Saturday, December 31, 2005

What have we done? Another year over

Have a look at the 28 singles to have hit number one throughout 2005. Notice a pattern? Well, no, and also yes. While it's a collection of records you couldn't trace a linear path through if you tried, there's something odd about those that lasted the longest. The biggest selling single of the year? A re-release of a top 20 single for a northern club crooner 34 years ago written by Neil Sedaka, with joint credit given to a comedian who doesn't sing on it. The most controversial? A reworking of a mid-80s synth hit to fit around a novelty ringtone adapted from a viral email that it has no evident connection with otherwise. RCA started the year by re-releasing all 18 of Elvis Presley's number ones, adding three to the total including the thousandth ever chart topper. Elton John was superimposed onto a 2Pac offcut, Eminem used Martika's Toy Soldiers as an emotionally charged sample and the Christmas number two behind a reality show victor was an acoustic indie-jazz duo's song (another re-release) about how one of them was treated to days out on their dad's JCB when five years old. Say what you like about James Blunt, and many did, but in this company the revival of the acoustic sensitive male singer-songwriter seemed like the most obvious record company manoevure of the year.

Looking at that chart, two buzzwords of the year become evident. The first is technology, and the inevitable progress thereof, most publicly evident when download figures were included from the chart published on 16th April onwards. Although the effects have been nowhere near as outstanding as many predicted, whether it be the odd suggestion that alternative acts would benefit (quite a few have instead missed out on top 40 debuts in favour of a long running single still receiving downloads, as any listener to commercial radio charts would have predicted) or the Times' confident statement that "teenage girls will lose their grip on the pop scene next week when the Top 40 transforms into a male-dominated download chart", the overall sales figures for the year are expected to show a rise in single track sales as steep as the fall in physical sales. Certainly our local chain stores are cutting back on the shelf space given over to that week's new releases, despite the fact major labels don't seem to be in any hurry to abandon the format. This, then, is how the old, old art of the pop single ends - not with a bang, but with Digital Rights Management. The other key phrase of the year seems to be the comeback - Take That's reformation achieved more publicity at a stroke than every other UK tour announced this year, Cream put aside thirty years or more of warring to take up Eric Clapton's annual Albert Hall residency, Sinatra joined Elvis on the big screen plus live backing band theatre circut, dead rappers continue to release records, the very much alive Dylan and McCartney produced two of the cultural events of the year and a Rolling Stones album actually received positive reviews for once, while everyone from Dinosaur Jr to Daphne & Celeste (they did, they played G.A.Y.) decided it was time to get what they saw as rightfully theirs. Even though the Spice Girls haven't yet got back together it wasn't for the want of tabloids trying for weeks in early summer. Most of these have been met with a generally positive, if guarded, reaction, with the proviso that they shouldn't then just go mad and record any new material, but you do wonder where the loose ends that such a reformation are supposed to tie up have been left. How Take That would have gone if Robbie hadn't jumped ship is a fascinating "what if?" game, but surely little more, unless Gary Barlow really thinks they could still have been going today. Here's something too - when was the last time you heard a Spice Girls song on the radio? Their legacy seems to exist as entirely surface with little actual depth of music produced these days - it's not getting Geri and the other four back together for reasons connected to their hits, it's the iconography of the five together that would be sold if, as seems likely with a greatest hits on the way to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Wannabe, there was some sort of rapproachment. We hear there's now a concerted campaign to get All Saints back together, whatever good that serves. By the end of 2006 there will probably be a trend for reforming bands that never split and Siobhan Donaghy will be getting phone calls from Keisha's go-between.

