21.11.09

The NME

..which listed its 50 albums of the decade this week, along with some write-ups on pop, indie, television, and the internet. I should say from the start that I’m recounting their articles from memory, and so may be hideously distorting what has actually been printed. Ah well...

The essay on pop music was the most provocative, suggesting that the developments there (Timberland, the Neptunes, Girls Aloud, Lily Allen) have been more radical than what the backwards-looking garage rock and post-punk revivalists (the Strokes, the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys) have offered. Since the NME has spent the last ten years obsessively focused on the latter, this looked to me like a welcome breath of fresh thinking. However. The previous article on indie was actually an an article on the influence of the Strokes -- how they swept away the Travises and Starsailors of the 2001 pop landscape and ushered forth a new dawn in independent rock music. Most annoyingly, it argued that the overly-wrought, intellectual music of today’s indie scene (Merriweather Post Pavilion was used as the example) lacked the rock ‘n’ roll wastrel spirit of Is This It?. The article expressed a earning for another one of those bands to appear in the 2010s, a band that will make rock music cool and exciting again.

And that’s the thing about the NME. On the one hand, it is interested in sonic innovation and a variety of genres. We mustn’t forget, the people writing it are music fans. On the other hand, the magazine remains fascinated with a very vintage conception of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle -- getting pissed and passing out in a bin at the back of the club. Going to house parties and taking drugs. Vague disillusionment with society and the establishment. That’s why it lionizes the deadbeats, the slackers, the brawlers, the fucked up, the ‘authentic’ -- Morrisey, Kurt Cobain, Pete Doherty, Liam and Noel. That’s why it’s uncomfortable with the ‘musos’ going to ATP. Why it disparages Los Campesinos!, who are the best band in the UK right now. The NME is for the proles, not the bourgeois. It’s for the heart, not the head. It’s for the gigs, not the bedrooms, (perhaps for the blokes, not the birds?)

The thing is, if you’re gonna stick to rockist music journalism (authenticity, the underclass etc.) covering contemporary indie music is gonna be a tad disingenuous. The Strokes were not really making the music of the oppressed. Jay-Z was. Right now, drum & base, dubstep and grime is the music of the oppressed. Covering black street music with rockist criteria (as Simon Reynolds does) is a perfect fit. Doing so for white hip rock is more difficult, especially with the middle-class, Radiohead and/or Belle & Sebastian-loving indie bands coming over from the USA.

I would advise the editor of the NME to put rockism, with all the difficulties it brings, to one side. Stop glorifying the Skins young-and-immortal-but-confused lifestyle. Focus on the music. All kinds of music. Sometimes the magazine can do that. Their list of the top 50 albums of the 2000s put the Strokes first (of course), but there were nods in the direction of the Knife, M.I.A. and Outkast. More covers in this vein may yet deter the NME readership from jumping ship and diving into the dizzyingly diverse waters of the internet.

I’ve already done so. It’s Pitchfork all the way for me...

2 comments:

  1. Someone significantly smarter than I once made a rather good argument that all British music journalism is like this, and it is almost worthless reading any music magazine out of the UK in that it all intellectualises getting wasted into an artform. Or something along those lines (I think it was Chuck Klosterman if you care to look up the actual argument he makes).

    NME has a little problem. They are really too insular (and totally annoying as fuck) to be a true wide-ranging magazine in the vein of Rolling Stone in America (or I guess Spin, but I don’t like Spin, so whatever). But to do so they risk having their semblance of cool (and there are defiantly quite a few stupid fifteen year old boys with lank hair that still think NME is cool) undercut by things like Pitchfork or Stereogum, which are actually kinda cool and much broader, and probably better for reviews and news respectively.

    Pitchforks 200 was undeniably a much better justified list and, possibly just because they went for 200, a way more eclectic selection placed in a way you didn’t feel like number one (Kid A right?) was so much superior to number two hundred (whatever it was), whereas NME’s certainly gave the impression that Room on Fire or Is This It (whichever one they chose, I don’t remember) was way better than MIA.

    I don’t know. I’m probably being biased here. I just don’t like NME.

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  2. The Pitchfork list definitely swarmed you with albums, and you're right, it diluted the inevitable disappointment of Kid A coming first.

    The NME's list was very insular -- TWO entries for the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, and the Strokes. Pitchfork had four times as many albums to play with, and it gave only one entry for each of those bands. Also: weird that Franz Ferdinand wasn't mentioned at all. Bit too arty, perhaps?

    I'm a bit more hopeful about the NME's fate. They DO cover interesting new bands, and are sometimes very conscious of the magazine's failings. They published an extraordinarily weird interview with Brandon Cox (Atlas Sound) a couple of weeks ago, where the journalist got ripped to pieces by the interviewee, and concluded his article with how much he felt like a bastard.

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