January 08, 2004


Pointless, now, surely to produce the fanfared second part of k-punk's end of the year round-up - only eight days into the year and all that stuff just seems so old . Have to agree with Simon that the task of identifying 03's (or any year's Madeleines) is well-nigh impossible until long after the event. A year's taste - as in what a year tastes of - is more likely to be carried by its mediocre, or downright atrocious, products. Anything one likes or treasures is likely to transcend the era that produced it if only because one continues to listen to it long after the year in was produced. But the Bad, the Mediocre, they remain mired in their time, marked by it and now markers of it. What do the late eighties taste of if not Go West or T'Pau (who had a certain pompous majesty, come to think of it)?

The second part of the round-up was to have focused on records I hadn't bought - would never buy - but which were Significant in 03. A couple of tracks I was reminded of by other people's lists: Coldplay's 'Clocks' (wonderfully evoked by Jess, I think, and championed by Matt not so long ago, if memory serves) and Moloko's 'Familiar Feeling' (which if I'm not mistaken featured on Jon Dale's list).

I'd initially pegged Coldplay as Hated Generic Indie Enemy, but I've gradually found myself beguiled by them. I think it's the fact that they're piano-led which allows them to escape the R and Recapitulation-syndrome. There's a milky, watercolour diffuseness about their sound, a slightly out-of-focus impressionist haze to it that prompts me to imagine dubby remixes in which the space in their tracks was exploited and expanded. 'Clocks', as I think Jess said, is like a requiem for dance music; Matt spoke of 'rave comedown piano', and that's perfect. 'Clocks' is like Derek May on valium. There's a thrilling disconnect between the exhileration of the cascading piano and the desolate tone of Martin's voice.

'Clocks' can be put alongside the Moloko track because both were tracks about time, about deja vu and madeleine moments. (I imagine: because Coldplay's lyrics have never really registered with me; any message I take from them comes from the mournful grain of Chris Martin's voice, another smeary squall in the Coldplay pallette). Roisin's lyrics, however, never other than gnomic, demand interpretation. Here is a voice in every way opposed to Martin's: it's angular, assumed, pointedly unnatural. And not one voice, but many. 'Familiar Feeling' is about a Time that is not sequential, the already-seen time of the lovers' first encounter.

And then, in my round-up, I would have talked about Diva versus Dido. If the iconic, inescapable image of the Female in 03 was Beyonce (with Christina not far behind), then the quietly implacable, implacably quiet woman's woman was Dido. I've said nothing aboult Dido here (reserving my paeans to her for the comments box on I Feel Love), but 'White Flag' was one of my favourite pop singles of last year. Beyonce and Christina insist on squaring the circle: in presenting themselves as objects for the male gaze and as empowered Women. Dido - whose prettiness is as bland as her records often seem to be - has always insisted on the right to vulnerability and failure. I'm willing to bet that Dido's audience is almost exclusively female, to an unusual degree in pop artists. Dido is a woman-for-women in a way that Beyonce and Christina will never be. Belying her reputation for AOR confectionery, 'White Flag' is a song of desperate love, coming from the thin line between loving dedication and stalker-obsession. There's something in the phrasing and in the ice-cold certainty of the song's emotions that reminds me of the Ferry of 'Sea Breezes' or 'Chance Encounter'; you can almost imagine the Ferry of the seventies covering it. Dido's delivery - almost stilted, lacking in the throaty passion de rigeur in these r and b dominated -times - is refreshingly cool. 'White Flag' forms a neat contrast with 'Life for Rent', the title track of the LP, which sings of the opposite condition: a dissolute inability to commit. It's like Jean Paul Sartre meets Sex and the City. Wandering aimlessly through the hypermarket of the postmodern, fingering all the options but never settling on any one of them, Dido castigates herself for her failure to really engage, to stick at or believe in anything for very long, to make meaningful choices. She concludes that, if this is the case, she 'deserves' nothing, because nothing is really hers.

And then I would have talked about Girls Aloud, who I have managed to fall in love with. Like Liberty X, they seem now to have escaped the taint of Popstars. Their story is almost the Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle in reverse. If McLaren's film seemed cynical in the seventies, its essential message - that Pop success can be manufactured through the media - is now so commonplace as to be utterly unremarkable. Follow McLaren's logic and you end up not with the Mephistophlean Situationist McLaren imagined himself to be, but Simon Cowell - the embodiment of instrumental cynicism. Popstars adds a Baudrillardian twist of the knife to McLaren's scenario by inducting the public into the star-making process. So far, so ho hum.

But Girls Aloud - with their sullen demeanour, with their spoilt kid attitude, with the whiff of scandal and violence surrounding them - have given every impression of twisting the puppet strings . 'No Good Advice' and 'My Life Got Cold' (this latter better, needless to say, than the 'Wonderwall' it shamelessly steals from) were an unexpectedly wintry brace of singles, which, as Marcello rightly pointed out, nihlistically advertised the vacancy at the heart of (contemporary) pop. Don't ask me to identify what appeals about the - superficially perfunctory - cover of the Pointer Sisters' 'Jump!', but every time it came on MTV or the Box, I turned up the volume.

Posted by mark at January 8, 2004 07:53 PM | TrackBack

Hurrah youre back.

God, that description of Life for Rent not only 1) makes me wanna listen to it but 2) sounds like a description of my life.

..and Dido has such white, regular teeth cos she took experimental dental treatment when she was a child, apparently. 'Fleuroid bombing' or summit.


Posted by: Baal at January 8, 2004 08:19 PM

very glad to have you back, hope you're well,
and thanks for turning me into a microcult. I really like it! Best, Sean.

Posted by: sean at January 8, 2004 11:55 PM

Girls Aloud's 'Jump' is indeed a corker of a single. I can honestly say that I like their music 'cause it's a great noise, rather than the fact that I get an erection everytime they're on the telly. They do look great too, of course...

Posted by: Nick at January 9, 2004 11:26 AM

happy new year! i'm with baal, i really want to listen to dido after that. wish you posted more often.

Posted by: pete at January 9, 2004 05:27 PM

I would just like lower the highbrow tone by pointing out that both Dido and Cheryl Tweedy look lovely. Yes, lovely. The absense of hoof-scraping, bull-ring nose-snorting sexuality there is deliberate.

Posted by: Philip at January 9, 2004 07:29 PM