OMG U R SO OVER-RATED!
Updated: Dec 8, 2019
Feel the burn! I'm throwing shade! Haters gonna hate etc... (Yes, I am a 41 year old man). Most successful bands/artists have some redeeming qualities that made them successful in the first place, but – my God – don’t we half know about it. So here is my list of bands or pop stars that have all – in their own ways – made a little go a very long way, and in the process got the critics salivating like Pavlov's dogs.
10. Taylor Swift
Now I’m not here for some Taytay bashing. I actually really like Taylor Swift. I like a lot of her ‘1989’ album. ‘Style’, ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Shake It Off’ are all great pop. Girl can do it live. She likes a bit of unnecessary drama (always a good trait in a bode fide pop star).
But as much as I like her, I can’t quite get past the nursery rhyme simplicity of the majority of her songs, and why Pitchfork/RollingStone/ the world trip over themselves to applaud them quite so much? Most of her songs are quite easily constructed, nothing particular pushes any sort of envelope, and I just come away thinking it’s all very good but all a bit…basic.
Listen to instead: Kelly Clarkson. True pop deity only comes around once in a generation.
Hmmm. Now, a lot of these artists are clearly capable of greatness. Swathes of ‘Green’, ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Automatic for the People’ are great, as are bits of the underrated ‘New
Adventures in Hi Fi’. But…if ever there was a band that didn’t know when to call time…
From the end of the 90’s onwards, they swung between unremarkable introspectiveness and noisy ‘back to basics’ half finished tunes masquerading as a kind of bravura ‘let’s-do-it-on-the-road' genius. You know a band is in trouble when their albums marketing campaigns have to painfully resort to spelling out “THIS IS A RETURN TO FORM”.(code: this is absolute guff like the previous few, but they were good once, so give it a go). Michael Stipe also spends a lot of the time confusing lyrical obliqueness with depth, which gets pretty wearing after a few decades. And no, occasionally wearing eye make up does not make you David Bowie.
Listen to Instead: Arcade Fire. The band R.E.M probably wanted to be
This is going to get controversial. In the plus column for ‘Queen Bey’. Destiny’s Child: Amazing! ‘Crazy in Love’: one of the defining song of the 00’s! (albeit the Chi-Lites sample is what made it really great). That whole Sasha Fierce thing was pretty good…Ring On It, If I Were A Boy…Halo yes, yes, yes. Give me more. But then she didn't. Aren’t the ‘Beyoncé’ and ‘Lemonade’ albums just overlong exercises in state-of-the-art production techniques without any choruses? ‘Formation’ in particular had everyone tripping over themselves to declare its genius, but apart from the cool minimalist riff at the beginning and an (admittedly) iconic video, the great lyrics disguise the fact someone forgot to write an actual tune.
Instead listen to: Gaga. The other Queen on the block knows her way around a chorus.
7. The Strokes
If only bands that surfed the zeitgeist realised that the stars are only in alignment once, then the world would be a happier place. “Is This It” had the tunes admittedly. Not strikingly original tunes it had to be said, but ‘Last Nite’, ‘Hard to Explain’….yup, all great. And I can forgive the artfully constructed clichés of this band….the ‘controversial’ Velvet Underground album artwork, the Upper East Side privilege disguised as louche, drug addled elegant wastefulness. The model girlfriends. And I can also forgive the fact that the entire band seem to have been recruited according to how cool their names look when written in sleeve notes (Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture, Fabrizio Moretti?! C’mon! Where’s Dave the drummer?)
And it’s not as through their subsequent albums have been particularly bad…just more of the same, but less so. It makes me wonder whether 2001-era NYC really was that exciting, or was it that we just really wanted it to be? A clear case of expectation overriding actual substantive talent. ( see also: White Stripes)
Listen to instead: Interpol’s first two albums
6. Aphex Twin
In 1999, the NME tried to convince me that “Windowlicker” was the best song of the year. I wanted to believe them, but – and I mean this in a nice way – it’s pointlessly rubbish studio wankery. Apparently Aphex Twin (aka Richard James) is hugely influential on everyone from Radiohead, to Daft Punk, to Skrillex. . This usually means – like other ‘hugely influential’ artists such such as Autchere, Patti Smith and The Cocteau Twins, no one can actually name a single thing they’ve ever done.
Listen to instead: dunno...your washing machine on spin cycle? Your microwave going "ping!"? Alexa?
