Wed 05 May
Over the weekend, I picked up a copy of the 01 May 2004 issue of the New Musical Express, a long-running, weekly British music tabloid that I once read at least twice a month but that I now rarely ever glance at. Though the roster of bands that the NME covers has changed over the past decade, the tenor of the journalism is remarkably the same: patently snarky, often hilarious, willfully dismissive and still composed primarily of hot air.
In fact, what’s amazing to me is that both the journalists and the bands they cover are so effusive about the continuous stream of bullshit for which they are responsible. The pages are filled with pronouncements about the state and future of popular music and the inherent qualities of various artists and musical styles, both from the musicians who are ostensibly the focus of the articles and the writers whose job it is to fill up about 36 pages’ worth of musical ‘news’ every month. For all involved, the outlook on the world remains as stifling and small-minded as it was when I was reading it avidly.
It’s not that I dislike the music that the NME covers; given a choice of playlists culled from any music magazine, I would probably choose the NME because I know, at least, that its musical tastes are in a constant state of flux, that well-praised bands don’t remain well-praised for very long in the eyes of the British music press, so at least one can always be assured of getting the very latest crap. I think it’s just that my crap-o-meter has gotten more attuned in recent years. I no longer have much patience for bands that promise a stunning new break with every chord that’s been played before their arrival — unless, that is, said band can really, truly deliver such an epochal change. Almost none of them do.
Which is the case with the hotly tipped Franz Ferdinand, who are the cover stars of this week’s NME, thanks to the fact that a plurality of British music journalists have designated them as the next big thing. In their numerous mentions in the magazine, there is the suggestion that this new Scottish guitar band somehow represents a new, more substantive answer to the designer-label bohemianism of New York’s own The Strokes. Now, I have only a mild respect for the The Strokes, so I have no real interest in defending their virtues, but aside from a few very promising singles, I see no hint that Franz Ferdinand offer anything significantly better or different. To me, the quintet have taken a little bit of that Strokes sound, mixed it in with a little bit of Mark E. Smith’s The Fall and delivered it in as German a fashion as they can manage. It’s innocuous but also remarkably unremarkable. I don’t buy it for a second.