Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the jump, he looks across the pond to the latest issue of list-happy Brit rag Q:
Your boy has to admit that several commenters on his last installment were more or less correct: his analysis of XXL was not terribly good. He also recalls that another commenter a while back suggested that have a look at a British rock mag. So this week, he’d like shoot the shit about a magazine that he bought every month for over a decade.
It is Q, the publication currently valorizing itself as “Britain’s Biggest Music Magazine,” of which YB speaks. Over time, he would be able to carry on a conversation with an English person regarding the boy band Westlife and onetime footie great Paul Gascoigne, both of whom he otherwise would have had no idea existed, purely by dint of his conscientious devotion to Q. He loved its catholic attitude towards music, its alternately amused and bitchy tone, its truly excellent scribbling (Q‘s captions were blue-chip), and its design and photography.
Q was launched in the aftermath of Live Aid. It seems that Emap, the mag’s publisher, noticed that rather a lot of thirtysomething British folks were buying Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms and going to see Queen shows at Wembley Stadium, no matter how much the New Musical Express insisted that this state of affairs was very bad indeed. So those underserved readers were to find a magazine covering both Paul McCartney and Morrissey with equal fervor, never indulging in much generational booster-ism; if this was not a revolutionary notion, it was certainly one that appealed to YB (1993 saw the debut of sister publication Mojo, which YB will assess in the future).
But by 1995, Britpop happened. Much more than any big, game-changing musical event stateside since the late 1960s, the big summer of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and, ahem, Menswear is an era that many middle class English people–particularly English “pop writers”–cannot let go of. Oasis, for instance, has appeared on at least one Q cover every year since 1995 except 2003 (the band appeared on the mag’s cover twice in both 1996 and 1997).
Since then, Q has let NME sift through the glut of guitar bands yielded up every so often, and then behaved as if Arctic Monkeys (who YB digs) or Razorlight (which YB most emphatically does not) are pantheon-ready. Bands of that ilk seem to represent much more than just the baseline, native style most comfortable to Q‘s editorial staffers and their peers/readership; they evoke the last moment when defiantly British guitar bands commanded a consensus and also provide a strong echo of the ten years (1964-1974) when British rock ruled the world. The sun never sets, etc etc…
But what has truly drained the life out of Q is its addiction to lists. YB will go way out on a limb and suggest that it was Q that, for music magazines at least, realized that devotees very much enjoy arguing about what was ranked and what was left out on this list or that, sprinted with that realization and thus very much influenced their American counterparts to do the same.
Clearly, issues with prominent “Best” or “Greatest” sell well, likely since the 30-to-40something readers Q covets enjoy revisiting the past a lot more than they do contending with the present. But Q‘s assemblages have long been repetitive: 2003 and 2006 both saw issues devoted to “The 100 Greatest Albums Ever,” and a “100 Greatest Albums In The Universe” list appeared in 1998; an issue in 1999 heralded the “99 Greatest Stars Of The 20th Century,” while the cover of another in 2004 bellowed “50 Bands That Changed The World.” YB admits that the mag compiled at least two terrific lists–1998′s credibly researched “The 100 Richest Stars in Rock’n'Roll” and 2000′s “The Greatest British Albums Ever,” which included his beloved The Number of the Beast from Iron Maiden.
YB mentioned in passing that Dennis Publications thought enough of Q to use the mag as a template for Blender, which employs many of its techniques and freelance writers. In YB’s view, Blender does Q better than Q these days, typically employing the list conceit with much more ingenuity. (Blender is also not at all timid about putting good-lookin’ broads on the cover, whereas Q never showed commensurate enthusiasm for “fit birds.”)
Anyway, what we consider here is Q‘s 21st-anniversary issue; the marquee package is thus “21 People That Changed Music.” Note that not only does this one echo the 2004 list mentioned above, it’s not titled “21 People Who Changed Music Since 1986″; that would have apparently been too interesting. Also note that seven of the picks (see below) are in fact groups of people, and not single individuals. As such, the feature seems to proceed under the assumption that people need to be told that the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Madonna are key musical artists from the past fifty years. So jump aboard Your Boy’s Nitpick Express as he deconstructs and speculates wildly as to the editorial motives behind each pick!
