Following yesterday’s list of lovely things, OUTSIDELEFT also asked me for a list of records that get my goat, grind my gears, or do some other combination of things beginning with g. A Room 101 list essentially. It’s always – being a music writer – a bad feeling to lay into an album or song that someone has clearly spent time and effort over. You can’t help but wonder if you could do any better yourself. Personally, probably not. There again some songs, films, books are so bad they wander into cult territory, and again seem uncriticisable. The worst sin, I think, is to be dull. Anyway: thinking about terrible music I found myself thinking about other terrible things so the brief drifted a little.
Jesus wept. Lockdown has brought this fetid bilge bag into many homes, yanked it up to the top ten of watched items on Netflix and contaminated the brains of hundreds of thousands of infants and their carers. The animation is shit, the vocal performance laughable and the whole endeavour based on no educational scheme anyone has ever heard of. Note however that the constantly moving camera and constant editing (no shot seems to be held for more than three seconds) is designed to catnip your poor little one’s brain and wire them to expect instant gratification and constant thrills. It’s dangerous garbage: Cacamelon. On the other hand, after six months of lockdown Miss Appleberry starts to look hot. Oh, and you’re a pile of crap too, Little Baby Bum, don’t think you haven’t been noticed. Note that the link below is to a compilation which is over two hours long.
Maroon 5: Jordi
The point about terrible music is that I tend not to listen to it (keep your opinions of prog rock to yourself), so to find an awful album I googled for one. Apparently, this one is bad. Now I will listen to it. It can’t be that demotivating, can it, weren’t they quite good at one point?
I have now listened to it. From the Wikipedia page I found this line that sums up the absolute best that can be said about this album:
“Clocking in at slightly under 38 minutes, Jordi is the shortest album that Maroon 5 has ever released.”
And that was Maroon 5’s Jordi. I have had bouts of diarrhoea that were more musically coherent and sonically engaging. When will artists realise that having loads of guest stars on an album doesn’t make it GOOD? If anything, it draws attention to how ridiculous the lead singer sounds when attempting to deliver to the Yoof. He’s better at a mid-level croon. But the songs are just dull, not a reinvention of themselves akin to Violator or something like they think it is. And ballads need to go somewhere, to reveal something about the character singing them. Just listen to Lost from this album if you need to see how repetitive and drivel-ridden the lyrics are. It sounds as if they don’t want to do it anymore.
Elton John – The Lockdown Sessions
It got a lukewarm reception in OutsideLeft recently, and it is exactly the sort of record that I find completely unlistenable. Random “they’re well known to the yoof drag them in” collaborations with someone who really could do better. It isn’t that the album is middle of the road dreck, although it is, it is that this is someone who could do something much more interesting. Elton John helped Ed Sheeran to plan out his career – couldn’t he discover anyone more interesting? Is this really the best we can do, Reg? Are we settling for unearthing the ground-breaking talent that would eventually spawn Galway Girl? The Pink Phantom with Gorillaz and 6lack is the best of this album, but the annoying use of auto-tune and associated effects throughout the album grates. And the cover, with Elton wearing a gaudy mask is kind of annoying. I doubt that the lockdown really affected him much, apart from putting off touring and recording, but, you know, he probably could make do with his home studio or his mates down the road. He certainly wasn’t silenced; I remember very well a very interesting performance of I’m Still Standing (which may explain the current use of autotune). I guess I just don’t like celebrities very much, especially when they try to make money out of the lockdown which the poor darlings suffered through in their mansions.
It’s Dreary and Trite.
Yesterday (the film, Danny Boyle, 2019)
I think Danny Boyle is a fantastic creative talent. Obviously Trainspotting was a phenomenal piece of work, Sunshine is underrated sci-fi genius and 28 Days Later re-invigorated the Zombie movie and its effects are still being felt in horror cinema today. The Olympic opening ceremony of 2012 was a moving and uplifting text which managed to celebrate so many diverse strands of the British experience. Which all just makes it the more painful that a film directed by Boyle which centres around the greatest canonical body of work in pop music would be so fucking atrocious.
Yesterday is a romantic comedy which does neither romancing or … comedying. The main character Jack is a musician who is failing. He is hit by a bus shortly into the film during a worldwide powerout and wakes up to find a world which is slightly different from the one he is used to.
The reality he finds himself in is one where the Beatles did not exist, or Coca-Cola, or smoking. None of this is explained, although the absence of Oasis given the absence of the Beatles is probably the best and only joke in the film. The investigation that any normal person would do, to find the changes which caused the absence of Coca-Cola and smoking, is never undertaken, because the central character is an unlikeable moron. In this way he is very like Gary Sparrow, the main character in Goodnight Sweetheart, the BBC comedy which several aspects of this turgid mess are ripped off from. Jack becomes an international star by “writing” the Beatles’ songs.
The central romantic relationship in the film does not work. The premise for their being together does not work. A love triangle which is set up and then forgotten about does not work. The way they treat each other is poisonous and at times smacks of gaslighting and emotional control. Ed Sheeran is in this film and treated as if – without the Beatles being in existence – he would be the greatest songwriter in history. The reason for the central couple – Jack and Ellie - even knowing each other is that they met when Jack played an Oasis song on stage. In the reality in which he finds himself he still knows Ellie despite the fact that Oasis do not exist in this reality. This is never explained.
