[12/9/2022 - updated with added data, images + videos]
"Really awful is more interesting to listen to than pretty good", it says up there at the top - a blog motto borrowed from Uncle Brian Eno.
Does seem like there's more food for thought from contemplating failed 'n' flawed art / entertainment , whether music or film or TV or fiction. Especially if the shitness can be taken as epistemically indicative, a symptom of some larger formation.
Mostly, though, there's the amazement factor - how did this come to be? how did its creator ever imagine this was a good thing to do? how could they stand to play this tune night after night in concert? To labor over it protractedly in the recording studio? And how on earth did they persuade the Money People to invest in this until its shitty fruition? Perhaps most mysterious is the creator's pride, and their confidence - their sheer self-belief and conviction that the world is crying out for this shit and will clasp it to its collective bosom!
There is definitely a corruption of sensibility that sets in when you've been in this music-listening / music-evaluating / music-thinking game for an exceedingly long time... It gets to the point where the pungency of shite is more stimulating than all but the most supremely splendid.
And so I present: ShitBrit.
Mostly this is an exercise in pointing at things and going "Why?!?" Occasionally a thought will be ventured.
Attentive readers of this drivel-blog will notice that this episode is to some degree a return to that sporadically picked flaky scab o' mine known as the Bad Music Era... But there has been some mission creep, or Era Sprawl, so the trawl sweeps beyond the 85-86 Nadir and into the '90s... The later examples are very much spiritually of a piece with the BME stuff - and the connective is nationality, of course.
Partly it's a structural thing, to do with the UK nexus of weekly music papers, publicists, radio pluggers and radio producers, people who book bands for television shows. Really truly shaky musical propositions can get surprisingly far - onto music paper covers, TV youth programs, record deals, and even into the charts. There is also the native tradition of the novelty single.
But there's something more... Every country in the world has its musical shit - schlager, or some phoney local version of a Anglo / American trend or scene. But there is something unique about Britshit. America's shite has a totally different texture and tang. Something quintessentially British, or even English, animates this aural offal. So in a funny way, there's a curious inverted patriotism lurking here too: only my homeland produces this precise type of crap.
Nominations for future installments most welcome - as are ShitBrittier examples of tunes / videos by the groups below.
Evidence in support of the "really awful > pretty good" proposition, insofar as I've watched this clip many more times in the last decade than any group from the same timeframe that I adore and revere.
The Ben Elton introduction really adds to the inglorious ShitBritness.
Ahead of their own time in one element only - the hyper-accentuated eyebrows seem totally 2010s
Grebo in general is a rich seam o' ShitBrit. I have had the misfortune of seeing Gaye Bykers live. And they were probably the stand-out entertainment in that whole bunch.
MM shoulders some of the blame (although Arsequake League was solidly opposed - on the grounds that grebo quaked no arses)
Did they all hail from the Midlands? The word Stourbridge springs to mind unbidden.
Now there’s loads of mediocre music in the world... and then there’s the vast mundane plain of the well-made middlebrow. To properly qualify as Shitbrit, there needs to be an extra level of imposture and fecklessness - a “getting away with it” element. The group relies on attitude and front to compensate for the fact they can’t be arsed to work up a basic level of competence.
So for instance you might hate Fatboy Slim - or in a different area, Housemartins. But there is a basic level of competence in execution that is undeniable. The product, misconceived or appalling for other reasons, does its self-designated job. Most Madchester, the bulk of Britpop - it is lame or unimaginative, gauche or plain naff, but a base-level solidity passes muster. The failings of The High or the Mock Turtles or Cast are on the level of conception rather than execution.
Sleeper, though - the ShitBritness is flagrant, writ large in the writing itself (the ungainly structure, the bandy-legged rhythm, the ill-hewn lyric) and the performance (the lion's share of infamy here going to Wener for her singing - there is no voice as such - and "dancing").
MM - a hit with the Shit Girl
Managed by a music journo James Brown (then features editor at NME but soon to start Loaded) and fronted by another NME journo with alleged sex appeal. Not promising, eh?
I remember a Fabulous feature in which they were playing a gig in the provinces and Brown explained to the reporter that he never booked a hotel for the band in such circumstances - "if they don't have the nous and the gumption to cop off with someone after the show, they don't deserve to be in Fabulous".
