Shuttle Gherkin by Luca Lardera
Shuttle Gherkin by Luca Lardera
Dumper Truck Bungalow by Luca Lardera
Would that the word ‘rock’ had not become so debased when describing music. Whilst bands, critics and fans are still inclined to embrace the description ‘pop’, ‘rock’ is definitely out. Pop remains to a degree fluid, it means whatever is in the charts; already commercial it can be no other. Rock on the other hand took itself way to seriously in the late 70s, commercialised itself in the 80s (hair metal) and institutionalised itself from there on. The Hard Rock Cafe. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The only way that rock lives on is in the “can’t think of a better way to describe it” appellation ‘post-rock’. Some people though want to save rock.
The 1989 Slint album Tweez set the standard for how to: jazz-tinged prog rhythms, sparse, electronica-esque finger-picked guitars; quiet bits, loud bits. The album was big in Glasgow, a British city that is more likely to tune in to what’s happening in Chicago as it is London. The album created the template for the best Scottish band performing today: Mogwai. Amidst the folk-y inclinations of their stablemates at Chemikal Underground records they stood out as progressive: unabashedly ambitious for their music. Their own label Rock Action is a determined attempt to rescue guitar music from the wreckage of “rawk” and it now acts as a breeding ground apart from their former stable mates.
Released on that label, the Errors 3rd studio album Have Some Faith in Magic is not a rock album. It’s not even a post-rock album. You could call it post-pop if you wanted to write for the NME. Eschewing the jazzy-y qualities of It’s not Something.. and the noodle-y Boards of Canada quality of Come Down With me, it’s a long sinuous melodic work in which the rhythms are basic four-four, with the bpm just beneath the danceable in the manner of early New Order. On Pleasure Palaces they are very M83 (no problem with that) whilst the rest of the album is an atmospheric washed-out take on 80s synth pop. Vocals are indistinct, weaving in and out of simple synth melody lines and joining great atmospheric shoe-gazing washes. A great Glasgow album. A great album.
Picador are certainly jumping the gun by releasing a 40th anniversary edition of White Noise today (February 2nd 2012). Don DeLillo’s White Noise was first published in 1985, the year in which it also won the National Book Award. Perhaps it is accumulated prescience of the book that is urging the publishers to celebrate its release. Certainly we are only beginning to appreciate the importance of a book which manages to give a portrait of an American academic and his relatively happy family in such a way as to depict the deep crisis in modernity. Martin Amis went someway to acknowledging its power when in reviewing the later book Underworld in the New York Times in 1997 when he referred to White Noise as “that beautifully tender anxiety-dream”.
Given that it portrays a society on the verge of collapse, how can the book still be pertinent (nearly) 40 years later? Because, of course that society never collapsed. DeLillo is one of the first writers to instinctively understand that instability, quixotically, is a condition of an affluent society that has no collective understanding of its direction: a sense of imminent collapse is the result of the material foundation of modernity suddenly being questioned. Diane Johnson in her review of the book also in the New York Times says that the book prefigures Bhopal. It does no such thing. Bhopal was a real disaster, the ‘airborne toxic event’ in in DeLillo’s book is a disaster which is being managed as if it was a simulation. (You have to read it to understand why.) The book is more influenced by the oil crisis of 1976 that preceded it than any environmental disaster to come.
Why? Because the oil crisis prompted a profound questioning of the modern project. Social programmes in the West until that time were predicated on a steady improvement in material wealth, mobility and technological advance. The Oil Crisis threw that in to question. Rather than directing criticism at the unequal distribution of the benefits of modernity, from this point on, social criticism began to be directed at the pernicious effect of modernity itself. This is what the airborne toxic event that dominates the book represents. It is telling too that the American family takes the full-weight of this anxiety in the book. Although the children are smart and relatively content, their parents worry repeatedly about their own pernicious influence on them. Utterly distracted, they are unable to reflect on the values they own and share with others.
