Looking back in anger…

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Let’s start with this…

Author and journalist Simon Reynolds is an educated and careful thinker.

He is better educated and more careful in his thinking than I am.

This is evidenced by the fact that, unlike me, he went to an elite university and, also unlike me, he has made a living out of writing…magazines, newspapers, critical journals and even bloody books.

I say all of this so that when, inevitably, people critique my critique of Reynolds on Britpop…they don’t need to.  I get it…Simon is very, very, clever.  He is a real journalist.  A real writer.  A real critic.

A friend sent me a link to a piece by Reynolds on Britpop…they did this because they know I get quite cross about certain aspects of Britpop criticism and he wanted to upset me.  Maybe they are not a friend.  Maybe they hate me.

Whatever.

My first thought on seeing Reynolds name was; “Ah, he’s good him.  I’ve got that “Rip it Up” book.  It’s good.  This is going to be good.  This will be better than the usual lazy nonsense that passes for criticism of Britpop.”

My first thought having finished reading the article was; “Ah, he’s not all that good him.  I’ve got that “Rip it Up” book and it is still good.  This wasn’t very good.  This was no better than the usual lazy nonsense that passes for criticism of Britpop.  I feel sad.”

The problem for people like Reynolds is that they are so involved and committed to critical theory that they cannot view anything free from its influence.  It is not a theory for them, it is an ideology.  It dictates how they view and interact with everything in the world.  Like all ideologues they are incapable of seeing, or accepting, any criticism of their worldview.  That means they occasionally say things that are…ridiculous.  He isn’t alone in this…you can find apostles of critical theory everywhere, they are easy to spot; they are joyless, speak in a language utterly unique to their faith and get very cross when people don’t submit to their position.

You can read the article that I am responding to here.

Within the opening paragraph Reynolds pulls out the big guns, the ultimate criticism of Britpop…its Britishness;

“‘Britpop’ has become a rallying cry, an excuse for chests to swell with patriotic pride.”

Patriotism.

Love of ones country.

Yuk!

The horror.

Just imagine such a thing.

Can you imagine being the sort of dreadful oik who thinks that Britain is a place worth celebrating?

Clearly they haven’t read their history books.

Britain is awful.

A nasty, inward looking, brutal, ugly, violent and racist little island with nothing to celebrate.

Also…nations!

Bleurgh.

Don’t people know that nations are artificial constructs designed to ensure that the working classes are kept in place?

Honestly people.

Alright.

Britain isn’t a nasty place…it is an incredibly open and welcoming country, filled with kind and charitable people.

Britain isn’t inward looking…it is a place that celebrates other cultures, absorbs them and works to support other nations in a great many ways.

Britain isn’t ugly…neither emotionally nor physically.  It is one of the most beautiful nations on earth.  Green fields, rolling hills…rivers and lakes…mountains…urban landscapes…and on and on.

Britain isn’t racist…it just isn’t.  There are vile racists here, just like there are in every other country on earth.  People who judge others by their immutable characteristics, people who hate others based on skin colour are here, of course.  But, no matter what Kehinde Andrews says…we are not all racists, not everything in Britain is ugly and tainted by our imperialist past.

It has been all of these unpleasant things of course.  We have a bloody history, an ugly history, a history of violence…but that does not define the people who live here and it isn’t a crime to see the good in this little island and want to celebrate it.  Certainly I don’t need an excuse for my chest to swell with patriotic pride.

I love Britain.

That doesn’t mean I hate anywhere else.

So everybody–industry, media, ‘the kids’–is frothing with excitement about Britpop. Why? The music biz, which was having trouble building long-selling careers off the back of dance music and had lost ground to the post-rave indie labels, is thrilled because the Britpopsters are guitar-based bands who willingly constrain themselves within the 3-minute pop single format and radio-friendly, trebley production.

“…willingly constrain themselves within the 3 minute pop single…”

It couldn’t be, and stay with me here, that the Britpopsters just liked 3 minute pop singles?

Nope.

These people are dullards.

They are the enemy of progress.

They are blocking the path to something better.

How do I know?

Because Simon Reynolds says so.