Of course, not every reunion is so protracted, or indeed so palatable to those taking part. When Pink Floyd linked arms at the end of their Live 8 set you knew this was the full stop, four people who can barely bring themselves to speak to each other having been dragged through the courts for intellectual property rights, back together not for the money or the headlines but to provide a weighty, meaningful role in one of the biggest live events of our lifetimes. Let's not split hairs, Live 8 was supposed to be the second biggest musical extravaganza of the pop culture age, and then only second because nobody had ever seen anything quite like the first one. This one, Bob assured us, stirred all manner of political flavours into the pot that would help the starving Africans right up to the point of actually pledging them anything - give us yer fuckin' awareness, as we put it at the time. Which is nice, but frankly if that was the case Harvey Goldsmith could have called it off the night before and the job would have been done. Make Poverty History had assailed most of us for most of the previous few months without ever making quite clear how wearing a wristband and being aware that children were still starving was going to help without more direct action beyond an idea that politicians could somehow be scared into greater co-operation. Sign a petition? In aid of what? One of the slogans of the event was 'We Don't Want Your Money - We Want You', in relation to the other idea that this whole massive event was just an advert for Geldof's big march up to the G8 summit in Edinburgh four days later, as Paul McCartney reminded us when closing with The Long And Winding Road. Thus Live 8 (which Talent In A Previous Life did a stellar minute-by-minute job on) was left in the record books to fend for itself, a task made more difficult not only by its shifting rules - Geldof suggested nobody would be invited on who hadn't sold 4m records, then booked Snow Patrol for Hyde Park and the Kaiser Chiefs for Philadelphia to open with tracks from their Billboard peak number 83 album - by its predecessor. Everyone talked excitedly about the possibility of a 'Queen Moment', which just by itself was a tacit declaration that Live 8 was going to be no Live Aid. A few days before the first announcement Geldof declared "why would I possibly repeat something I did 20 years ago?" - presumably Band Aid 20 was as quickly overlooked with him as it was with everybody else - and everything from the booking policy up to the overriding atmosphere of the event seemed to prove his fears justified. In the end it all got overshadowed by what happened in London the day after everyone else had decamped to Edinburgh, Bob and Bono declaring as a success a settlement people who have more of a hands-on approach to the area's problems slated as a letdown. Who was right will more than likely take years to determine, but we suspect history will chalk down July 2nd as a day that meant well but stopped itself from completely delivering its message.

Even in terms of having an effect that started with the personal crusade, spread quickly into the political arena and provided aftershocks that lasted some time afterwards across the interested parts of the world it might not even qualify as 2005's most effective statement. That came at 5.41pm EST on September 2nd, when during NBC's Concert For The Gulf Coast, only a warmup for the national telethon a week later, Kanye West was called upon to deliver a message to camera about the black community in New Orleans struggling after Hurricane Katrina. On a purely musical front, this year has seen West deliver on his reputation in spades, arguably becoming the first hip-hop producer-performer to break through into the international conscious to such an extent since the Fugees (who also reformed this year, to little attention before their UK gigs and much slow shaking of head afterwards) through his inventive production, image much removed from Fiddy and co's tiresome bragging and alternately sweet and sour rhyming, putting on critically lauded shows at Live 8 and for the BBC at Abbey Road as well as launching John Legend and giving Common his long-awaited commercial breakthrough. He's going to ruin it by launching a clothing range in 2006, of course, but let that pass. In the week of Late Registration's release all that counted for little, notwithstanding its Billboard number one entry, as he veered off script to make a point about the media portryal as he saw it of black people made homeless and then drop the Doesn't Care bomb. For all our initial misgivings, and surely we aren't the only people who this occurred to at the time, about these pop stars hijacking important and urgent benefit tin shaking for their own politicised ends, and surely we could validly extend the logic of that time and state George Bush doesn't care about people, but the US race relations issue hornet's nest wasn't going to be settled any time soon after that. Faster than NBC could apply the safety scissors proper debate raged, as much as it can in a country where a chasm has been busy developing between political wings, which shifted the focus onto the failures of the relief operation and what it told us about American infrastructure and race relations, eventually coming complete with an understanding as standard that this was something that needed to be said. Surely this is what a modern pop political stance should be more about - anyone can write a song about how that Dubya is a bad man, or indeed tell an audience in Hyde Park to get online and sign a petition, but cutting to the bitter quick does it much easier and effectively. It's sorting the present out before we start to concentrate on the future.

