Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Rockin' the Casbah?

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  • Russell Brown,

    here is a good piece on Radiohead re-issues;

    See, that reads pretty workmanlike to me, as does most of the present indie journalism. I'm looking for the equivalent of the record you bring home and play in your bedroom for the next two hours.

    Or, closer to home, the journalism that's as expansive, intriguing and good-humoured as a Phoenix Foundation record.

    John Campbell and I were actually excited by the NME when we were teenagers. And even though I often hated what someone like Dave Marsh was saying in the US, he was a great writer. I'm kinda not seeing that now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    (Apologies for not reading all of the previous comments)

    I've been reading a lot recently about the death of sports-writing. Something that's been predicted many times before going through a resurgence. Seems like it's not a genre specific complaint..."back in my day..."

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    John Campbell and I were actually excited by the NME when we were teenagers. And even though I often hated what someone like Dave Marsh was saying in the US, he was a great writer. I'm kinda not seeing that now.

    Perhaps we're now the old men who took one look at those punks who'd ruined the NME and wanted to run for the hills. The excitement might well be hiding in places we're just not meant to see. Now if you'd excuse me, I've got to go change my support hose and change the ear plugs. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Now here's the kind of thing I'd like to read more: Chad Taylor on Roxy Music.

    Of the local music bloggers, I'd like to see Hannah Sarney writing more -- I've really enjoyed some of her reviews. She just photoblogs these days. Bah. Lazy kids.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Scott,

    Never thought I'd see someone try to mount a defence of Paul McCartney and Wings.

    The first Wings album, Wildlife, is fantastic. Band On The Run has its own bloated glory as well. I also really like the first solo McCartney record (just called McCartney I think), it's kooky.

    I'm looking for the equivalent of the record you bring home and play in your bedroom for the next two hours.

    I think the classic passionate music journo model is slightly defunct somehow now. No one writes like Lester Bangs anymore because there is simply too much music, good and bad, suffocating the new releases and clogging up the past. What I enjoy about the 'workmanlike' journalism of Pitchfork or Wire is that it comes from a writers who have can cut through a bit of the crap. It can be a bit dry I guess. Maybe I just haven't been properly exposed to the alternative< I grew up reading Q and Australian Rolling Stone in the 90s...both terrible magazines (with the occasionally great ex NME writer in Q).

    And god saves all from the soul crushing myth of the British Rock critics greatest of all time lists.

    South Wellington • Since Feb 2008 • 315 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    Band On The Run has its own bloated glory as well.

    I *love* Band on the Run. I'll happily listen to that sucker end to end.

    (When he dies and everyone does the big Critical Rediscovery of Paul, I'll be over here in the Always Thought Paul Got a Bad Rap corner.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Scott,

    Paul is an extraordinary musician. One of the best bass players of all time. Possibly the best arranger in modern production. An innovator in the use of tape loops.

    South Wellington • Since Feb 2008 • 315 posts Report Reply

  • Mike Brown,

    So, cos he hasn't been mentioned yet ... best EVAH NZ music critic - Gordon Campbell in his heyday at the Listener.

    I was in my late teens, most impressionable age, but he turned me onto so much music that to this day is among the best I've ever heard.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2006 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    So, cos he hasn't been mentioned yet ... best EVAH NZ music critic - Gordon Campbell in his heyday at the Listener.

    You know, the one I remember is his brutal assessment of Billy Joel's Glass Houses (I think it was that one, with 'Still Rock 'n' Roll To Me')..

    But yes, Gordon's music writing was inspirational in a very practical sense for me.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Parker,

    You have to Sweetman credit though for the shitstorm he created over Fat Freddy's Drop earlier in the year. I kind of agreed with him about the uncritical acceptance of everthing Wellydub when bands like Cassette and the Phoenix Foundation are far more interesting as capital bands.
    I do the odd cd review for New Zealand Musician, a magazine which tends toward the muso with it's gear reviews. The problem at times with a magazine like this is the expectation that every NZ release should have a reasonably positive review which can be hard to do. I don't however consider myself worthy to even walk in Mr Smithies shadow

    Napier • Since Nov 2008 • 232 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Whatever Paul's excesses and failings, they're absolved just by Lady Madonna.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    You have to Sweetman credit though for the shitstorm he created over Fat Freddy's Drop earlier in the year.