A comp of Fabulous recordings released this very year would you Adam and Eve it?
Girls driven crazy by Simon Dudfield's crotch, we are supposed to believe
They tried the same sales pitch at the time
1991 - so a little bit too far in front of the coming Shitegeist that was the New Wave of New Wave
Admittedly Flowered Up do have a semi-redeeming moment - "Weekender". It's almost-great. But I suspect that the group may not be doing much playing on the record - the epic-ness of the sound, never so much gestured at on the earlier F-Up records, gives off a whiff of Frankie Goes To Hollywood on "Relax" and "Two Tribes". And a lot of the almost-greatness is down to the video - really a short film about the ups and downs of the raving lifestyle, full of echoes of mod and "Friday On My Mind", and actual samples from Quadrophrenia etc.
the debut Head LP - A Snog on the Rocks
A track from their major label debut Tales of Ordinary Madness - "1000 Hangovers Later"
The singer Bertie really fancied himself - the group's repertoire includes a cover of "Me and Mrs Jones"
They carried on the hard boozing theme - and the erroneotion that the singer was a sex symbol - with another album for Virgin
In between PG and Head, Gareth had led this other, wildly different outfit, whose haplessness would almost qualify for ShitBrititude, but they have better intentions and sources - arguably better outcomes, although personally I've never managed to make it through either God or I Am Cold.
Sheep on Drugs
What a weedy vocal.
After catching this on Old Grey Whistle Test at the time, I have never been able to take Mr Hitchcock seriously.
Intro from Mark Ellen boosts the ShitBrit Factor
Strangely I love Martin Newell's stuff.
Garage rock (The Prisoners, Thee Milkshakes, etc)
A recreation that comes out wrong - the lust for the lost "real" producing a false and forced energy.
With the first group, you can hear that before they went "garage", they were probably a mod revival band.
BritShit factor always intensified three-fold when framed by Jools Holland.
I mentioned the structural factor (weekly music papers, TV bookers, etc) causing this churn that requires new stuff, not-ready stuff, shaky propositions... But you can only blame the system so much - a lot of the fault lies with the audience, what they are prepared to put up with. There is something about the British tolerance for deficiency that is unique (I wonder if it goes back to the rationing era - and how for decades after rationing was over, "ice cream" in the UK was basically made of vegetable fat, it was margarine with a lot of sugar and flavorings. Or the kind of muck they serve for school dinners, all those ghastly desserts like spotted dick, milk pudding, blancmange).
Carducci talks about a kind of listening where you sense the group's intention and supply it aurally even when it's not achieved or barely even gestured at. He was talking specifically about how after punk and its ethos of deskilling, you had a lot of rhythmically substandard outfits who got very successful - how British rock in the '60s and '70s had been all about great drummers and rhythms sections but after punk you could prosper as a band with barely adequate drumming, feeble rhythms etc. That only got worse with indie and Britpop.
There's a kind of solidarity-based listening where you like the attitude or line of patter that the group puts out - support their values or reckon they are good people - and as a result are prepared to turn a blind ear to the manifest failings in sonic execution. You imaginatively project the kind of musical substance that they ought to have and would supply if capable of it, or if prepared to go to the bother of learning how to deliver it.
Curious that the Happy Mondays, for my money one of the greatest, most undervalued bands Blighty ever produced, should cast such a shadow over shitbrit. Remember that Blur began as purloiners of the Mondays, and that Bez is pretty much the most fondly remembered/least wince-inducing (delete as appropriate) dancer in a band. At least he didn't do robot mime or put a massive flower round his head.ReplyDelete
As for choices for shitbrit, how about Bingo by Catch? Only really noted for being the song ITV were playing on a repeat of The Chart Show, when they cut to an announcement that Princess Diana had been rushed to hospital.
