Thursday, 31 January 2008

Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster

The long and the short of it...

I wrote two different-lengthed reviews of this album for the Skinny, so the question is - how long's your attention span? Goldfish should scroll down a little for the wee wan...

700-word review for The Skinny website

Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster (Wichita) (***)

Don’t overlook the exclamation mark in Los Campesinos!, or that there was three chks in the title of their much-hyped 2006 debut “You! Me! Dancing!”. This is a band that loves to exclaim!, preferring child-like free expression to the staid social graces of adulthood. You’ll know what I mean if you know that song, an early demo of which provoked blog hysteria almost 18 months ago before finding it’s way onto every discerning indie dancefloor set in town. It was a rhapsodic ode to joyous abandon that deserved the acclaim it received, but it emerged such a long time ago that Los Campesinos! have had eons to consider how to repeat the trick for an entire album - and how to rise to the challenge of meeting rising expectations. Hold On Now, Youngster will meet the expectations of all but the most unreasonably smitten fan in every way but one: the album is sorely let down by the loudness of the production.

Whatever volume you’ve happy with for the first few seconds, when the main guitar riff of “Death to Los Campesinos!” kicks in you’ll want to turn it down. Then again, at the start of second song “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats”, the bandmates yell “1, 2, 3, 4!” in stereo-effect, and it’s still too loud. It beggars belief how nobody could have noticed this before release: Los Campesinos! are the last band to need extra volume in their production. Their music is already bouncy and exuberant to the extent that many critics find them irritating to the point of distraction. The opening twelve minutes of Hold On Now, Youngster are almost relentlessly annoying, particularly that second track which features more shouting, guitar lines, synths and beeps racing each other at breakneck speed, and a hi-hat slopping like a trebly mess all over it. The first enjoyable moment of the album is when it slows and softens with the introduction of violins, blending carefully into “Don’t Tell Me To Do The Math(s)”, which itself then launches into a noisy sprint that doesn’t let up for five more minutes.

So it’s testament to the strength of the final thirty minutes that Hold On Now, Youngster can still be considered a success of sorts. The sexual chemistry in the boy/girl vocals comes to the fore in the delightful “My Year In Lists”, which features the best of Los Campesinos! lyrical wit in the opening lines and in the ambiguous hook. “Knee Deep at ATP” provides further evidence of Los Campesinos! ability to be subtle when they put their mind to it. It ends with fast guitars and shouting, but after the carefully constructed build-up it’s far from the exasperating trial experienced earlier. “And We Exhale And Roll Our Eyes In Unison” shows they can reverse that process too, beginning with a hyperactive swing that threatens to unwind before tightening again for a slower, anthemic outro that will have festival crowds singing along all this summer.

Throughout, Los Campesinos! greatest weapons are their lyrics, and their violinist. Anyone can have a fast-paced wiry guitar band and claim an indie-disco hit these days, but Los Campesinos! are set apart by the gentle counterpoint of the strings, and the wittiness of their vocals. One song, titled “This is how you spell “ha ha ha” I have destroyed the hopes and dreams of a generation of faux-romantics and I’m pleased”, exemplifies both these strengths, with the hilarious title chanted joyfully in the chorus while a high violin line hangs in suspense over the verses, eager to drop in. If it can be said that Los Campesinos! were charged from the outset with the task of replicating the greatness of “You! Me! Dancing!” for the length of an album, this track is where they get closest.

It’s just so unfortunate that Hold On Now, Youngster is prevented from being a true indie-pop classic by the poor choices taken over the first twelve minutes. In the circumstances, it’s worth being creative with: don’t rip the first four tracks, pretend they don’t exist. “My Year In Lists” is the very first track, nudge nudge, of a short but perfectly formed debut LP.


