arcade fire

Awards Season: Film vs. Music

So, the other night, The King’s Speech swept the Oscars*. It was a predictable series of events, drawing accusations of the film being ‘Oscar-bait’, and annoying a whole mess of people on my Twitter. But … it is undeniably a film of pedigree, being an ‘important-issues’ period drama with a cast and crew that have paid their dues. More importantly, The King’s Speech has undeniably drawn acclaim across the board. Meanwhile… “Who is Arcade Fire?” is apparently quite the hot question. They won a Grammy and a couple of Brits a couple of weeks ago, and the backlash to the victory of the likes of King Bieber was enough to birth the aforelinked Tumblr, and to mean that I have been accosted once or twice on my casual, non-pointed, wearing of an Arcade Fire T-shirt. I briefly dismissed the whole backlash-at-backlash as a bit snobbish, frankly; a lot of rockist rubbish. After all, why should a band who, evidently, no-one has heard of win pop-music awards? The King’s Speech – and this film is used as a not particularly fortunate example, standing in for every awards-flypaper film of my cultural lifetime – is a popular film, yes. It held the top-spot at British cinemas for nearly a month, and has taken something like thirty times its budget. But the story of a struggling stammering monarch from the margins of history… does that really constitute a populist film? There’s no doomed romance, as far as I can discern (with my admittedly limited knowledge). It doesn’t have battles, explosions, giant robots** or Jason Statham. It doesn’t pile on the dirty gags. It wasn’t released in 3D. It’s not a child-and-adult-alike-friendly animated sequel to one of the most loved film series ever… Yes, that was a oh-so-cleverly veiled reference to Toy Story 3, there. Pixar finally got themselves a token nod in the proper Best Films list, but no-one ever took their chances seriously. Their computerised doodles shall remain in the box labelled ‘Best Animated Feature’, where they belong. The fact is that Toy Story is the most pop film in the nominees by a million miles. It’s highbrow fare: The Social Network; The Kids Are Alright … okay, Inception is a sci-fi action flick. But it’s an ideas movie, and probably the most brain-on-sleeve ‘intelligent’ film in the whole nominations. My point is, you’re not likely to see Meet The Parents 3: Little Fockers in the nominations any time soon. Good. I have mixed feelings about the Oscars, as probably shows from my grumbles. But they matter, in a way that no music awards ceremonies really do. Best album/artist/single nominees are largely picked directly from the top-seller lists. The Brits actually ghettoises the ‘Critics’ Choice’ into their category, with a mighty three nominees. This mean there’s little snobbery – no heed is given to what the broadsheet arts sections have to say on the matter, or what albums are being championed on the internet – but equally a lot of the musical spectrum is excluded, and the focus is clear. Unit-shifters, not critical darlings. This feels like part of a larger picture. With cinema, critics are a large part of the process: people choose what films to see, based at least partly on recommendations and star-ratings. There’s an awareness and profile attained by well-received movies than bands or albums. My non-culture-interested mom has heard of Black Swan; she’s never heard of Radiohead, to pick a similar mix of popular and ‘highbrow’***. It seems like, to generalise, film sales follow reviews, whereas media coverage of music follows sales (the The Kids Are Buying Who? Put ’em On The Cover gambit). Note the prevalence of pull-quotes on film posters and accompanying trailers. Adverts for the Hot New Album, meanwhile, just have whatever Radio1 DJ is doing the voiceover telling us ‘this is an amazing album’, like they’ve been paid to do. It’s just very strange for two media, which share a similar reputation and place in society, to be treated so very differently. Film is hardly a higher artform than pop music. …I don’t know. I’m getting up on the old barricades here, ones I’m not entirely comfortable with. I don’t know the ins and outs of either industry, really, and I’m sitting a pretty privileged positions. I’m the guy that reads the reviews, and listens to the podcasts, and has spent the latter half of my life putting myself in the know. And I still know the critical opinion is wrong 33.3****% of the time. And it could be empowering, placing the power democratically in the hands of the masses, of the consumers who actually pay for this stuff rather than pompous critics.And while the theory of a potentially empowering musical democracy It seems like, in practice, this potentially ‘democracy’ of music actually depends on a handful of people, those controlling major radio playlisting. Nevertheless, is it right that winning an Oscar, chosen by an equally narrow number of people, automatically bumps up a film’s reputation and audience? (Not unless it actively deserves to seen by more people, I reckon.) But that platform is there, and it’s potentially useful. That ‘awards bait’ is even a viable tactic is demonstrative of the state of the industry. Word-of-mouth is the only truly democratic tool, and that’s how the best films are sustained, awards and reviews only supporting and confirming this method. So, I’m not saying the situation surrounding films is perfect; a lot of rubbish still sells very well, and lowest common-denominator values seem to inform what gets made. And I’m ignoring that it’s easier to explain a film with a synopsis and a review, and to explain a song by actually hearing it. I’m ignoring the blog-readers and review followers who do listen based on recommendations. I’m ignoring the opposite, the people who will go and see the film with the highest number on the end as much as they’ll only buy albums from the supermarket. Largely I’m ignoring them because either end is […]

