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Home > Music

Was it a good thing that Thom Yorke was mugged?

Alan Connor's Music Experiment would like record reviews to review records.

13 June 2003

How do you find out about good new indie releases? It depends who you ask. If you ask Googlism.com, you're told that "pitchforkmedia is often encyclopedic", that "pitchforkmedia is a nifty website", even that "pitchforkmedia is one of the best sites for music reviews on the web".

If you ask me, by contrast, you're told that Pitchfork Media is a contrarian, shallow waffle-glob where you end up thinking more about the reviewer than the music. It wasn't always so. It's all because of their review of Radiohead's new one, Hail To The Thief. (See previous ACMEs for cringes about that title.)

Admittedly, there's not a lot for a lame reviewer to say about the CD. It's like a good mix of previous Radiohead albums, with more choons than Kid A, but with enough grumble-noises and synths to make it better to take a nap to than Pablo Honey. One difference is that the packaging is an Ordnance Survey-style map. It's pretty good if you like Radiohead, and that's pretty much all you need to know.

Sadly, it's a lame reviewer, name of Ott - Chris Ott - that Pitchfork has consigned to discuss Hail To The Thief. Chris doesn't like Radiohead's interest in the inhumanity of gloabilisation. (He's a little like the punters who'd been to the Public Enemy gig this week complaining to BBC 6Music that "when you go to a concert, you don't expect to hear about Iraq". Have these people ever heard of Public Enemy? But I digress.)

Ott has two main things that he wants to say. He likes the new album better than the more-explicitly political stuff, and he heard somewhere that Thom Yorke had been savagely assaulted when minding his own business. One of these is his business. The other isn't. So how is a lame reviewer to link the two together?

Simple. You combine the idea that Yorke was "full of shit" before with the vernacular "had the shit kicked out of him" and bingo! The sad crime committed against a nice man is an artistic apotheosis whereby "whatever shit he was full of was kicked out of him-- in his hometown, no less". Genius.

thom_yorke.jpg

It may be time for music commentators to find the dignity to draw a line, where there are certain areas which are inappropriate -- as in just plain rude -- to talk about. Alternatively, simply avoiding speculative guff about what an artist is thinking might do a lot of good.

There's a similarity here with the entry for the Red Hot Chili Peppers I read this week in Martin C. Strong's error-riddled book The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.):

More trouble was to follow in April '90, when that young scamp, Kiedis, was given a 60-day jail sentence for sexual battery and indecent exposure to a female student (the following year, Flea and Smith were both charged with offences of a similar nature). As well as clearly possessing red-hot libidos by the early '90s, the group had become red-hot property...

It might be stating the obvious to say that the battered student is a real person who remembers this sex-crime today, that the image of a battered Yorke provokes nothing other than pity in anyone with an ounce of humanity, or that the word "scamp" and the term "sexual battery" don't work in the same sentence. So why do these people persist in their ill-manners?

We don't know whether Beck was 'really' sad about Winona when he wrote his last CD, or whether Yorke decided to write the kind of songs that Pitchfork's Chris Ott prefers as a result of his attack. To understand any of these songs in terms of the dregs of celebrity culture is to reduce them. Pitchfork has become the indie Heat. Approaching shark; good height... yes, and it's cleared.

Here's a puzzle. We all know Avril Lavigne was the biggest fake in the music industry until last week. We know that what makes her fake is her criticism of everyone else for not being 'real', and making that into her brand.

And we know that her paper crown has been taken this week by Amy Studt, the 16-year-old from Bournemouth, whose video for "Misfit" is set in a dorm in a 1980s American high school. Because Amy Studt's brand - as put together by Simon Fuller and her S Club Jr "co-writer" - is based on dissing Avril. For being fake.

Admittedly, she does a pretty good deconstruction of 'Sk8er boi' - though not as good as the definitive close reading by Fist Of Funnyman and sometime TFT writer Richard Herring - still, the lyrics of "Misfit" make "Complicated" seem better than the script to 'Heathers' (which, for the avoidance of doubt, it isn't). And the absurdity of the following piece of press-release-reporting from the NME is so apparent it would make a dead dick laugh.

[Simon Fuller's] 19 Management claim that there's no S Club-style superbrand being used to pitch her. 'The only pitch is "Listen to the tracks",' says Charlotte Hickson, who works in strategy and artist liaison at 19.

So the puzzle is: how has it got to the stage where the further we go down the line of artists dismissing each other as fakes, the faker the artists are?



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