Capsule review for The Skinny

Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster (Wichita) (***)

You’ll have gathered from their name and their anthemic debut demo “You! Me! Dancing!” that Los Campesinos! like to exclaim! and shout! like hyperactive kids! They don’t need any more bounce in their step, but unfortunately the much anticipated debut album Hold On Now, Youngster suffers from trying too hard to add more punch in the production, meaning the breakneck-paced first four tracks are horribly loud and annoying. It’s a real shame because the remaining half-an-hour is so strong that it clearly shows Los Campesinos! have the talent in them to make an indie-pop classic. This isn’t quite it, despite the new version of that dancefloor-smashing demo, and several more tracks that replicate it’s greatest strengths: witty and charming lyrics, boundless youthful energy, and violin lines that provide a harmonious counter-balance to the quick and wirey guitar and keyboard motifs. As a front-to-back listen, Hold On Now, Youngster can be trying; but if you start it at the fifth track, there’s plenty to get excited about.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong (Live)

Following the gig that I ranted about two weeks ago, this was my published one-star review...

Live review for The Skinny

Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong @ Cabaret Voltaire, 18 Jan (*)

So they’ve got a silly name – get over it. A better reason to be snarky about Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jongs is 'cos they’re pish. Tonight they show the Razorlight comparisons to be flattering, as while Borrell’s best songs were stolen from '70s post-punk icons, Joe Lean seems to thieve his jittery jangle from Borrell’s sub-stupid album filler. But this is what happens when an aspiring ego needs a vehicle for his burgeoning social status. He gathers a tight backing band, masters the art of stage performance, and writes by-numbers indie-pop that should never escape his local pub. Hopefully the local musicians in the unimpressed crowd tonight learned some valuable lessons. Evidently, to get ahead in this biz, you don’t need imagination so much as you need indie rock star style, friends in strategic places, and a back-story to help journalists with their angles. A silly name helps, too.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin

Put-down for What Was It Anyway?

The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin (1999)

There was obviously a bit of negotiation required at All Music Guide over the evaluation of the Flaming Lips' 1999 opus The Soft Bulletin. Despite being breathlessly summarized by reviewer Jason Ankeny as "the best album of 1999," and "might be the best record of the entire decade," it didn't earn the full 5-star rating, nor did it wrestle the “AMG pick” tick away from 1993's Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. There must have been a dissenting sub-editor there, who wasn't persuaded by Ankeny's rhapsodic review, the rare 10.0 granted by Pitchfork, or the year-end charts of NME and Uncut, both of which placed The Soft Bulletin at the summit. The final year of the millennium wasn't a great year for music, but the AMG subber was right to be guarded. The Soft Bulletin featured too few melodic ideas for a classic, but managed to hide that from many critics by smothering everything with saccharine production trickery. But for a few moments of inspiration, The Soft Bulletin was mutton dressed as lamb.

Think of it this way: We all know it's easier to tell a pretty lady when she's not wearing make-up. When a photo has been severely airbrushed or when a woman is drowning in foundation and blush, there's always cause to be suspicious of the hidden. Naturally fair maidens don't need embellishment, and there's a similar rule with pop music, the best of which retains its prettiness even after it's been stripped bare. Sometimes we enjoy the enhancements viscerally, as with much shoegaze, but as Scott McKeating said of Loveless , if that polish doesn't thrill you then there's got to be something like a melody underneath. If not, you're left with a minger caked in make-up trying to fool you into falling for her. But you're too smart, aren't you, to be duped by "Waitin' for a Superman"? Despite flowery piano-tinkling and dramatic synth-strings, it has a melody as sludgy as the bass drum it's tied to. The stereo-effect-shattering drum fills of “Slow Motion” are great, but they can't hide the badly-sung dirge beneath. Listen to the vocal melody of “What is the Light?” Isolate it from the endlessly shimmering piano, the digital-watch beep, the game-show button alert, and all the other clobber that surrounds it, and you could sing that melody in your sleep.

