Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Indefinite Article – Music Column (Guardian)

The Guardian

“Kings Of Leon sounds suitably grand at first, but then the lack of a definite article allows doubts to creep in – I mean, which kings of Leon? There could be hundreds of them!”

Sticks and stones, you will have been told, can break your bones, but names can never hurt you. True, perhaps, in everyday life (although you’d have to go someone to break bones with a stick), not so in pop music. Names can do serious damage. There’s one very good reason why Parisian baggy revivalists Shit Browne may struggle to make it onto daytime radio playlists, for instance.

But at least they’re trying. Better than hedging your bets, like the increasing number of bands, or individual artists, who remove the traditional ‘The’ from their name to become vague, indefinite articles – something, yet nothing. Klaxons, Liars, Foals, Editors, Villagers, Hurts, Battles, Kisses – the list goes on.

In their desire to sound fashionably vague, I fear they are selling themselves short.

Villagers – what? Just ‘villagers’? Any old random villagers who happen to be wandering round a non-specific village? Editors? Just some stray editors who happen to be loitering in a corridor after being recently made redundant? Surely they should have the self-confidence to be THE Villagers, the only residents of a small settlement that we need to be concerning ourselves with, or THE Editors, go-getting decision makers who say ‘HOLD THE FRONT PAGE OF ROCK’N’ROLL!’ But no, instead it’s just a vague, non-commital noun, reluctant to offend, inspire or pin its colours to any discernible mast. Well, at least it suits their music, a cynic might add.

And what are we to make of Liars – some people who may have told a lie at some point? Well that narrows it down to, well, roughly the entire human race. Whereas if they were The Liars we would glean that they are no ordinary fibbers, truth-economists or mere white liars, but noteworthy falsehood-merchants whose duplicity is worthy of our respect, even fear, if not admiration.

Then there’s Hurts. Impressively monochrome synth-pop duo they may be, but the name sounds like the class drip who has fallen over in the playground and can only bleat ‘hurts’ while pointing to a slight graze on his knee. What hurts? He hurts? It hurts? Hitting your thumb with a hammer hurts? 30 Years of hurts? How are we supposed to identify with your pain if it is so infuriatingly non-specific?

Kings Of Leon sounds suitably grand at first, but then the lack of a definite article allows doubts to creep in – I mean, which kings of Leon? There could be hundreds of them! They could also be among the less distinguished monarchs of Leon. One of them may even be a much-despised King of Leon who mercilessly taxed Leon’s poor to finance war against the neighbouring Kingdom of Gavin.

All told, as naming policies go, it’s pretty poor. Would we have got the same punchy first impression from classic bands down the ages if they had been called Jam, Who, or Strokes, or even Bob Marley and Wailers?

Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with leaving something to the imagination. So I would like to announce the ‘soft’ launch of the soon-to-be-‘trending’ practice of calling your band ‘A _______’ Indie fans of a ripe vintage will remember a band called A House, even if they don’t remember their music. So how about A Villager, or A Liar, or A Boy With A Thorn In His Side (any post-emo milksops out there? You can have that one) A Crystal Castle? A Scissor Sister? A Klaxon?

What feelings do such names conjure up? Intrigue? Mystery? Fascination? Excitement even?


The Hard Sell

Nissan Juke (The Guardian)

“Yet rather than ringing the council then praying by candlelight for holy deliverance, everyone looks on in wonderment. The music has clearly made everything OK.”

Few right-thinking viewers will mourn the demise of the traditional advert jingle. I only need say the words ‘We Buy Any Car’ to remind you why. Yet a more subtle musical accompaniment is as fashionable as beards right now. Ever since Feist’s 1-2-3-4 flogged us the iPod, the use of innocent, childlike ditties to soundtrack commercials has snowballed in popularity. It’s not hard to see why. It evokes escape and a carefree, childlike feeling at the same time as suggesting the arty sophistication of someone who sounds a bit like Tori Amos’s niece. In the current Nissan Juke ad, a car drives around a city at night to the strains of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This ‘compact crossover’ car combines a small tank and a squashed hatchback with all the aesthetic appeal of those platform trainers everyone wore in the Spice Girls era. It also seems to have an alarming effect on its surroundings, making lights flicker and electricity circuits explode, spark and fizz all across town. Yet rather than ringing the council then praying by candlelight for holy deliverance, everyone looks on in wonderment. The music has clearly made everything OK.

The same approach is currently making us feel warm and fuzzy about Nivea, Amazon Kindle, Saab and UPS, among other ‘brands’. Let’s just hope this startlingly effective formula doesn’t fall into more dangerous hands. Imagine if the BNP commissioned a short film of aryan Brits dancing gaily (but not in THAT way) with a cute bulldog around a sun-dappled British meadow to a la-la-send-‘em-back girly-folk soundtrack.
Don’t worry, they won’t. Fascists aren’t bright enough to read The Guardian, are they?

Murder On The New Moon

IRosetta_New_Moon4smf you are ever among the millions of annual visitors to the beautiful Italian city of Florence, you will be spoiled for choice as to which of its historical sights, artistic treasures and timeless architectural delights to view. The equally captivating surrounding region of Tuscany, famous for its Chianti red wine, has more than its fair share of sightseeing attractions. A few miles northeast of the city, is a more modest monument, which very few people have cause to visit.

A short distance off a dirt track is a grey, weather-beaten headstone propped next to a wire fence surrounding a scruffy farm holding.

You would probably never find it unless you knew where to look, and yet the dark tale of which it is now part is every bit as extraordinary, macabre and mysterious as that of any Renaissance myth.

It is a true story that stretches back to the 1960s and possibly beyond — one which has seen a city gripped by fear, dozens arrested, a string of charges and convictions followed by embarrassing acquittals and pardons, and an ever-raging whirlpool of theories, rumors and conspiracies, which still divides Italians to this day.

To one of the few people who do regularly visit the spot, it is simply a place of mourning. For more than 37 years, a lady named Bruna Bonini has regularly placed fresh flowers at the gravestone of her daughter, Stefania Pettini, and the girl’s fiancé, Pasquale Gentilcore. At this spot in 1974, the young couple became the victims of a ghastly double murder, which shocked locals, baffled investigators, and began a series of crimes that remain unsolved to this day.

Their anonymous assailant has since grown in infamy, and the mystery he has created has all the horrific hallmarks and enduring intrigue of a modern-day Italian Jack the Ripper.

Most disturbingly of all, it’s just possible that he may still be at large …