His contempt for the music biz (THE MAN) is getting a kicking because of the ravers and the power of dance music but thankfully they have found a group of stooges they can use to maintain their grip on POWER.

Phew.

I feel like an idiot.

I thought Damon Albarn was a songwriter who had been influenced by a few bands he heard when he was growing up but, apparently, he is nothing more than a puppet giving THE MAN exactly what he needs because.

Just because.

“…the bands are overtly anti-experimental and pre-psychedelic; they combine playsafe 1966-meets-1978 aesthetics with an almost doctrinal ethos of ambition and stardom-at-all-costs.”

Overtly anti-experimental.

Overtly.

You remember that time when Rick Witter told the NME that he would NEVER be experimental?

No?

Hmmmm.

Funny.

Maybe it’s a subconscious bias?

“…a doctrinal ethos of ambition and stardom-at-all-costs.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

You see, it is fine for Simon Reynolds to get paid for his writing and to grab free tickets for concerts and free records and invitations to parties and a book deal and royalties from the sales of those books…that’s not a doctrinal ethos of ambition and stardom-at-all-costs.  Nope.

It’s only a doctrinal ethos of ambition and stardom-at-all-costs if you are NOT Simon Reynolds.

Got that?

Good.

Let’s move on.

Nothing to see here.

Certainly no hypocrisy.

“The glory-lust of Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova”, the insouciance of Supergrass’ “Alright”, seem mighty appealing, even as they fly flagrantly in the face of the socio-economic facts.”

“…socio-economic facts.”

I don’t know, maybe if you are working class, or poor, you shouldn’t find the “glory lust” of Champagne Supernova or the “insouciance” of Alright appealing?

You see.

Didn’t I say.

It’s an ideology.

Critical theory doesn’t allow you to appreciate Champagne Supernova as a bona fide rock and roll BANGER.  Instead it has to be viewed through the prism of class consciousness.

No thanks.

I guarantee that my upbringing was one of greater socio-economic hardship than Simon Reynolds.

Guarantee it.

He will counter that by claiming I am not class conscious.

I’m an enemy of my own class.

He is like the students in the revolution that Lenin talked about.

Or he could just be a terrible bore.

Let’s see what we think by the end of this.

“As it happens, I think Britain IS the place to be, pop-wise; it’s just that this state-of-affairs has NOTHING to do with Britpop. Relatively unheralded by the media, another generation of Britons are waiving the rules. There’s the post-rock experimentalism of Laika, Pram, Techno-Animal etc; the trip hop of Tricky, Wagon Christ and the Mo’Wax label; the ‘artcore’ jungle of 4 Hero, Dillinja, Droppin’ Science, the Moving Shadow label; the art-tekno weirdness of Aphex Twin, Bedouin Ascent, et al. All these strands of UK activity are either offshoots of, or deeply influenced by, club music and sound-system culture; sonically, they’re informed by the rhythm-science and studio-magick of dub reggae, hip hop and techno. And all speak eloquently if non-verbally of the emergence of a new hyrid British identity, a mongrel, mutational mix of black and white.”

Yup.

All of that is true…to a point.

Britain in the nineties was more than Britpop.

Britpop as a genre, if indeed it was a genre, was too narrow.

There were incredible things going on as Reynolds describes above.

I was on board with Laika, PRam, Aphex Twin, Tricky and more.

That didn’t mean that there were not great things going on with Britpop.

I could have both.

“For Britpopsters, the Sixties figure as a ‘lost golden age’ in a way that’s alarmingly analogous to the mythic stature of the Empire vis-a-vis  football hooligans and the BNP. Even more than the insularity of Britpop’s quintessentially English canon (Kinks, Jam, Small Faces, Buzzcocks, Beatles, Smiths, Madness), it’s the sheer WHITENESS of its sound that is staggering. Take Elastica, whose singer Justine Frischmann confessed that she could only think of one form of black music she liked: ska (the jerkiest, most New Wavey form of black pop ever!). And take Blur, whose homage to the U.K’s music-hall pop tradition manages to sever The Kinks from R&B, Madness from ska, and Ian Dury from the Blockheads’ fluency in funk and disco.”