Well, I could sing it in my sleep, but Wayne Coyne is belting it as hard as he can and it's still barely penetrating the mic. I know you don't have to be able to sing to be a singer; but you have to be able to sing . Did the Flaming Lips scrimp on auto-tune software in favor of more instrumental studio trickery instead? "More make-up cake boss, we’ll need more if we’re gonna hide this fugger." Or were they running the auto-tune off a 486 with less megabytes of RAM than there were candles on Wayne's cake? Listen to this bit at the start of "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton"; the fairytale princess skips through the forest, shedding glistening sparkledust over pink bunnies and golden bricks, singing, "They lifted up the sun/A million came from one/They lifted up the s u-u-un". Except she's no fairyland princess, she's a bearded man caked in make-up with a hand up a nun's skirt! (It's only the live-show hand puppet, thankfully). Listen to "The Gash". It's one of the stranger tracks on the album, thanks to the apocalyptic opening, the bouncy, playful bassline, and combined choruses of freaks both human and zombie. I like it a fair bit, but then comes Coyne's verse, a terribly weak link among all this drama, acting as an unwelcome interruption rather than a useful addition. Who invited this guy, and why hasn't his voice fully broken yet? Nobody is asking Coyne to be melismatic like Mariah, or to phrase like Frank, or to have a range like Aretha. Just give us “competent,” instead of relying on that old “characterful” get-out clause. My h*cking cough is characterful.

The Soft Bulletin isn't a minger of a record, I'll concede that much. She even has some nice features, and she can bat her eyelashes pretty sweetly. But it's drunk talk to believe she is some model to be held up, a totem for the decade, a perfect album to love and love and love. The Soft Bulletin is a six-drinks girl, and she's putting on more lipstick and sliding you another vodka. Sure, go for it. But in the cold light of day, don't say I didn't warn you about the letdown.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Scotland Appoint George Burley As National Boss

Football article for

The Scottish FA announced yesterday that George Burley would take over as national team manager. The move comes two months after the departure of Alex McLeish, who left to join Premiership club Birmingham City. Burley was chosen from a shortlist of five drawn up by the SFA, which also included former Derby boss Billy Davies, Motherwell's Mark McGhee, Celtic coach Tommy Burns, and Graeme Souness, whose biggest managerial success was with Rangers in the late 80s/early 90s.

Burley joins from English Championship (formerly First Division) club Southampton, with whom he'd been struggling to progress. As a player (mostly for Ipswich Town), he earned 11 Scotland caps before moving into management with Ayr United in 1991. By 1994 he had returned to the club where he had played for most of his career, eventually taking Ipswich to three promotion play-offs and the holy land of the Premiership in 2000. His first season in the top tier was an incredible success, as he took the small Suffolk club to fifth in the league and earned the Manager of the Year Award. However, they weren't able to sustain the success and were relegated the following season. In 2003 Burley took over at First Division Derby County and managed to save them from impending relegation. They struggled the following season, but a marked improvement in 04/05 saw them finish fourth in the table, just missing out on promotion through the play-offs. But behind-the-scenes issues made Burley's job untenable and he quit in June 2005, before taking over at Hearts.

Recent history was to repeat itself as Burley lasted just four months at Hearts before quitting due to interference from club owner Vladimir Romanov. His departure was galling for Hearts fans - and for neutral Scottish football fans - who had watched Burley compile a team that looked well capable of breaking the Old Firm's dominance by winning the Scottish Premier League. Hearts fans have struggled to forgive Romanov for forcing Burley out ever since.

Burley took over at Southampton shortly afterwards, and consolidated their position in the Championship despite substantial unrest at the club. In 2006/07, Burley led his side to the play-off places again, without success. Recently, Southampton have had to sell many of their key players, including Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, and Chris Baird. Burley hasn't been able to adequately replace them, meaning the club has been struggling to put together consistent form and are hovering in the middle of the table.