Forgot to mention: Kinky Afro was originally to be called Groovy Afro, only the Farm's Groovy Train caused a swift name-change.Delete
Never heard of Catch. I was living most of the time in USA by the end of '94, so much of the worst of the Britpop afterwave I completely missed. Caught the names in the UK music papers but increasingly didn't bother reading the music papers.Delete
In my first year at university in Sheffield in the early nineties, I was in halls of residence with about 200-300 other students, but there were only about five or six people who regularly went to gigs. There was therefore a kind of reciprocal understanding that if one of us wanted someone else to go to one of "our" gigs, then we in turn had to go to one of theirs. This meant that if I wanted to drag someone along to see Spiritualized or Mercury Rev or something, I had to go and see the likes of Ned's Atomic Dustbin or Fatima Mansions. So I really saw so much of this dreck first hand - I think I even went to see Carter USM. The only band I definitely drew the line at were The Cardiacs, because at least all the other crap bands were fairly easy on the ear.ReplyDelete
But a lot of people I knew were really into this stuff - Jesus Jones, EMF,, etc - and it was mostly people who were physically very energetic; people whose hobby was rock climbing or surfing, non-cerebral types who just enjoyed the sheer rumbunctious energy of it.
The other thing I think about in hindsight was how this scenario tended to reveal how popular music has never really been that popular - that in a place of a few hundred young students, almost nobody went to see any contemporary bands. The number of people who were/are really committed to pop music and youth culture, as opposed to only experiencing it ambiently or as an occasional distraction, is I am sure a pretty tiny proportion of the population - maybe 1 or 2%. Otherwise I suspect pop music has mainly been a media spectacle, the constant manufacturing of "something going on".
That's interesting about the 'physical' types being into the bumptious sort of indie.ReplyDelete
I fear you are right. Certainly my own memories of student days is that most of my peers had fairly desultory engagement with music. One girl I knew had a single album - a Rolling Stones best-of. There was a bloke who relatively speaking was a serious music head - had a really really nice hi-fi, much better than my own - but his collection, in 1981, was entirely older stuff like Led Zeppelin and Queen (from the mid-70s run of albums). The time-lag thing is a factor - you might like music but you're into stuff you heard from older brother and older sister. So you're into Joy Division - but you get into them in 1986.
I think if anything kids today might be more into music, judging by my kids and their friends. But then it's easier to be into music - it doesn't cost anything at all, whereas back in the day records and concert tickets were competing with other stuff in terms of your very reduced financial circumstances as a youth.
There's also the thing that the even the up-to-date music that people listened to was not what the mythology designates. In my three years at university from 1991 to 1994 by far and away the person whose music I heard played the most was.......Lenny Kravitz.ReplyDelete
NOBODY listened to The Stone Roses or Primal Scream or even Nirvana, and it's total fiction that they did. The routine was Lenny Kravitz when everyone was just chilling, then Pink Floyd or Santana when the joints came out. This was almost universal, no matter who you were hanging out with, because most people didn't care that much about music beyond a certain social utility.
Anyway, back on topic, Psychobilly was a feeder channel for ShitBrit, I think.
Absolutely. Psychobilly should definitely figure. I remember going up to Manchester to see my girlfriend who had just started university there. She took me to see The Guana Batz - who were atrocious. Things were already shaky between us but the affront of this night out - the idea that this would be anything I'd ever wish to be subjected to - further convinced me of a fundamental incompatibility. (This is getting into High Fidelity territory - breakups over mixtapes).Delete
Back when I was in secondary school grunge and metal were how one guaged musical taste, amongst the lads anyway. Always remember one guy passing around photos of being backstage at a Death concert with the lead singer and mainman, (and me laughing at his silly name). Course in retrospective best of 90s list they're more likely to appear than say, Soundgarden. Tho I also recall Pavement's first album being talked up a lot. Such was the way in rural Ireland,not a surprise that the definitive book on Faith No More was written by a guy from Co. MonaghanDelete
I have always bridled at that Carducci line about British drummers after punk. Stephen Morris is one of the greats, unfailingly in JD and intermittently in NO. Mike Joyce was terrific. Surprisingly, and quite unnecessarily, Laurence Colbert of Ride is amazing - much better than he needs to be for a band that does not exactly rely on its rhythmic agility as its main selling point. Matt Helders was deemed good enough to back up Carducci faves Iggy Pop and Josh Homme.ReplyDelete
I suppose after Watts/Moon/Bonham/Mitchell/Baker/Ward/Bruford, it might feel like a bit of a drop-off, but that is setting the bar impossibly high.