And there we have it.

Britpop was racist.

If you like Britpop you are just like people in the BNP who hate people from the BAME community.

A sound that is WHITE.

The WHITENESS of the sound.

Ska isn’t black enough for Reynolds either…so when Justine Frischmann “confesses” that the “black music” she liked was ska it wasn’t black enough for the critical theorists.  This was the equivalent of Nick Griffin saying he couldn’t be racist because he had a black friend as far as Reynolds is concerned.

The trouble here is that there is no way to win this particular argument.

If Frischmann talked, at length, about her love of hip hop, dub, lovers rock, the STAX back catalogue…her own sound would still have been dismissed as too white.

It’s interesting too to note that earlier Reynolds denounced Britpop for not being experimental but when Albarn takes his influences and experiments with their sounds he is scolded for that being an act of racism too.  Albarn, in an act of whitewashing British pop music, wilfully stripped all of the blackness from British pop.

I don’t know.

Maybe Simon Reynolds knows something I don’t…maybe he has documents or recordings that show that Tiny from Ultrasound was one of the founding members of UKIP.

I doubt it though.

I think this is just intellectual snobbery masquerading as compassion for an oppressed group.

“Albarn fetishises London’s vestigial remnants of authentic white trash as “the last truly English people you will ever know” (to borrow a lyric from Morrissey, another feller with a dubious penchant for skinheads and villains).”

No acknowledgement of the multi-racial roots of the skinhead scene here.

Skinheads = racists.

I’ve been a skinhead for many years.

I’m not a racist.

Although the more I read of this article the more I’m beginning to question that.

“From Blur’s rickety arrangements to the raunch-less turgidity of Oasis, Britpop is rhythmically retarded, to say the least.”

Rickety.

Turgid.

Retarded?

Retarded?

RETARDED?

Wow.

The article finishes with more praise for rave, trip hop and non Britpop music which Reynolds thinks is both better musically and is superior morally.

When I listen to Oasis I hear songs that make me want to sing and that lift my spirits.

When I listen to Shed Seven I feel my mood lighten.

When I listen to Blur and their rickety arrangements my heart beats faster.

Amazingly I also love Motown, STAX, Atlantic, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang, Tricky…blah, blah, blah.  Reynolds will dismiss that as the “I’ve got black friends” argument.  The proof of my contempt for black culture and of my own class is the fact that I prefer “Lux” by Thurman to “Maxinquaye” by Tricky.

Despite being written in 1995 it is almost as if Reynolds wasn’t actually there.

He seems to have been present at some sort of Nuremberg Rally on the “Parklife” tour…surrounded by people who were using the jaunty, jingles and jangles of “Tracy Jacks” as an excuse to swell their chests with patriotic pride.

That wasn’t my experience.

I listened to a load of great pop records.

I went to a lot of awesome gigs.

I made a heap of friends.

I saw bands fronted by women.

I saw bands fronted by Asian and Black artists.

I listened to Cornershop and Voodoo Queens.

I judged everything, absolutely everything, on one criteria…did I like it.

That’s a good way to judge any art.

Phew.

 

2 thoughts on “Looking back in anger…

  1. Another excellent piece Max.
    As for Reynolds saying that “ska (the jerkiest, most New Wavey form of black pop ever!)”, I’d like to see him explain that one to Toots Hibbert or Jimmy Cliff! Gah, the man’s a fool. And he grew up not a million miles away from where I did – ’nuff said.
    Keep on Keepin On with the arch-penmanship Max.
    Love & Bagels
    Trotsky x

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  2. Long read but an excellent one Paul. Sadly there are too many journalists who like to savage everything…even their grannies. As for Britpop being racist!!! What’s that a’ aboot? As a teenager who embraced the Mod movement in it’s fullness, we adored the music coming out of Detroit in the late 50’s and 60’s. Loved Soul loved Tamla. Lapped up Reggae big time. Saw a video this morning where a bunch of lefties in some educational establishment…High School/University demand the end of taking the pledge. A woman who spoke for keeping it at their public meeting was shouted down a few times for being a NAZI/FASCIST The world is nuts. Love Dad ________________________________

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