Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Triumph Of The Dull

I've just plucked this out of the pile of stuff I get sent for the Word CD. It seems like a perfect example of a contemporary trend that I find genuinely puzzling. One of two things is occuring at the moment in what Mark Ellen calls "pop'n'rock": either there are a lot of bands who are dull because they can't think of a way of making themselves exciting or somebody really has discovered that in these over-stimulated times what the public really wants from music is dullness.
You assume from looking at their name, Forever Like Red, the name of their album, "Distance", and the scene-lowering photograph of four young men with their hands in their pockets looking at the ground, that they had better ideas but rejected them. Nobody could surely have willed this much tedium into existence. Nobody could have thought that this was going to snag the attention of the casual browser.
It has to be a plan. Somebody has seen how Coldplay, Snow Patrol, The Fray and hundreds of others prosper. They haven't been held back by the fact that all their singers sound alike, all their songs are based on that chugging acoustic guitar that gets louder when it gets to the big choruses (popular with the guys who put together sports highlights packages for the TV) and lyrics that seem profound from a distance.
I have always believed that you can make pretty reliable judgements about bands just from the titles of their songs. "Highway 61 Revisited" goes: Like A Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, From A Buick 6, Queen Jane Approximately and so on.
Forever Like Red's running order goes as follows: What Will You Pay, Inhibitions, Dream On, Father, Exit Signs. Runaway Story, Forever Like Red, Breakdown, Off You Go and Distance.
Now which song do you want to start with?


  1. Anonymous9:20 am

    With Forever Like Red it sounds the best place to start would be Exit Signs and get out quick - and why do they feel the need to have a song on the album called Forever Like Red?
    This is just what the world needs -another band that aspires to be Coldplay.

  2. Anonymous9:31 am

    As one of those "guys who put together sports highlights packages for the TV" I can assure you that you can never have too much 'chugging acoustic guitar' when you're scouring the pile of promo CD's in the office for something to slap on your edit at 11.30 on Friday night. It's why bands like that exist. In fact, how about a new genre? File under 'TV Sport montage'.....

  3. Regarding your comment sir, I say "Amen, Brother - Preach it loud before we all drown in beige goo."

    Regarding Chris's Comment, I say "Isn't that what library music is for? Cheaper too."

    Gosh, I've just had an idea!

    (runs off to form The Faux-Aspirational Beige Goo library music company (trading in America as FAB-Goo Inc.)

  4. Judging an unknown act by the flavour of its song titles is effective. In the mid 70s, when the first Van Morrison album in the house was St Dominic's Preview, the music press made me confident enough to suggest to my older sister the next album to get. Complete innocents, we looked at its track listing:
    1. "Astral Weeks"
    2. "Beside You"
    3. "Sweet Thing"
    4. "Cyprus Avenue"
    Side two
    1. "The Way Young Lovers Do"
    2. "Madame George"
    3. "Ballerina"
    4. "Slim Slow Slider"

    We hadn't seen song titles like them. My sister pointed out the poetic nature of them: they are passive, intangible, even meaningless . Nothing like the catch phrases of Beatles or R&B tunes, or the hip literacy of Dylan. They're like sketches, works in progress, improvisations or after thoughts. We almost didn't need to play the album.

  5. Anonymous10:38 am

    Doing some quality surfing this morning I was reminded to track down an album cover I hadn't seen in years, but which freaked me out as a kid. Toe Fat's first LP:

    How startling is that ...and I guess I'm now curious to hear it. I was surprised to learn that Toe Fat were Cliff Bennett's group after he left the Rebel Rousers. God bless the www.

  6. re: montage music Having been suprised how on the coverage of Chelsea flower show the BEEB used 4-5 faintly indie folky tracks in one 2-3 min segment. I was being grumpy about them shelling out £90 quid for twenty seconds of Elbow. It tunrs out that the BEEB don't pay for this music under agreement with the publishers is this true?
    ps never Keane on Coldsnowpatrol in first place.

  7. Well, I'd like to start with Off I Go. Sometimes I like a bit of bland, but bands like you've been talking about here take it to another level - for example, can anyone name anyone in them apart from (possibly) the lead singer?

  8. BLTP, I would imagine that it all comes out of the massive lump sum that the BBC pay to MCPS every year.

  9. If anyone here has this sort of power can you "loose" the Beebs copies of Sigor Ros's cds as not single ad or trailer seems to go out without them over the top, you can have too much of good thing.
    Is there a chart of the most used tracks anywhere?
    One last thing worst use of music and clip. In a news review of the year (2003?), Ugandan flood footage with travis singing over it "why does it always rain on me" no word of lie!

  10. Off You Go seems like a good place to start

  11. Anonymous2:12 pm

    Slightly off topic, but even though Highway 61 is one of my favourite albums I can never associate some of the songs with their willfully obscure titles. I wouldn't be surprised if the Forever Like Red album sounds as dull as it looks, but I'm confident that you would know without looking at the track number that you were listening to 'Father' or 'Off You Go'. Whether you could remember any of the songs at all 5 minutes later is, of course, another matter entirely.

  12. Anonymous12:16 am

    Do you think there's a continuum from dull to exciting, or a sort of tipping point, where you can suddenly go from wrong to wonderfully right?

    I say that listening to a few Crowded House tracks from their new CD and, somehow, although it seems to be wobbling in the wrong direction, everything suddenly becomes fantastic.

  13. Anonymous9:38 am

    BLTP, BBC does pay for all usage as far as I can remember. It has block agreements with the majors, as David says, which take a lump sum but pretty much every act who are used on the Beeb will get paid as they tend to be very good (compared to some others) at remembering to properly report music usage for PRS/MCPS. Even my unsigned band got our cheque for one of our tracks being used on a trailer (we are resolutely non-beige).

  14. Anonymous8:04 pm

    Partly inspired by your SBOV campaign but more by the fact we've rearranged our back room and it is now so much easier to play vinyl I'm currently playing Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes 2nd album This Time It's For Real. (I'd forgotten how good this record is). The sleeve isn't that different from those nerks you've used to illustrate your article in that we have a band posing in an environment that they feel reflect their character. Put the 2 sleeves side by side and ask anyone who doesn't know the music to make a choice. Which band are they going pick?

  15. Anonymous1:46 pm

    I got the same CD as well and think it's a good piece of work. The singer is great and "Off you go" sets the action and other ones are quite convenient for a lazy afternoon. "Dream on" aims for the charts maybe.

  16. Anonymous6:08 pm

    Ha Ha Ha

    i actually have this Cd as well, it's brilliant.
    You probably wrote the most shallow and incompetent review i have ever seen.
    Try and review the music instead of the cover and song titles.