Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The War On Pop, Volume 2

There’s something wrong with pop. Deeply, perhaps irreparably, wrong. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the concept of pop, I’m talking about the state of our pop. Ultimately, I suppose that it all comes down to your definition of pop music. To me, pop is there to entertain; to provide a constant rotation of shiny new songs that are supposed to make daytime radio more bearable. Songs that will make you smile, if only for three minutes, and that you won’t mind having stuck in your head for the next two weeks.

And it’s for these reasons that I’m not only pro-pop but also proud of it. I’m not saying that I’m a slave to it; I’d have to check to see who was at number one in the chart. Even then, the chances are that even then I wouldn’t be able to pick it out a line-up, (band or song) unless it’s still bastard Band Aid 20. And the only line-up I’d want to see ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ and its evil perpetrators and progenitors in would be arranged against a wall facing a firing squad, but I’ll deal with cover versions and charity records another time.

But despite the casual mix of ambivalence and hatred that I’m displaying here, I’m all for pop. In fact, I think it’s essential part of our lives. At best, pop is the distillation of contemporary music forms, reshaped into a more accessible structure and given a memorable chorus. Pop is capable of being, and should always be encouraged to be, an art form that’s every bit as valid as the Dillinger Escape Plan/Shellac/Dalek album that you’re listening to whilst calling me a bummer.

Obviously when I bandy about words like art form, I’m not talking about Westlife. Westlife always have been, and always will be, unadulterated toss, served up lukewarm to a public that no longer knows any better. But then, for every Westlife, you’ll also discover that somewhere out there, lurking disturbingly like a bad smell in a pair of pants, there’s a Kasabian, Libertines or Razorlight to avoid. I don’t see how indie kids think they have the right to criticise pop when the same bunch of arseholes spent a proportion of their precious student loan on the fucking Keane album. You have to remember that no matter what form of music you look at, there’s good shit and there’s bad shit. And underneath all that shit, there’s the likes of Westlife and the Libertines, wallowing around in shit, gulping down great mouthfuls of shit, and regurgitating it into three minute chunks of bile and bilge.

To provide a bit of perspective here, the most horrendously feeble and arrogantly atrocious song I heard all year wasn’t Eamon's ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’’, ‘Call On Me’ by Eric Prydz or even Natasha Bedingfield’s ‘Unwritten’, it was ‘Glamorous Indie Rock’n’Roll’ by the Killers, whose debut album is somehow nestling at number seven in the New Noise albums of 2004. Baring that in mind, do you really think that you can justify thinking that band X is any better than pop star Y just because they write their own songs instead of being handed them by a team of major label recruited freelance songwriters?

For too long, pop has been mistreated, because the people in charge of pop no longer understand it. As far as the major record labels are concerned, the single is a redundant artefact from another time. Creating a single has become such a quick, automatic process that the market has become saturated and such an abundance of product inevitably leads to a loss of quality. As the standard of songs is lost, then the public’s tolerance for any given record is reduced more rapidly, and the record label have to increase the frequency with which they release singles to maintain their sales figures.

As I said last time round pop isn’t, and in fact shouldn’t be, about the artist, it’s about the song. Record companies think that, if they are going to pay to promote a song, then they have the right to expect that artist that they made record to be successful. But, essentially, the record companies don’t understand their market. When it comes down to it, pop kids don’t care about the artist, they’re there for the instant kick; the song is master; the artist is at best secondary, if not completely peripheral, to the whole process. But the sliced-bread manufacturing process that the labels have adopted doesn’t recognise this fact.

There’s only one way to save the pop single, and that is to bring about a dramatic improvement in the quality of the music being released. In order for this to be achievable, then the labels quickly need to learn that they’re going about things the wrong way. What we need is a return to the stable of pop stars approach used by the likes of Stock, Aitken and Waterman in the 80s.

Forget about even trying to release albums with individual artists. What we need are good, strong singles released by the right pop star. We need carefully picked writers crafting songs for artists who are afforded distinct styles by producers that don’t want to work on autopilot all day long. And this can only happen when you want to write, produce and release songs that will still stand up in six months time.

At present, the nature of the market – which has been dictated by record label policy – is essentially to churn out any old shit safe in the knowledge that the more singles they stick out, the more publicity they’ll get for the album, which is where they can actually make some money. But pop albums are generally shit; a couple of good songs surrounded by acres of filler.

Instead, get yourself a stable of about ten good performers, be they solo artists or bands. Make sure the songs that you give them match the image that you want them to portray and that those songs are creative, tuneful and, above all else, good. Then once you’ve got yourself a bunch of hits, sling them out on a retrospective collection maybe once or twice a year. The sooner the standard of the pop single improves, the better it will be for all of us.