1. Damon Albarn: The cover boy, late of Blur and even later of Gorillaz, the Mali Music album, and The Good The Bad and The Queen. He’s followed around for six months for a series of interviews with Chris Heath, an Englishman who made his name at The Face and has written for Details and Rolling Stone. While Heath has written a fine piece, there’s a sense that he is pining after a Blur reunion with Graham Coxon, and he seems to only tolerate Albarn’s continuing multifarious activities. This quality is shared by many, many English writers, who covet bragging rights that it was they that got the big Blur reunion scoop.
2. John Lennon and Paul McCartney: Never mind that it’s really truly unnecessary to discuss the Beatles over and over again, but it’s almost cruel to dragoon poor Brian Wilson, a man for whom providing insight seems nearly impossible, into telling us that they’re “a magical group.”
3. Bob Dylan: Quentin Tarantino drops in to say that he thinks Dylan is great and that they train at the same gym.
4. John Lydon: He made English pop writers wet their pants 30 years ago, so let him in to say what he thinks of Gordon Brown in this unbylined interview.
5. Kurt Cobain: Charles R. Cross, author of Cobain biography Heavier than Heaven, goes to the well again.
6. David Bowie: Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos contributes one of the few insightful essays, in which he describes how very odd Bowie seemed to him as an eight-year-old.
7. R.E.M.: Long after even Rolling Stone has decided that the band is no longer a big name, Q has flown the flag for R.E.M. unceasingly, and here it rolls out the red carpet for Peter Buck to answer the same questions he’s been posed countless times.
8. Elvis Presley: Hey! Richard Hawley likes the Sun Sessions and thinks that Elvis’ ’60s movies were really lousy!
9. Radiohead: British scribe John Harris interviewed them when they were a baby band, thinks OK Computer is a modern classic, and notes that Coldplay and Snow Patrol are indebted to it. As English writers are wont to remark sarcastically, thanks mate!
10. Michael Jackson: John Legend, an African-American known for making music that English pop writers understand, pops in to say that Jackson’s artistic legacy is bulletproof.
11. Led Zeppelin: See No. 7 for this unbylined interview with Robert Plant.
12. Madonna: Miranda Sawyer says that “Madge” is media-savvy.
13. James Brown: will.i.am worked with Brown briefly three years ago, and… see No. 10.
14. The Velvet Underground: John Cale finds Lou Reed frustrating… and, more importantly, talks about Shaun Ryder and Bez, two louts that British people are fixated upon.
15. Kraftwerk: Have you ever wondered what Coldplay’s Chris Martin thinks of “Autobahn?”
16. Public Enemy: A question about what Chuck D thinks about his partner playing Stepin Fetchit on VH1? Nah… how about “do you ever see Rick Rubin these days?”
17. Ian Curtis: Please God. No more Joy Division articles for the next year! Even one composed of Peter Hook’s heartfelt reminiscences!
18. Lee Perry: British pop writers will never tire of the wacky shit this guy did thirty years ago.
19. Jimi Hendrix: Slash thinks that he was “a gift from God to music.”
20. Brian Eno: Well, YB’ll let this one go, as he’s a bit of a sucker for the guy.
21. Ian Brown: Faithful Q retainer Tom Doyle profiles the singer, who seems agreeable despite the fact that YB has thought that the Stone Roses’ music was, shall we say, suck-ass. (He chalks up British people’s fascination with the band to some unfathomable, unbridgeable cultural gap.)
YB does not wish to say that nothing illuminating can be said regarding many of the above artists, merely that the lion’s share of the writeups do nothing of the sort, and that this kind of thing has been done by the magazine over and over for the past decade. This goes quadruple for an adjoining list of “21 Albums That Changed Music”: each pick is ponderously written and thus devoid of the spark that used to so enliven Q. It also serves to touch upon the following Q faves that didn’t fit in the main list: the Stones, Joni Mitchell, the Ramones, the Smiths, U2, Dr. Dre, Jeff Buckley, and the Strokes, who are more or less the American Oasis and easy for Q to champion. (It’s also odd that neither list mentioned Prince, Q‘s favorite post-’70s African-American.)
So well done, Q, for indulging in the same joyless canon-fortification as Rolling Stone. If this list is truly what Q‘s PTB thinks is compelling reading, then YB can only suggest that he’s fairly sure that he’s not the only dude who dreads reading another. He would rather that Q–and in fact all music magazines–spend a lot more time emphasizing the hugeness and variety of popular music, and spend none at all sectioning many of the above artists away in an impregnable fortress of “greatness.” For lots of perhaps overly obsessive individuals, popular music seems to have now become mainly fodder for list-making, and not, y’know, for listening, dancing, rocking out and fucking.