Tag Archives: music

Your Musicology is My Mythology. Featuring: Chumbawamba.

15 Jul

Like most seven-year-olds in ’97, I first heard of anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba through their chart-topping single ‘Tumthumping‘. Last week, in a break from the recent trend of nineties bands reforming, Chumbawamba announced on their website their intention to call it a day (or, as The Quietus/every site ever so drolly reports: “They get knocked down, they don’t get back up again”).

However, what I’m quickly learning is that these guys are decidedly not a nineties band. Chumbawamba’s legacy spans three decades, after all. First forming in 1982, influenced by fellow anarcho-punk peers Crass, the band journeyed through genres experimenting with post-punk, mainstream pop, electro-pop, acoustic and a capella sounds, to their ultimate reinvention as a “soft, heavily melodic folk sound“. Chumbawamba have constantly evolved, experimented and entertained.

If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy, then he deserves all we can throw at him - Danbert Nobacon

Chumbawamba dumped a bucket of water over Labour politician John Prescott at the ’98 Brit Awards.

(Speaking of the nineties though, man do they hate boy bands.

In fact, their fifteenth studio album, which gives Fiona Apple a run for her money in terms of absolute lack of brevity, is called The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether from Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother’s Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don’t Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try to ‘Guard’ Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It’s Over, Then It’s Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won. It definitely deserved a listen.)

I like to think that ‘Tubthumping’, that little gem of an earworm, was their way of infiltrating the music industry and sharing their politics with a wider audience. It’s like how people discovered The Dresden Dolls through ‘Coin-Operated Boy‘, or think ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart‘ encapsulates the Joy Division experience. ‘Tubthumping’ was an anomaly that didn’t really capture the band’s sound, but allowed them to find a broader and more willingly receptive audience.

It wasn’t until I befriended the ever-effervescent Tommy Monroe and he played me ‘Homophobia‘ that I understood how mind-blowing Chumbawamba really were. The band have always been candid about their politics, and their stances towards class struggle, feminism and anti-fascism. They’ve covered the Bee Gees, funded numerous anarchist projects, and chucked water over John Prescott. Amazing.

If you always thought Chumbawamba were one-hit wonders, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate. Here is ‘Bad Dog’ from their 1994 album Anarchy (fanny warning re: the album art):

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Your Musicology Is My Mythology Featuring: Tori Amos

26 Jul

Until I read this Bitch Magazine article in defence of the Tori Amos fan, I had no idea that she wasn’t cool. Apparently, liking her music remains a “forbidden and dorky love”, comparable only to playing D&D or voluntarily watching The Craft.

What the fuck? was my initial thought. Tori is amazing. The girl taught herself how to play the piano by age four. When she started out, she did show tunes in gay bars and survived on the contents of her tip jar. She sings about masturbation, mermaids and MILFs. She is ginger and friends with Neil Gaiman. What the fuck more do you fucking people need in a fucking rock star? Fuck!

But then I read on. And apparently, the real problem with liking Tori Amos is that her lyrics are too ‘pretty,’ whilst simultaneously causing discomfort by addressing taboo topics and being laced with something too assertive to be stereotypically feminine. “In rock music, there tends to be two types of women granted the stage: tough girls and nice girls.” And Bitch Magazine journalist Sady Doyle explains it more thoroughly in her personal blog:

Over here, we have Taylor Swift. She is fulfilling one of the fucked-up Acceptable Woman archetypes: Permanent girl-child, weirdly virginal no matter how many famous dudes she dates and writes songs about dating, white-dress-clad, sort of a permanent bride waiting for her lifelong heterosexual marriage which is the only thing you can really envision for her, Has A Lot Of Feelings but saves the really venomous ones for (a) girls whose boyfriends she wants to steal, (b) girls who steal her boyfriends, and (c) occasionally boyfriends. Depoliticized, only ever speaks about private concerns, anti-feminist or a-feminist, a giant child, strangely impossible to sexualize (even when she’s talking about “things that [another girl] does on the mattress,” she sounds like a sixth-grader who’s not quite clear on what Mattress Things consist of, but knows they’re DIRTY and girls who do them are GROSS). Acceptable, culturally, for these reasons.

AND OVER HERE, on the OTHER END of the spectrum, we have Ke$ha. Who, yes, looks exactly like Taylor Swift in the process of incurring the world’s worst hangover. Permanently offensive, permanently blitzed, always as loud and rude and inappropriate as she can possibly be at all times, frankly and hugely and inappropriately sexual, confrontational, vulgar, mean, covered in glitter and puke and possibly her own urine, out for attention and doesn’t care who knows it: Ke$ha occupies the whore/bad girl end of the Girl Spectrum, on which Taylor Swift is of course the virgin/good girl at the opposite end. You would think the whore/bad girl would be less acceptable, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not true: She’s still depoliticized and anti-feminist or a-feminist, she still reserves her hostilities for other girls and the disappointing boys she’s dated, so we have room for her. If only because we need someone to publicly vilify and disassociate ourselves from.

It’s a false dichotomy that many of us are familiar with. ‘Bad’ girls get a reluctant kind of respect because they display traits we honour in men, like strength. And ‘nice’ girls are admired for the traits we associate with femininity, like sweetness. But where does poor Tori fit? Tori, who is a Nice Girl but also a Strong Girl, openly defiant but vulnerable. Tori, who might sing about fucking, but she’s singing about fucking butterflies. A woman who’s shaved everywhere you’ve been, boy, but also thinks it’s a sorta fairytale. She is a fiery, soft round peg that doesn’t seem to occupy the square holes of the Madonna/Whore complex.