He's not saying that suddenly there are no good drummers at all, like a cut-off switch. In fact he has a page in Rock and the Pop where he lists the after-punk groups in the UK that have good to great rhythm sections. Dire Straits are one of them. But A Certain Ratio, Pop Group, various others are mentioned. He also mentions others where an interesting or unusual approach to rhythm - involving often the whole group, some aspect of the vocals or another instrument like keyboards - compensates for the fairly limited drumming, pushes the music forward.Delete
Stephen Morris is obviously a great, very original. But I note that your list is not that long! The dude in Ride - I have heard this said, I must say I never noticed, but then I find all other aspects in Ride so flatteningly dull. Being a good drummer in a boring band is a bit of a waste. But I shall go back and listen closely.
I think in recent years, there's a guy in the Libertines, the Arctic Monkeys are pretty dynamic rhythmically. But honestly if you tune into Jools Holland, it's astonishing how dull and flat the drumming is in most of these groups. It contributes nothing to to music, just marks time. The drummer is there because rock groups have drummers.
I think it's undeniable that punk had this effect where a horde of people were convinced that not being able to play was no impediment to being in a band. With guitars you can work up an exciting noise that covers over inexpertise much more easily than with drums. If the drums aren't happening, aren't gelling with the bass, aren't propelling the whole thing along, then the foundations are shaky. It feels weak. A case in point would be The Adverts - one of the groups Carducci singles out for "crimes against rhythm". It's just feeble stuff compared with other punks like the Ruts or X-Ray Spex.
Loz Colbert from Ride is a tough call. He's a super-competent drummer and technically the best musician in the band. Even at the time, people noticed that he kinda sounded like he should be playing for a different band (probably something metal). Which begs the question about whether his drumming actually fits the style of music he is deploying it in (and therefore whether he is actually good). The rhythm section is undermined because Steve Queralt is barely an adequate bassist. Given the power, I would have replaced him with Morgan Nicholls from The Senseless Things (another technically excellent musician who stuck out like a sore thumb in his group).Delete
What do you reckon has been the most commercially successful ShitBrit act? Jamiroquai? They're Ivanka Trump's favourite group.ReplyDelete
I don't mind Jamiroquai. I am bit puzzled by how hugely and continuously successful they have been - the man in the hat is worth 40 million, I read somewhere. But "Virtual Insanity" is a jam.Delete
One of the things that strikes me about 2nd and 3rd (and 4th and...) tier music is how ....LABORIOUS so much of it sounds. I remember hearing this instantly forgettable number by Aussie indie also-rans SuperjesusReplyDelete
https://youtu.be/mjrKjogMXvo and being struck by how much EFFORT seemed to have gone into it; all the frustrating, sweat-laden, furrow - browed hours spent trying to craft a melody that was in some way mildly distinguished, a couplet that was in someway mildly memorable. Compare and contrast with say, (in honour of Chistine McVie's memory) Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere". As notes flow easily and naturally into one another, each verse effortlessly and perfectly resolving prior to the chorus, one can't but help think "why, this sounds so right, so OBVIOUS, so simple and straight-forward...why on earth hasn't anyone come up with this melody before?"
Totally. Effortlessness is one of the great miracles, or hard-achieved illusions, in music - possibly what separates the musically genius from the rung below.Delete
Are you looking for the word sprezzatura?Delete
That's a good word, I'm going to try to memorize it ! I'm not sure if it's exactly "studied carelessness" though - it feels more natural, like something springing forth fully formed. But perhaps that *is* the studied bit - craft that conceals itself, magically invisibilizes its own labored genesis.Delete
As a long time fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I've long been used to trying to decipher the why of bad art - what separates an endearingly overreaching incompetent filmmaker like Ed Wood from an actively hateful, stone-faced filmmaker like Coleman Francis - so this is a subject that's close to my heart.ReplyDelete
I agree that there's something distinct about US shitty music vs UK shitty music, and I think it's partially that the former is mostly failed earnestness, while the latter is mostly failed irony. Failed earnestness can be enjoyable in its straightforward badness, as well as in a 'good try, sport' amateur way. Failed irony is like a bad joke - it grates on you, because it tries to metaphorically wrap its arm around you in a buddy-buddy shared affinity that you can see right through
The earnestness is part of it. I think there is a lot of less 'sheer crapness' on the US scene. The basic rudiments of playing seem to be more firmly established. Going back to the Carducci thing about drummers, you go see any band in a bar in the States, the rhythm section is solid. Whereas in the UK, the number of bands where the drumming job is the short-straw assignment, off-loaded onto the mate who wants to be in the band and there's nobody better available.Delete
To get proper Britshit-style effrontery in the US, you probably would need to go to a town where there's an art school or two.
