(So am I the only person who thinks Wonder Woman was utterly mediocre.)

Apparently having a female character killing people absolves film writers of any responsibility to produce drama, conflict or characterisation

Wonder Woman 3

Is it worth writing this? With a 92 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and almost unanimous critical acclaim, Wonder Woman seems to have been accepted as an instant classic.

I could find only one negative review, a rather confused and insubstantial offering on the Guardian that saw its author being roundly attacked in the comments section as some sort of reactionary defender of the patriarchy. I expect to escape such attacks, largely due to the fact that no-one actually reads my blog.

But I feel it must be said. The film isn’t good! It’s an utterly routine serving of assembled tropes, Crocodile Dundee goes to the big city trope mixed with the one-sided rampage of that godawful Lucy film and standard superhero fare, stuffed with one-dimensional characters and spectacular action scenes utterly devoid of tension for the audience.

Let’s begin with the basic premise that interest stems from character or plot. We like to see a character face an obstacle and overcome it, or a character follow an arc that leaves them either broken or triumphant, we like to see plots that surprise or unsettle us.

So character, first. The protagonist Diana is boring. As far as I could see, she had no distinguishing character traits beyond basic human empathy whatsoever apart from a generalised naivety. She appeared to experience little internal conflict and I don’t think anybody watching could really pretend to themselves that her flirtation with leaving human beings to their fate near the end was anything more than an artificial structural turning point in the story – note that this moment of crisis did not spring from any conflicting traits or motives within her but entirely from external events.

Put simply, she is not realistic or empathetic in any way. And yet every review I read of this film is assuring me that she represents some sort of breakthrough in female portrayal in cinema.

The hostile response to my argument might be that I am demanding that female characters be flawed. No. I am demanding that characters full stop be flawed. At what point did subscribing to the universal laws of storytelling become surplus to requirements? Basic precepts that are taught to children in creative writing lessons from the time they can write, such as plot driven by conflict and character, creating interesting characters in the first place, have in all appearances been entirely abandoned. They were good enough for Jane Austen, the Brontes, Shakespeare, Homer and Charles Dickens.

This has been a major problem in the Superhero Movie Industry (full disclosure, I am not a fan) throughout its increasingly assured and seemingly interminable reign in Hollywood. Captain America and Thor are two of the very worst examples, bland Ken Dolls devoid of personality or humour.

But some of the films in the genre have shown it is not necessary for characters in superhero films to be so. The best example is Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in the X-Men films, by far my favourite superhero portrayal: a character complex and tortured enough to make his final offering Logan a genuinely moving dystopian classic. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique/Raven in the same series has been given less development but still operates on plenty of levels. Bruce Wayne, particularly in the Dark Knight Rises, is also an excellent, flawed character. And even with a character like Iron Man, at least you can say more about him than: “wow he has a cool suit”.

Wolverine

Can’t really overstate how much I love this character.

It is, of course, possible to have a good film with an unflawed lead. Gladiator springs to mind, for example. Maximus is not really an interesting character in his own right but his purity contrasts with Commodus’s various corruptions and the conflict between his narcissism and profound self-loathing. The audience can pity Commodus on the latter point even as they yearn for his eventual destruction for his debased malevolence.

Wonder Woman offers no such complex villains or any Proximus figures sitting somewhere in the grey area. Every character is either completely good, completely bad or comic relief. In a strange way, the film’s central thesis – that human beings are both good and bad – seems to have been misunderstood by the writers themselves.

But again, it’s still possible to make a good film without any particularly interesting characters (Lord of the Rings, say), if interest in the film springs from somewhere else. Gladiator, for example, while still performing admirably in the character category is mainly driven by the classic narrative of a decorated general being reduced to a slave through the actions of a psychopathic rival only to rise again to gloriously avenge himself on said rival.

And this is where this film again for me falls so utterly flat. There’s no tension! Gladiator literally ends with the hero dying. I never for a second felt even mildly concerned for Wonder Woman’s safety because she was never in danger. She was a fucking goddess!

Wonder Woman

I believe the term is ‘OP’.

The action scenes were, as I mentioned above, ‘spectacular’ in their way, although I was extremely aware that I was mostly watching a computer generated image. But, and again maybe I am just in the minority here, I don’t enjoy action scenes because I enjoy them as spectacles. I enjoy them because I get something else from them. That can be tension, as in say a Die Hard film, where part of you believes that John McClane might die even though you know he probably won’t, or the sheer comedy of Fast and Furious films (the cinema openly laughed at Dwayne the Rock Johnson physically manoeuvring a missile with his bare arms).

