Is this the voice of premature old age speaking through me? Does everyone who grows up eventually pick up the NME and shake their head in disbelief? That is, no doubt, what they would want you to think. They would ignore the collapse of their readership in the wake of Britpop’s demise. They would stalinistically excise any reference to Kerrang’s success from their denunciation of my motives. Kerrang, which I hate, seems to owe its recent achievements to its perpetual boneheaded integrity and by managing to appeal to fans of bands as disparate as the Stereophonics, Marilyn Manson, Sum 41 and G’n’R. By contrast, the NME has gone all-in, backing something variously called The Scene with No Name or New Rock, i.e. something amorphous, meaningless and uninspired. The Melody Maker went all-in as an indie-pop rag and died. The NME is an indie rag (as it should be), but seems intent on alienating its natural constituency (pseudo-intelligent teenagers) by offering girly squeals of delight for bands like The Strokes, The Vines, The Hives, The Datsuns, and The Libertines (is no one else suspicious of those names?!).
According to the NME’s grand scheme of things, they have discovered the new punk; they are the Mandelsons (potential name, anyone?) creating the Blairs (it’s easy, this name thing). And when these bands reach the platinum heights, replacing Gareth and Will at the top of the charts, readers will flock back, eagerly awaiting the latest pronouncement by Julian or Craig. I’m sorry. I am afraid it’s not going to happen. When will they learn? You cannot create a scene. The zeitgeist will not be fooled by bold type. They should realise that they are reporters, critics and interviewers, not creators. The futility of the attempt is well illustrated by the case of The Vines.
This Australian four-piece have released an album of so-so Nirvana-by-numbers rock songs and bland ballads. The singles (Get Free and Outtataway, especially) are all right, but there are no spine tingling moments. Their coverage in the NME (20/07/02) was almost a satirical joke on blinkered praise, asking: “Is ‘Highly Evolved’ the Greatest Debut Album Ever?” The former NME editor, Steve Sutherland (under whose stewardship this reader, along with many others, lost interest in music papers), absurdly compares Craig Nicholls to “Jim Morrison, John Lydon, Morrissey, Kurt Cobain, Liam Gallagher et al.” It is that et al which gives the game away. Music journalism has become such a tendentious mush of received opinions and false prophets that one can revert to an easy shorthand. Rock ‘n’ Roll, at its worst, is now so arthritic in its imagination that . . .
I don’t know if I can bring myself to write this down. The lyrics of Highly Evolved are so embarrassingly bad. The chorus to Factory? “Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh Hey Ah Hey”. Profound. Verse? “Eyes are mean / But the walls are clean / In the Factory / Patience now they’re gonna / String you out / I’m so tired I never go outside /Every night I sleep / Days are long but the minds are gone / In the factory . . .” Combine these sixth-form lyrics with music of a cod-Ob-la-di-Ob-la-da variety and you get one of the most annoying songs ever . . .
Potential is one thing, but hoisting mediocrity up onto a pedestal with great written on it is a distortion so brutal as to instantly disaffect. It would be a shame if the NME expired before its biblical allotment, but stupidity of this kind cannot be suffered for long. And the NME is positively cretinous.