The US seems to naturally churn out slick, tasteful professional-grade musicians. You see this on solo albums by British performers in the 70's - the likes of Jeff Beck, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton - there is always a point were they shed all the British musicians and their bands become all-American.Delete
The results aren't always beneficial, because it is always possible to become too smooth, but it's definitely a phenomenon.
Is there more a culture of the school band in the US school system? Not that would necessarily lend itself to playing rock, but might explain a greater number of capable drummers maybe. At my school, we had a Music Class that everyone did for a while, but to actually learn an instrument you had to get special tutoring.Delete
I suspect it's probably a function of the size of the country and the demand for session musicians for TV, ads, etc. It's both harder to get to the top and easier to make a living once you get there. Plus you don't just have school bands, you have church bands too. Larry Graham of Sly and Family Stone learned to play in church.Delete
Phil - " is I am sure a pretty tiny proportion of the population - maybe 1 or 2%" - Absolutely - if that. Some of these bands sold tens of thousands of singles/albums - basically 0.1% of the UK population.ReplyDelete
And: The top 10 albums of the 90s in the UK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_albums_of_the_1990s_in_the_United_Kingdom
This is the truly popular music of the 90s - yes, Oasis are at the top - but immediately below them are Simply Red and the Spice Girls. Kravitz does not appear on this list but he would not be out of place.
As for Brit indie, I am reminded of Sturgeon's Law: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law
Going back to structural issues, in the 90s, there seemed to be a massive imbalance between the sheer demand of the inkies to fill a huge amount of space each week with stuff and the actual supply of decent music within their genre boundaries that was available. 90% of that stuff should never have seen the light of day. But needs must as the deadline drives.
Other Matt M:Delete
I’ve found this to be true of any decade.
We look back on previous decades as golden eras, but there’s a ton of dross for each band we remember fondly. One of the pleasures of Simon’s Bad Music Decade lists is going ‘oh, God yeah - I remember reading about them’.
I've always understood 'Flowered Up' to be the love & peace (second summer of etc) riposte to 'Tooled Up' . . .ReplyDelete
I seem to remember an album or single image of a weed or flower coming up through the pavement - that may be the designer's interpretive twist, though. So maybe you are right. As a twist on loved-up or E'd up, it's rather poetic and sweet I think. Nice echo of punk and "flowers in the dustbin" too. UK bands often excel at the naming of groups and albums, alter-ego names for the group members, stage presentation stuff...Delete
Matt - you've also got to factor in how many of the albums that were bought were actually listened to. My copy of Nevermind has experienced contact with a stylus needle exactly once. My copy of Definitely Maybe probably twice.ReplyDelete
I'm reminded how second hand record shops always seemed to have the same records in again and again. I don't think there was a second hand record shop in the whole of Britain that didn't have a dog-eared copy of "What's THIS for?". Also whenever I took a bunch of unwanted records to the local second hand record shop the owner would always sift out a good 50% of them for being unresellable.
It never occurred to me at the time to think "hang on, am I pursuing an extremely niche hobby here?"