Most Scotland fans I have spoken to are fairly happy with the news. Despite what some newspaper columnists are saying, the fans didn't want Souness or Burns to take over. Souness' entire reputation is built on his success at Rangers, but he had millions of pounds to spend to take a big team to success in a small league, and since then has failed with bigger challenges. Newcastle fans in particular are incapable of speaking of Souness without exploding into an abusive rage, such was his reputation at that club. Tommy Burns did reasonably well for Celtic in the mid-90s, but his rep is tarred by association as he was the Assistant Manager during Bertie Vogts' disastrous reign. In his one and only game as Scotland boss - following Vogts' dismissal - he presided over an inept performance and a 4-1 home defeat to Sweden.

Billy Davies ruled himself out early in the process, as he wants his next job to be in club football. The other serious candidate, who appeared to be the slight favourite with most fans, was Motherwell manager Mark McGhee. In England he had won two titles and two further promotions in the lower leagues, though had also suffered relegation as Brighton manager. But his supporters were mostly impressed by the turnaround he has inspired in Motherwell this season: a team that was flirting with relegation last season is playing attacking, expressive football this season, and are sure to finish in the top 6. The shock death of team captain Phil O'Donnell one month ago made his situation at Motherwell difficult: he has since developed such a connection with the club that he insisted he wouldn't leave before the end of the season, even if Scotland did come calling. Perhaps it was this admirable resolve which swung the balance in Burley's favour in the end.

Although Scotland have no competitive games until the autumn, they are due to play a home friendly against Croatia in March.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

What Was It Anyway?

There's a new link on my Broon's Bosses section on the left (that is the publications I write for).

What Was It Anyway? is a new blog inspired by the 'On Second Thought' column at Stylus Magazine. After Stylus closed, some of the writers expressed their particular sadness that we would never be able to do On Second Thought again, because it was a valuable part of the online music community's continuing effort to refine and re-orientate the established music canon.

The website acclaimed music is a great resource for checking out the canon as it stands, but the entirely subjective nature of music appreciation is contrary to the very idea. That site has Pet Sounds as the greatest ('most acclaimed') album of all-time, and you can probably guess the rest of the top 10 or 20 off the top of your head. But a great deal of that list is influenced by the handful of early music writers who emerged in the late 60s around Rolling Stone and Creem magazines, which is exactly why the late 60s and early 70s has the most acclaimed albums. Those writers are still writing and influencing new generations to venerate albums of that generation as benchmarks to compare everything else again: hence the views of critics like Ian MacDonald that the Beatles were the unsurpassable height of human achievement. In truth, every single album made by anyone (even Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jongs!) is comparable on the same plain to every other album (be it Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper or any other canon fixture), so it is a duty of younger music critics to continually re-evaluate what is 'established', giving credit where it is due to lesser-loved records, and knocking over-rated albums off their pedestal.

Personally, I can give or take Pet Sounds, but I won't hear a bad word against another canon favourite, What's Going On. Everyone has their opinions on these records, and even if you don't agree with them, it's always healthy to read different perspectives. So far on the blog, we've seen Rock-n-Rolla editor Scott McKeating take a shot at Loveless, Stylus and Village Voice writer Ian Mathers take issue with 2007's consensus-pick Sound of Silver, and Styluser Jonathan Bradley on two undervalued Everclear albums. Next week, my spew against the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin. Checkit!

Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong


Having seen this band at Cabaret Voltaire (Edinburgh) on Friday evening, here are some thoughts:

The most interesting thing about Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jongs is that Joe Lean is a narcissistic fantasist. All that crap about being on Peep Show and Nathan Barley is just PR bullshit – do you remember seeing him? Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter – it gives him a link to two of the most revered British comedies of recent years among Joe Lean’s target demographic. Meanwhile, his claimed appearance in a Simon Schama documentary gives him the “cultured intellectual” tag, leading to critics saying ridiculous things like their harmonies are “derived from 1950s doo-wop” (which is true only in the sense that all pop music derives something from all previous pop music). Of course, he says the Razorlight comparisons are lazy. He wouldn’t want his cool band to be associated with such tripe. But comparisons have to be made to bands that a reader might recognise, and they do sound a lot like Razorlight! Perhaps there is some obscure indie troupe who are better comparisons, but if they’re obscure then there’s little point in journalists comparing them, and if they’re obscure it’s probably because they’re not as good as Razorlight. “Not as good as Razorlight”. So in that sense, Joe Lean should be grateful that his band is being compared to a reasonably successful group, instead of griping that his act is somehow superior. That’ll be because he’s cultured, y’see, it must be better, just as Stella Artois must be quality lager, because it’s “reassuringly expensive”.

