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How not to be famous


There was a peculiar aura around the Festival Republic stage.  The crowd stretched out all the way outside and triangles constructed of dirty fingers graced the air. As the crowd began to demand that the sacred band took to the stage a chant of “Alt-J, Alt-J” broke out. The atmosphere was electric and somewhat surreal as moments of silence brought more eerie triangles to the sky.  Even not being an Alt J fan, and to a certain extent actively disliking the band, I was caught up in the occasion. I sure as hell was ready to tessellate.

And then, a few skinny, spotty, spectacled teenagers nervously wandered onto the stage to remind us all that they were indeed human.  This, I understand, is part of their charm, and to a certain level it is endearing to see a few regular Joe’s on stage. But when the event is approached with such expectation, you want to see a fucking good show, and these guys were just too shy.

Nervously the lead singer mumbles into the microphone that they didn’t expect so many people, and to be fair they weren’t lying, they clearly didn’t expect it. They were embarrassed. The band did nothing more than attempt to recreate the sound on the record, they didn’t move about the stage, get the crowd involved or really act like they even wanted to be there.  You felt yourself willing them to get through the set, rather than dancing like a madman in the tiny bit of space you had found for yourself in the packed tent.

Pop-rock-indie-whateveryouwanttocallthem stars nowadays, seem to be embarrassed about fame. Alt J could barely cope with the hype that surrounded them, and neither, it seems can the Vaccines.  Their new album, while having a few strong moments like the closing track Lonely World, is a confused mess, with at the heart the problems Justin has with being famous. While songs on the first album made no real sense like “Wetsuit”, somehow singing that nonsense felt so right, but singing “I’m no teenage icon, I’m no Frankie Avalon” just doesn’t click. It’s just there’s no way we can relate to it. There’s a certain energy in the first album which seems to have gone, and now we have some twenty-something men wishing they were women.

We need more bands like Tribes.  Tribes just sing it like they fucking mean it and have a good time, and guess what, if they have a good time, we have good time too. They were probably one of the best bands at Reading.  They strode on to the stage and played their music loud and jumped about and had a good time and the crowd responded like a crowd should. If you’re going to be a musician, don’t be afraid of it, go up on the stage and declare yourself to be the best.

The sooner bands stop trying to be original and deep, and instead just sing what they want and how they want, the better. Bands like The Black Keys, Tribes, Alabama Shakes, hell…. The Palma Violets (if you don’t know them check them out) completely get this. And I hope more do too, soon.

Why I Don’t Like Frank Turner


Why I don’t like Frank Turner. 

Hello avid readers. I figured that this post may gain somewhat of a negative reaction from some of you as Frank Turner is quite a popular guy. So I’d like to start by saying that this is my opinion, you are very much entitled to your own, even it may be completely misplaced… in my eyes at least.

I thought I was going to love Frank Turner.  A lot of the music that I really, really love revolves mostly around the lyrics. And… through the grapevine, I heard this was Frank’s strongpoint.  I’d heard his little song about Winchester and thought it was ok, if a bit annoying. And when I heard he had written a song called “I knew Prufrock before he was famous” I thought that was it… I would love him. It was a cracking title, but no more than that.

Frank Turner’s lyrics are dull and bland. They simply aren’t poetic. Many of you may say this isn’t the point, and that with songs like “Thatcher Fucked the Kids” he’s deliberately just being angry, and pointedly political. But, this is where it all sort of goes wrong for me.

Now, I wanted to stay clear of making comparisons to Dylan with Frank.  I have a tendency to compare people to Dylan, but when I read in the NME that Billy Bragg said that Frank Turner followed in the line of politico-folk singer songwriters “I see a line that runs through Dylan, Joe Strummer me and Frank.”  I could no longer avoid the comparison.

To begin with. Dylan never consciously tried to be a political songwriter, and he strayed away from this by about the time of “Bringing it All Back Home” and his political songs, were still beautifully crafted, angry, poetic songs. He wrote incredible lyrics. There’s no getting away from it.  Take the opening lines of Chimes of Freedom,

“Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll

We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing

As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds

Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing”

You can’t say that’s not poetic. I’m not going to get too weighed down in what I mean by “poetic” because we all have our own definitions of words, but there’s no denying Dylan’s poeticism.  Dylan speaks with anger, but still poetically, and makes a point that is clear, but at the same time, multi layered. I don’t want to get too deep into what I mean by that, this post isn’t about Dylan. But, the same cannot be said for Frank,

“Whatever happened to childhood?