Somewhat brilliantly in its own way, 50 Cent slammed Kanye days later for being, unlike him, "non-confrontational". Fiddy's problem, of course, is that he's all too confrontational and would probably pin you to the wall until you agreed with him to boot. In many ways you could argue Kanye's success is due to what he didn't do (issue self-aggrandising statements that outside the rap community look silly, advertise trainers, have his entourage linked with shooting a member of someone else's entourage) as to what he did. In fact, from a British perspective, Kanye is one of the few acts in the supposedly upwardly mobile urban market to make a lasting impression on the market. Fiddy impressed nobody beyond impressionable kids by claiming hardness to a backdrop of "I take you to the candy shop, I'll let you lick the lollipop/Go ahead girl, don't you stop, keep going til you hit the spot", Eminem has given up the ghost, Akon and Ciara broadly came and went, nobody's quite sure what Nelly's point is any more, Ja Rule's best of debuted outside the top 75, The Game was supposed to be one of the big stars of the year yet seems to have become so by connective osmosis only, the Ying Yang Twins remain more talked about than heard, Tony Yayo hasn't managed either, Chris Brown's single has already been delayed once while other emergent big shots such as Mike Jones, Slim Thug, David Banner, Young Buck, Stat Quo, Lil Scrappy and Paul Wall have yet to release a scrap of music in the UK between them. Meanwhile the totem for acceptance of black music, Michael Jackson, was found not guilty after a trial that might not have actually existed outside the press pack for all we really knew. It would perfectly complement his world where nobody wants to tell him what to do so suspicion will continue to linger about his movements, and indeed members of the jury have since said that when they said he was innocent they only meant in the context of the accuser's case. (Yet again, thank god for No Rock'n'Roll Fun) So now where? The talk of him bulking up for an Usher-esque R&B comeback was probably tabloid bollocks, the success of next year's series of single re-releases - way to ruin your own sales market, BMG - remains to be seen given they're going to be sold to a fanbase that has long campaigned against them and his much talked about Katrina benefit single seems to have been eaten by the dog. Out in Bahrain, wondering how he'll continue supporting himself given all the extra detail we now know about him, you do have to wonder. Meanwhile in Britain we had another year of UK hip-hop being talked up as about to break and then never doing so, Lady Sovereign lost to her own Save The Hoodie publicity stunt, Roots Manuva politely ignored once again and M.I.A. earning acres of press attention completely at odds with a highest charting single position of 77. Pure Reason Revolution do better than that.

So what of the purer pop that finally seems to be challenging the reality TV queue jumpers that brought its image low to prove themselves? This may well go down as the year in which, on the back of Xenomania and Richard X finding a path out of the clean lined cul-de-sac it had been festering in, producers went "sod it, let's just do what we want". Not everywhere, of course - Westlife still had a number one, McFly's declarations of going grown-up amounted to little more than slightly slower tempos and Son Of Dork is just Busted with the fun taken out - but enough. We've mentioned before our belief that Since U Been Gone might be the worst single of the year where many other bloggers have the opposite view - come on, you're just pretending you could stand that caterwauling Kelly Clarkson calls emotional rock singing, and if Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or everyone else it's been compared to with straight faces actually did sound like that you'd be down on them like a ton of bricks - but it still bears the tag 'produced by Max Martin', which is big given said cul-de-sac largely consisted of the Britney/Backstreet sound he developed. Girls Aloud's Xenomania-chartered sail around the edges of ProTools finally reached an apogee with the borderline ridiculous Biology (and very well done to Polydor for hoping we forgot about it as soon as possible so they could get on with promoting the goodwill-ruining See The Day, which promptly charted five places lower), the Sugababes turned right again and found a different dance niche to exploit (and then ruined the momentum by losing a member, which just reminded everyone that for quite a while the only thing they were famous for was how they were always about to split up), while Rachel Stevens' last single failing to go top ten was perhaps the most baffling pop flop of the year. Is it because of her perceived lack of character? The confusing amorphic nature of her records? The Dick And Dom In Da Bungalow walkout-aided suspicion that she can't take all this smiley pop stuff to heart? Whatever, it's notable even the most cynical amongst us failed to point and laugh even when the teen mags suggested we do so. Not that her or any of the others have yet acknowledged that their fanbase is older and more blog-savvy than they might have expected, but it's not their job to pretend they have fans who don't buy Smash Hits, FHM if older. Even Robbie Williams - oh, wasn't he just like Freddie at Live 8, eh? - was forced down to an extent, Trippin' being just too reminiscent of the Police for anyone to really remain comfortable and the rest of the album seemingly passing most by, no matter how confused his sycophantic interviews get. Too much personality, see - with Rachel or ver Aloud there's a thought that having little determinable musical personality or signature enables them to be taken all over the place, or at least close to Goldfrapp territory, proof that eventually fashion would catch up with Will and Alison, whereas someone like Charlotte Church, who is almost the antonym of Stevens in that she's had a lot of goodwill up until the point of liking her records, the dominant personality and declarations of what she can do in her new musical arena may have been perceived as holding her possibilities back. This might, just incidentally, also explain how come the expected post-Dido deluge never really happened, as Jem seems forgotten already, KT Tunstall was always going to be too slippery for mass market acceptance in the same way and the rest seemingly confuse their own marketing division (ahoy there, Alexis Strum). With Britney a laughing stock, Christina fading from view, Madonna too old and wrapped up in red string and her special bottled water and even the potential in ex-members of Blue halting as they get stuck in a light R&B groove that satisfies few, the parameters for actual successful personality pop, Alison excepted as she's come from the other direction and the great hope this time last year Annie seemingly having been met by ranks of the wider public sticking their fingers in their ears and la-la-laing loudly, seem to be closing up, and the Pussycat Dolls certainly aren't going to achieve it. In a way they seem like the ultimate contrivance, being a group who became famous as dancers who might be a bit burlesque without having to take their clothes off - Carmen Electra was once a supposed member - who without seemingly informing anyone first became a fresh pop phenomenon despite clearly only having one specialist singer, and she parachuted in having been a former member of the US Popstars band Eden's Crush, and with a direct copy of a song that had hit the Billboard top 50 months before, and nobody, certainly in the UK, bothers asking any questions about them, unless they're assuming we somehow all knew. They don't even have much of a syncopated dance routine.

