10,000 Things

The best piece of music criticism I’ve seen recently wasn’t to be found in some meandering Morley piece or some scintillating analysis by Simon Reynolds, but by the DJ at Death Disco; and all she had to do was play two songs back-to-back. The first was The Libertines’ ‘Time for Heroes,’ a contemporary favourite that brought a smile to almost every face in the house. Then, and this was great, she blew it out the water with the dynamite of The Jam’s ‘Strange Town.’ They are similarly punkish, but the latter is visceral and direct, containing existential insight, whereas the former is mediocre punk-pop. That is what criticism should do: separating, through insight, the good from the bad. Or, in the case of tonight’s bands, the bad from the worse.

The Things started the night of the things off well, with their howling singer juddering as though he were being electrocuted, sounding like he was singing Bobby Pickett’s Monster Mash. Sadly, returns on this formula diminished drastically, with their heavy metal rhythms and samey songs, disaffecting almost immediately after. Death Disco? More like dead rock ‘n’ roll.

Like the Spice Girls, Special Needs cultivate five individual identities. There is schoolboy Special Need, mod Special Need, Shoreditch Twat Special Need, TopMan Special Need etc. Not quite one for every taste, but intriguing all the same. They sound like the Strokes, but heavier. Their guitarists sing backing vocals like The Beatles, shaking their heads as they wooooo, an allusion that cruelly highlights their dearth of melody. With a name like Special Needs one would hope for some wit or invention, otherwise it looks (this also applies to The Ordinary Boys) too appropriate for your own good. As dullness filled the room, as the self-conscious Special Needs became tiresome, I pondered the important question of intelligence in rock.

Is thickness a virtue? It is a nice idea, that of noble savage musicians connecting with their audience on a visceral level without any self-consciousness, but it doesn’t stand up to any analysis. All the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands (The Who, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana) have been intelligent as well as unselfconscious. Even Oasis, the nineties archetype of the thicko band, had Noel Gallagher’s occasional flashes of inspiration.

Hyped as a cross between Oasis and the New York Dolls (or, the New Yorkshire Dolls ¯ they’re from Leeds), 10,000 Things appear to be an incredibly thick band. There is a joyous naïvete to what they do, singing about drunken nights and problematic girlfriends. Are they for real? I can only guess so, although they were compared to Paul Calf in The Times, so who knows? They are also named after the Buddhist phrase for worldly objects, so perhaps they are secretly theologians, although I don’t know what the Dalai Lama would make of them giving away cigarette lighters.

They are good-time rock ‘n’ roll, a type of music which rarely results in anyone having a good time. To fit into the pigeonhole of the good-time genre a band needs to shed most of its feathers and clip both wings. 10,000 Things still have their feathers, but I’m still not sure if they can fly.

Neil Scott | Autumn 2003