Hollywood is giving us what we think we want, action scene played out earnestly as spectacle rather than story, but the end result is their utter superfluity, that your experience of the story would be much the same if you just fast-forwarded these scenes.

Nobody seems to agree with me about any of the above. The film is being hailed as a great victory for feminism and more, a strong female lead kicking generalised male ass for two hours.

I can’t agree that it is. I don’t think any piece of art should be forgiven for profound, intrinsic flaws because one supports its ideological aims. And I can’t support the idea that the essence of future feminist cinema is a depiction of women as faultless to the extent of being literal divinities.

So does Hollywood need more films with female directors and female leads? Absolutely. Is this film up to the task? Absolutely not.

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The Brits plumb new depths of depravity and wretchedness

sheeran

Dermot O’Leary talks to Ed Sheeran. Goosebumps.

In times gone by, the Brit Awards was one of those events in the calendar that you could love to hate. It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that undiluted hatred is the only possible reaction to such an orgy of desolation as I witnessed tonight.

The sterility of the show is now such that the chances of anything remotely interesting happening probably rank somewhere near the possibility of finding charismatic and appealing aliens on those new exoplanets: bugger all to zero.

But it is more than that. The Brits has become like the self-replicating robots hypothesised in the Grey Goo extinction theory, capable of devouring all of its opposition and turning it into copies of itself. I would posit that the show is now unsubvertable. Even deceased punk musician GG Allin, who would habitually smear himself in his own faeces during his live shows, would struggle to get a rise out of this audience.

The Brits.PNG

The Brit Awards, 2017 (right)

This is because subverting or looking in mockingly on something as an outsider presupposes at least some people to be enjoying that thing in the first place.

This was quite evidently not the case at tonight’s ceremony. There was a horrific sense of going through the motions about it by all involved. Everybody participating seemed to be aware of the futility of the show and, in a broader sense, of life itself.

This manifested for the viewer at home in a range of ways. The entrance of Simon Cowell, who in less hellish times might have provided a focal point for my ire, I instead greeted with a pathetic relief at the fact I actually recognised somebody there.

His interactions with the woman he was onstage with were bizarre and awkward, and he at one point appeared to effectively pretend to be a member of One Direction as he co-accepted the award that he was nominally presenting to the single member who bothered to turn up. (Touchingly, whichever one it was [unclear since Zayn Malik cleverly broke out on his own and seized the position of ‘the only one that anyone will actually remember’] said that One Direction will endure forever). And yet all I felt towards Cowell was a vague pity that he too must suffer this atrocious awards show.

What else to add? There was one vaguely palatable moment in the whole dismal ceremony. I was quite shocked when Noel Gallagher, somebody who has actually produced music of some sort of note/worth, took the stage at this music-themed awards show. Who’da thunk it?

Noel said little to introduce the award, and one wondered why he was taking time out of providing voice-overs for documentaries about ‘Definitely Maybe’ to attend the ceremony. Then it became clear why he had been summoned by whichever corporate events management consultancy runs the Brits these days: he was presenting an award to David Bowie, another person who had actually produced music of some sort of note/worth, for best album for the 2016 jazz rock album Blackstar.

noel-bowie

Noel thinks he might have spotted the Brit Awards’s credibility…oh wait, no, that’s a small star a trillion light years away.

Of course David Bowie departed this earth in that foul year of Our Lord 2016, so Noel raised the statue to the sky, saying “this award goes…to the king.”

Following, as it did, Sheeran’s performance of “Shape of You”, the dedication to one of the most towering recording artists of all time was a timely and poignant reminder that it is, or was once, actually possible for music not to be completely shit.

However, we were immediately reminded by Robbie Williams’s tuneless performance of a medley of terrible material from his latest album that music is, and will likely remain forever, completely shit.

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Olympus Has Fallen…Spectacularly


London-has-Fallen-2015-Movie-Wallpapers2.jpg

The signs of impending apocalypse are everywhere. David Bowie and Alan Rickman are dead. Stephen Fry has left Twitter. The global stock market has gone into a sort of protracted death spasm. And at the beginning of next month, ‘London Has Fallen’ will hit cinemas.

I originally began this blog to write about music, and so far that’s all I’ve done. But occasionally an ‘opus’ in another medium comes along that inspires me with such utter contempt that I am forced to respond to it with this sceptre of critical justice, my laptop.

That opus is “Olympus Has Fallen”, another film in the ‘Has Fallen’ series, and I post this review to convince anybody that is considering going to see the new British instalment in what is looking terrifyingly similar to a franchise to reconsider not only the possibility of seeing the film but also their faith in humanity.

stephen_fry_70-copy

“Stephen Fry is the latest victimin the authoritarian left’s war on funny” – The Telegraph.

