Wednesday, 11 November 2009

OBSERVATIONS ON MUSIC MONTHLIES


I can't say I'm bereft by the loss of the Observer Music Monthly. Obviously I'm not going to gloat about anyone losing their job either but who can say they didn't see it coming? It fell between every conceivable stool; earnest but not mischievous, po-faced (especially when it tried to be funny), too much time wasted trying to be "fair" and not upsetting the artists/PR companies/other assorted backslappers, and frequently (as with this month's chief feature) coming on like your grandad doing the Mashed Potato to deadmau5 when striving manfully to be With It. I mean, the first wave of Brit Pop was Ivor Novello and Noel Coward wunnit (cue howls of protest from the Marie Lloyd Appreciation Society). I wouldn't have minded reading a feature on either or both of those two. Or indeed writing one. It's a bit of a bore when I look for something interesting to read about X or Y and end up having to write it myself. Happens a lot.
But I stopped taking the Observer ages ago, thanks to its continued rightward drift, only ever skimmed OMM online, and I guess many others came to the same conclusion. And it was very quick to skim. It really was tedious; the print equivalent of Later with Jools H, worthy in the dullest manifestation of worthiness anyone could conceive. Not sexy or verbose or provocative other than provoking the usual yawn when one opened up its pages and saw yet again that tired old claque still in place - Sawyer, Morley, you name them, I'll blame them, dead thoughts leaking from dried pens - instead of exciting, new, young writers who actually have a hunger for music and aren't afraid to tell the truth. Or at least do some entertaining encomiums and slag-offs.
So what's the solution? It's no use looking to the other, non-newspaper connected monthlies, except for five minutes apiece in Sainsbury's. If you're alive you can forget about going on the cover of Uncut for a start. But Q and Mojo and their still surprisingly numerous imitators are no better; stillborn medium-form nostalgia or sarky soundbites about "new" acts, and, as always, actual critical commentary reduced to the barest of minimums. How soon before they cut down from the current 80-word limit to tracklistings and emoticons?
OK, the way things are now it's a no-win situation. "All music writing now is free. Deal with it," some will say, and not without justification. So the print monthlies and the broadsheet music sections are backed into a corner; because they don't have "fuck you" money they have to please the majority of their demographic and their advertisers and that means not offending, toeing the line, playing safe, knowing which side your bread's buttered. However I refuse to believe that there isn't still a market for a literate and entertaining regular print music magazine. One that will attract and startle. One that will not convey the past to the garbage heap but will not live in the past either. One that treats its readers as intelligent, astute, independently-minded grown-ups rather than one-year-old babies from Burma (copyright: Danny Baker) who need everything spelled out to them as though Google or brains didn't exist. One that's colourful but not superficial. One that's intense but not closed off (cf. The Wire). One where Zizek and N-Dubz can happily coexist, one whose writing will stimulate and inspire the next generation of music writers. And, most importantly, one which will employ the current generation of provocative and original music writers rather than the same old withered hacks and/or their mates. I'm working on a business proposal now.

5 comments:

agincourtgirl said...

London Review of Music would be a good title (I think).

Dan said...

"a literate and entertaining regular print music magazine. One that will attract and startle. One that will not convey the past" etc. etc.

The magazine you're describing - Plan B - existed until this June. Which isn't a reason for pessimism, but it is frustrating/poignant to know that buyers weren't willing to support such a publication...

Marcello Carlin said...

I do feel more than a bit guilty about not supporting Plan B more (i.e. not buying it more often) when it was around but that too didn't quite hit the mark for me - with later editions I'd find myself flipping through the pages without alighting on anything I wanted to read, and also there was this kind of vaguely creepy C86 indie hangover atmosphere about the magazine - eternal childhood and all that - which finally put me off it big time. Too many jangly indie losers featured (and speaking as a jangly indie loser myself I know what I'm talking about ahem), not enough forward-looking/thinking music written about in a forward-thinking/looking way.

London Review of Music - now whatever happened to that fine idea? ;-)

deafdisco said...

marcello, i know exactly what you mean about plan b. i too felt guilty too for not supporting it but to be frank, when i did buy it, i found myself skipping through pages of the damn thing. i won't miss observer music monthly, because it always felt like Q's creepy uncle.

MusicFanatic said...

I agree that it would be lovely to read intelligent music criticism in print form. The Wire is close, but can be slightly haughty at times. Plus it's too expensive for my broke American ass.