5. The Stone Roses
Now I realise that this band means a whole lot of very emotive things to a whole generation of 45-54 year old Dads. . But. If ever a band is looked back on through roses tinted glasses, it’s this one. Yes, they owned 1989 pretty much. Not the actual charts mind (which were dominated by the tail end of SAW and Jive Bunny). But they owned the pop/rock music agenda. And yes, their first album is pretty great, complete with Pollock via Paris-in-1968 artwork. But that’s pretty much your lot. No other band has dined out quite so much on a spurious "feeling" they captured 30 years ago.
I’ve had it explained to me that “The Second Coming” is actually a better album than their debut but….I’m not having it. And was "Fool's Gold" really a ground breaking fusion of guitars and dance music, or was it 9 minutes of shuffle beat with some signing you can’t really hear? As early as 1990’s crushingly disappointing ‘One Love’ single they seemed completely bored with themselves. But keep wearing those beanie hats and bleat on about Spike Island lads, I’m sure it was amazing.
Listen to instead: Big Fun, The Reynolds Girls, The London Boys….1989 was full of amazingness if you look hard enough).
‘Loser’ was certainly an era defining anthem of the 90’s, even though the ‘slacker’ generation wasn’t much more than moaning pre-hipsters working in coffee shops, without the facial hair. Anyone care to venture naming another Beck song (apart
from that one from the car advert?). Critics bang on about the patchwork quilt nature of Beck’s lyrics but (in the same way that I don’t quite buy the concept of Shaun Ryder as lyrical genius) – just bashing together disconnected words does not a good song maketh.
1996’s ‘Odelay’ album was ridiculously over praised, and by the time we get to 1999’s 'Midnight Vultures' the song writing had descended into meaningless nonsense that pretended it was some sort of Dylan -worthy wordsmithery. ( Brief encounters in Mercedes Benz/Wearing hepatitis contact lens/Bed and breakfast getaway weekends/ With Sports Illustrated moms). What does this actually mean? NOTHING! Also, an extra point knocked off for deliberately misspelling song titles (eg ‘Sexxlaws’) in the hope you appear more interesting.
Listen to instead: Ummm.....struggling here. Like...Ryan Adams? Ben Folds Five...? Summat like that.
3. Kings of Leon
Nothing spells musical genius than constantly playing on your Deep South roots and dressing like an All Saints mannequin from 2008. Sure, “Sex On Fire” is fun in a hetero-normative ‘day out at V Festival before we get back to the kids’ kind of way. And there's not a wedding I have't been to where I haven't *excitedly* run onto the dance floor to it, only to realise it's is absolutely impossible to dance to. It's truly the 'Come On Eileen" of the Millennial generation (except Dexy's are - of course - actually amazing.) But everything else about this band is so drearily serious and achingly self important, they suck the joy out of life, and make me think this world is not for me.
Listen to instead: Dolly Parton. Also from the Deep-South and all about the ills of the world, but with the added difference of actually being good.
2. Kanye West
Yes, such an obvious target, but one which keeps on giving. His first three albums (the trilogy of 'The College Dropout', Late Registration', and 'Graduation") were funny, tuneful, occasionally self deprecating, and actually sounded like it came from the heart. His output since then has descended into self important tunelessness where he clearly is (metaphorically) wearing no clothes. Although 'Black Skinhead' is admittedly brilliant. He's apparently now writing his second - second! - opera. Oh do fuck off.
Listen to instead: His first three albums....they're good!
1. Primal Scream
I really do not understand the idea of ‘Primal ‘Scream’ and quite how/why they’re loved. Even what was supposed to be their era defining epochal moment (‘Screamadelica’) isn’t particularly great, and only really became a ‘moment’ because Andrew Weatherall decided to remix them, and it luckily struck a chord. 1994’s ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ is truly terrible, and no one from Glasgow can really sing the line “cops keep a bustin’” with any semblance of a straight face. 1997’s ‘Vanishing Point’ (supposedly a career highlight) is meandering tunelessness, backed up by some of the worst vocals ever committed to record. 2000’s 'XTRMNTR' aims for incendiary edginess but the ‘let’s do away with vowels’ schtick just looks a bit laughable. Bobby Gillespie comes across – for the most part – like a surely, disinterested fairground ride operator with zero discernible charm or charisma. I’ll end it there. As should this band.
PRML SCRM? N THKS.
Listen to instead: Lulu