‘Olympus Has Fallen’ is a thriller about a terrorist attack on the White House. Like all terrorists, the terrorists hate America for being America, which apparently means being morally upstanding, courageous and patriotic. These terrorists are North Koreans (as the sole remaining ‘communist’ state, they were the natural enemies, as this film was made before ISIS was a thing), focused on expelling the Americans from the 38th Parallel and surrounding ocean so that the North Koreans can invade the South, wipe out democracy, enslave everyone, etc.

In this film they actually, I’m not joking, physically attack Washington D.C. with a large gunship and an overwhelming number of highly trained soldiers disguised as tourists. The launch point of this gunship is not specified, but since it comes from the sea I suppose it must have flown all the way across Asia, Europe and the entire Atlantic Ocean to arrive there, accomplishing this feat entirely without detection.

Once it arrives it begins strafing American citizens on the streets, seemingly at random, and then turns its cannon upon the White House. The White House is taken fairly easily, along with all of the United States’s significant government personnel. A heroic American dog bounds forward and takes down a terrorist before another North Korean shoots it – presumably because he wants to eat it.

Aaron Eckhart, the Dark Knight’s Harvey Dent, is the ‘Rent-A-Pres’ for this film. He embodies all of those qualities that Hollywood tends to attributes to American presidents: he is brave, loves his family, is not afraid to get a little angry, but above all, he stands for everything that is great about humanity. He (obviously not intentionally on the part of the writers) has a strange, intense stupidity to him, a kind of blankness that prevents any serious introspection or reflection on the increasingly bizarre and troubling situations he finds himself in.

Rent-A-Pres has some backstory with the hero, Gerard Butler. This is because Butler’s character, a blue-collar, excessively masculine figure, who is almost certainly called Denton, Lakeley or Johnson, saved Mr. President’s life in a bizarre freak car accident at the opening of the movie, but didn’t save the life of his spouse. Because of this backstory, Lakeley, a highly trained special forces soldier, has been demoted to a desk job-rather than one of the myriad other roles that actually require a highly trained special forces soldier.

Dention

Denton’s phallus is somewhere between 12 and 15 inches long and weighs around 90 pounds (roughly the size of a baby elephant)…flaccid.

Inevitably he gets involved with the battle at the White House because, gosh darn it, he’s just too much of a maverick. Being essentially a composite of other characters Butler has played, he requires (and undergoes) very little character development. He has a dark past. He has a troubled relationship with his wife due to his dark past (the relationship is not even slightly developed or expanded upon). That’s about it.

There’s a strange moment where some other Spec Ops guy says “Aren’t you that guy who told the Speaker of the House to go fuck himself?” and Denton replies, “Yes.” He later converses directly with the Speaker of the House, completely unnecessarily played by Morgan Freeman, and this previous interaction is not mentioned or alluded to in anyway. One wonders whether Denton actually was that guy. Maybe it was another speaker – but who cares? This film is rank with the stench of the poor editing, that simple inattention to detail, that accompanies rushed release.

For example, the film-makers present us with the rules that we are to accept for this film and then completely reneges on them, most notably in the Cerberus saga. We are told that there are 3 codes needed to activate the nukes, the president has one and so do two other people. Ok, scene set. We now know what the terrorists are trying to do and how they will do it. But then after two codes are relinquished to the terrorists the terrorists suddenly gain the ability to hack rendering the whole scene where they give up the codes completely pointless.

Olympus-Has-Fallen-burning-white-house

“How dare somebody invade our country!”

It is essentially a series of cliches, loosely strung together with some mediocre dialogue and spectacular if utterly unrealistic action scenes. Angry cop takes on a team of bad guys. The pencil-pushers criticise him and ignore his advice, which leads to problems. He displays insubordination. “God Bless America” is said in the president’s closing speech. You couldn’t write it – because you are not the victim of a lobotomy.

What will people say about this film in a few years’ time? Will they say that its patriotism and optimism, its simple exposition of American virtue and heroism, helped the country through the tough times that it faced as Western capitalism ground to an ugly halt in the early 21st century? Will they say it was a putrid, festering turd of a movie, essentially summing up the West’s slow descent into a vegetative state? Personally I imagine they will say nothing. I mean, Jesus, this film is almost as bad as ‘Lucy’ – and I don’t say that lightly.

So when somebody asks, ‘do you want to go and see London Has Fallen?’ tell them no. Tell them no, and then immediately walk away from them as quickly as possible. Block their phone number, ignore any electronic messages they send you and if you ever physically encounter them again, raise some sort of acid to whatever temperature acid boils at and scald them.

