Teethgraters #3: Nick Soulsby Would Go To The Ends of the Earth To Never Hear These LPs Again
What fun Nick Soulsby Week has been at Outsideleft. The consummate rocknroll author lets his protaginists do the talking, generally. So when we discussed the possibility of drawing together a list of hated records he was somewhat circumspect. I don't know, either because of inserting himself into the mix in such a way is not his thing, or as he said in his interview he just couldn't work with hating. Guess what? I think Jason and I could readily self-indentify as Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in the Persuaders, 'cos dang, despite Nick's best/good intentions, here are his most hated LPs and... Nick comes out swinging at the Big Dogs, the critical and commercial darlings...
Nick Soulsby: In a world that, in terms of a human lifetime, contains an infinite variety of musical forms and variations, I’ve always been aware that my personal taste is just that — personal. So when it comes to hate, I’m always happily acknowledging that my feelings on a piece of music are in no way authoritative — you might find something to love in any of the albums I put forward as my ‘most hated’. Likewise, to arrive on my most hated list, a record has to mean something other than just being music I wouldn’t listen to because there are millions of records that give me no listening pleasure, as well as whole genres (i.e., country & western, much jazz, most dance…) and numerous sub-genres that have never provided me with more than the most meagre scraps of enjoyment. No, to be on my ‘most hated’ list speaks to personal disappointment, it’s a list of records that reflect something deeper than just ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music. If these were simply bad records, I wouldn’t spare them another thought — but they’re (for the most part) not ‘bad’, it’s that they’re things I wanted to love and instead found wanting. To grow an extreme of emotion takes something more than the wide gray limbo state of music I decline to hear, reject on first hearing, choose never to hear again. These records vex me! They make me cross! They cling to my thoughts no matter how I try to shake ‘em off! …Deep breath…Let’s go: my top five most hated albums.
1. Radiohead OK Computer
On paper, I should love Radiohead. Introspect vocals, quietude rushing suddenly into shrill passion, a determined kicking against expectation, a desire to innovate — I genuinely respect Radiohead…But they remind me of the dangers of excessive praise and the expectations that result. OK Computer was my earliest lesson: by the time I heard the album itself, it had been drowned in a fat-floating gravy of accolades which did nothing for my digestion. Unable to avoid the wall-to-wall praise, I could never see past it to what the fuss was all about. OK Computer, to me, always felt like a quality indie pop record with Stephen Hawking-shaped bells and whistles — and that’s not the band’s fault or anything. It was only when measured against the hidebound conservatism of mid-nineties British guitar music that OK Computer could be deemed worthy of the heavy praise. While there are tunes I enjoy, I can never approach the record without the voices of a thousand critics drowning out the album’s reality with their paeans of praise sung endlessly in the back of mind. Some people point to the Kid A/Amnesiac as Radiohead’s true moment of glory when, to me, it sounded like a half-hearted compromise compared to the work of true electronica artists — still, fair play for trying. Everything since then has felt like a reprise or a tweak upon an established formula — my moment of possible connection has passed. Like I said, respect the band, but critical overload means I’ll never feel the love.
2. Nicki Minaj Queen
Speaking of love, hand on heart, Nicki Minaj is the greatest rapper of the past decade. If she were a man no one would whine about so much of her music being braggadocio and flex, they’d accept that — just like Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Eminem, Gucci Mane — every artist has default concerns. My issue with Queen starts with the title: a great artist doesn’t need to stamp over-strained superlatives onto their music, if the music is great, if you’re great, then a million people will bow and say it for you — any record that opts for generics like ‘eternal’, ‘forever’, ‘greatest’, ‘boss’ or any form of royalty, is just too try-hard. To make it worse, the publicity strategy around the album opted for ‘negative attention is still attention’ resulting in the dispiriting sight of Minaj stooped down to the level of far lesser artists in ways void of a true queen’s dignity. The album cover didn’t help: it has all the regal class of a saucy promo shot from an ultra-low-budget parody of 1964’s Carry On Cleo. I could forget all of that but my core issue with Queen is the disappointment of hear a true talent so compromised. Half of the album is 2018’s BEST hip hop record. The other half? Filler stuffed, diluted, reeking of audience segmentation strategies, stream manipulation and guest spot demographic ticking. Minaj has been cheated of her due by a professional music industry that has its hands all over Queen and fails her here on two levels. First, well-known gender roles are enforced meaning Minaj is not allowed to be ‘just a rapper’, female artists aren’t paid fair recompense unless they’re also pop/RnB singers — terrain where Minaj is average at best. Second, PR and management types, who don’t truly care about music, insist that ‘the album is dead’ then on that basis make Minaj create a bloated 18 track melange rather than the razor-sharp, kill all-comers statement that would have left everyone breathless. Why make an artist release an album at all if you don’t believe the form has worth? The result is that Minaj, one of the greatest talents of our age, still lacks a front-to-back listenable album.
