Ah “The Quietus”, the online music magazine where only the most obscure and most obtuse of bands will do. It’s a safe haven for people who think that pop music is the lowest art form, a place for the sort of boys (and it usually is boys) who decide that a bands value lies in their lack of sales and, crucially, a refuge for people who see a lack of melody as the pinnacle of a musicians talent. In short, it is not a place for people like us.
Co-founder Luke Turner, who I am sure is a perfectly lovely chap in the real world, has written an article celebrating the release of one of the definitive albums of the nineties by a British band, “Modern Life is Rubbish” by blur.
What Luke has actually done is write a snooty, sneering and sniffy article about an album he doesn’t like, a time in British popular culture he despises and has done so with all the passion and fire of a really fiery and passionate thing.
He starts off by describing “Modern Life is Rubbish” as, “…the band’s least terrible album”. You’ve got to take your hat off to that sort of snobbery. Imagine writing that about a band who sold as many records, embraced as many styles, spawned as many immitators and who helped define an entire decade as blur did.
I know I shouldn’t bite and I know that he doesn’t really mean it…it’s click-bait of course but there are few things more enjoyable than a good rant about something you care passionately about.
Well played Mr Turner, well played…you’ve dragged me in.
The article hasn’t even started yet and I’m fuming.
In the first paragraph Luke does what all good journalists do and takes an enormous dump on the idea of anything British having anything of any value. He mentions “jingoism”, he ridicules the idea that some of the things mentioned by the then Prime Minister, John Major, as being quintessentially (maybe even essentially) British are anything other than the ramblings of fusty, dusty, old Tory fogies.
What are those things that Major described?
“Long shadows on county grounds”…I love that idea, an image of the sun rising and falling on local cricket grounds, young lads from the North and young “chaps” from the South stalking the field with bat and ball in hand, dressed in white and ready to play one of the greatest sports ever devised. Oh, it’s romantic tosh and it harks back to another time but that doesn’t mean it’s not something to cherish.
“Dog lovers…” well, that’s just an undeniable statement of fact Luke. Britain is, indeed, a nation of dog lovers and it speaks well of the national character that we are. It suggests a kindness, a compassion and a loyalty that should be embraced and not mocked.
“Old maids cycling to Holy Communion…” ah, of course, as a good journalist Luke must be dismissive of people who cling to things like religion. You see, only enlightened folks like Luke are able to see how ridiculous a thing it is for a woman in her twilight years to see in religion some solace, a community and a means for doing good deeds within her community. Major isn’t describing or condoning doctrine or dogma…he’s just acknowledging the fact that a central part of British life for many years has been the Church.
Quite what any of this has to do with “Modern Life is Rubbish” is anyone’s guess.
Can Luke enlighten us?
The answer is…not really.
I think he sees “Modern Life is Rubbish” as the sonic equivalent of Major’s speech…but it isn’t because the album isn’t backward looking, the album isn’t nostalgic, the album isn’t a desperate appeal to the middle-classes and the elderly in the run up to an election.
“I had expected this feature to be a revisiting of a fondly-remembered album that I had always considered to be Blur’s best. It was a surprise, then, to hit play for the first time in a long while and find myself more than a little irritated. To my adult ears, knowing what Blur and the 1990s would become, there’s something grasping about this record. Nobody is immune to nostalgia and I can listen to it and mouth along with the words. I still know them off by heart. Hearing it I am instantly transported back to my parents living room in the summer of my GCSEs, flicking between this and and Radiohead’s The Bends, not really working, watching the light come through the windows and feeling fucking thankful that the first hellish five years of secondary school were finally over. Do I want to go back there? Of course not. It is the past, the me that was present then is dead. Who wants to live in their childish memory?”
“I had expected this feature to be a revisiting of a fondly-remembered album…”
We believe you Luke.
Certainly nobody here thinks that you set out to write a snarky click-bait piece designed to show how achingly “hip” you are.
“Who wants to live in their childish memory?”
Well, nobody but to seek to purge your life of that “childish memory” seems, frankly, childish. I’m very sorry that your school days were “hellish” and I can empathise with that as someone who was acne ridden, greasy haired, a bit peculiar and not particularly successful in any way at all. I’m not sure how having to shit on records/bands you loved at that point helps you to move on from whatever dreadful experiences you had at school. But then, I’m no psychiatrist.
“The 1990s was arguably the most backward looking decade in history perhaps because, as we were told, history was over.”
Rave culture, the rise and rise of hip-hop, jungle, drum and bass, dance/rock crossover, the experimental musings of the likes of My Bloody Valentine, the emergence of riot grrrrl, DJ culture…all forward looking, all ground breaking, all inspirational musical moments and movements that made the British music scene the most progressive in the world during the nineties.
What Turner really means of course is that Britpop was backward looking.
I don’t agree but I’m going to accept it for the purposes of being able to say…so what? I mean, really…why does it matter? What exactly is the problem with looking back to find inspiration? Is there anywhere else to look if you live in Hounslow, or Hitchin, or Kirkcaldy, or any other nowhere town up and down Britain? Sure, if you have a mama and papa who can send you on foreign trips you may find inspiration in another culture but for most of us the only place to find music that inspired us was in our parents record collections.
