Friday, January 07, 2005

Rants 2004

Well you’ve heard what I liked in 2004, so I thought it might be fun to begin 2005 on a resoundingly negative note by having a pop at some easy targets. They are not in any ranked order or anything like that.

1) Gwen Stefani

I really feel that I should like Gwen Stefani – she looks great, and has hooked up with some of top producers to craft what should be a quirky solo album, far removed from mainstream conventions. Unfortunately, the first single ‘What You Waiting For’ firmly put me off even approaching said album. This single was frankly risible – the most horribly narcissistic, self-indulgent and infuriating lyric of the year. In a song of precious little substance, Stefani bleats about the terrible moral dilemma that is whether or not she should record a solo album. ‘Look at your watch now! You’re still a superhot female! You’ve got your million dollar contract! And they’re all waiting for your hot tracks!’ she shrieks. Get on with it then, woman – do you expect me to have any sympathy with your rather cushy position in life?

2) Tony Blair/ David Blunkett/ID Cards

I’ve combined these three for fear of repeating myself, such is my frustration with the current government. The satisfaction I felt at David Blunkett’s tragic resignation was only tempered by the fact that Blair remains in office, seemingly in a very strong position regarding the upcoming General Election. Blunkett of course should have resigned for his inability to respect the basic rule of law and the fundamental freedoms of his citizens (right to a fair trial by jury? Oh, we can scrap that as long as we nail a ‘potential terrorist’ or two). Most maddening of all was his continued insistence on the ID card scheme, persistently stressing the significance of the card itself, when anyone who knew anything about the technology involved realised pretty quickly that this amounted to the creation of a national surveillance network on all British citizens, whilst the technology may not be able to work in the way that Blunkett has suggested. Of course, we all have to pay for it ourselves. What happens if we suffer a major terrorist attack in the ten or so years it’s going to take to get this system working? Let’s invest in more intelligent, focussed security now that resists the urge to scaremonger. Blunkett should have resigned for ignoring the basic values of decency and instead helping to promote an increasingly intolerant and uncivilised society. What he did resign for – whilst worthy of considerable censure, was nothing compared to all this. It was certainly nothing compared with misleading parliament into sending troops into an illegal war on the basis of a false prospectus. Mr. Blair’s position should no longer be tenable.

3) Joss Stone

Why does everyone seem to have fallen head over heels for Joss Stone? A youthful pretty face she may be – but she is not the ‘authentic’ real deal soul sensation that the media seem to think she is. She is the sound of classic black music neatly repackaged into a white format for those listeners for whom the real thing is still not quite palatable. She overcooks every single line she sings – trying so intently to ape the vocal mannerisms of southern soul.

4) Jamie Cullum

One of the highlights of my New Year’s Eve this year was, on my tired and drunken return to my local underground station, seeing a man walk past a poster of Jamie Cullum and simply sticking his middle finger up at it. He expressed so eloquently what we all feel, without even resorting to language.

5) The Olympic Bid

We’re not ready for it. In fact, I don’t even want it, so it can go away. I’d rather see a London Grand Prix frankly, and even that probably isn’t feasible. Talking of which…

6) Bernie Ecclestone

Simply for being a money-grabbing bastard and putting his own personal wealth (and that of his trustees) well ahead of the future and energy of motorsport, to the great detriment of TV audiences, fans and even, arguably, competitors themselves. The sport relied on Bernie for a long time, and (credit where credit is due) he did transform the sport from a cult into a global phenomenon. But how much money does one man really need?

7) Arsenal FC

Can they not just stop – and take their Emirates Stadium somewhere else?

8) Motorists

They moan about petrol price rises, they moan about the eminently sensible London congestion charge, they moan about eminently sensible Controlled Parking Zones, and they have the audacity to moan about speed cameras. Which other group expects so much for so little? Which other group expects to behave dangerously, break the law and get away with it?

9) Cyclists

They need to be more aware of motorists like me :-) And some knowledge of the rules of the road would no doubt help too. Get some lights!

10) Busted

Busted began as an idea of absolute genius from the marketing end of the music industry. A proper boy band that play their instruments and look cool! Their early pop singles were harmless, fluffy fun – not music that I would ever buy, but they had an infectious charm and boundless energy. On attempting to crack America this year, they suddenly wanted people to take them seriously. They became a sub-Blink 182 punk band, with brattish, obnoxious and misogynistic lyrics with scant regard for their audience. That they remained so popular beggared belief. The existential dilemma of Charlie Simpson at least kept me entertained – to follow those die-hard Tory principles, stick with Busted and make a few more quick bucks, or concentrate on his ‘other’ band, Fightstar, who he hopes will be blessed with indie credibility? Watch this space in 2005….