We’re all scared of the kids in our neighboorhood;

They’re not small, charming and harmless,

They’re a violent bunch of bastard little shits.”

There is nothing clever about those lyrics. You might think I’m saying that because there’s swearing in it, and that it’s being blunt. But, it Is just poor writing.  The swear word is just planted in there as if to say, yeahhhh look at me, I can swear, I’m a punk folk singer, yeahhh.  . Swearing in songs can be used well, if you want examples of this, go to the Libertines…

His points are pretty clear, and there’s nothing clever about them. He sort of just says them. He also name drops ridiculously. He mentions Jack Kerouac, Baudelaire, TS Eliot in his writing, but it’s so unsubtle, that It really is just name dropping.  Something in his lyrics just seems false. I’m not convinced by anything he writes.  (He describes Jay Jay Pistolet from the Vaccines as being the last of the romantic poets as well, which is a bit bizarre.) Anyway, at the heart of Frank‘s writing is a big hypocrisy. He pretends to be a sort of Working Class Hero, and is portrayed as such in the media (in NME they describe how he was once a struggling song writer e.t.c) but… he went to Eton for christsake! Eton!

Now this would be fine, if his songs were good. But they’re not.   And I think this is why his song writing is so stilted and unconvincing. How he has managed to convince so many is beyond me. He is an average singer, average guitar player, and his songs all sound the same. There must be clearly something I’m missing. Try to explain it to me if you like… but many have already tried.

I just don’t like Frank Turner.

The Band or The Artist – who is better?


Everyone has a favourite band, this one group that they love and would travel miles to go see. But chances are, there’ll be one person in the band that they love a little bit more than the others, someone they idolise. 99% of the time, that’s the singer. I love Pearl Jam, but I’m a bigger fan of Eddie Vedder compared to the other members. Equally Nirvana are incredible, but the majority of their fans are in it for Kurt Cobain and less so for the ever maligned Krist Novoselic (Grohl has other issues). Why do we always look for one person in a group as the main man? It might be beacuse they write the songs, so the real power of the songs is coming from them.

Let’s not ignore the age-old tradition of the singer-songwriter. The one man/woman that makes all the music themselves. The Bob Dylan, the Elliott Smith, the Frank Turner. These guys do alright without a bunch of people around them, don’t they. They don’t need a band, and seem to be doing well enough on their own. Nowadays modern artists with a bit of dosh can recruit/computerise the sounds of the rest of a band. Which leads us all to this question….

Is a band better than a solo artist?

What you get with one artist is all the undiluted genius of that one person. If that person is partularly Godly, then this is amazing. We just need to look at people like Dylan and Neil Young to see artists with clear vision crafting the music that perfectly expresses them. There’s no dicking around and each song comes directly from the heart. With one guy in charge of music and lyrics the songs can be direct, and focused in on the emotion.

The problem of course comes in that no artist can ever do better than they can. That may sound like a nonsense sentence, but here’s where the band has the advantage. A singer/songwriter can make the best music he/she possibly can, but a band can make music together better than anything they could seperately. Don’t believe me?

Let’s look at the great songwriting partnerships. Lennon/McCartney, Morrissey/Marr, Jagger/Richards. All these groups shaped music incredibly and their songs are some of the best ever written. But when apart, they just couldn’t match the stuff they did together. Lennon was awesome, but he couldn’t top his beatles stuff, and I just don’t like McCartney at all. The Smiths were nothing without the interplay of Marr’s music and Morrissey’s lyrics, and as his solo stuff proves, the words are not enough to be great.

Yes, Artists can create great, focused songs of deep and clear emotion, but it is in the fusion of influences and styles that real genius comes. Looking at the great bands shows us that the whole really can be greater than the sum of its parts.

As everyone know knows, I adore Arcade Fire, and Win Butler’s songwriting is clearly phenomenal, but it’s the band that really makes it what it is. Also lets not forget, you can rock out a hell of a lot better with a bassist and a drummer than you can on your own.

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