June 15, 2015 § Leave a comment
Take that admission of general abitshitness, that pride in ‘getting away with it’, in precisely avoiding the big statement either musically or lyrically in preference of making some facsimile of feel, attitude scruffed like factory-damaged jeans, a simulacra of ‘importance’, take that sanctification of the half-witted & slow-moving, combine it with a desperately insecure need to be loved [& you have the sonic equivalent of the current ethic of the music press]… that mutual backslapping is getting plummier and plummier, as the real motivation behind doing any of this evaporates evaporates in a phut of hssssssss. In this fecund air where the priveliged young musician willing to work within the confines of the cannon find patrons easily and the young poet & the young prophet finds him or herself marginalised come Peace, good organisers, keepers of the dying flame of white guitarpop supremacy, great shite hope, what everyone NEEDS to keep their lies, their lives, their recovering businesses intact.
Funnily enough, the mostly Twitter-based spat over Neil Kulkarni’s rant around Peace (it’s a bit tl;dr, so don’t feel obliged) becomes a demonstrative episode in something I’ve wanted to write about contemporary music writing for a while. I’ve sometimes wondered whether the mediocrity of criticism in the go-to organs of the mainstream press could be put down to lack of real aesthetic interest & investment, the wish of decent-souled writers, browbeaten by editors & management, for a quiet life, a combination of stupidity & professionalism, or outright mendacity. This little fracas doesn’t solve that question, although the nice exchange Alex Niven highlights here suggests we can rule out the second in many cases*. There are several problems here, intertwined but which we shouldn’t confuse. One: the problem of style – Barlow & those surrounding her (most of whom write work that ranges from pedestrian banality to cliche-ridden awfulness) snipe that NK writes unconcise, recondite (“pretentious” is the term that cropped & crops up in relation to, say, Penman/Morley/Kulkarni, whether it means vocabulary, metaphors & figures of thought or points of focus (“it’s all about the music mate”)) pieces that don’t easily reach sales recommendations or conform to the shrivelled column-inches of a dwindling print economy. Two: the problem of critique – they suggest that anyone who finds fault w/ a) hot new bands or b) the pop economy of wh/ they are the synecdoche is in no position to speak of these things, has no meaningful relation to them; those who do are ‘the kids’ or “idealistic, rebellious teens” in Barlow’s words. Consequently, three: the problem of age – those who do find fault w/ what the pop industry throws up as the semblance of Spirit, & its reflection in Hegel’s secular bible, the organs of print, pine for the days when that semblance appeared to them especially. (That Rob Fitzpatrick et al spend 50% of their time on Twitter waxing nostalgic about T’Pau doesn’t seem contradictory to them.) That the age thing is a total misnomer, & shouldn’t even be spoken of, even though we could point to any number of things that disprove it (including my own troubled relation to culture when I was younger), is fairly obvious. Barlow, patronising while presumably thinking she’s channeling The Aesthetics of Rock on this point, claims “idealistic, rebellious teens haven’t evolved beyond simple pleasures like first crushes, guitar strums, pop hooks and leopard print“; except that they have, having moved on to Blackberried networking, CV-rewriting & the thrilling accumulation of debt, fully cognisant of the fact that youth culture hasn’t existed since the mid-80s, having been turned into an anteroom of the “monstrous accumulation of commodities” that constitutes responsible adult culture. (Fwiw, the few kids I see actually enjoying themselves listen to grime & bassline house.) The first problem is more difficult: we’ve all turned in workmanlike pieces once in a while, or had to rein in the style of something at the prompting of editors, or rewrite to clarify a piece’s point. It’s just part of the job. Moreover, as a reader I think I’d be a bit weary if every piece I read was as stylistically highly-worked as Neil’s (or others’). One needs, every so often, the smart but porridgey work of a Richard Williams or Simon Reynolds or Laura Snapes or whoever to even out the taste**. Even if we don’t want to rosily imagine another period – the 90s, New Pop, the world before the crisis, whatever – as an Eden of writing, or a lost paradise for writers, it isn’t impossible to recognise that the music press could & should be so much better, for its audience & its producers, than it is.
* I’d also have to quibble w/ Alex’s emphasis on “political” criticism – politics, certainly, but decadent aestheticism is still preferable to Red Wedge positivist moralising, as long as it’s well-written; the preference, too, for ‘good’ rather than ‘bad’ guitar music, like the choice between two different sorts of ammonite fossil, only makes sense in the distant past when those species were actually alive.
** I’m also aware that not everyone prizes style quite as highly as I do, as evidenced by the excited links turning up in my social media timelines to perceptive but illiterate blogs about, say, race in Girls or the commentariat’s latest collective foible.