Magazine article The Spectator

No Waiting Place

Magazine article The Spectator

No Waiting Place

Article excerpt

New albums come and new albums go, often with bewildering speed. Say what you like about the pop industry, but it doesn't hang around. There's always a new act to talk up, another album to promote. This suits both pop's core audience, who, being teenage, tend to have teenage attention spans, and most journalists, who proudly retain their teenage attention spans until death. When you are so busy looking forward to what's next, you quickly forget what was supposed to be next only a short time ago. As a result, when an act fails it tends to do so in private. No one is paying attention; they have all moved on to something else.

This does not just apply to the unknowns or the barely knowns. It frequently applies to the very well knowns indeed. Just this year, some very well knowns indeed have experienced quite striking commercial failures with new albums, despite the usual tons of publicity from our distinctively pliant press. David Bowie's Earthling, for example, was greeted world-wide as a triumphant return to form. The few people who bought it, however, were much less impressed. In this country die-hard Bowie fans propelled the album directly to number 1, but within a fortnight it was in freefall, leaving the chart as precipitously as it had entered it. Three months later, the parachute still hasn't opened.

Glorious, too, was the hype surrounding the Bee Gees' latest comeback: interviews everywhere, a South Bank Show dedicated to their tight-trousered muse, even a hit single to show they still had it in them. But the album hasn't sold. Still Waters jogs along in the lower reaches of the chart, several places below yet another new compilation of the trio's old hits. You can only come back so many times before they ask you to go away again.

Are any reputations sacred? It seems not. Whitney Houston's last film soundtrack, The Bodyguard, was the second largest selling soundtrack of all time, after Saturday Night Fever. She tried it again with The Preacher's Wife: it stiffed magnificently. The great INXS comeback, fuelled by singer Michael Hutchence's tabloid-friendly relationship with Paula Yates, generated many column inches but not many sales. …

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