Time for off topic. I’ve said all I want to, or anyone could read, about fiscal timing.
I am an obsessive user of the iPod, eternally grateful to leave behind those barbaric days of mix tapes and minidiscs . As well as podcasts (Guardian, BBC comedy, that sort of sad middle-aged stuff), I am always looking for the Next Favourite Track, that wonderful uplifting moment when you realise you are going to love a 2-15 minute piece for ever. (except, of course, you won’t).
From my point of view, the trade-off is worth it if I listen to 10 pieces of rubbish for every hit. I probably buy 10 tracks every other day, most of them classical, on the strictly impartial advice of the InterWeb and its Lists. It is well worth ploughing through half of this for example to find that sublime slow movement from the Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto.
So I was deeply, sadly excited to see that the Times was adding to its 100 best books (for which read, novels) of the decade, and 100 films, with the 100 best albums of the Noughties. This is seriously useful: posterity is a wonderful filter. Thanks to posterity, most of us would not have heard of a mediocrity like Salieri (without that movie). A lot of pointless ploughing through anonymous works is thereby saved.
But I don’t like the Times list. Instant posterity is clearly nowhere near as reliable. My first, most obnoxious reason, is this. There are too many old people on it. Here they are:
Neil Diamond Paul Simon Johnny Cash Paul Weller Paul McCartney David Bowie Brian Wilson Bob Dylan Madonna Bruce Springsteen Richard Hawley
Now, before you get cross (whoever YOU is), hear me out. I loved some of the defining work of the people above. I thought Dylan the equal of any other poet – until I read some other poetry. But now I have to admit that I don’t like anything he has done since 1974. And it’s because Pop is different from those other arts where the practitioner becomes better with age. Shakespeare, clearly, got better. His thoughts became more complex, his range of references wider, and so on. So too can classical composers grow. Beethoven’s last symphony is generally rated the best, as are his wonderful late string quartets. And in many professions – I would offer politics – I seriously doubt the ability of the early practitioner to make judgements as fine as in later life.
Now look at the history of pop. Would anyone honestly have heard of Paul McCartney if he had started in 1985, with “Spies like Us”? Or the Rolling Stones, with that dreadful song about rocks and a hard place? No, of course no. Ditto all the names up there. Pop is overwhelmingly about adolescence. Its lyrics, for what they are worth, are pathetically adolescent. When pop tries to be profound or clever, it is embarassing. It is not meant for that. It is meant to be overthetop, vainglorious, pretentious, and not worth 20 minutes of a university course.
The people who compiled the Times list clearly take it too seriously, because they want to to be so much more. This is their life, after all. Part of this need is a desire to think that pop talent exhibits some sort of continuity, an ability to mellow and deepen with age and experience – like the other great Arts. But it obviously is not so. Great pop bands mature incredibly quickly, and then suffer an embarassing long afterlife, an endless second-act-angst. It’s like someone who makes everyone laugh once at a dinner party, and then launches into longer and windier anecdotes. Get your coat.
Of course, they never get their coat. The Arctic Monkey’s last album was full of painfully obscure and dark lyrics, lots of poetical preachiness: ‘a more experimental, darker sound and even bleaker subject matter.’. Sorry, but that is not what got us buying those wonderful early songs, so honest and witty about chippy underachieving mid adolescence. The same has happened to my favourite band, Gomez.
I don’t know much about the Times’ more obscure choices, at least 30 of which I had not heard of. I can’t rate rap, and had always hoped Ali G or the Conchords would do for it what I had hoped Spinal Tap would do for heavy metal. I am not pretending I have more knowledge than the Times’ experts. This is their life after all. But one thing that is certain is that their combination of obscure and old has pushed away some amazing bands:
- Noah and the Whale – just that first album
- Razorlight, again the first album, if only for the gloriously pretentious “in the City”
- The Fratellis, again the first album. Chelsea Dagger must have been the most used track on the telly
- Florence and the Machine
- Dirty Pretty Things, both albums. Barat is clearly the genius of that combination.
- The Killers, for God’s Sake. All three albums, but they clearly deserve some recognition for writing the best song of the decade. (scandalously used by David Cameron).
- Badly Drawn Boy – the first 3 albums at least deserved a place. Like Nick Hornby I am affected by A Minor Incident.
I am sure I could go on. So could you. I would like to add one more. It is easily my favourite album of the decade, from one of the best TV shows, and just about the only one I am (currently) sure I’ll still listen to in 10 years’ time. Because pop is meant to be like that.
By taking pop too seriously, the Times have missed the point of it entirely.