Magazine article The Spectator

Staying Cool

Magazine article The Spectator

Staying Cool

Article excerpt

It's always a problem, comparing a new band with others who have gone before. Critics have to do it, defining the new in terms of the old, because there has to be some way of describing the indescribable. But I can't tell you how many times I've been caught, having read somewhere that someone was the new Squeeze or XTC or Nick Drake or Electric Light Orchestra or any of several others.

Gullible fool that I am, I believe every word. You buy the CD without pausing to listen to the little 30-second snippet of each song they offer you on Amazon (because you know they never sound right and will only put you off), the CD arrives, you tear it open in a frenzy and it's just the usual underwritten indie sludge that sounds a bit like The Velvet Underground. It's frustrating to the point of madness. See those sad tramps sitting in doorways gibbering into their cans of cider? A few too many duff CD purchases and that could be any of us.

And yet, and yet, and yet. Much as we may rage against the world, and critics with ears of cloth in particular, these comparisons with past artists are notoriously hard to get right. Even the most derivative performers have something new and entirely of their own to offer, while the cleverest and most original of them often draw inspiration from the unlikeliest sources.

(Elvis Costello's third album Armed Forces -- the one with 'Oliver's Army' on it -- apparently came about after he had been listening to far too much Abba. ) These days everything is potential raw material and the goalposts of cool are moving so fast you can't blame the critics for struggling to keep up. Only a few months ago in this space I railed against some poor bloke who had obviously been told to give the debut album by The Feeling a five-star review despite all his best instincts.

Wriggling with discomfort, he attempted to compare them favourably to 'corporate hacks' like Supertramp and Andrew Gold, who were never any such thing. In the same paragraph, though, I described The Feeling as 'young soft-rock pasticheurs who have listened to far too much Wings, Queen and 10cc', which isn't right either.

In fact, a more apposite comparison occurred to me only last week, when I was listening to the radio and another new band came on, who sounded just like The Feeling. …

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