11) McFly

I don’t really hate McFly of course (as witnessed by my audacious inclusion of ‘That Girl’ in my singles of the year list). They look good, their music is tremendous fun and they seem to have a genuine passion and understanding for pop music. They also understand exactly what they are – describing themselves not as a boy band or a serious rock band, but as a ‘band that plays pop’. They seem reasonable people, if a little stupid (maybe it’s unfair of me to expect them to engage in any way with politics or culture). It’s just that there’s something extremely nauseating about a band of under 18s being propelled to Arena filling success after just one single. Their first gig was supporting Busted for heaven’s sake! I don’t doubt that they are dedicated and hardworking – they’ve been on every pop TV show every week for basically the entire year, but I’d still like to ban them from releasing another record until they’ve played the toilet circuit of Great Britain.

12) Wine Bars and Bars that Want to be Clubs

I can’t hear anyone! It’s shit house music again! An old English teacher of mine once described the traditional Public House as ‘Britain’s last remaining great institution’. Amen to that!

13) Keane

I spotted Keane singer Tom Chaplin at a Rufus Wainwright gig towards the end of the year, and have since heard him express his admiration for the singer-songwriter. If only he possessed one ounce of Wainwright’s passion or control himself! Keane simply seem to make the ultimate wallpaper music. It’s almost offensively bland, and melodic only on the most basic level, topped off with some cynical emoting in Chaplin’s vocals. They seem like honest, decent chaps – but that doesn’t excuse them their music, nor does it justify all those critics and consumers who seem to have lost all sense entirely by making them into million sellers!

14) The Streets

A poetic genius? A man who ‘speaks for the nation’? Well, to paraphrase a greatly superior poet, recent efforts from The Streets say nothing to me about my life. It’s just either plain boring, or bafflingly infuriating, and to my mind, Mike Skinner’s attempt to adopt an everyman vernacular just comes across as embarrassing rhyming dictionary nonsense.

15) BBC TV News

Why do the presenters have to stand up all the time? Do they not realise that it looks uncomfortable and amateurish? Worse than that is the endless graphics and visual explanations. Only the new look BBC News could trivialise the devastating Tsunami by using a computer generated screen to explain what an earthquake is. I don’t need a fucking geography lesson! I just need events reported with precision, balance and some incisive commentary. These are the things at which the BBC remains excellent, despite the findings of Hutton.

16) Razorlight

The most cloyingly derivative band in the history of the world. Do we really need a new rock n’roll saviour who has merely spent far too many hours trying to ape Tom Verlaine’s vocal style. Do we need yet more wiry punk pop that fails to bring music forward beyond 1978. Do we need another arrogant fool so convinced of his own genius? Look closely and you will find that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding ‘no’.

17) Choice

Clearly the buzzword of 2004, it would appear that all three political parties became a little too convinced that offering us more ‘choice’ was best for us. It may surprise New Labour to learn that, if I fall seriously ill, I don’t want to choose which hospital I go to, I just want to feel comfortable that my nearest hospital is good enough to help me. Similarly, if I had children, I would much prefer that my local school was adequate for their needs, rather than selecting a school that was further away. The same philosophy underpins the hideously misguided creation of a ‘marketplace’ in Higher Education, where it would appear the result may well actually be less choice, as many will no longer be able to attend, and many of the crucial academic courses offered by the top universities will be forced to close due to their inability to compete. Still, with the ethos of the private sector being imposed upon our public services even further this year, it would seem that neither politicians nor executives really care that much for blanket improvement. That might mean spending some cash.

18) Woolworths Christmas ads

‘Woolworths – let’s have some fun!’ bellows a very masculine female voice. I tell you what, let’s not.

19) Religious Fundamentalists and Evangelicals
Well, you could make a case for this every year, but in this era not just of militant Islam, but also of intolerant evangelical Christianity propelling a dangerously incompetent US president into the highest seat of power for four more years, 2004 does seem to have been as influenced by the forces of religion as any other year. I don’t see religious faith as a bad thing by any means – but it is problematic if it remains static, completely removed from cultural and historical developments. It is also horrible if used as a tool for self-righteous, uncompromising discrimination. Witness the ludicrous furore over homosexuality in the Church of England – who cares what a bishop gets up to between the sheets?

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