    Yes, I did kind of admire that. I've made my share of "barbecue reggae" jokes about various wellydub acts, and I never play FFD records.

    But I've seen them live three times in three different settings, and FFD really impressed me every time. Maybe you have to be a reggae fan to be tickled when the horns come back in to a jam.

    Even if the music's not your bag, the way they run themselves is admirable.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I grew up reading Q and Australian Rolling Stone in the 90s...both terrible magazines

    So true.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Parker,

    Even if the music's not your bag, the way they run themselves is admirable.

    Couldn't agree more. I preferred Trinity Roots anyway over FFD.

    Napier • Since Nov 2008 • 232 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    I've made my share of "barbecue reggae" jokes about various wellydub acts, and I never play FFD records.

    But I've seen them live three times in three different settings, and FFD really impressed me every time. Maybe you have to be a reggae fan to be tickled when the horns come back in to a jam.

    My main problem with them as a reggae fan is that their records have next to no bottom end- way too much treble, and their rhythms lack bite. Sure, I'm not exactly expecting Heart of the Congos, but I do like to get sucked into a groove and they just can't do that for me. Live, their performances are good, especially the horns, but something seems to be missing for me.

    As for Simon Sweetman, shooting fish in a barrel for sure, but the guy just cannot write, and his taste in music is largely bland.

    As for underrated NZ music writers, what about Matthew Hyland (sp?)'s stuff for Rip it Up back in the day.

    My old history teacher, friend, and occasional music writer George Kay gave some of his old copies of Rip it Up and I was surprised how I was drawn to Hyland's reviews each time- they were sharp, funny, perceptive, and crucially, betrayed knowledge about his field (i.e. he actually sounded like he knew what he was talking about).

    And maybe I'm biased, but it was a pleasure reading George Kay's old interviews with guys like Bowie, the Smiths, the Fall, Husker Du etc.

    If I get time, I may talk about the state of music criticism past, present and future in a later post (it's one of my pet topics), but I've gotta say capsule reviewing can ge a right bugbear. I did it weekly for the ODT for five years until last year (fortunately, or unfortunately the ODT went online after I stopped, and the real risk was saying everything you wanted to within 300 words without sounding hackneyed or trite.

    The one rule I always stuck to though was never describe a record as "sounds like (x) mixed with (y)", *(e.g "Beatles meets Nirvana") as most of the time it tells you nothing about what the record sounds like, and makes the reviewer sound like a marketer and not a critic.

    These days, if I want to spout off about music or film I do it in my own time on a messageboard (which another PAS-er is also a regular on, as it happens).

    *Incidentally, X released four excellent records, my favourite being Wild Gift, while the Pop Group's Y is an abrasive masterpiece.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 449 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    (I should also clarify my last comment about X by saying although they released more than four records, I can't be doing with them after More Fun in the New World)

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 449 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    The problem at times with a magazine like this is the expectation that every NZ release should have a reasonably positive review which can be hard to do.

    The only way to deal with 'expectations' like that is: "Let me direct your call to the advertising department." Otherwise, you're just playing a game you're never going to win.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Kebabette,

    God, I used to be such a music magazine fiend. Had a compactum full of Q, NME, Select, Uncut and the odd Face & Viz. Nowadays I get Q out of the library, and rely on Hype Machine mp3 bloggery and friends to hook me up with the fresh stuff. Mags used to be the way into the new, now they are more about the post-mortem.

    Donny and Marie dollhouse? Wowsa! My sister and I both had Marie Osmond dolls, the weird thing was that although they wore the same rather fetching pink and purple chiffon dresses, their faces were different.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 221 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    The one rule I always stuck to though was never describe a record as "sounds like (x) mixed with (y)", *(e.g "Beatles meets Nirvana") as most of the time it tells you nothing about what the record sounds like, and makes the reviewer sound like a marketer and not a critic.

