Tuesday, October 24, 2017

featuring songs by Nine Inch Nails and Skrewdriver

I'll tell you what fascinates me about things like the new Nick Knowles album (yes, it's really a thing, it's happening, and there's nothing you can do about it), and it's not, perhaps surprisingly, the prospect of hearing that nice gruff stubbly cheeky DIY chap off the telly reinterpreting some standards in his own inimitable style in the comfort of my own living room.

Here's the thing: record companies aren't mugs, still less charities, and they wouldn't offer Nick Knowles the chance to make a record just because he'd always fancied it; there'll be an eye on the bottom line and the calculation was presumably that there'd be enough people out there who'd go and buy such an offering that it'd be worthwhile expending the (presumably considerable) cost of production, studio time, photography, physical production of CDs etc. etc. But who are the audience, and why are they buying it? One of the things that makes us impeccably progressive liberal types objectively better than you right-wing authoritarians is, after all, an urge to understand the motivations of others, to try and work out what drives people to do things, be it ISIS membership, paedophilia, incest or Morris dancing.

This article about Bradley Walsh (whose debut album Chasing Dreams went gold in 2016) confirms my suspicions; i.e. that it's mainly older people who disproportionately (i.e. compared with younger people) purchase physical CDs rather than streaming or downloading stuff off the internet. That's fine, but even then, you have to ask: what do you gain from having Bradley Walsh singing Fly Me To The Moon, rather than, say, Frank Sinatra? Even if you're not down with the whole Amazon thing and prefer actually going to a shop, Sinatra records are readily available, so why wouldn't you just pick up a compilation or something? Presumably not even the most wide-eyed fan of The Chase would make the claim that Walsh's version is better than Sinatra's, so why would you want it? I'm genuinely not having a pop here, I'm fascinated by how utterly opaque the thought process is to me. Take, I dunno, Victoria Coren as an example: it's well-documented that I like her personally in all sorts of inappropriate ways, and very much enjoy her BBC show Only Connect for its fiendish quizzing qualities. But do I therefore say: I would very much relish the opportunity to hear her attempt some sexy, husky, yet endearingly half-arsed and amateurish covers of the songs of seminal female recording artistes like Carole King, Janis Ian and Nana Mouskouri? No, I do not, and I'm not sure why anyone would imagine that I would.

I should add that I'm not ill-disposed towards cover versions per se, but these celebrity renditions (and the albums are generally almost exclusively cover versions) are not radical free-jazz disembowelments and reconstructions of classic tunes for kazoo orchestra, Tuvan throat singer and Bolivian ear-flute; they're very close retreads of the originals, so as not to frighten the horses. Really what I'm experiencing here is the same bafflement I get when one of the Britain's Got X-Factors throws up a Susan Boyle or a Paul Potts or similar who immediately knocks out an album of "standards" in time for Christmas, because, well, it's that nice lad off the telly, and well, he tries hard, doesn't he? And he's very devoted to his Nan, by all accounts, so that's nice.

But by jiminy it's a lucrative line of business for the record companies. I remember Ian McShane (post-Lovejoy but pre-Deadwood) knocking out an album called From Both Sides Now in the early 1990s, including a cover of the Joni Mitchell song of the same name. That seemed to me a bit of a quirky oddity at the time (though it may not have been, in fact everyone was probably at it; Russ Abbott to name but one) but everyone's at it these days. The most cursory Googling reveals recent album releases from Jason Manford, Alexander Armstrong, the aforementioned Knowles and Walsh, that nice Anton du Beke off the Strictlys, and an album of solo piano material from impressionist Alistair MacGowan. Sadly this one appears to have been played straight, rather than being a series of hilarious comedy caricatures of the playing styles of Alfred Brendel, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz and others.

Best of all is TV funny man and erstwhile Eastenders star Shane Richie, who clearly takes his music very seriously and would like you to know that his thing is totally different from these half-arsed johnny-come-latelys (KNOOOOWWLES!!! *shakes fist*) who just knock out an album in time for Christmas - although his album is, as it happens, out in time for Christmas. I should point out that the new album's title echoes the title of Trevor Nelson's Radio 2 show which, when I first heard it trailed, appeared to my ear to be called Trevor Nelson's Cunt Rissole, which caused some brief confusion.

But anyway, what I'm saying, in a nutshell, is that I Just Don't Get It. Now there are plenty of wholly admirable mainstream artists with a wholly admirable body of self-composed and self-played material, but whom I nonetheless Just Don't Get in some fundamental way, Bruce Springsteen being one obvious example. But in general those who like Springsteen (and in my experience those who like Springsteen REALLY like Springsteen) at least started with the music, that being primarily what he does. The idea that they would therefore be very interested in, let's say, seeing The Boss present his own daytime DIY-themed TV show (Carpenters On The Edge Of Town or something) seems a bit odd, though I daresay there might be an audience for it.

3 comments:

The Black Rabbit said...

That's your Chrissy prezzy sorted then!

The Black Rabbit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
electrichalibut said...

All the Amazon research and link-gathering I did for this post means the Knowles album is top of my recommendations list now. It's probably been added to my wish list as well.