Wednesday, 17 December 2008


My next post will be brimful of treacly Yuletide optimism and Obamanian positivity, I promise.

But in order for the this to be the case, I feel the need to have a pre-emptive, pre-festive, cathartic moan, a sort of gargantuan, purgative shit, a preparatory cleansing of the bowels for the imminent orgy of extravagant forward-looking hopefulness.

It will not come as a surprise to many of you that my gripe centres on the ol' reliable NME.

Now, as a one-time avid reader of this no-longer-very-good-at-all-in-any-way publication, I am fully aware of the charade that occurs annually in respect of the Albums of the Year poll. Readers respond with outrage at the inclusion/exclusion of their favourite/least-favourite artist, the NutsME quite reasonably asserts that the poll is very straightforwardly decided by an unimpeachably democratic points-system voting process amongst the writers, leaving no room whatever for sinister ulterior motives, commercial-mindedness, individual caprice, gerrymandering, hanging chads etc, etc. No one could doubt the rationalism and fairness of this.

However, the logical rigour of the voting process itself does not absolve the paper of all blame for the list. Responsibility is diffused to a collective level, but the writing staff must ultimately stand by this collective decision. Writers deploy the impersonal 'NME' rather than 'I' in reviews and interviews after all: the paper is inevitably the sum of its constituent parts, and the album poll stands as perhaps the most cogent statement of its ideology during the course of any given year (and no use saying the NME doesn't have an 'ideology' - it does, however nebulous and disparate, not to mention misguided and shallow, that ideology might be).

So any criticism of the Albums of the Year poll is fair game as far as I'm concerned. And, by christ, here goes ...

The top 10 is as follows:

1. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
3. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
5. Foals - Antidotes
6. Metronomy - Nights Out
7. Santogold - Santogold
8. Mystery Jets - 21
9. Kings of Leon - Only by the Night
10. Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires.

I should probably start off by saying that there is a very great deal here that is commendable. Oracular Spectacular and Dear Science are certainly two of the most brilliant records of 2008, and Vampire Weekend's debut was one of the year's most enjoyable, entertaining pop records. Haven't heard much Friendly Fires stuff but it sounds pretty good on an initial listen. As Hamish McBain points out in a (characteristically miniscule, reading-age-six) preface to the list, no room in the top 10 (or top 50, for that matter) for Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs or Pigeon Detectives.

But, really, what else is there to say to this but WELL FUCKING DONE MATE, to which might be added WHY THE FUCK DOES THEIR ABSENCE EVEN NEED TO BE STATED?! The omission of Razorlight from a poll purporting to catalogue the most artistically worthwhile, wrought, adventurous, innovative, subversive, moving, politically-engaged, intelligent, exciting, resonant music of the year is surely such a basic, first-rock-of-civilisation thing to do for the sake of human decency as to be almost totally unworthy of verbal utterance, a bit like expecting kudos for not getting behind McCain in the US presidential election, or like bragging about not nominating Josef Fritzl for a good parenting award.

These infantile, inarguably corporate-mainstream artists should never have got any support at all from the still notionally alternative NME, so it comes as something of a long-overdue, completely inadequate insult to hear that they have now fallen out of favour with, presumably, many of the same writers who were responsible for their grotesquely meteoric ascendancies in the first place.

Moreover, in terms of the actual poll itself: KINGS OF FUCKING LEON?! Theirs is a record so devoutly conservative, so AOR, so MOR, so creatively bankrupt, vocally excruciating, lyrically inane, and just so so so supremely shit as to actually make me feel a little bit sick, and I say this without a hint of hyperbole, metaphor or euphemism. The place of Kings of Leon in the collective memory will have about as much durability and relevance in years to come as the recent temporary rebranding of Pizza Hut as Pasta Hut, you mark my words.

Metronomy are OK, but ultimately nothing more than a not-very-multi-faceted hype band, likewise Santogold, who had a couple of fantastic tunes but whose album was some way from being one of the year's best out of a massive lack of consistency.

Mystery Jets - superficial '80s revivalism, boring, style-over-substance mediocrity.

Glasvegas - 'Daddy's Gone' was superb but this is another very average album that has been extravagantly over-hyped. Similarly with Foals, although certainly in this case there is a sense that once the Skins-induced haze has cleared there is actually something very worthwhile here, and hopefully this'll get the chance to develop independent of undesirable scenester bullshit with subsequent albums.

Oasis at number 22!? The Verve at 26?! Fucking Laura Marling at 14?!

Overall, it seems that NutsME has just catastrophically missed the point once again. Something has gone massively wrong when Metronomy and Mystery Jets are judged to be producing better art than Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. By far the best British record of the year was The Week That Was album, and it doesn't even make the top 50 (presumably because it's not the sort of thing Alexa Chung and Kelly Osbourne are able to snort coke to). The writers of NME have conformed to type by nominating the shiniest, faddiest artists, completely ignoring such stellar, meaningful, zeitgeist-defining efforts as Department of Eagles' In Ear Park, Q-Tip's The Renaissance, and Dodos' Visiter. They're lucky that the hippest, trendiest fashionista band of the year (MGMT) also made an artistically interesting, forward-thinking album, but in the final instance the emphasis remains resolutely on Topshop-friendly, hype-worthy shallowness. For NutsME, MGMT are the Klaxons Mk II (ie. an ostentious, 'kooky' yet palatable, image-driven band) and that's about the level of depth they're operating at.

Brooklyn may have been partially imported to Shoreditch in 2008, but the idealism and profundity has apparently been left on the other side of the pond. NME will have to change pretty fast if it wants to remain relevant once people no longer have so much money to spend on glitter-encrusted tat. The Kate Mossification of British alternative music is now on the back burner, and it's time to choose Obama over apathy and hedonism, time to do away altogether with celebrity, the language of hype, T4, Jo Whiley, Doherty, Nash, Allen, London, decadence, Russell Brand, gold, silver, drugs, money, NME, clothes and the rest of it.

In 2009, let's get naked.

And I mean that in a D.H. Lawrentian rather than a Paris Hiltonian sense.

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