The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, April 24, 2006

There is a writer named Paul Morley who contributes regularly to British broadsheet newspapers with regular repeats of what is essentially the same article. On first sight he seems no more than yet another reactionary fifty-quid man angrily denying youth their youth because he is no longer capable of recapturing his at first hand. Readers may always rely on his rhetorical potshots at Kids Today for their supposed failure to live up to The Kids Of 30 Years Ago, most virulently manifested in his regular anti-popist pops at Girls Aloud.

Taking Morley’s
rants, which place him closer to Hornby than he would care to admit, and of course thereby please his fifty-quid readership, in tandem with other recent blasts from The Canon Of Music Writers and Proper Journalists – and also with the fact that the single most prominent cause of my falling out with the membership of said Canon is my continued championing of Girls Aloud, which has been responsible for almost as many ruptures and rifts as your average Pacific tectonic shift – it would seem that Girls Aloud are now on the verge of usurping Metal Machine Music as the ultimate acid test for anyone who considers themselves a music writer who counts in the 21st century. If you cannot write sexily, provocatively, usefully or at least interestingly about Girls Aloud without deploying the words “gaudy,” “enslaved,” “manufactured,” “plastic” (as a perjorative), “phony,” “canned,” “candy” (again as a perjorative) or “punkier” (as a positive) then you have no more hope of being considered a significant music writer in 2006 than Bernie Clifton or Jimmy “Whirlwind TM” White. If you shut the door so firmly on pop, then you are literally in possession of half the facts, have read only half the story, have, strictly speaking, half a mind. If you insist in persisting on reliving or permitting only those artists who do little more than juggle with elements of music you liked in 1975, you cannot hope to be moved beyond words and tears by the Gnarls Barkley performance I’ve just seen on TOTP – the greatest TOTP performance since “Party Fears Two,” and indeed with the Soul Machine in full naval costume, with I swear the ghost of Bob Sharples conducting the orchestra, it could fairly be described as Opportunity Knocks directed by Billy MacKenzie. If you glue yourself to that Stein-like line you’re drawing, rather than considering pulling the entire fucking line down altogether, then the line will twist in upon itself and eventually hang you. If you write about Girls Aloud in 2006 the way in which Paolo Hewitt wrote about ABC in 1982 then you might as well have not lived beyond 1952, for all the attention and love The Kids will actually pay you. If you describe Girls Aloud in 2006 in the same way in which most music writers described Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1984 (“the spooky, enslaved hooligans they really are,” which I’m sure must have appeared in a heavily censored ZTT press kit) then, indirectly speaking, your punk might as well not have happened (Hudson and Ford?).

This Paul Morley is, as I said, that Nick Hornby’s alter ego insofar only as, whereas Hornby sticks rigidly to his approved canon of Byrds, Buffalo and Costello, plus the Marahs of this world who know the rules and open their bank statements, Morley adheres morbidly to his approachable carrion of Can, Barrett and Ramones. Never mind that the Secret Machines might be Pink Floyd had they been formed by Michael Barrett (one of the reviews I read of the new Zutons album described them – favourably – as “Roxy ’72 without Ferry or Eno,” which is either unimaginable or, in a Richard Williams kind of a way, would have, if extant, been the missing link between Back Door and Trevor Watts’ Amalgam); they make the right recognisable moves and Morley pretends to be moved. I suppose they do provide succour for those “who’ve long lusted after something that sounds like Neil Young singing Neu!” but where were they 23 years ago when Neil Young actually achieved that, with his Top 30 album Trans (and it’s still my top Neil Young album, and I admittedly might be the only person who thinks that)? Or indeed, however good Midlake are or aren’t (someone send me a promo please so I can decide), that “country lane that connects 1967 San Francisco to 1980 Grangemouth” has actually been wandered along by Mojave 3 for the best part of a decade.

Let’s not fall into the poptimist trap of worshipping Imbruglia above MIMEO either; such souls similarly only know the other half of the story (even if, as I know for a fact, the former at least in part finances the latter). This “sending into space” is happening, and happening now, but it’s happening in Canada, delicately speaking, rather than the USA, with people like Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade and the Meligrove Band actually doing things in combinations (of influences, innovation and emotional candour which doesn’t cross the line into hysteria) I’ve never heard before. And of course I would say that. That doesn’t make it any less the case. And there is also, above just about all, The Drift by Scott Walker, which I will obviously be writing about in oceanic depth in a few weeks’ time, but all I need to say for now is that currently it makes all other music sound beige. But Girls Aloud – at least, the Xenomania Girls Aloud who have sustained three albums without requiring Stan Boardman voiceovers – are a happy and indispensable piece of the 2006 musical jigsaw, and to crow at them is ultimately for the middle-aged man to crow and sneer at the lives and loves of teenage girls. And, of course, gays. Otherwise we end up at the dark end of the sealed-in Wire/Dissensus/Resonance street which can only define itself against what everything else isn’t (just because the light end of the Poptimism street is light doesn’t disqualify it from being a dead end, either) – and who wants to live there?

In any event, we must take great care not to confuse the Observer Music Monthly’s Paul Morley with the other, illustrious writer Paul Morley, who buckled his Barthesian swash through the stolid pages of the NME between 1977 and 1982, who demanded that Bucks Fizz and Dollar be given credence equal to, say, Junior Giscombe or Pigbag, who would have wasted no time in ridiculing and demolishing these diatribes against “phony fame-pop groups” (like the Sex Pistols weren’t). That Paul Morley would not have grabbed in desperation at comedy groups like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“punkier, Syd-like groups”? Does he mean Syd Little?), whose eyeless pudding bowl of a singer is the missing link between Nicole Richie and Beki Bondage, or the Secret Machines, who are OK if your life’s long enough for OK, except mine isn’t, and yes Bowie raves about them, but once Bowie raved about Peter Straker and the Hands of Dr Teleny so you learn to treat Bowie’s raves with an eleven-foot pole at the best of times. When these two bands appeared on TOTP it was rather like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in 1982 followed by Bauhaus. And Sigur Rós the soundtrack to a revolution other than that of Planet Earth? – well, I rather like them but of course they are the missing link between Barclay James Harvest and Mezzoforte, so no flags will be burned to their slow-burning epics. But the razor-sharp, astute, passionate Paul Morley would not have made such glaring errors of judgement, as opposed to the james-blunt, contrite, bored (in the worrying, Ian MacDonald sense) Paul Morley who writes for the big papers to reassure everyone that no music is worthwhile apart from that which derives from, or reminds him of, the music of 30 years ago, when others were alive.

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