2010: The Third Quarter – Musik

Christina Aguilera – Bionic Sometimes, I think that famous British prudishness is misunderstood. It’s not that we’re scared to hear about sex – not the generation I know – it’s just that we’ve heard it all before and it’s not that shocking. I remember the weekend papers when Bionic came out. They all sang the same couple of tunes: yes, Christina likes sex, we get it / cor, Christina ain’t half ripping off Lady Gaga. Two months later, The Times published a ‘demolishing’ analysis of that Lady Gaga. The central thesis of which was: Gaga’s not sexy enough. Which is ridiculous, of course. Pop doesn’t have to be sexy. Gaga’s the girl you never think to ask if she’s ever had sex, let alone with who or what. Xtina is the girl at the party with nothing else to talk about. Songs as subtle as Sex for Breakfast, lyrics as nuanced as “when the morning comes/I know I will too”. And so, naturally, the British press looked up her up and down, and shook their heads disapprovingly. Not with the horror of broken taboos, but with boredom. And all this is true, and fair, and it whirrs around my head every time I stick the album on (which has been surprisingly often the last few months), but it doesn’t matter. Because the girl has some interesting friends, and she’s brought them with her. The MIA song is the best MIA song of the year; Nicki Minaj infects Woohoo with Minaj-ness, and makes that ridiculous oversexualisation work. But most importantly, it just sounds gorgeous. Turned up loud enough, you can feel the shapes of the music. Of course, it all comes crashing down by the end, when the album strays into attempted seriousness, and the accompanying ballads. But that first half: it might be shallow, it may lack nutrition, but it just sounds so good. Pop doesn’t have to be sexy. This album isn’t shocking and it isn’t sexy. But, hey, this is pop music. Words don’t matter, right? Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself I’ve never gotten Xiu Xiu before, but Miles ‘Tails’ Bradley informs me this is their Pop album. And, well… that title. That’s all you need, really. That’s pure Pop. I played the title track to Liv one drunken Sunday afternoon, in endless rotation between California Gurls and Mystery Jets’ Flash A Hungry Smile and it just fitted in perfectly. The overblown melodrama is giggle-worthy, to hear someone cutting all the indirect subtextual crap and just singing ‘dear God I hate myself’ as a chorus. But like the best Pop, it also manages to take you in, and make you feel it. And then titles as light and friendly as Chocolate Makes You Happy encourage quiet giggles in a different way. But there’s always something underneath, something savage with glinting eye. Pop. Best Coast – Crazy for You Girl loves boy. Girl loves weed. Oh gosh how she loves both these things. As many times as I listen to it, this album remains essentially a half-hour of just Boyfriend in my mind. Which isn’t a bad thing, and is probably fitting, given that this is the musical equivalent of a stoner movie. But … good, like. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left-Foot Guaranteed to add an extra 30% of swagger to whatever you’re doing while it plays. Mystery Jets – Serotonin & The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs Grouped because they are each other’s evil twin. Both are albums of pretty music that can be dialled down and left to settle into the background and the back of your mind. The difference is that Serotonin makes that into a virtue. It’s easy listening in the Belle & Sebastian sense, the kind where you spot your fingers creeping towards the volume dial, catch yourself singing along half-way through a song. Whereas Suburbs is easy to forget. It’s easy not to notice that it’s on. Occasionally something will snag your attention and you’ll wake up, with no idea where you are in the album, or which songs have slipped by unnoticed. The album occasionally hits on a typically great Arcade Fire lyric: “watching the end of the world on a badly compressed “ or a great song. Sprawl II is absolutely stellar, a contender for best Arcade Fire song. It’s possibly telling, though, that it is the one song that doesn’t sound like the others. It barely even sounds like Arcade Fire at all. With the Regine-led vocals and pulsing synths-y electro beat at its heart, it could almost be a Knife song. But to steal a line from my handsome comrade Mr Christopher Sparrow, the album is less than the sum of its parts, somehow. I like the album a lot more than on first listen. Being able to buy it for £1 helped a lot. A lot of people – some of whom I trust, many who I don’t – have raved about this album, and so I keep listening and waiting. I’m still waiting on a metamorphosis. Maybe it won’t come, maybe it will, one day. Whereas Serotonin comes on sexy straight away, muttering in your ear. It’s a continuation of the Jets’ journey into an imaginary universe where it was ’80s pop still roams the earth, unchallenged. It’s polished, crowd-pleasing stuff, with just enough Mystery Jets flair and eccentricity to keep it recognisable as, y’know, something the NME would talk about. The passion’s beginning to fade a little, I think, and it’s possible our time together is coming to an end. Maybe by year’s end I’ll feel the opposite way about these two albums. We’ll see. Robyn – Body Talk Pt 2 Which is, of course, just great. It’s more Robyn, in a year full of Robyn (though not full enough: I’m indignant about the news that Part 3 is set to be half greatest-hits, with only five new songs). Nevertheless, this is a brilliant way to do pop music. Releasing three albums […]