Insignificant, Inconsequential Quasi-Luddite Nothing

I feel as if it's about time I took a massive step back. In a moment or two there will be a sentence. It's not a sentence I'm looking forward to writing, and, already, I feel downright filthy for having to do so. Here it goes:

Of late, the blogosphere has been set alight -

Oh, I can't. I just can't. "Blogosphere". No. Terrible word. And to "set alight" a community, even a virtual one, is not a metaphor I've ever deployed with pride. I'll try again:

Of late, there has been much debate -

A bit better. The unintentional internal rhyming is a bit clumsy, but it will have to do.

- debate, anyway, concerning illegal filesharing. To cut a long (and immeasurably tedious) story short, Lily Allen has come across as a preachy, self-righteous, greedy and hypocritical corporate whore. On the other side of the debate, though, those who take a sickening degree of pride in describing themselves as pirates have acted with equal disgrace, revelling in her humiliation whilst at the same time attempting to pass off their digital larcenry as a somehow noble act.

The whole debacle is hellishly, chest-implodingly tedious. The NME said absolutely nothing of consequence, their stance acting, for some, as confirmation that they must very much be on the payroll of certain record labels. Their article is pretty pathetic for two reasons. First of all, it's amusing to note how, rather than lambasting Charlie Brooker's opinion on the issue as "wrong", rather they choose to label him as "confused". This is an apparent attempt to not lose face by openly criticsing a commentator whose opinion, to some of their readership, must be infallible. Second of all, it annoys me how horrifying they seem to find the idea that musicians might have to go out and work in order to supplement their creative income, thus raising these individuals to an alarming level of importance, somehow removed from society and, as such, above and beyond anything as mundane as having to work at something. Bad NME. Bad. Why aren't writers treated with the same reverence? Even best-selling authors treat their talent, their calling, as a sideline. It's very rare indeed to find a writer who's "full-time". They all have other pursuits. They have to. Otherwise they'll starve. I like to write, I want to write, and I know that, with such an ambition, I'm perhaps dooming myself to years upon years of frustration in doing something I really don't want to do. If it has to be the same for musicians, so be it.

John Mclure of Reverend and The Makers issued a wake up call, speaking with more sense than has anyone for well over a week now. And well said. Yes, there are more important things to worry about and, yes, file-sharing CAN prove beneficial. There are countless, countless bands of whose very existance I'd be wholly ignorant were it not for file-sharing. Artists whose shows I've subsequently attended, message I've subsequently spread, albums I've subsequently bought - in short, artists to whom I was introduced through illegal means who I have subsequently provided with something approaching an income.

Too much "subsequently" in the above, I think. But, two short points. Is it not the case that major label artists receive something ridiculous like 2p for every album they sell? Do they really miss this meagre income so much, or have they, rather, noticed their incomes swelling as a direct consequence of mass exposure that simply would not have been there previously. Also, I buy a copious amount of CDs and records. I'd say that something like 75% of this I buy second hand. Therefore, even though I'm not downloading these albums illegally, it's still the case that the artists aren't receiving anything at all from my purchases. So, what next? A crack-down on selling music second-hand? Places like eBay and Amazon becoming akin to illicit, under-the-counter black markets?

No, I'm sorry. It's unbelievably tedious and boring and there's nothing I can say that's not been said before thousands and thousands and thousands of times. This post exists because I wish to make a "public announcement" which not only will nobody care about, but also nobody will ever read.

I am taking a huge step back. I am completely and utterly fed up with digital music. I used to justify it as a solution to a meaningless philisophical question which had been plaguing me for years: If attachment to material goods destroys the soul whereas music serves to enrich the soul, what are we to make of such material goods as records, CDs, tapes, stereos, musical instruments? Even though you still needed a laptop or an MP3 player to access it, digital music I used to see as a solution to this "problem" in that - sort of - it made music immaterial. Sort of. You can't really touch data, can you?

But it is exactly this nothingness which has come to so annoy me of late. It's no longer enough for me for my music to simply exist as hard-drive filler. I want the feeling of completeness and aesthetic appeal and, apart from anything else, the dynamic variation that can only ever be achieved through owning music in a recorded form that serves not to fill your hard-drive with clutter, but your house. I look at my ridiculously large CD collection with a combination of humiliation and pride - and I love it.

But that's all immaterial, ultimately. No, what has really come to frustrate me is the way that digital music alters fundamentally my very listening experience. To put on an album with a sound which fills the room with accompanying art work, liner notes, a cup of tea and maybe a book - it's one of my greatest pleasures. It's me surrendering utterly to the fruits of those creative labours and it induces an almost unrivalled sense of wholeness. Maybe it's just me -

But digital music it's all too easy to simply treat as background music - album after album after song after song whizzed through at breakneck speed as you work at your laptop or piped through incompetent headphones as you trudge to and from work; the music reduced to a dreary soundtrack to your toil and forever will it remind you of doing that which you don't really want to do. It's not escape, it's not in any way uplifting - it's simply not good enough.