If this were a dissertation, which if it's much longer it could be easily passed off as, you could get a couple of thousand words contrasting the Dolls with the band that, for all their NME hype, still surprised everyone, probably not least themselves, by also having their debut single proper enter at number one. The Arctic Monkeys' debt to the Internet has been much debated - that technology link again, we know - and the footage of them performing a live track which hasn't been properly released yet to a chorus of voices knowing every word is one of this year's standout images, but their emergence also served to make mincemeat of John Harris' declaration on the tenth anniversary of the Blur v Oasis battle that its only legacy was Thelikesofcoldplaykeaneandsnowpatrol, and not just because you could easily find connections to both in their style. One of the things we recall from around that time was how surprising it was that Girls And Boys should be entering at number 5 or how Oasis' inexorable rise seemed to take root before the music press had really noticed, and the Monkeys' low level chatter developed from a base as much around finding a band to invest local pride into as much as that now defunct site full of mp3s that everyone apparently found as one (indeed, if you believe the timeline in the Christmas NME, there are blog postings extolling their virtues from before they'd started gigging properly). At a stroke they became arguably the biggest UK shots in this nefarious category we continue to label 'indie' for want of anything better as Franz Ferdinand ascended to the big league of pan-continental stadiums on the back of an album where the riffs became as big as the moves you're apparently supposed to make on the huge arena stages. They join on that plateau the band so big they got their own profit warning, Coldplay, surely now at their own Joshua Tree phase yet somehow avoiding the jagged line that seperates artistry from showbiz. Falling right through the cracks went Pete Doherty, the Sienna Miller of the UK music scene. The Libertines almost seem a cipher now, something that's used as an excuse to explain to confused readers how come the male half of the tabloid love story of the year would get to meet the female half. So he was once a successful, popular band's co-leader and young people's poet elect? Yeah, Abi Titmuss was a student nurse, and look where that got her. The first tabloid reports that Pete and Kate were an item were printed on 18th January and it's felt like a particularly overreaching post-watershed Channel 4 drama ever since, completely obscuring the Babyshambles album from view and ensuring Jon Culshaw is probably working on the impression right now. Has he become more of a folk hero because he's been portrayed as part of a glamorous couple and by extension become famous for being Junkie Rocker Pete Doherty? If he does succumb, is there any way icon status can be prevented? Where would that leave Dominic Masters, who began the year receiving overwhelming hosannahs from the NME for The Others' album and ended it pretty much forgotten had one of the paper's photographers not thoughtfully bought up the nearest domain name to their official site to tell the world his view of him? For making a success of lying low and playing occasional small club gigs Carl Barat deserves some sort of award. It's been a strong year all round in the leftfield sector, the post-punk revival delivering a few more corkers before gradually blowing itself out, Gorillaz again making a mockery of the disparity between the sound and the sales (Danger Mouse's two major production works this year, Demon Days and Dangerdoom's The Mouse And The Mask, were very close to our own top 20 list) and even jazz made a critical breakthrough thanks to Seb Rochford's two bands, Acoustic Ladyland and Mercury-nominated Polar Bear, and the realisation that to get publicity for your jazz festival you didn't have to have it headlined by Jamie Cullum. On a wider scale, while the countries that border the Atlantic still provide the vast majority of the coverage afforded to music in the wider world, people have more of an awareness about, say, baile funk, J-Pop, Manu Chao and his proteges etc. Never mind the argument about whether African musicians should have played at Live 8, we don't recall it even being an issue at Live Aid.