Clearly, I wouldn't be saying any of this if it wasn't a reaction (/backlash\) against all the hype they've been getting (mostly NME fuelled, predictably enough). They finished seventh on the BBC's Sound of 2008 poll, which admittedly usually focuses on artists who will be commercial successes (rather than cow-towing to snooty critics like me). So this is just part of the process of weeding out the Radio 1 indie-pish from stuff which I might actually be interested in ('moan the fourth-placed Glasvegas!). Adele and Duffy, at numbers 1 and 2 respectively, aren't half as insulting as JL&JJJ. Adele's triumph seemed like a boring fait accompli: with her debut single being A-listed by Radio 1 two weeks ago, it's hardly pushing the boat out to suggest she'll be a success (whereas eg. Glasvegas aren't even officially signed yet).

What bothers me about Joe Lean is both a) how jaw-droppingly dull their music is, and b) how they tick every box for popular success except the one marked 'tunes'. So we're now about to find out just how important that tick-box is, when we might have naively assumed before that it was the most important box, or even the only box that mattered. I'm not even referring to tunes-I-like, as if that's ever been anything to do with success. I can understand why Razorlight and the Kaiser Chiefs and the View are successful indie-pop bands, even though they're not my cup of tea. If I was paid a lot of money and granted a pseudonym, I could wax lyrical about the genius of Johnny Borrell or Kyle Falconer. JL&JJJ have even less than that. It would take the most imaginative PR agent in the world to run a spiel about how great their music is (rather than concentrating on the back-story, or the apparently charisma of the singer...)

Check out this interview in the Guardian: he bullshits all the way through it, makes up lies just to fill column inches, because he knows that most band interviews are as dull as ditch-water. And then when he says "I want to make music that a tribe in Papua New Guinea can relate to", I don't know whether to laugh or cry. But I'm sure he's not stupid enough to actually believe that: again, he just knows which boxes he has to tick.

Look like Richard Ashcroft tick
Connection to established demographic pleasing TV shows tick
Connection to percieved high-art TV show tick
Connection to other much-meh'd indie band
Be all mashed on-stage, dance like a tit tick
Fashion errrr something tick
Say interesting things in interviews so that article is read allthewaythrough tick
Say controversial things in interviews that inspire bloggers to rant = boost internet presence tick
and what about the music?

ok, NME approval
? tick tick tick tick tick

I have already spent more time on this band than they deserve, and so have you if you have got this far reading this post. So stop.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Hearts Rule Heads As Newcastle United Appoint Keegan Again

Football article for

Beleagured Newcastle United fans are rejoicing today after the club announced the return of Kevin Keegan to Tyneside to take over as manager.

Keegan’s sheer presence seemed to have a revelatory effect on his new charges, as he watched his side trounce Stoke City 4-1 at St. James Park last night. It was exactly the kind of assured display predecessor Sam Allardyce struggled to get out of his players, who are undoubtedly talented enough on paper to take Newcastle close to the European places in the Premiership table. Previous bookies’ favourite for the job, former captain and star striker Alan Shearer, has invited Keegan to talk to him about a management or coaching role at the club. It is not yet clear whether Keegan has any plans to talk to Shearer.

Keegan is well known for having a charismatic personality which players can really take to. Similar to Martin O’Neill in this regard, Keegan’s greatest managerial strength is the ability to form close bonds with his players that motivate them to give their all on the pitch. He first managed Newcastle in 1992, when they were a First Division club. Under his control, Newcastle were promoted into the Premiership, and gradually improved until their peak in the 1995-96 season. In January of 96, Newcastle led the Premiership by 12 points, and were renowned for playing quick attacking football, even earning the nickname ‘the Entertainers’. By the end of the season, that lead had been eroded and Newcastle could only finish second behind Manchester United. In January 1997, despite Newcastle continuing to do well, Keegan resigned. He later took control at Second Division Fulham, and won promotion for them, before taking the England job in February 1999. At England he only lasted 18 months and came under fire for tactical naivety. He resigned after losing the final game at Wembley before it’s demolition, 1-0 to Germany.