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In his own words: Calvin Harris and Taylor Swift’s tragic break-up

Taylor Swifr

“The last date of my tour is coming to an end. What millions of people outside this hall may have considered only a most impressive display of musical talent, has meant immeasurably more for the Swifties, the great personal and spiritual meeting of special and empowered people.

“And perhaps one or the other among you, in spite of the compelling splendour of this pop concert, was recalling those days when it was still quite difficult to be an empowered, special person.”

Joni Mitchell, Bruce Dickinson, Neil Patrick Harris, Courtney Love, William Shatner and the surviving members of Twisted Sister were departing the stage. A single spotlight was shining down, now, on the real star of the show, that perfect vision of vulpine beauty, as I, Calvin Harris, the Artist with a Ghost as a Producer, looked on from backstage: my love, Taylor Swift.

“In the past, our enemies persecuted us and have removed the undesirable elements from the Swifties for us,” proclaimed Taylor, as the audience of enraptured pre-pubescent females gazed at her illuminated figure. “Today, we ourselves must remove undesirable elements which have proven to be mean. What is mean, has no place among us!”

I nodded, allowing myself a small smile of satisfaction. It was now a certainty: this was her greatest show ever.

And how fitting that it should be delivered in Nashville, Tennessee, I thought, her birthplace and the spiritual heartland of her beautiful music. She had come a long way since then, it was true, from earnest country chanteuse to pop queen; but she had remained true to herself throughout, and that was all that really mattered.

This homecoming gig, closing once and for all her iconic 42-date tour, was already an entry in the ledger book of modern pop history. Now her inspiring words were ensuring that this concert became one of the great musical events of all time.

“It was in this very town that I began my struggle, my musical struggle against meanness. You know this, you fans that have been with me since my first album. How often did I speak against meanness! I probably studied it more than any other singer. To this day, I have not forgotten it. Meanness could not be abolished by humility, by submission. It could only be abolished by reliance upon ourselves, by the strength of people who are special!”

The baying of the crowd rose to a dizzying roar.

Swifty

“That was your best show, ever,” I said, as we sat eating a dinner of eggs, thinly sliced ham and chicken, parmesan reggiano cheese, cookie dough and cinnamon rolls.

“I know,” Taylor said, carefully slicing her buckwheat crepe.

“I really mean it,” I said enthusiastically. “Even better than that show that you did which featured Debbie Harry, Dave Grohl, Marianne Faithful, Charlie Sheen, Lenny Kravitz, Matt LeBlanc, Bryan Adams, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Britney Spears and the cast of the Muppets. And that speech you gave…”

“I know, Calvin,” Taylor repeated shortly.

“So what now?” I asked. “Another album?”

Taylor sighed, and placed her knife and fork on the side of her plate.

“There seems to be little reason to expect further organic growth in the pop music sector,” Taylor said quietly.

“Dollar signs!” I said gleefully. “You know what’s on my mind.”

“Calvin, we need to talk. This is hard to say…it’s like trying to fill in a puzzle when there’s no right answers. But it is time you knew: I’m in love with someone else.”

I stared at her. I felt like I was lying on a rocky shore at the coastline of some desolate island, and waves were crashing down around me, and any second they were going to take my mortal body and drag it into the ancient sea.

“Who?” I whispered. “Zayn Malik?”

“No,” she said.

“Justin Bieber? Eddie Redmayne?”

“No,” she said again.

“Not…not fucking Sheeran,” I rasped, almost retching. The last time I had walked in on them together Taylor had been trying on dresses…but surely he was…

“Ed?” Taylor gave a throaty laugh. “He’s just my BFF!”

“Then who?”

“Mark Zuckerberg,” Taylor said firmly.

I nodded grimly. Of course…had not Bono, that towering colossus of the modern age, that arbiter of global justice, not proclaimed that tech start-ups were the new rock bands?

“The fact is, we’ve gone out of style,” said Taylor.

“But you say we’d never…”

“I didn’t say we would never, I said “we never”, present tense. Anyway, this is the natural evolution of my strategic roadmap,” said Taylor, staring intently at me with her small, icy blue eyes, “and there’s no potential for deviation.”

“My lady!” I protested, clutching vainly at her hand, pearly and white as if wrought of Etruscan marble. She slid it out of my reach.

“I’m sorry, Calvin,” she said softly. “One day, I’ll be living in a big, old city, and all you’re ever going to be is an aging EDM mediocrity.”

“Taylor…” I gasped. I was on my knees, prostrated before my cruel queen, my Venus in Furs, clutching at the hem of her outfit. “I want you to breathe me. Let me be your air.”

I kissed her foot with my lips, like the wretched harlot cringing before the Son of Man.