So how should we sum up this year passed? There is a theory that it's in the middle of a decade when its outstanding contribution to music's history finally emerges - mid-50s Elvis and the rock and roll revolution, mid-60s Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, drugs, Swinging London, mid-70s punk, glam and Kraftwerk, mid-80s the birth of superstardom (Madonna, Jacko), indie, techno, Live Aid, mid-90s proper boy bands and pre-packaged pop (Robson & Jerome, anyone?), Britpop, drum'n'bass. And the mid-00s, on the evidence presented so far? Caught in two minds, we'd say - harking back at a speed as yet unthought of, no doubt aided by the proliferation of reissues and nostalgic magazines, yet with an eye on the possibilities and, thinking of Sony's rootkit, fallabilities of technology. Whether this means Tom Watkins' cyberbabe pop star that he went on about a lot at the end of the last century will finally come to fruition remains to be seen, but 2006 is going to have to be a particularly special year if something more valid is going to emerge and take over. Mind you, at the end of 2004 you'd have got long odds on a six foot mezzo-soprano torch singer based in New York winning the Mercury Music Prize. As long as music keeps surprising us, we'll keep liking it. And personally? Well, we're very glad you're reading, and we'd like to pay sincere thanks to everyone who did drop by over these few months Sweeping The Nation has been running. It's a shame more of you don't run very successful music blogs of your own that could link to us or work in the paper media industry where you could put a good word in for us in print, but hey, can't have everything now.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic writing - I've spent about two hours here this morning. Good luck with it.

Glen said...

That was one hell of a piece. May I humbly push my own top ten records of the year in your direction (though I fear my choices are far too mainstram for your listening pleasure!)? I found your music blog via the football one. Will you be doing a World Cup TV review this year?!?

Chris Brown said...

I've just started a new blog for the new year, although I can't promise the success.

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Visualization is a tool that has been used for thousands of years by initiates of all the metaphysical schools. Today, it is incorporated into top athlete's daily routines and is used in business affairs frequently. It's use is wide-spread among highly successful people, either consciously or unconsciously, aware of its create power. So if it has stood the test of time and is still being used by high achievers we must come to the conclusion that it works! But has it ever worked for you?

If you answered 'yes' to the above question then you know how powerful this technique can be. If, on the other hand, you gave the more likely answer 'no' then take heart for I am about to reveal to you a sure fire way of reaching your objectives through this mostly misunderstood art.

The trouble with visualization is simple - its in its name!

When studying and contemplating the art of visualization most people have the impression that they must create visual images and make them real or life-like. Many people, in fact the majority, find this almost impossible to do. Even if they can formulate a solid picture of their objective they find it extremely difficult to sustain the image for any length of time. Either the image fades, changes or other intruding thoughts intervene.

This type of visualization is almost impossible to sustain and luckily it is not at all necessary. Why? Because it is in the subconscious mind that your visualization needs to be placed and there is good news. The subconscious mind does not know the difference between an imaginary event and a real one. Your visual image only needs to be a strong visually as any other imagined event. However, that is only half the story.