In May 2001 Keegan took the reigns at First Division Manchester City, and once again won promotion into the Premiership. He became popular with the fans as he established Manchester City as a dependable side, but by 2004 they seemed to hit a brick wall, and ended up only narrowly avoiding relegation. Keegan resigned in March 2005 and retired from football, preferring the stress-free life of television punditry, and then moving even further out of the spotlight by running a ‘Soccer Circus’ football academy in Glasgow.

However, the memory of that 95/96 season has fuelled Newcastle supporters’ expectations ever since, with the record of every successive manager held up against Keegan’s achievements. In a sense Keegan’s success – and his agonising near-miss – has haunted Newcastle fans, giving them the illusion of being a big club who should be challenging for titles and trophies, when in fact they have not won the top flight for more than 80 years, or the FA Cup for more than 50. What’s more, Keegan’s famously attacking style has persuaded Newcastle fans that this is ‘the Newcastle way’. With hindsight, the appointment of Allardyce - who built a workmanlike Bolton team who were tough to beat but rarely entertained – looks like a decision that was never going to satisfy Newcastle fans, who will only be happy when their team wins in style.

With all that in mind, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has decided that Keegan still has it in him to bring the glory days back. However, many will doubt that this is a good decision. Keegan had a hit-and-miss record since leaving Newcastle, his England days in particular showing that he lacks tactical acumen. Trying to repeat past successes rarely works, because football moves on and things are constantly changing. Perhaps Newcastle were so good under Keegan for multiple indeterminate reasons that can not be replicated: that even Keegan might not fully understand. In the 11 years since he left Newcastle, a lot has changed in the Premiership, most notably the establishment of a ‘Big 4’ clique at the top of the league consisting of clubs with far more money and appeal to big players than anyone else. Nobody will expect Newcastle to challenge for the league anytime soon because their resources are dwarfed by the Big 4, plus those of Manchester City, and probably Tottenham, Aston Villa, and West Ham too. Ashley has already shelled out millions for the club, for the capture and release of Allardyce and his ensemble, and for the players that Allardyce wanted to buy, including jailbird Joey Barton. Keegan will be given some transfer funds, but it will be comparatively small compared to the budgets available to Eriksson, Ramos, O’Neill and Curbishley.

Most Newcastle fans seem delighted by the return of Keegan, and see no reason why he cannot turn back the clock. Keegan himself says he is delighted to be back at the club he loves. But exactly what do the fans expect the man to achieve? To outsiders, the return of Kevin Keegan looks like a decision ruled by the heart rather than the head.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Sol Campbell Is Off-Target With Abuse Complaint

Football article for Blogcritics

Portsmouth and former England defender Sol Campbell caused great debate among football pundits over the Christmas period after he called a BBC Radio show to complain about the abuse that players receive from fans at football matches. He said "If this happened on the street, you would be arrested. This is a human rights situation, where sportsmen and managers are trying to do their job professionally and people are abusing them verbally. It has gone too far".

Much of that is impossible to argue with. Fans frequently do get arrested on the street for abusive behaviour, and abuse targetted at professionals doing their job is a sickly sight in modern society. But, no matter how much journalists pontificate on the nasty depths to which football fans will sink for a song, this kind of outburst isn't going to change the mind of any football fan. In fact, Campbell can probably expect extra songs and chants aimed in his direction from ruthless supporters who aren't willing to accept the merits of his sensitive appeal. As a fan myself, I understand exactly why this call will fall on deaf ears. The fact is that football is more than just a game; it holds deep and complex meanings for communities in many countries like England; and 'footballers' and 'fans' cannot simply be reduced to the respective equivalents of 'professionals' and 'customers' when it is convenient to do so.