I’m not comfortable with the idea that nostalgia is some dreadful thing.
Next he takes aim at Damon Albarn’s ambition…suggesting that he was just a chancer who jumped on or created bandwagons.
Albarn is exactly that.
He’s not 4-real!
But again, so what?
I don’t need everyone who writes a record I enjoy to be a tortured soul…I’m suspicious of people who do. Those sorts of people strike me as the same ones who watch poverty porn like “Benefits Street” and “The Scheme”…braying loudly on social media about how awful the lives of the participants are but, secretly, loving it and taking comfort in the fact that it is not their life.
“The less-than-subtle evocations of Englishness didn’t just come in Albarn’s auditioning-for-Dad’s-Army lyricism (“it’s been a hell of a do” and so on) but in the cover artwork and the pictures of Spitfires on the inner sleeve. Now, I find the Class A4 locomotive, designed for the LNER by Sir Nigel Gresley in 1935 to be one of the most perfect meetings of form and function in design history, that sleek and streamlined shape, the way that the lines of the locomotive arc up over the wheels like the crest of the wave or curve of a bird’s wing. Engine number 4468, The Mallard, still holds the world speed record for steam locomotives. There she is on the cover, blasting up the mainline with smoke streaming back from her funnel. The Spitfire too is a design classic. Yet their use on this record contains no ambiguity, no questioning but a statement, a deliberate tug on nostalgic sensibilities that, to modern eyes, belongs on a Nigel Farage’s lavatory wall, not a pop record.”
Let us break that apart a bit shall we?
Just for kicks?
“I find the Class A4 locomotive, designed for the LNER by Sir Nigel Gresley in 1935 to be one of the most perfect meetings of form and function in design history, that sleek and streamlined shape, the way that the lines of the locomotive arc up over the wheels like the crest of the wave or curve of a bird’s wing.”
Copy and paste that into any search engine and the results suggest that Luke isn’t quite the steam engine enthusiast that the above suggests…he hasn’t stolen it wholesale from anywhere or anyone but the idea that it represents his own view or knowledge of the Mallard is, well, a bit of a stretch.
“The Spitfire too is a design classic. Yet their use on this record contains no ambiguity, no questioning but a statement, a deliberate tug on nostalgic sensibilities that, to modern eyes, belongs on a Nigel Farage’s lavatory wall, not a pop record.”
And there we have it.
Any and all reference to Britain or Britishness is just xenophobia.
It’s a nasty trick played by a lot of people in the modern world, to suggest that every utterance that suggests a love of country is an admission of racism. I don’t accept that. There is a world of difference between blur using the Spitfire as a romantic image of the very best of British and the likes of Britain First using it.
Context and intent.
Luke knows this of course but chooses not to let us know that he knows this until he’s dropped the Farage bomb when he says…
“Blur weren’t to know that at the time, of course…”
Well, if they were not to know that at the time why put it in the article at all?
I know the answer to that of course…Luke is really, really, really clever and he wants you all to understand that he thinks very deeply about things and he is possessed of an insight into things that you don’t.
You see, the likes of you and I have been listening to “Modern Life is Rubbish” for years now…innocently assuming that it was nothing more than a brilliant album from one of the finest bands to emerge from this island in the last thirty years. Enjoying the melody. Singing along. Remembering it fondly as a cultural game changer.
What it actually was was the first stirrings of something that would become very dangerous…
“English identity is a Pandora’s box that once unleashed has a dangerous power. In pop and politics alike, the retromania of the 90s was part of the first stirrings of the little Englander mentality that has poisoned our cultural life since.”
“Modern Life is Rubbish” and everything that followed in the Britpop era is directly responsible for Brexit, the rise of the far right and, in all probability the election of Trump.
I can only speak for me but I’m fairly sure that none of you feel that cultural life has been poisoned by Britpop.
Might just be me.
“If you are going to explore identity, it has to be done with care and a critique. Much of the problem Modern Life Is Rubbish is that however pleasant sounding these English vignettes are, there’s very little grit to them. Albarn’s characters never seem to explore our nation’s sickness and faults…”
Homesick pop star writes pop songs about things he thinks are evocative of a romantic vision of his country of birth…simple.
Apparently what Albarn should have been doing was writing pop songs that highlight how sick and evil that country is…or at least that highlight how sick that country is.
I’m not sure that’s the point of a pop record.
I’m also not sure why everything has to be an attempt to focus on the ills of society…sometimes it is enough to just have a catchy chorus.
But, as we’ve already discovered, I’m not as clever as Luke.
He’s a thinker.
One of our great minds.
The article finishes with this…
“It ended up making them a lot of money, sure, but it’s also curious sound of four bright-eyed pretty boys with some fair musical chops about to become charmless men, writing the soundtrack of an increasingly charmless land.”
An increasingly charmless land.
Modern life really is rubbish if you are Luke Turner.