3. Foo Fighters
I haven’t bothered to name a specific album because, frankly, as far as I can tell, Foo Fighters haven’t cared about their albums either since the turn of the century. I look to Dave Grohl when I want to believe that someone can rise to the heights of a creative industry and remain a deeply decent human being — then I look to the Foo Fighters’ music and despair of the idea that good people can create great art. This band, to me, is the betrayal of hope. Once upon a time, across their first two albums, Foo Fighters held out the hope that ‘alternative rock’ could survive and thrive — this was a band worth believing in. Instead, Foo Fighters have become twenty years’ worth of musical testimony to passion becoming profession; a never-ending, barely alive reanimation of the same ol’ tidy rock templates that were old before punk — or Grohl — were born. Seventies rock, when it first emerged, was something new, something fresh — even if it soon became staid and repetitive. Foo Fighters’ albums are that safest of things: a zombie tribute and covers band — rehash, rehash. Outdoor arenas and festival stages are notorious for flattening sound as all nuance is lost to wind and distance. The result is it forces bands to strike only the most thuddingly obvious chords, dead repetition of verse-chorus-verse, the bare minimum of differentiation or sonic detail. Foo Fighters have adapted accordingly and seem to record records with a shrug, in full knowledge that no one is listening at home and no one in the crowds will really hear. Each time I give them a fresh chance all I find is music that acts out every fear of growing old, losing passion, failing ambition, flopping impotence.
4. The Notorious BIG Duets
I am solidly of the opinion that this is the worst record I have ever heard. The first time I played it, over headphones at work, I was so appalled I popped the disc back in its case, stumbled out into the cafeteria in a shocked daze and started offering it to people I knew. I felt tainted having the album in my possession, I had to get rid of it, and I couldn’t bin it because I needed another human being to confirm the album really was faecal waste. Sitting here tonight, playing the tracks on YouTube, it’s like a PTSD-suppressed nightmare flooding back to front of mind. By the late nineties, the rebel sound of hip hop had become neutered muzak for tone-deaf bankers on a night out. Weirdly, in 2005, that’s the sound that was chosen for this compilation: it’s a flood of cocktail lounge lite-jazz, soupy strings, cardboard box beats, rudimentary grid-like song structures plodding mindlessly on as generic background vocals compete with equally generic rapping. It took 37 guests to spin out this clogged artery of an album and, amazingly, not one of them can muster a single sentence worthy of sharing airtime with a deceased Biggie Smalls. Tediousness is the nearest coherent quality to inhabit this record. Worse, there are only five Biggie verses here that aren’t ripped from previously released material, a truly incredible spectacle of cannibalism. Add on stinking intro/outro/interludes, vacuous bullshit of the highest order, and the result is an object lesson in how to spit on a legacy.
5. Mogwai Mr Beast
Criticism of musicians is often deeply unfair: they’re being measured against a listener’s personal fantasies, the twists and turns of a fan’s life, against a tidal wave of anticipation that mounts up until finally cresting and crashing. In the case of Mogwai, I feel infinite empathy for a band that managed to create a near-perfect opening gambit, 1997’s Young Team, before spending a lifetime never getting better (also see Nas Illmatic). This album represented the moment when I knew it was all over. The formula was now as flexible as cement shoes: there’s always at least one semi-identical whisper-sung track, at least one song with sampled speech, a piano ballad, a inexpensive drum machine, a burst of static roar that — increasingly — feels like tacked on audience-pleasing rather than something integral to the band’s sonic identity. As if to emphasise the box-ticking and get us all through it post-haste, this album pared everything down to pop music lengths, every mood or emotion truncated, cut off. Mogwai were well on the path to becoming a dependable source of politely ephemeral incidental cues for film projects where the music is meant to pass unnoticed. Highlights of the record? Well, it’s all very nice and ‘Glasgow Mega-Snake’ is “no bad!” but otherwise anything on here would fit onto any other Mogwai project from 2001-onwards. I’ll always buy everything Mogwai do — everything! There are always those hints at greatness and unfulfilled promise that keep me hanging on in hope. But, ultimately, I hate this album for reminding me that every middle-aged man and woman eventually turns traitor on their own youth.