Campbell may superficially think or claim that all he does is kick a ball around a field, but tens of millions of men around the world do not dedicate their lives to following football for such simple reasons. The football stadium is a theatre where dramas are played out among familiar and unfamiliar characters, including good guys, bad guys and outright villains. (If anyone has the right to complain about abuse, it's the referee: he takes abuse from both sets of fans, the players, and the media, without generous financial compensation, or the chance to wallow in the cheers or praise that follow a goal or a victory). Just as an audience will boo a pantomime villain, so fans can boo players and officials. But football is a very different kind of leisure pursuit than theatre-going because of the complex nature of what it means to support a club. Real football fans associate their club (and/or national team) with their own identity so strongly that the on-field fortunes of their team have direct emotional effects. This is no slapstick comedy for children. To paraphrase the great Bill Shankly: football isn't a matter of life and death, it's much more important than that.

It's this close and direct emotional attachment that makes a football fan different from a conventional 'customer'. Players like Campbell would not earn the massive salaries they do without this emotional link between club and fans. How many spectators in a stadium are impartial observers who decided to spend £30 or more on 90 minutes of unpredictable outdoor entertainment for the sheer hell of it? It must be a handful at most - the vast majority of spectators are loyal fans who feel deeply affected by the action on the pitch, and corporate guests who care more about their suits than the form of the striker. The latter, of course, aren't the 'fans' Campbell is complaining about. But the former - the fans who feel passionately connected to the events on the pitch - are the lifeblood of a football club. Take these fans away and the worldwide game dies.

When this group of fans get over-emotional, of course they often go too far in saying, shouting, or singing things which are usually deemed unacceptable. For obvious reasons, some abuse is never acceptable in any setting. Racist abuse has such a damaging potential and such a horrific history that it should always be vehemently discouraged and stigmatised. Any kind of physical threat is, of course, totally unacceptable - for example if a fan throws a lighter or a coin at a player. Also, while I don't believe that in-stadium abuse is particularly harmful, when it is taken onto the streets or into daily life generally, that is of course a different matter (and we have criminal laws to deal with that). Even children know that the man who pretends to be the pantomime villain is not a bad man, really.

But fans do more than just yell disgusting insults at players and officials. Where emotions are involved, sensible and rational adult behaviour is usually the first casualty. Fans might behave like offensive children, but they also might cheer and dance and sing the glories of their favourite players when they, if you believe the reduction, are doing no more than kicking a ball about. When a player scores, watch him turn to the crowd with his arms spread out as if to channel the fans' adulation towards him. It's not the corporate guests that are sharing the love there: it's the helplessly devoted fans who pay good money for the right to have their say; who feel ecstatic at the sight of a goal or a great save; and who feel crushed and angry when the ball goes in at the wrong end. Football is the most popular sport in the world because of the myriad emotions that follow from passionately supporting a team: joy and sorrow, frustration and relief, anxiety and euphoria, love and hatred. Football, like life, is not all plain-sailing, and not everybody will like you, or agree with you. The fans accept that sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. Players must also accept that sticks and stones may break some bones - as might a high tackle or an accidental clash - but names will never hurt you, no matter how infantile or vicious.

If Sol Campbell wants to know just how easy it is to offend someone with a heat-of-the-moment outburst, his own invocation of the concept of human rights in this issue can serve as a convenient example. Human rights is a concept that is already under fire from the general public thanks to the extremely misinformative coverage it receives in the tabloid press. It's deeply disappointing to see a man as articulate and intelligent as Campbell use the term in this context. On the same day that Campbell made his call to the BBC, two other news items caught my eye: three British men were released from Guantanamo Bay after spending four years in captivity without facing a single criminal charge; and Watford player Al Bangura lodged an appeal against a government decision to deport him back to Sierra Leone, from where he had escaped horrific fighting in the civil war. Perhaps, when seen in this light, Campbell might want to think again about whether the protection of human rights really means censuring the language of football fans so as to not hurt players' feelings.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