    How about "the new (x)", which just begs the question: "did the old one die?"

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Parker,

    The one rule I always stuck to though was never describe a record as "sounds like (x) mixed with (y)", *(e.g "Beatles meets Nirvana") as most of the time it tells you nothing about what the record sounds like, and makes the reviewer sound like a marketer and not a critic.

    Hmmm, have been guilty of that at times. Must try harder.

    Surely though the mark of a good music writer is one that makes you immediately want to possess that piece of music from an artist you've never heard before/wish you had been to that gig. Unfortunately for me this is happening less and less and I can't remember the last time it happened. Most of the time I rely on word of mouth/music lists and blogs for my musical exploration these days.

    Napier • Since Nov 2008 • 232 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    In terms of print, Decibel covers metal but also goes a little broader and can be a good read. The Wire, too, in a good month. They can do archival stuff without it being Mojo or Q-like grave-robbing: with Mojo, you seem to get Pink Floyd on the cover every third month. And Nick Drake and Syd Barrett solo on the other two....

    ....and the Sex Pistols every fourth month.

    The Wire has some very good writing, but there's something so oppressive about the magazine that I've never got with- there's an odd detachment to much of the material, which I suppose is slightly better than heedless hyperbole, but I don't exactly get the sense that the writers enjoy writing about music. Also, sometimes I wonder whether the range of the music they cover is as niche-driven as Q or Mojo- it's just that their niche is more esoteric.

    Certainly, compared to Sight & Sound, which shares the same publishing house, it feels disappointing. For one, S&S seems to deal with "the now" while still retaining a robust and intelligent dialogue, not to mention covering an extremely wide range in styles and eras.

    Which I guess is a roundabout way of saying I would love a music magazine which deals with the form in the same way S&S deals with film.

    Maybe the problem with monthly magazines with music is that their tone is almost reactionary by default- they're constantly looking back at what's already been.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 449 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Surely though the mark of a good music writer is one that makes you immediately want to possess that piece of music from an artist you've never heard before/wish you had been to that gig.

    Of course- indeed that should be the role of any critic, regardless of the art they're dealing in. I would add that great ones have this ability to put the work into some form of context, rather than suggesting it exists in some sort of bubble. As it happens, I'm not against critics flagging up influences in their reviews, but my problem with the "x mixed with y" approach is that it doesn't deal with the salient point- how is the work different and/or better than those pieces.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 449 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    God, I used to be such a music magazine fiend. Had a compactum full of NME

    I had a fairly hefty number of much loved NMEs from the 70s when living with Brendan and Johnny from The Scavengers in 77-78, until one day coming home to find most gone.

    They'd been taken into Durham Lane West, and turned into the wallpaper in the about to open Zwines, where The Scavs were the resident act. Ta guys...

    Whatever Paul's excesses and failings, they're absolved just by Lady Madonna.

    I think, critically anyway, Macca's largely been rehabilitated in recent times. I think I've said this before here, but his last few albums have been rather good, and far more adventurous than most of his peers, with even the likes of the grumpy old Dylan expressing quite some admiration.

    It's just hard to put bloody Ebony & Ivory or Mull Of Kinytre totally out of ones head I guess.

    And Stella's styling him now so he's rather presentable too.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    And Stella's styling him now so he's rather presentable too.

    I'm thrilled someone finally got through to him on the hair dye. Jet black was not your friend, Paul.

    Weirdly, I got no beef with 'Mull of Kintyre'. Even if it was number one for nine hundred years. And had bagpipes.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Parker,

    Whatever Paul's excesses and failings, they're absolved just by Lady Madonna.

    If I could write and play bass lines even half as great as those on Something, Come Together, Drive My Car I'd be happy. As it is I don't even pick my bass up and play it as often as I should.

    Napier • Since Nov 2008 • 232 posts Report Reply

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