“Let me roam your body freely…” I whispered.

“Stop acting like a spoilt, petulant child,” said Taylor, drawing her foot back haughtily and getting to her feet. “I say this with love, reverence and admiration for everything else you have done. I don’t want there to be bad blood between us. Goodbye.”

Taylor and Calvin

But now I knew there was no cessation to this gloaming, no sweet respite of rosy-fingered spring awaiting at the close of this chill winter.

“Life is a play, written of lies and compromise, and we are paltry players indeed,” I gasped as I stumbled down the Nashville promenade.

“Hey, Calvin,” came a voice I recognised over my shoulder, and I tried to duck away as quickly as possible; it was too late. John Mayer had a hand on my arm and was smiling earnestly into my face. John fucking Mayer. Bile rose in my throat as I thought about just how fucking boring his music was.

“Hey, Calvin, man, what’s up? How are things?”

“They’re…” This wasn’t a feeling I could keep.

“Is everything all right, Calvin?” John asked.

“This crazy life can be a bitter pill to swallow,” I said quietly.

“Is this about Taylor, man? Are things all right with you two?”

“Things…aren’t…between us anymore,” I said. As I said the words I tasted the bitter, acrid finality of them; I heard the dull funereal brass as the earth swallowed me whole.

Mayer’s smile remained, except now I saw the laughter that danced in his eyes, and I realised that he was not an earnest, blues-inflected soulful minstrel at all: he was a deeply hateful sociopath, eaten up by envy.

“Don’t think about it, man,” he said, a satisfied smile playing across his lips. “She’s a paper doll. She’s twenty-two girls rolled into one.”

“I’ll see you around, John,” I said, turning away, thinking that I would submerge what was left of myself within the lights and cacophony of a night club.

My love, Taylor. Oh, Taylor.

“Hey dude, maybe you’ll be in her next song!” Mayer called after me. “You might finally get your name on a No.1 single!”

I turned around, ready to fall upon him, to crush his weak, pouting chin, to mash his snub piggish nose and to matt his slicked hair with his own blood. But the moment passed when I saw his terrified face: letting him live was punishment enough.

just about sums up modern life

“I have two number one albums,” I told myself, back in my hotel room. I thought of Taylor again and nausea rose within me; I fell upon the tiled floor and vomited into the bidet, painting the bowl.

The bathtub was almost full. I turned the tap to shut off the flow of water.

I lowered myself into the bath of ice.

“Ready For The Weekend was…a masterpiece,” I gasped. “A…masterpiece.”

My extremities were beginning to numb.

“I’m not alone,” I said.

My sight was blurring.

“I…created…disco.”

 

Here the author’s notes end. It is believed that Harris bought a small fishing boat and sailed out into the heart of the Pacific, where he found God.

By the summer, Taylor Swift and Facebook had fully merged into a bespoke content and marketing platform, which was rebranded SwiftX.

SwiftX, henceforth referred to as ‘the Company’, was expected to be a leader in the extremely attractive high-growth areas of the $2 trillion musical entertainment and marketing markets with complementary product portfolios, sales teams and R&D investment strategies.

The Company quickly diversified away from musical entertainment and into the far more lucrative arms industry, where it is now the fastest-growing player.

 

Fonzie jumps the shark

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Standing on the shoulders of pygmies

At a performance at a private house party last summer, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s set was coming to a close. He had one song left to sing: the 2011 hit single about a drug-addled prostitute, ‘A-Team’. A man (I picture him wearing a smart tailored suit and tie) quietly approached Sheeran and asked if it would be all right if he dedicated the final song to David Cameron. Sheeran duly performed the song with the dedication.

To quote the Guardian article on the subject,

Perhaps Sheeran, who is reportedly worth £5m, wasn’t fully aware that homelessness has increased sharply under Cameron’s tenure as prime minister, fuelled largely by benefit cuts and rising rents. A joint study last year by the charity Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed the total number of homeless has risen by 34%.

When you delve a little deeper, the glib comments about Sheeran’s wealth in the Guardian article miss the point. The fact is that Sheeran obviously does care about the homeless, since he wrote the song while volunteering at a homeless charity. He plays benefit gigs which have raised huge sums of money for these causes.

So why, then, does he not despise David Cameron, whose politics is to a large degree responsible for the problems that Ed Sheeran apparently cares so deeply about? (And to anyone who thinks that the dedication might have been pointedly ironic, I feel this is ruled out by the fact that Sheeran was performing at the party in the first place.)