The book is still pertinent, ever more pertinent, because anxiety about collapse takes many forms, it morphs and moves from one threat to the next. DeLillo a satirist in the Chekhovian mode gives us the whole shooting match and asks us to laugh at it.
Teju Cole’s debut novel received several hat-tips in the Books of the Year in 2011, apparently pushing even further the cultural capital of psychogeography, particularly the pessimistic variety put about by WG Sebald into the mainstream. The book, an apparently straightforward account of a year in the life of a lonely academic; meanderings through New York and, Jesus wept, Brussels (in winter!), it is more than it first appears. But, in the words of Morrissey, not much more.
Cole’s book is almost an explicit response to the self-discoveries of Sebald’s Austerlitz who escapes on the kinder-transport. As Austerlitz ruminates on the migrations of the Jew, so Cole considers during his haphazard sorties through the two cities upon the African experience in North America, pulling at the threads of some interesting ideas. However, this is interspersed with much lazy theorising upon the nature of art.
Cole’s character drops the names of novelists and musicians with all the discretion of a waiter falling down a flight of stairs with a tray full of empty glasses. The book is otherwise a relentlessly polite, well written discourse on a variety of passingly interesting subjects. Islamic fundamentalism and the modern age. The nature of memory and art… and some other stuff which I forget.
And yet apparently this prodding at the fabric of the city, is just that a fabric. At one stage Cole’s narrator meets an immigrant who tells his story of getting from Western Sahara to the USA. It is a rare riveting moment; the intimation of a book you want to read, but it is fleeting and only occurs because because the narrator has undertaken a charitable visit to a holding pen for illegals in order to impress a girl. It is the first hint - as if all the mooning around cities hadn’t warned us - that the narrator is a bit of a shit. It isn’t really confirmed though until very late.
And when it is, we suddenly think: all this semi-interesting discursive stuff we have been reading, it is just an elaborate set-up to make a trite point; something that we know already; that being cultured doesn’t provide a moral foundation. Should I listen to what this guy has just said about Mahler? Or not? The deliberation on the photography of Munkacsi ,the operas of Judith Weir? Is this what psychogeography has become? The latter-day equivalent of why realist novelists describe rooms in extensive detail. It is just a means of convincing us that the novel is REAL.
Who wants a novel that is REAL? Who wants a novel that accepts the narrow academic readership that novels are supposed to have? (Or appears to have in the press). Not me.
I have had enough of trying to like Doctor Who. The recent three part series of Sherlock proves that the problem with the critical failure of the revived of Doctor Who has nothing to do with the writers involved. Russell T Davies’s facile exploration of the sexual politics of Doctor Who is at least over. Yet Steven Moffat’s - script for Sherlock has outstripped anything he’s done as Davies’s successor in charge of Who. The question is Why?
Largely because the alternate reality and time-travel of Who is ultimately a distraction, turning the programme into a tiresome game of metaphysics. Whilst Sherlock, particularly the last episode, had a convoluted plot, game theory applied to Victorian melodrama, it was based in a fundamental reality. The audience is asked to believe that Sherlock is alive in our time and is happy to agree, if it means, in turn, they are given a flawed superhero with amazing mental powers; a problem-solver rather than Who, who flits about in time, creating anomalies with his every contrived eccentricity; who spends half his time working out the own contradictions of his creation; who is distracted by his own supreme power.
Sherlock focuses on the social function of a superhero, generating humour and insight; Doctor Who on the other hand is trapped in a well-trod labyrinth of time-travel conundrums. (River Song; murderer, wife, mother, or… yawn.) The Doctor has lost the ability as he had in the Peter Davidson and Tom Baker years to explore societies and new worlds. Doctor Who is just about Doctor Who. Sherlock is about Sherlock, the society he lives in and why we love him. (Plus Cumberbatch is a better actor than Matt Smith and Martin Freeman is better than any companion Who has ever had.)