Sez Phil, "Going back to structural issues, in the 90s, there seemed to be a massive imbalance between the sheer demand of the inkies to fill a huge amount of space each week with stuff and the actual supply of decent music within their genre boundaries that was available. 90% of that stuff should never have seen the light of day. But needs must as the deadline drives." This is key - it's a unique shituation in the UK, there's no other country that has four weekly music papers. 51 issues to fill a year (the Xmas being a double). Even more so in the '70s, when music biz advertising is at its peak and is monopolized by the music papers, so the amount of ad pages results in a correspondingly huge number of editorial pages. But still the case in the '80s and '80s - there's all these pages to fill! this could be great because as a writer you could get a lot of space on a band that might be just a half-page or quarter-page item in a monthly magazine. You could do thinkpieces etc. There was space to be indulged. But there was a lot of filler and it's just improbable that any scene can churn up that much noteworthy music. There are incredibly hot seasons or era like postpunk where there is a lot of good stuff but other times, there's a structural thing where things that are not-yet-ready (and in many cases, will never be ready) get promoted to a level of attention and coverage that is not warranted. And a lot of groups get covered because they have a good idea they haven't fully realised, or they have attitude or are good talkers (making journos job easier, headline and pull quote friendly).ReplyDelete
80s and 90s i meant to write obviouslyDelete
That quote should be credited to Matt M, not me, though I do totally agree with it as well.Delete
You are right - it should be "Sez Matt M" - sorry Matt!Delete
One other thing I have just realised - that the Punk emphasis on deskilling supports my long-held contention that Punk was essentially Thatcherite.ReplyDelete
Maybe the 60's musicians like Jeff Beck, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton etc. were partially channelling the old working class value of Pride In Your Job, which was as anathema to Malcolm McLaren as it was to Keith Joseph.
True. And the fields that were re-energized by Punk - graphic design, fashion, film-making, PR - became important sectors of the British economy in the 80s.Delete
"Punk was essentially Thatcherite"ReplyDelete
Well, it did emerge as a reaction against the ennui, pessimism and stagnation of mid 70s Britain (3 day week) and the US (Carter's "Crisis of Confidence") ... and Ian Curtis infamously 'fessed up to voting for Maggie (although the Ramones would remain contemptuous of Reagan - "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg")
Joey Ramone did, Johnny Ramone not so much (or at all).Delete
You can make a case that there's a shared sense of individualist and anti-collectivist ideology in both late 70s punk and late 70s Hayek/Friedman neoliberalism. They are both revolts against the post-WW2 social democratic consensus. Thatcherites tended to venerate hard work tho (by small businessmen rather than the proletariat) and decried public sexual immortality while getting up to all kinds of kinky stuff in private (the punks engaged in acts of public licentiousness while being a bit naive in private).ReplyDelete
The recent TV dramatization of Steve Jones’ book was not perfect, by a long chalk. But one thing it did capture quite well was the sense of Punk as working-class / lower middle-class entrepreneurship, seeking to disrupt a music business dominated by the incumbent Prog behemoths.Delete
One of punk's most notable traits was how curiously asexual it was for such a youth based culture- when not ignored, sex was often regarded with cynicism ("Love Comes in Spurts") or disgust (Johnny Rotten's "3 minutes of squelching noises")Delete
Punk as Thatcherite/neoliberal analogue - I very much think there's something to that, but I wanted to seize on Phil's comment about 60s/70s virtuosity as working-class 'pride in your work', because that was something I wanted to point to about US vs UK music, but didn't quite know how to put it - there's a borderline athletic pleasure in skill for skill's sake in the 'lower classes' of US music, whether it's being the best pedal steel player in country or being the best freestyle rapper in hiphop or being the best drummer in anything ('best' being subjective even there, but you know what I mean) and I think that affects how certain genres or styles are received here versus elsewhere (there's a vast gulf between the stereotypical UK audience for prog - pretentious, asexual public schoolboys - and the stereotypical US audience - blue-collar stoners and burnouts of roughly equal gender) It also comes through in post-punk bands who were of actual working-class origins - the Minutemen or Bad Brains (an ex-fusion band) saw no reason to play worse than they could in the name of authenticityReplyDelete
I also believe the closest thing in the US to shitty UK music coming from art schools is correct - I often wonder how much of Sonic Youth's unlikely success in walking much of their talk, so to speak, came from Ranaldo and Shelley being practiced, experienced musicians who could steer Gordon and Moore's concepts to where they needed to go - and how much of their imitators/successors' failure to pull it off came from not having that.