It seems that the real problem is the ability of the modern mainstream musicians to ‘categorise’. They believe that supporting David Cameron is not incompatible with helping the homeless. They don’t connect the obvious effects with deeper-rooted causes. Likewise, they are unaware of their place in the whole system. Leave politics to the politicians – my job is to sing the pretty ditties.

This is apparently how Cameron himself views the music scene. He doesn’t view liking the Smiths as incompatible with being a Tory – despite the fact that the Smiths stand for pretty much everything he doesn’t stand for. He apparently likes the Jam’s “Eton Rifles”. In the words of Kurt Cobain, from Nirvana’s hit “In Bloom”,

He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along, and he likes to shoot his gun,
But he don’t mind what it means…he don’t mind what it means.

The idea that musicians should be entertainers and nothing more is a relatively new idea. Noel Gallagher infamously endorsed Blair by going to 10 Downing Street and being pictured shaking his hand. Lauren Laverne, while in the rock band Kenickie in the late 90s, described the Spice Girls as “Tory scum”. And of course, in the 80s music was more politicised still. The closing track on Morrissey’s first solo album, Viva Hate, was called “Margaret on the Guillotine” – and this was released while Thatcher was still in power. A man I spoke to recently who was young in the 80s said that you used to know exactly who your favourite bands were voting for, so that an election might be as much about the Smiths vs Duran Duran as Thatcher vs whoever the Labour guy was.

Something changed in the 90s though – and the examples of Cool Britannia dabbling in politics should really be seen as a hangover or throwback to old times rather than any kind of organic, vibrant political movement. The revolution (or counter revolution) enacted by Thatcher and Reagan in the 80s was incomplete. It took the charismatic Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to make the whole thing stick. By swinging their respective parties to the “centre” and pursuing essentially the same policies as their predecessors, they managed to narrow the terms of political debate to the extent that all that is now discussed is what type of capitalism we want. It is accepted that we all share the same goals and objectives, we just have different ways of getting there.

This has had its impact in music as well. Our generation of political pygmies, sadly, is matched by a generation of musical pygmies. Once again the key is separation or categorisation. As an example, there was a recent re-recording of the truly awful Band Aid Christmas single. The musicians all muck in and spend a day of their lives recording a tacky patronising Christmas tune (a whole day! They really are saints, aren’t they?) and job apparently done, expect us to cough up our hard-earned cash to buy their mediocre product. But there is no consideration of why the poverty is there – we just need to give some money to (help) alleviate it. It really is like treating a symptom but not the disease that causes it. Apparently Bono’s least favourite line is “thank God it’s them instead of you” – as a seasoned hypocrite he would of course be loath to admit that he is a hypocrite.

(My personal favourite line is “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time” – actually, on Mount Kilimanjaro there will be, but for the purposes of the song it makes it easier if we just imagine Africa as a massive desert filled with AIDS and ebola-ridden starving people. Better chuck them a few quid, then stop off at Primark to buy some consumer goods produced in an Asian sweat shop.)

Peter Buffett, son of Warren, commented of his work with corporate entities to try and tackle poverty that they were trying to solve problems with their right hands that people in the room had created with their left. In other words, if you really want to solve world poverty, you need to address the broader picture. Why is there so much poverty?

But there seems to be little chance of the musicians of modern times attempting to articulate a coherent dissident vision. Lady Gaga supports gay rights, Bono wants to “help Africans”, but all of them are broadly pretty happy with things as they are. John Lennon’s ambivalence about revolution has been replaced with a refusal to consider the concept at all.

The lack of engagement with politics means that the music itself is quite palpably lacking something. Apparently it’s enough for Alex Turner to perform the rock and roll madrigals, with vague, unspecific quasi-rebellious gestures, with little consideration of a broader purpose. Being a rock star just means rebelling – it apparently doesn’t have to be against anything. Dave Grohl has become a sort of elder statesmen, again repeatedly avowing that rock and roll is not dead etc, as though that actually has any meaning in isolation. But rock music is synonymous with dissidence – whether it is the youthful optimism of the Beatles throwing off the repressive shackles of the post-war era, or the Sex Pistols angrily denouncing the British monarchy. By definition you can’t be a dissident unless you are actually against something. So the last few Foos albums contain a lot of shouting, but I frankly find it hard to believe that this exceedingly affluent apolitical man is actually annoyed about anything. For some of these people it seems supporting a black man becoming President is doing your duty as far as being “progressive” goes.

The greatest rebels and outsiders in rock music in recent decades, Radiohead, have been very quiet recently. Their disavowal of modern corporate existence (“the yuppies networking!”) is sorely missed in today’s music scene. But they are a rarity, and perhaps their time of relevance has passed with their hitting middle age. Their release of an album as remarkably accomplished as “In Rainbows” at a fairly late stage in their careers suggested they might buck the general tendency for musicians becoming immediately mediocre upon hitting their thirties (“Nude”, in particular, is as good as anything they released in the OK Computer era), but I found the King of Limbs pretty nothing-y.

