The unfortunate recipients of these critical pannings were Sophie Ellis-Bextor and The Feeling. About Bextor’s latest album, one Matt Wilkinson sneered
“Pop, disco, nu-disco and 1980s electronica,” cries the accompanying written bumpf. Except… all the songs here sound pretty much the same, like ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ put through a Calvin Harris filter. Needless to say, it’s totally fucking rubbish.
His colleague Mark Beaumont is even more vociferous in his disdain for the latest offering from The Feeling.
‘Together We Were Made’ is a record with its legs akimbo, its arsehole lubed to dripping and beckoning radio producers, Hollyoaks researchers and Whiskas ad men to go for their lives. Ironically, this limp, watered-down, arse-gravy version of ‘pop’ probably couldn’t even sell cat food.
Now, writing a negative review is perfectly fair game, and indeed a vital part of any kind of critical journalism. Clearly, Mr Wilkinson and Mr Beaumont did not enjoy these records.
But as a reader, I want to know why that is. What exactly – aside from the fact that, judging by his graphic choice of imagery when reviewing the music of a gay-fronted pop band, Mark Beaumont perhaps has deeper issues than a dislike of radio-friendly MOR – do these reviews tell me about the records in question? Pretty much nothing. The Feeling album is watered down and commercial, Sophie Ellis-Bextor records electronic pop music. Apparently this is self-evidently fucking rubbish. But as for the standards by which these records fail – whether there are any standout tracks, how they compare to previous releases by these artists – I’m left none the wiser.
Both albums have received mixed reviews in other publications. The Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan also panned the Bextor album, but in roughly the same word count she told me so much more about why she disliked the record – comparing her to similar artists, picking out tracks that work and briefly highlighting why so many of the other tracks (in her opinion) don’t. Even if I disagree with Sullivan, I find her review helpful as a listener. My main issue with Beaumont and Wilkinson is that it’s clear from their reviews that what they dislike is commercial pop music as a whole. They’re not disappointed in these records, they’re angry that they even exist. Which is fine for them as music fans, but their bias makes for rubbish journalism. It’s like asking VS Naipul to review Caitlin Moran’s latest. Only less funny.
NME of course has an image to maintain as an alternative to the mainstream, and there’s certainly an argument to be had in favour of raging against the machine and giving voice to an audience that despises unapologetically commercial, middle-of-the-road pop music. But really… Sophie Ellis Bextor and The Feeling? In 2011? Neither artist has had a major hit in years. Their music is easy to avoid and pretty much only aimed at hardcore fans and Radio 2 listeners at this point. I don’t expect any NME reader is likely to find themselves thinking “Christ if I have to hear that new Sophie Ellis-Bextor single that’s currently dominating the airwaves one more time I am going to kill somebody”. They’re not even an easy target, they’re non-participants. They’re the Switzerland of pop. Why even bother to waste bile on them in a pop landscape populated by Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Justin Bieber, Taio Cruz etc?
If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I’d kill to be paid good money to blather about pop music. I do it for free most days. Is it too much to ask that the lucky few journalists who are in receipt of that privilege treat the art of criticism – and the art of pop music for that matter – with the respect it deserves? Though in Mark Beaumont’s case I’d consider offering forgiveness in return for a good, hard, legs akimbo, lubed-to-dripping shag. I suspect that on some level he’d quite enjoy it.