit.


Backed by the Never Withering Cowellmachine, Cardle will no doubt retain his fame for a while yet – and you suspect that he covets the highly paid vacuous celebrity status more than he does being seen as a respected musician, with the suggestion that he rather naively believes this solves everything. It’s a trope of these modern talent shows that you constantly hear being faithfully quoted back by the candidates; like I can handle the fame and the dough as it has to be better than no-mark mediocrity. It’s an extremely unhealthy trope, and not just because the lottery nature of these talent treks means only a few will make the cut, while we feel free to relentlessly take the piss out of the hapless others before they return to their hole where the rest of us bitter fucks reside. Or so it goes. Presumably Cardle must be aware fame’s glare only replaces one set of troubles with another, or twists those the process tried to suppress. And seeing as he appears to have sold out his mates at the stage of entry, he’ll have no ‘real’ people to turn to when disillusion sets in.

His album Letters, with the single Run for Your Life penned by Gary Barlow (yes, it sounds like Take That), is out on Monday. Some people will like it, those for whom music is a pillow, a meal deal and a specious consolation, but it looks like he has already prepared himself to cope with this hollow recognition.
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