Idiots

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Album Of The Year
I was unfortunate enough to catch Newsnight Review two Fridays ago, or at least the last bit of it, where Arcade Fire’s all-important second album was under the pretentious hammer. I don’t watch this programme any more. Not because they have never invited me back on it since my debut in October 2005, but because ever since they took Mark Lawson off it and added a superfluous fourth panellist, it’s been a shadow of its former self. (Nothing against Kirsty Wark – she presented it when I was on, and she remains a rigorous, likeable and fair chairperson – but I miss Mark Lawson.) Anyway, not watching it any more, I occasionally catch the end of it by mistake, and the last time I did this, I saw my friend John Harris manfully defend The Good, The Bad & The Queen against an onslaught of ill-informed, lazy critique from someone called Bidisha, who turns out to be an all-rounder whose first novel was published when she was 18, and actor-playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, who couldn’t even be bothered to learn the names of the songs and called them “Track 1” and “Track 8” (imagine a book of poetry being subjected to this kind of insult – Poem 7, Poem 15 etc. – it would never happen). John was eloquent and enthusiastic and, most importantly, right. That album is a masterpiece. Conceptually and sonically. What a collaboration. And Green Fields, as good as any slow song Blur have ever made, is immaculate.

Anyway, two Fridays ago, there was John again, in the same spot on the Newsnight sofa, this time standing up for Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. Bidisha was there again, slagging it off, and Toby Young was there, reciting an awfully clever tirade against American indie bands he’d prepared earlier (even though Arcade Fire are from Montreal), and a third woman, Anna Blundy, another novelist, appeared not to have listened to the album at all, and kept attacking its “14-year-old” politics. Well, once again, John Harris was right. “It will sell a million copies,” he stated, confidently. It amazes me how badly pop music is treated on this programme unless Paul Morley happens to be on. It struck me that only John had given this magnificent album more than a cursory background spin. It is, as he rightly pointed out, a profound piece of work, lyrically reflective of the scary, uncertain world we now live in. I’ve only listened through to it about four times, but every track matters, even the one “the woman” sings. (Surely that will get me on Newsnight?) My standout thus far is Windowsill, which deals with climate change and wider issues of American global arrogance. It’s angry and it’s sorrowful and beautiful. That’ll do for me. Although it took me longer than it ought to have done to see the light with the band’s first album Funeral, once the pieces fell into place on Redhill station platform through my iPod, it engulfed and obsessed me. Well, this one worked its magic immediately. Recorded in a church, it certainly has a funereal quality, and it sounds like all those people are playing on it at the same time. Maybe they are. I know I missed some London gigs of theirs recently, but I wouldn’t have wanted to hear the album played live without knowing the songs. It would be a waste.

I’m glad I never saw Newsnight reviewing the Klaxons album, if they ever did. It would have been too much.

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12 thoughts on “Idiots

  1. I too watched that episode of Newsnight review and was annoyed with the way they treated the album, John Harris aside, they seem to give no plaudits for at least attempting to say something even if they do fall short on the odd occasion with a slightly glib lyrical sentiment. While I do think a number of songs on the album are fantastic, particularly the run from “The Well and The Lighthouse” to “No Cars Go” I am left slightly cold by the title track, “Intervention” and “My Body Is A Cage” which is a shame as they are the centre-points of the album. Having already heard the album at the time of the programme it was frustrating that they didn’t seem to pick up on any of these criticisms which I’ve now seen in the Uncut review (which was slightly over critical but never mind).Harris is also right about the band selling millions, it looks like being a transatlantic chart topper as well as in their native Canada and a few European countries.

  2. Hurrah! The Arcade Fire – a band of today I actually have heard of and like. They’re very Talking Headsy to me. You can’t beat a good Canadian band/singer – Barenaked Ladies, Rush, April Wine, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, The Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot, and er, Glass Tiger.I used to love Newsnight Review and, as much as I find Mark Lawson an irritating bore who takes himself far too seriously, I miss him too. The imperial phase was Allison Pearson, Tom Paulin, Lawson and Paul Morley. It all went downhill when they had the absolutely ridiculous Ecko Eshun on, someone who was very fond of posturing to the sound of his own voice. Anyway, I don’t watch it anymore either.

  3. Grrrr. Don’t get me started on the critics they get on arts programmes. They seem to love Bidisha on Radio Four, even though, as you say, she’s done nothing of note since she was a teenager, and Toby Young is, for me, the very essence of a Jack of all trades, master of none. Producers of these shows cast their net amongst a tiny pool of critics who are perceived as being cool; they almost invariably think music is something you ought to stop being interested in when you’re 18, and serious-minded people shouldn’t give a stuff about the new Arcade Fire album. Bah.

  4. I’m glad I missed this as I would’ve become far too angry. I was prepared for Neon Bible to be a disappointment as Funeral quickly became one of my absolute favourites. But it’s as far from a disappointment as I think you can get.They’ve achieved that difficult balance of evolving just enough, so they aren’t a different band, but not churning out a Funeral re-hash.I agree that Windowsill and No Cars Go are absolutely beautiful, and Keep The Car Running sounds right at home in an indie club already.It’s not album of the year though. If you’ve not got hold of Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem you are in for one hell of a treat.

  5. Oops – one other thing… If you enjoy American indie, lo-fi or otherwise and haven’t heard any Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown, please buy their albums now. They are so, so good and worthy of so much praise.

  6. Oops – one other thing… If you enjoy American indie, lo-fi or otherwise and haven’t heard any Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown, please buy their albums now. They are so, so good and worthy of so much praise.

  7. I too saw that particular episode and agree with most of your objections. It did seem however, that it had been pitched to them (by the production team?)as being this very important political/end of the world nigh statement rather than just a much anticpated, highly regarded rock record.

  8. My favourite Canadian artistes are Ron Sexsmith, The Waltons, Daniel Lanois and Tal Bachman, purely for the simply classic pop song She’s So High. And being the son of the bloke in Bachman Turner Overdrive, obviously.

  9. I love Neon Bible but I think the last track is a duffer and doesn’t sit well with the rest of the album.I’ll question the phrase, “even the one the woman sings” because on Funeral, the ones where the woman sings were my favourites.Each to their own, it’s a great album nonetheless.

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