Then there's the constant amassing of music that, yes, you'd not have even heard of were it not for such blogs as Glowing Raw or Radiobutt, but, downloaded as it is in a frenzy of "It's all here!" - it becomes music that you'll either never get round to hearing or, worse, you'll feel somehow obliged into giving a listen and will approach it in not at all an acceptable frame of mind which, although ostensibly you're hearing this music, serves to render as pointless any such obscure artistic endeavours. It's all very well for an artist to have their music heard, but I'm sure they'd prefer it if people were listening rather than hearing. With digital music, I find it's all too easy to stop listening and simply allow yourself to hear. Not good enough.

Finally, I am sick to death of Last.fm. For far too long now I have let this odious little application all but drive the manner in which I listen to music. I can see the benefit of it, certainly - how it aids in introducing you to music similar to that which you like (based upon that to which you listen, of course). But it's never a good idea for people who have a history of gaming to utilise such plug-ins. The inexplicable joy of performing such actions in order to allow for a number to increase simply cannot be applied to music. I recently realised, to my horror, that subconsciously of course I was simply listening to countless hours of music with the specific intention of building up a playcount. And to what end? Nothing - I've never, ever, ever cared about what people think of me (based upon the music I like) - so it's not even like I'm attempting to build up a profile with the desired effect of making people awestruck at my ice-cold taste. Just look at it! Look at how often I listen to Athlete and The Waterboys and tell me I'm cool. Impossible. Again I realised that I was listening to music for all the wrong reasons and had been doing so ever since I went digital.

Well, it has to stop. I've enough to be getting on with as it is - an immense backlog of downloads to plough through - and it is that, not any degree of shame induced by Lily Allen, which has made me decide to cease and desist in the downloading. If it means that I'm exposed to less than before then so be it. I'd be much, much happier devoting hours to one artist (or album) than in simply hearing a larger slice of all that is out there. And there really is so, so much out there.

So does this mean that I will stop using Windows Media Player, my MP3 player and Last.fm? Absolutely not. Just not like I used to. Does it mean I'll stop downloading music completely? Probably not. Will this make any difference at all to the world and, more importantly, does anybody care? Not at all. Not at all. Not even slightly.


Here I Show My Age

 "Rock is dead! Long live rock!"
"This is the dawning of the age of electro!"
So was proclaimed - I say proclaimed, but, in actuality, I'm paraphrasing - it was the 9th September, 2009, and I was up early, so I watched GMTV. On that day the entire Beatles back catalogue was re-released with super-definitive-ultra-plus-fidelity and Sound (TM) technology for the first time ever, at 9.09AM, on 09/09/09 - nines to the left, nines to the right, number nine, number nine, number nine - you can sort of see what they were trying to do.

Anyhow, they got a man on - on GMTV - to talk about The Beatles. I don't know who he is. But he looked wizened and sagacious, Important, like he Knew What He Was Talking About. The first thing he did was to proclaim that The Age Of Rock is Over. For evidence, he looked to the charts, said there's a lot of stuff like Dizzee Rascal, Calvin Harris, Dizzee Rascal feat. Calvin Harris etc. The popularity of this stuff is evidence enough to suggest that we're living in The Age of Electro.

So I listened to the Top 40, twice! And you know, that man, that WIZARD, he's absolutely right - there is finally a sound - in future years I get the impression that people will be able to date music - early noughties! - by its sound alone.You can do the same with 60s music (it sounds, variously, like syrup, like dust, like acid, like wood), with 70s music (it tastes like tea, sherbert or apples), with the music of the 80s (people go mad for synths and drum machines, forget about the importance of basslines and, thanks to Peter Gabriel's gated reverb [citation needed], all drums sounded as if they'd been recorded in a soulless cathedral) and, finally, with 90s music (pro-tools et al entailed that the possibilities were endless, but everything sounded quite muted, tinny and identical).

ASIDE - is there such a thing as blogging awards? If there is, I think that the above should win the award for most convoluted and labyrinthine sentence. At the very least, it should be nominated.