Well, according to Doyle, the media opinion of Amos formed years ago, forces her into a shadowy third category: the hysterical female.

As a society, we encourage girls and women to be emotionally accessible, and in touch with their feelings; we say that it’s an innately feminine trait. We say it, that is, until they have feelings that make us uncomfortable, at which point we recast them as melodramatic harpies, shrieking banshees, and basket cases.

But Tori Amos’ music is neither melodramatic nor lunatic – at least, I don’t see it that way.

Take Playboy Mummy for example. It’s a song written in response to her miscarriage. “And then the baby came before I found the magic how to keep her happy.” God, I can’t even begin to imagine how much guts it must have taken to write and record that song, to sing to the daughter she lost, to lay herself bare when she performs it live.

Perhaps Tori Amos’ music has never had the potential of widespread appeal because it speaks almost exclusively to women. And that’s one more thing I wanna talk about.

Amos estimates that “one in three women who comes to my shows [has been] raped or sexually abused.” And formal studies support these numbers; Deborah Finding surveyed 2,000 Tori Amos fans for her 2009 thesis, and found that the rate of sexual assault in the fanbase “was enough to support the statistic that one in four women has suffered sexual violence.” Tori Amos is an outspoken victim of sexual violence herself; after releasing Me And a Gun, the chilling a cappella recount of her own rape, she decided to co-found RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), the first national support network of its kind in the States, due to the letters she received from other victims of sexual violence.

These letters were from people who had felt completely alone until hearing her music in solidarity with their own experiences. One of these people was Shannon, who founded Pandora’s Project, an online organisation which provides support and resources of survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and Pandora’s Aquarium, an online community named after a song by Tori Amos of the same title.

When I was 19 years old and starting to come to grips with my own rape, it was the music of Tori Amos that brought me comfort. If I felt painfully alone, I would listen to her Little Earthquakes album on repeat; there was nothing more comforting than feeling like someone understood.

Tori Amos is among the most powerful, inspiring and effecting voices of our time. She has an extremely devoted fanbase – a point I suppose I’ve only gone and underlined. Now I’m sure that the majority of these fans don’t buy her music because of some perceived life-changing nature of her songs. They don’t raise her to cult status because they are feminists, or queer, or socially ostracised or even because they have been abused. It is because she is talented, and her music is brilliant. But seriously – who can honestly say that Katy Perry’s Ur So Gay changed their life? Shouldn’t that MATTER?

We named my childhood dog after Tori Amos. And I hope you realise that’s more flattering than it sounds.

Your Musicology is My Mythology. Featuring: Morrissey

14 Jul

Oh Morrissey. Ohhhh, Morrissey. Good old Mozzers. Morrissey ya the more I love ya. England’s favourite lachrymose lyricist has been receiving quite a bit of media coverage lately. ‘Veggie-Mad Morrissey Searches Fans For Meat.’ ‘Morrissey Bitten By Dog.’ ‘Throwing out his own fans – has Morrissey finally lost it?‘ Lost what exactly, his faith in impartial journalism? “There were times when we could have killed him…”admits The Quietus, while The Guardian criticises his “dodgy new material.” This charming man seems to be the joke of the music industry at the moment. But that joke isn’t funny anymore.

(Just kidding.)

So what difference does it make?

Oh, it makes none. Morrissey is still the tits, and he always will be. He fronted The Smiths, called David Cameron a silly twat, and he still rocks out at fifty-two. Also, t.A.T.u covered one of his songs – which is pretty much the greatest honour known to man. He is a bad-ass veggie and also AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO REALISES HIS NAME SOUNDS LIKES ‘MISERY’ LOL ISN’T THAT FUNNY?

Morrissey’s songs transcend the waspish put-downs of critics and even the pretension of his own public persona; they range from the visceral to erudite contemplations of the human condition. You can mock his diva pretensions all you like, but his music is always going to be played by under-appreciated seventeen-year-olds with The Queen Is Dead posters on their walls, and you are always going to secretly listen to William, It Was Really Nothing and wish that they’d played it while Kate Middleton walked down the aisle.

Always.

Your Musicology is My Mythology. Featuring: Jedward

17 Jun

Since the very beginning, John and Edward Grimes have inspired worship and loathing in equal measure — think X Factor brand Marmite. You either wanted to spread them on your toast, or punch those cute quiffed little heads clean off. And you know what I did? I loved them. Loved them. Do you hear that, internet? I’m not even ashamed. I put them in my Spotify playlists. I play them at parties. And I’m going to tell you why.

Jedward are a bizarre phenomenon. They encapsulate ‘celebrity’ only in its most basic definition: the state of being well known. They are beautiful, brainless and their music is kind of rubbish – but from their first appearance on UK television, the twins have risen to stardom completely oblivious of their critics. Perhaps they explain it best and most simply themselves in the hook from their single ‘Lipstick‘:

“Here I come, here I come, dumb de dumb de dumb de dumb.”

Jedward are a postmodern comment on the fundamental triviality that is contemporary music. They hold a mirror to society and show us: this is what we have become. THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE BECOME. You don’t need to write songs any more to be marketable. You don’t need to be lyrical, you don’t even need to have talent. But what I love about Jedward is that they are so endearingly obvious, and so perfectly naïve in their approach towards the music industry, that one cannot help but think of them fondly. They are sincere only because they are so very clueless. They’re like Zoolander.

But for those of you who still aren’t converted, be comforted: at least Rebecca Black doesn’t have a twin.