If rock is to once again be alive, it needs to find a meaning again, and define itself as against the modern era in a broader sense, rather than just criticising narrow aspects of it in isolation. And above all, no-one who votes for David Cameron should be allowed to play a guitar.

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Great song, shame it’s by Coldplay

I have saved on the hard drive of my laptop the most shocking piece of cultural criticism yet penned by man. It provides a unified theory of everything woeful in this world of desolation. In this vision, Justin Bieber, Olympus Has Fallen, Assad, selfies, Miley Cyrus, austerity politics, Putin, Facebook and Boris Johnson’s plan to buy water cannons to use on London citizens are shown to form a conglomerate of filth that I unceremoniously denounce. One sentence of this dialectic dynamite would send rumbles through the global economy. If read in its entirety, it could lead to a full-scale revolution in which the decrepit structures of power are torn down in a violent orgy of bloodshed and faecal horror. Guillotines would be erected in London. Ritual public humiliations would be enacted as the decadent Western world began to eat itself, just as starving cannibals in the scorching Sahara have been known to consume their own arms in desperation. In short, the blog post I have saved on my hard drive could spell the end of mankind as we know it.

 

However, I don’t think the world is ready for it yet, so I’m just going to slag off Coldplay instead.

 

 

It’s hard to get too excited about Coldplay. Let’s face it, Coldplay are lame. I don’t think even the most die-hard fans of the band are going to argue with me there.

 

I’m not saying they’re necessarily untalented songwriters, musicians, performers, anything like that. What I’m saying is that there is an essential “lameness” that pervades them; if Oasis (at least, for their first two albums) were an “oasis” in the desert of the 90s music scene, a luscious pool of clear water surrounded by verdant greenery, Coldplay in the same location would be a tepid puddle of gunk, and even after two weeks surviving on locusts and intermittent drips of your own urine, even as you threw yourself before it and supped of its essential life-giving fluids, you would find yourself morosely thinking, “really? Am I really that desperate?”

 

Why?

 

Let’s start with Chris Martin. His mule-like face in the “Yellow” video is enough on its own to drive one towards an instinctive, pervasive disdain. I dislike his voice generally, although on some songs (maybe “Fix You” at a push?) it is ok. As a result of his relatively low range, Martin sings like a pubescent boy whose voice has just broken, occasionally accidentally squeaking and receiving intense, soul-destroying ridicule from his friends as a result. His public persona is laughable. His performance style, infuriating. The jumping- need I say more? He’s just such a lily-livered excuse for a frontman; it’s pretty difficult to imagine a girl throwing their underwear at him in anything but an ironic way. I once heard two late middle-aged women on the train discussing Ollie Murs’s recent foray into dancing onstage – don’t know what the occasion was, but I can assure you I would have hated that too.

 

“I mean, who does he think he is?” One of the women said matter-of-factly. “Chris Martin? Because, you know, with him, it’s raw, isn’t it?”

 

Please come, vicious mutated superbugs, and devour our antibiotic-ridden bodies, because if Chris Martin’s dancing is what we consider to be ‘raw’ art then there surely is little reason for the human race to continue.

 

Another problem is perhaps that the music is really just a bit of a downer. Nothing really exciting ever happens in it. Nothing kicks off. It’s half melancholic, minor-key whining about isolation and loneliness, and the other half just inane ramblings. Dynamics and rhythm don’t exist in the Coldplay world. Everything just grinds onwards in a lukewarm haze of first world problems and awkward self-loathing.

 

But what troubles me most about Coldplay though, is that I don’t actually really dislike their music that much. I dislike “Coldplay” as an idea, a concept, something illusory, but when I actually listen to some of their songs I discover to my dismay that several of them are really quite agreeable. They are the band I dislike the most with the most songs I like. While “A Sky Full of Stars” is obviously a cynical attempt to create something to be played in clubs, “Magic” is quite good. “Paradise” was decent. So was “Violet Hill”. Love him or hate him, Martin is a talented songwriter. Believe me, I wish I could say something different. I wish that there was some more justification for disliking the band but there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that they are actually quite good.

 

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that if they had a more charismatic frontman, Coldplay would be a fairly respectable pop-rock outfit. Perhaps along the lines of a more commercially successful Travis, where the band members are essentially considered irrelevant bystanders. As long as Coldplay are led by a histrionic nerd with some sort of inferiority/superiority complex (which is it?) they will attract contempt and accusations of lameness will abound, no matter the quality of their music.