2007 - A Brief Summary (I)

Ranking releases in any kind of order is always frought with difficulties. All I can say about this is that I know I enjoyed each of the top 10 here more than each of the 20-30 bracket, and each of them more than all the other 2007 albums I listened to this year that aren’t listed at all. But is Fourteen Autumns a better album than Untrue? Did I enjoy Five Roses notably more than Chromophobia? It’s impossible to say – this is a rough estimate only. I will say that I fully expect Untrue to be the most perenially appealing record of the year; along with other consensus-finders like In Rainbows, Sound of Silver, and Kala. If there was such a thing as an objective year-end list, they would be the toppers (but lets not get into that argument right now). For some other reason, the Twilight Sad album hit me harder than anything else I heard. My love for that record was also consolidated when I saw them live twice in tiny Edinburgh venues (my Skinny review of the first of those gigs here).


The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

Appeals to the young Scottish male in all of us. You too. I wrote the Skinny review but am thoroughly embarassed by it now: mostly, though I stick by the 5-star rating. It seems others agreed with that (if not the dubious Mogwai reference), as the writers collectively voted it the Album of the Year. I also interviewed James Graham, the lead singer.

Burial – Untrue

Inspiring an interest in dubstep. Have I been missing more like this? But this is more ambient than most, I think, and makes me want to move to east London just so I can listen to it through my Sennheisers on a late-night walk home from a bar. Anyone in such a privileged position should do so.

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

Often unfairly maligned as a solid-but-unremarkable record. All My Friends and Someone Great would be enough to get it somewhere on the list, but there’s no filler here either. If this goes down as the album of the year according to THE CANON, that's alright with me.

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Could, possibly, maybe, be better than Kid A. Just bought it on vinyl – because good music deserves to be paid for – and sounds even better. My review for The Skinny, another 5-star job, which I wholly stand by.

Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

Initially a difficult, exhausting listen. The pulsing intro to the first song, Peacebone, is almost painful. There was much debate on the Stylus staff message board about whether an album that is unenjoyable on first listen deserves more time. I gave it the benefit of that doubt, until it finally began to make sense after several listens, and grew into a remarkably complex, idiosyncratic and melodic record, far exceeding (imho) Feels.

M.I.A. – Kala

Moreso than Sound Of Silver, Kala is a record which is boosted immeasurably by two (or three) particular tracks. Much of Kala is minimalistic Timbaland-style beats that, on their own, don't excite me much. But Jimmy – who knew Bollywood and Italo-disco would merge so smoothly? – was my favourite song of the year, and Paper Planes was another strong candidate.

ps. If you ask Google Images, Kala is all-natural, aye.

A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Scribble Mural Comic Journal

My Stylus review here. Also, a Skinny review here. In summary – hazy and beautiful and slightly dirty, like the band name suggests.

The National – Boxer

Soft-rock for trendy accountants who wish they were actually journalists because they understand words as well as numbers. In a good way.

Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

Eloquent and elegant, grandiose and intimate.

Future Of The Left - Curses

Nonsensical sloganeering and Fugazi-like riffs. "S-s-s-sausage on a stick!" is actually quite funny.


Panda Bear - Person Pitch

Beirut - The Flying Club Cup

Jens Lekman - Night Falls over Kortedala

The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

Robert Wyatt - Comicopera

Kanye West - Graduation

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights

Battles - Mirrored

Efterklang - Parades (My slightly too-breathless Stylus review)

Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew - Spirit If...

Brother Reade - Rap Music

Ricardo Villalobos - Fabric 36

Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends

Miracle Fortress - Five Roses (Skinny review here)

Gui Boratto - Chromophobia

Elliot Smith - New Moon

Caribou - Andorra

Ulrich Schnauss - Goodbye (Stylus review here - the first I got published)

The Besnard Lakes - Are The Dark Horse