Since there's been so much talk here on the lack of instrumental proficiency in ShitBrit and whether that's a consequence of punk's here-are-three-chords-now-start-a-band ethos, I found myself thinking about the link between punk and the new wave of British heavy metal. My understanding is that the NWOBHM scene had a slightly uneasy bond with the punks, appreciating the savagery and intensity of punk music but holding punk's primitivity and intellectualism in some disdain. Lemmy is the most significant crossover figure, oft declaring his fondness for punk until he died. Iron Maiden's debut album begins with the rather punky Prowler, but little since in their back catalogue is reminiscent of punk. Can anyone else ferret out other examples of NWOBHM tipping the cap towards punk?ReplyDelete
In any case, the genre of metal makes a very high priority of instrumental proficiency: just look at the existence of the shredder subgenre. Is it less the case that punk led British musicians to be less technical than that British musicians interested in technical displays largely avoided indie in the wake of punk and sought genres which would value their abilities more? I should also say that critics have tended to treat metal as less credible than certain other genres, which could hve produced a feedback loop of instrumental proficiency becoming increasingly ghettoised within the land of the uncool.
This rings true - and perhaps varies by instrument. For a guitarist, it's definitely metal. If you're a drummer then metal, jazz or funk are more challenging to play. For a bassist, it's jazz and funk. "Indie" tended to value other things - design, image, etc.Delete
Metal developed its own press (Kerrang) and its own subculture completely separate to the inkies. Which was freakin' huge. And, yeah, I would definitely say there were some class differences at play in the UK. And also noting that in the 90s, dance music production sucked up a huge amount of musical talent. Samplers and sequences requiring their own virtuosity. Esp. if you were interested in rhythm. A would-be drummer might choose to learn program something instead - or become a DJ. In fact, on reflection, I think that in this thread so far, punk has been credited with too much influence and dance music with too little.
My nomination would be Kingmaker. I’m not sure they qualify all the way, but I think they fit under the criterion of structural churn, the crap peddled by the "nexus of weekly newspapers". In the late 80s/early 90s, readers were periodically presented with alleged successors to the throne vacated by The Smiths. “Heirs to The Smiths” was almost a subgenre unto itself. I recall Gene, Echobelly, Suede, and Kingmaker. (I’m sure I’m forgetting others.) I still half-recall the quote that sent me off in search of Kingmaker’s “Eat Yourself Whole”: “Like ‘Panic’-era Smiths without the look-at-me foppery”. Sold! I bought their debut LP...the, uh, one with cartoon sperm on the cover...and tried very, very hard to like it. Would have taken industrial helpings of “imaginative projection” to get there, though. I feel bad saying this, as I never thought they were particularly obnoxious or grasping. They seemed like mediocrities happy to take what the press was giving them, which is fair enough for a young band as far as I’m concerned.
Ride was mentioned above, so I’d like to offer a half-serious second nomination: Slowdive. (Only half-serious because I never bought any of their records; I have no settled opinion about them. Maybe they’re good in the studio.) I saw them open for Ride, in 1992, and in trying to establish “atmospherics” they sounded like anaesthetized “School of Rock” dropouts. Strictly nap-time for 45 minutes, the emperors had no clothes. I definitely laughed out loud. At least that night, they were prime candidates for someone to point at them and say “Why?” I would have forgotten all about them, except Ride came on and promptly blew the roof off the joint. I’ll never forget it. In a live setting, I’ve never witnessed so blazing a contrast between two genre-mates. (Overall, Ride were okay—I get the disdain for them, and can’t defend the lyrics, but I got a charge from their energy, and yes, the drummer was awesome, shoegaze’s Neil Peart.)
I think you could definitely put Kingmaker, Gene, Echobelly in that post-Smiths "forgettable" bucket. Suede are a bit different - Bernard Butler was a genuinely great guitarist and Brett Anderson was a genuinely charismatic frontman (if not a great singer). I still remember seeing them supporting The House Of Love in 1992 and blowing the headliners off the stage. I just listened to Metal Mickey and it is still fantastic.Delete
As for shoegaze - a few months ago I found this doco: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlvmTp6-SwU
I always used to get Slowdive and Chapterhouse confused.