So, what does the music of the noughties sound like? The charts for some time have been simmering in ultra-crisp r'n'b - the clipped, syncopated production techniques of the likes of Dr. Dre and Timbaland - and such exotic influences as Jamaican Dancehall, Reggaeton and, to a lesser extent, Afro-Beat. This fascinating stew has been allowed to brew for years and now - well, it's not so much exploded, so to speak, but I've not been listening for a while. I've just dipped back in, for the first time in years, and now it's everywhere - the sound of NOW - which, over the past year or so, seems to have looked back to the 80s, though I really don't think that the dominance of synths makes for a particularly "80s" sound. They've always been used, before and since - they just seem to be closer to the front these days.

It's highly rhythmic, the bass is massive - verily, one can "shake ones booty" (I think that's what they say). And, best of all, it doesn't sound particularly processed or contrived. Of course, so crisp and PERFECT are some of those rhythms that a lot of it doesn't sound particularly soulful, either. Guess you can't have everything. Yep, I do think that future generations will hear these complex rhythms, deep low-end sounds, immense synth-chords and dehumanised vocals and they'll say, they'll say - "ROBOT SEX, I do declare that this piece was most certainly released sometime between 2004 and 2014" (for it will hang around for a while, of course it will, to be replaced by I cannot wait to hear).

One thing, though, never has changed and never will change. It is no gross generalisation to say that, for as long as there's been a chart, there have been empty, vaccuous, meaningless lyrics. It's either an agreement or an understanding or whatever -and, somewhere, it most probably is WRITTEN - that so long as people can dance to it, so long as it sticks in their heads, so long as people can sing along - then it doesn't matter IN THE SLIGHTEST as to what exactly is sung.

And that's fine. Not everything needs to speak to me about my life. It's not even the case that everything should at least say something about a life to which I could never hope to relate. Not everything needs to comment on society, and not everything needs to suggest that there's perhaps more to life than this. We have our realism, we have our escapism - our poetry and our rhetoric, our jingoism and whatever - and then, left over, on the side - is everything else - just words, with no meaning or a vague meaning, and that's fine! It is! Honestly! It's always been the case, and, yeah, it always will be, so there's no point at all in complaining.

It's just that, in my skimming of the charts, the sheer inanity of some of the twitterings that dared to identify themselves as "lyrics" - well, they really did irritate. Some examples:

1. Lily Allen - 22
This one's a particular cause for irritation because it seems to be pretending that it's "about" something:

When she was 22 the future looked bright
But she's nearly 30 now and she's out every night
I see that look in her face she's got that look in her eye
She's thinking how did I get here and wondering why

Aha, see, it's about a Bridget Jones sort of figure, right? A young woman who's getting a bit older and isn't quite sure as to where her life's going. Ok. That's - that's been said before, but ok. The thing is, Lily's message - does she have a message? It's a bit confused.

It's sad but it's true how society says
Her life is already over
There's nothing to do and there's nothing to say
Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulder
It seems so unlikely in this day and age

See, Helen Fielding Ms. Allen ain't. No, this isn't a wry (or scathing) comment upon the pressures that society puts upon women to get careers and boyfriends. Nothing like that, Lily's saying that, yeah, it might be "sad", but it's "true"! This woman's life IS over! She's nearly 30 and she's feeling vaguely lost and...well, her life's over, basically. Does Lily offer any hope for redemption? Any sort of comment upon this plight which must be prevalent in women of a certain age? Does she offer any words of consolation, any alternative, or anything? No. Nothing. She really does have "nothing to say". Bad lyrics are especially bad when they THINK that they have meaning. But this - this is empty. It's of no consequence at all, completely meaningless and, apart from anything else, it's remarkably boring. That chorus sounds more like a bridge. I was expecting for something amazing to happen, but nothing - it just went back into the verse again, saying nothing again - a nothing song that does nothing about a depressing subject - a terrible song, then.

2. Lady GaGa - Love Game
Unlike Lily Allen, this one certainly SOUNDS alright, but that opening gambit:

I wanna kiss you
But if I do I might miss you, babe

What in god's name does that even mean? The chorus I can forgive - all those references to "sick" beats and "disco sticks" on which she wants to take a ride - it's about listening to music and wanting to have sex, right? But that opening line - that has nothing to do with anything. A desperate rhyming scheme which sounds vaguely - romantic? Well, it certainly threw me. I just couldn't enjoy it from that point.

3. Pitbull - I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)
These're the absolute pits of meaningless contemporary lyrics. I'm not even going to bother attempting to decipher what the hell they were trying to say in such blurtings as:

Mami got an ass like a donkey, with a monkey,
look like King Kong, welcome to the crib,
real fast what it is,
with a woman down ya shit
dont play games,
they up the chain, and they let her do
everythang and anythang hit tha thang
I think, like Richard Pryor, he must have grown up in a brothel with his mother. In the 80s. Or something.
Oh my god I'm getting old.