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Bye bye Bohemia– the slow, purposeful erasure of the artist class

Step into a music venue in Shoreditch or Camden, or even stand out on the streets for any significant portion of time, and you will eventually see that most derided of creatures: what some commentators have labelled a “bo-bo”. Wearing black leather, velvet, retro chic, with lots of piercings, probably tattoos, maybe some kind of hat like Pete Doherty. Above all, haircuts. Bleached blond, spiky, dreadlocks, whatever looks abnormal, that’s what they look like. Bo-bo stands for “bourgeois bohemian”, and describes people who are said to merge respectable incomes with counter-cultural attitudes. They work in finance, but they eat organic food. They do management consultancy or public relations for British & American Tobacco, but they volunteer at a homeless shelter and take mind-altering drugs at weekends.

The word ‘bohemian’ as far as I can tell, was first popularised in its modern form by a French writer called Henri Murger in the book “Bohemians of the Latin Quarter”, sometimes also “Scenes from the Bohemian Life.” It describes a bunch of young unmarried men living unconventional lives in an apartment in Paris. They have no incomes, compose songs, write plays and novels, and generally while away time hoping for a big break. It was popular at a time when all the artistic types were migrating to low-rent neighbourhoods where they could survive on a pittance, allowing them to fully pursue their creative projects.

Back to the 21st century. Their apparent descendants are to be found in the afore-mentioned neighbourhoods, but also, say, Brooklyn in New York. The average rent in Shoreditch is £482 and in Camden is £627…not per month, per week. The average rent in Brooklyn is around $2500 per month…about £1600. As I see these green spiky haired young people making their way around town, I wonder what job they have that allows them to afford to live in these expensive parts of town. Are all of these people semi-successful writers? Are they all down-and-out musicians? Because someone is going to have to foot that 3 figure weekly rent payment.

Although hipster is more popular, I prefer ‘bourgeois bohemian’, because it perfectly encapsulates the act of self-delusion, or as Orwell called it, doublethink, that allows ‘artistic’ or ‘rebellious’ types to exist in a world that has never been less accommodating to their existence. It is simply not possible to survive in London as a down-and-out musician in the 21st century. There is just no way. Lou Reed and the Warholites are an impossibility in the modern world. (And even if you find some way financially to survive for a certain period, perhaps before giving up your artistic dreams to take a steady job, you will find yourself with greatly, perhaps terminally reduced employment prospects.)

But how do these bourgeois bohemians survive in the workplace? Well, Louis CK made me laugh with a great bit about how people spray-paint the walls of their cubicle with pseudo-graffiti in their soulless corporate jobs. My last article was about how the act of rebellion has been cannibalised by the system, and it should be plain that your boss allowing you to spray-paint the walls of your cubicle completely removes any meaning from the act. Unless, of course, you are being paid to work for a cause that is actually subverting the things you claim to be against. In what instantly became pretty much my favourite book because it summarised everything I’ve ever thought was wrong with modern society in one unified theory, “Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?”, Mark Fisher writes,

Capitalist ideology in general…consists precisely in the overvaluing of belief – in the sense of inner subjective attitude – at the expense of the beliefs we exhibit and externalise in our behaviour. So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange.”

He quotes a writer called Zizek (there are some weird lines above the Zs that I can’t be bothered to reproduce).

…even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still doing them.

These two bleak statements sum up the compromise of the bo-bo perfectly. Perhaps I don’t need to add anything.

It is possible to argue that there is nothing inconsistent about both having green spiky hair and aiding the process of capital accumulation or the interests of a corporate elite. Well, there is nothing inherently contradictory about it. But I don’t think you can claim to be a rebel against a system that you yourself uphold. And the fact that rebellious dress sense can be separated from rebellious attitudes more generally is an obvious victory of modern consumerism. Green spiky hair now exists as a commodity that has somehow become removed from its original cause. It has no roots (snigger) or connection to a broader philosophy, it’s just a thing, like an Ipod.

In the music news- Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys gave an ironic take on the “rock and roll will never die” speech at the Brit Awards. It was so ironic that even the Guardian didn’t realise he was joking. The way that people try to subvert and rebel during these ceremonies brings to mind overwhelmingly a staged debate with a Nazi party official (well, not overwhelmingly – it took me quite a while to come up with that metaphor, actually, but you know, artistic license and all that). Again think of the Zizek quote- you’re still turning up to the Brits, even if you are taking the piss once you get there. Oh, and mediocre middle-aged rock band Elbow have released a new anthem for people who wear tweed at weekends. All in all, it’s been a pretty lacklustre century so far…maybe we should just skip it.

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