I'm not sure I've ever heard Kingmaker. Suede are in a class above all the other Smiths-indebted of that time. Slowdive made some really lovely records (the first EPs esp Catch the Breeze and "Shine" - not so much the debut album which was a bit Catch a Snooze - and there are people who swear by the next two albums as classics sort of in a zone between shoegaze and post-rock). I can well imagine they weren't a terribly exciting live band though - in fact I remember seeing them and it didn't translate to the stage that well.Delete
Long-time reader, first-time commenter here (having discovered your writing from the excellent Rip It Up And Start Again book). I'm glad I'm not the only one who's repelled by Robyn Hitchcock's milquetoast brand of "neo-psychedelia" (which is really just dull singer-songwriter pablum with "weird lyrics"). That OGWT performance you linked just exemplifies how plodding and unimaginative Robyn and his bandmates are. The vocal nonsense he indulges in at the 2-minute mark just tops off the manure cake that is his music. His earlier band, The Soft Boys, are surely one of the unworthiest cult acts ever to be anointed as such. I just wish you had eviscerated Robyn harder in this post, but given how dull his music is, I suppose there isn't much to critique about it. It's also amusing how Robyn is mostly a nonentity in his native England, never having been a favorite of either the mainstream or the underground. He became a cult hero for R.E.M. (another band I largely despise) and their ilk in the '80s in the U.S., once again showing that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.ReplyDelete
If you ever need a reminder of just how woefully underbaked The Soft Boys were as a band, just watch their pitiful performance of "Only the Stones Remain" on this excerpt from the 1980 Futurama festival, starting at 19:50. What makes The Soft Boys' performance here sound even more stodgy and old-wave is that it is directly followed by Altered Images doing "Dead Pop Stars", which has way more energy and more interesting musical/lyrical ideas at work (The contrast between Clare Grogan's peppy vocals/stage presence and the almost gothic sound of the band, for one). The Soft Boys sound like a pub rock band by comparison.
There's one Soft Boys song which very nearly convinces me - "I Wanna Destroy You". But yeah otherwise I would have to concur. I caught Hitchcock as support to REM when they played some large venue in the UK in '87 - they seemed to have abruptly gone to the big league, but of course would go much bigger. Now they are the group I do like, but mostly for Murmur and a few later singles. They had an awfully stodgy streak in the mid-80s. Cosign on the Altered Images, it's a great clean sound. The Scottish 'fresh guitar air' thing.Delete
Oh, and speaking of ShitBrit, this Anglophile would like to nominate Billy Bragg and Julian Cope as prime offenders. Bragg's dreadful earnestness and milquetoast presentation (he's a great example of the liberal lyrics/conservative music dichotomy that so many folkies/singer-songwriters are guilty of; no wonder I prefer The Pop Group, Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, et al for politically charged music) make him an object of my scorn, as well as the platitudes that his fans pour on him. John Peel, usually a reliable barometer of taste, erred heavily when he started promoting Bragg. Have you ever read the story of how Peel discovered Bragg?ReplyDelete
As for Julian, he's a woefully inconsistent artist. I like most of his work from The Teardrop Explodes, but as a solo artist, he misses the mark more often than he hits it. Cope's a fine example of an artist who needs an editor badly to filter out his musical ideas (e.g., putting a cor anglais on "Reynard the Fox", which appeared on the LP "Fried", a real slog to listen to). His attempts to "rock out" come off as hamfisted nonsense, especially considering that he usually vacillates between that and cloying psych-pop, two opposite extremes.
I don't think you can deny the niftyness of several of those Teardrop Explodes singles, and Peggy Suicide was great. But yeah the first run of solo albums are embarrassing. As a curator of renegade rock he is great - I was just looking at Krautrocksampler last night for the first time in ages. He wrote an amazing piece on garage punk and punkadelia for NME in 83 and Head Heritage, the Japrocksampler tome, it's all great stuff.Delete
Billy Bragg did "A New England" which is a wonderful song, even more so in the Kirsty Maccoll rendition. But yes - good heart, good values, but not something I would want to listen to. In fact I don't think I have listened to it, actively, on an album basis, so the judgment is based on a few accidental chancings-upon. Didn't he do an awful out-of-character single in the early '90s called something like "Sexuality"? I do not know the story of how Peel discovered Bragg.