Ellie, who spends the early part of Jack’s life bullying him into giving up teaching and following his dreams, once he achieves these dreams, gives him the ultimatum of following them or having her, which is cruel and just not normal behaviour. Her behaviour is simply bizarre.
Did I mention Ed Sheeran is in this film? Trying to act? He is, and do you know what, he is actually quite good at being Ed Sheeran. There is one scene where he loses a song-writing battle with Jack and admits defeat which is actually quite touching, until you realise that he is just acting and in reality Ed Sheeran hasn’t given up song-writing at all, like he would do if he was a decent person.
There is a sort of designated villain in the form of Jack’s manager, whose crime is that she wants him to perform songs and make a lot of money. Which is to say, she does her job. There is a producer who also likes Ellie, but he never makes a move and at the end suddenly goes off with a female character who appears from nowhere and is never seen again. There is comic relief (which is neither) in the form of an idiot friend, played by Joel Fry, who is wandering into typecasting hell. There are two Liverpudlians who also remember the Beatles who look like unmasking Jack but who in the end do nothing, and finally a visit to an actual Beatle which is the best bit of the film, exploring briefly as it does the actual idea of an alternate world. Lennon never made it in music in Yesterday’s reality, but he is happy. Perhaps, as of this year, happier than in our reality. Where, as you know, he is a bit dead and if he has heard of this film, quite dizzy.
This film is condescending, nonsensical, breaks its own non-existent rules and says nothing. It fails as a concept movie, a sci-fi movie and as a romantic comedy. The main characters are dreadful. Worst of all, the actual Beatles covers are just mediocre at best. Would the Beatle’s albums or songs work if they were released now? Apparently yes, in their world. I don’t think they would really. But what does it matter, this is just one of many other questions which are never properly addressed. In short, if you are thinking of watching Yesterday, let it be.
Black Lace – Bohemian Rhapsody
Before hitting the big time with their Eurovision song contest entry Mary Ann in 1979, Black Lace were a gigging band who played Butlins in places like Filey. If you were very, very lucky and attended one of those concerts you may have been able to purchase a copy of an early recording of theirs, a cover version of Bohemian Rhapsody backed with their version of Peanuts.
From the first notes and the rushed delivery of the word “life”, and the choice to alter the melody of the second line, you can tell it is going to be special. The poor pacing and tuneless droning of the first verse are exquisite enough, but it is around the start of the second verse that you begin to wonder just what the later sections of the song are going to be like. I say wonder, but dread might be a better word.
The piano section begins with the singer seemingly saying “Mama just killed a man”, which I feel lacks punctuation and is kind of passing the blame. What seems like a misunderstanding is cemented when the singer goes on to exclaim “Mama, life had just begun, and now you’ve gone and blown it all away”: which is subtly but importantly differently from the actual lyric in two places. So yes, Black Lace thought Bohemian Rhapsody was a man complaining about his Mum shooting someone.
The slow, painful delivery of this continues until the inevitable rumbling approach of guitar around 2’ 30”, and the guitar solo which eventually trundles into view is a thing to behold. While it gamely approaches the same sonic landscape as the original, the timing and importantly the accuracy is just not there. The guitar solo wanders into experimental territory and the bass and percussion give up keeping time. We have here, as Eric Morecambe would say, all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order, or interval, or dimension.
But who cares because you know what is coming. I will not describe the choral section of Bohemian Rhapsody as delivered by Black Lace because it simply cannot be done. It defies description. You just have to listen to it yourself, while looking at the image YouTube provides of Black Lace themselves. Look at them, just look at Black Lace and imagine them recording this masterpiece. I will merely draw your attention to the moment at 3’ 38” when one of them pops in “never” and the whole edifice becomes utterly, utterly absurd. The same voice can be followed saying “no, no, no” and the delivery of “mama mia let me go” by the group is just joyous.
Then comes the rock section, and Black Lace go for it! They go in different directions, at different speeds, and I am fairly certain believe they are all covering different songs, but, they certainly go for it. The guitar is, again, beamed in from outer space, the final solo at 4’ 30” seems to be a genuine cry for help, I would be looking around to check that he wasn’t having a seizure. It seems to be entirely a random and felicitous occurrence that the band eventually lands together on “Nothing really matters...”. Ending with “nothing really matters to me”. No water gong, which is a disappointment. Black Lace are wrong anyway. Lyrics matter, harmonies matter, time signatures matter, guitar solos matter. But don’t worry, because if all of these are ignored hard enough, you can still arrive at genius from the other direction.
John Robinson Week
An introduction to John Robinson Week →
John Robinson Week, The Excerpts →
Talking Momus All The Time (Interview with John) - Part 1 →
Talking Momus All The Time (Interview with John) - Part 2 →
Momus Aside, You Ask? →
John's Momus book, Famous For Fifteen People is available now here
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