If all you had to do was just imagine stuff and your world automatically changed to reflect your imaginings this world would be full of chaos (not to mention all those creepy crawly bug-eyed monsters!). Therefore, there are a few more steps to complete before the visualization is passed to the subconscious for manifestation.

Let's try a little experiment. Remember a scene from your past that has a lot of good feelings around it. Any good memory will do, like the first time you heard the words "I love you" from your partner, an amazingly spectacular sunset, a great holiday event or your last birthday. Pick one and remember it. How clear is the image? Can you remember any sounds? What way did you feel? Is there any sense of touch, taste or smell? Identify how your memory works. Is it mostly visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or of a feeling nature?

Now we are going to create an imagined event in our lives that has the same strength and potency as that image. So relax and let's go.

Imagine something that you do everyday, something that you did yesterday, today and will do tomorrow. Let us take the example of waking up tomorrow morning. Don't try to add or take anything away, just think about it and analyse the scene. Is it dark or light? Are you lying next to someone in bed? Do you still feel tired? Has the alarm clock sounded? Are you irritable that you have to get up or full of joy at the dawn of a new day?

You will find that the imagined event is very similar to the memory with probably one key difference - your point of perspective. Is the memory behind you and the future event in front of you? Is one to the left and one to the right? Maybe they are both in front of you or the future seems to move in a clockwise direction. Whatever the perspective the thing to notice is that they are very similar in appearance.

Now imagine doing your future event a week from now, then a month from now, then six months from now. Where are those images placed? Are they moving further away, going clockwise, from left to right? This is your time-line and using it is important in visualization as you will see later.

Ok, let's imagine something that is very unlikely to happen and see where it differs from the last image.

Imagine you are sitting somewhere familiar which is extremely comfortable and relaxing to you. Now imagine that a person you know well comes up to where you are and says "hello". Imagine them telling you that they want to show you a new trick. All of a sudden they have three juggling balls. They throw them in the air and begin to juggle with ease. Then they begin to whistle one of your favourite tunes. You suddenly realize that there is a strong smell of flowers in the room and notice a vase of them just behind the juggler. Imagine laughing loudly at the scene and feeling joyful at the experience. Then the person juggling leans forward stands on leg and puts the other leg outstretched behind them. All the while still juggling and whistling. Then they begin to hop on their leg as a small bird flies over to perch on their head. Once you have the imagined event and stayed with it a few moments just let it fade.

Ok open your eyes. What was the difference between the two images? Can you spot any? Did you use more, less or roughly the same senses in your fantasy event as you did in the future one? Did you see them from different angles? Was the picture bigger in one than the other? Was the sound clearer, the feelings more acute or the smell stronger? Take some time and go back to each scene in your mind. How does the future event differ from the fantasy one? Are you looking at both from a different vantage point? Do you see yourself in the image of one but not the other? Analyse the scenes and see where they differ.

Have you identified how the future event differs from the fantasy one? If you have then its time to make visualization work for you! Take a goal that you have been working on or would like to achieve. Nothing too far-fetched at this point please! Pick something that is possible but at the moment seems a little impractical. Once you have it form a mental image of what it would be like to have, be or do that thing or be in that experience. Remember to form it the same way you do a memory. Give it the same strength visually, in sound, feeling, taste and touch - use your mind in its natural state. All you have to do is imagine the scene.

Ok how does it differ from the scene of waking in the morning? Can you identify the differences in perspective, sound, taste, touch, feelings and what you hear?

Now there will be one other key thing that differs in the images- it is very simple but often overlooked. You know that the future event is going to happen! This is reflected in the way we experience the image. So what we are going to do is fool your subconscious mind into thinking your goal is definitely going to happen by manipulating your goal image!

Once you know what the differences are in each image begin to change the goal image so that it is seen the same way as the future event in your imagination. Place the visualized scene in exactly the same position with the same perspective as your future event.

Place it in the correct position on your time-line. You may already begin to feel that the goal is more possible. Visualise in this way everyday and you will condition your subconscious mind to manifest the experiences necessary to make your goal attainment certain.

One more thing to remember: During the day think about your goal often. This reinforces the visualization and will begin to dispel doubt from your mind. personal development

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