Sunday, 20 June 2010

“Elsewhere, limp acoustic effort Timothy Where You Been, featuring Jet, answers the question nobody asked: just what has Timbaland been up to since the first Shock Value?”

On the way to Llandudno today and Justin Timberlake slipped into the car stereo. (And The Best of Swing 95', but that's for another day) Yeah, Justin Timberlake and Timbo, you remember: 2006, FutureSexLoveSounds. The last time England played embarrassingly badly at a major world football tournament you may recall, and the last time I was excited about Tim, currently mulching out radio stations the nation over with JT (Not John Terry, the other one) on 2010's strictly auto-piloted 'Carry Out'.
Now, contrary to Mike Diver at the BBC, I seriously doubt I'm the first one asking this, but what the hell happened to ol' Timbaland? Back in '06, when the still relatively new 'blogosphere' was alive with rockist/popist accusatory tit for tats, and the sound of the charts was smudged thickly with the rank stain of MOR Indie, the Popist corner clung to Tim like hopeful eyeliner smeared street urchins, a good decade of subversive, envelope pushing pop having reached a critical nexus. Then came 'My Love', the woozy, half speed, rave inflected love song which hit the critical/commercial G spot no end.
Now, (and I know this is probably more overworked blog matter but I'm new to this so give me a chance. Next week I'll be bored of it... Back to 'The Hills' on MTV) at some stage I was thinking about writing a post regarding Japan who, after much oohing and aahing I am finally getting into, and I was thinking this: There will always be a flow of music somewhere. It flows and moves and mutates and develops at various different speeds, and it stagnates and it collects in little pools here and there. Some new developments, people -or media- may be resistant or ignorant to for a while, but there will always be (we hope) 'good' music with forward movement as its criteria. Regardless, for me, and for the Popists to some extent, the most exciting junctures are those in which you can feel new ideas connect with a wider audience, those little sparks of frisson where something breaks through, when you read journos recalling seeing Morrissey or David Sylvian for the first time, (usually on TOTP eh?) or secreting upon the clandestine world of Acid House. In 1982, the Japan single Ghosts, a beatless, wheezing, electronic poem of brooding unease and tension, with garbled reports from some sinister mainframe system chirruping throughout, made number 5 on the UK chart. How un-nerving and exciting it must have been to see criteria for Pop lurch so suddenly this way. That era though of course, seems so ripe with lurching; a constant movement of ideas and one-upmanship programmed in by the Year Zero of the Punk years and the flowering of outsider-ism into Pop via new media. (King Reynolds covered all that pretty comprehensively, so he did. ) Now, Timbo is no New Waver, his DNA is strictly different from the chatty maelstrom of early 80’s British PostPunkPop, but he could send similar dimples of idiosyncratic excitement rippling across the heart of the mainstream, converting influences into new, un-categorisable forms.

Popular music, or charting music, can, of course, be made up of genre specific music, Garage, HipHop, kind-of-Indie-without-the-Indie for instance, but it is at its most successful when genreless; an empty vessel transporting and transforming ideas. People, possibly because of over-familiarity, can quite easily forget that 'Thriller' for example, moved beyond its distant constituent parts of Disco, Soul, Rock, before it docked tranluscently as Pop Masterpiece No.1. It is the same with the most famous Beatles songs. What are they exactly? What is Penny Lane? Or Eleanor Rigby? Well they're Pop music now whatever that is. They have defined Pop music those Beatles songs, and yet they are hard to categorise. (Moreon that here:

It seems now however, that everybody has worked out what Pop music is. American Idol/X factor knows what a Pop star looks and sounds like, and that is the criteria on which the contestants progress. "Well, you look like a Pop star, a Morrisette/Aguilera/Beyonce, so I can imagine you as a Pop star..."

Japan's Ghosts didn't become a Pop template by any measure. There wasn't a flood of beatless, wheezing, electronic poems in the charts, and the British youth of 82 moved on to Duran Duran or whatever, but what Timbalans was doing 5 years ago kind of has become a template. Pop music now sounds like an equation or formula, a meeting point of one part House, one part Electro or grade 2 SynthPop/Electroclash, one part HipHop/ R+B; that same 80's handclap swing, the same synthetic sounds for everybody, from Justin Bieber, to Katy Perry, to Aguilera, to Gaga. Just add water. Oh, and two parts Timbo.

Because, ever since he moved in those synths with hiccupping rhythm chassis as part of the Pop furniture, Timbos default settings have been subsumed into the new, but crucially, format formulaic Pop mix. His synths opened it up for Diddy and his Ibiza years, for Gaga and her SynthPop/Electroclash shout outs, for everyone to co-adopt this bastard child and become a Pop Star. And now he's a Pop Star too; and loving every minute judging by that terrible, phoned in Katy Perry abomination in which he smugs it up through every second of the 'in-search-of-a-idea-fuck-it-film-it-in-a-club' video. Thanks to Tim, the new Pop sound is finally a curious, genreless mix, but it is not the thrilling beast of 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Thriller', 'Ghosts' or 'My Love', it's a kind of sugary muesli for the ears, with a large scoop of syncopated synth mix from the scoop-and-save Timbo barrel. That’s not entirely all his fault of course, Pop music will always pool into stagnant tropes regardless of constituent parts, and regardless of Tim’s popularity/ backing-dancer shagging ratio. There are far too many Simon Cowellites in the biz waiting to sell you something you’ve already heard as an apparently failsafe commercial plan, from somebody that already looked/sounded like a Pop Star from the ritual of audition; Singing ‘Try Again’ to a panel who have failed to understand (despite their supposed credentials, and unlike Gaga to her credit) that all great Pop Stars come from a lineage of freakish, outsider-ism, not from the bottle.

Still, keep smiling Tim, and crank it out. You deserve it son. Timbaland sausages coming soon.

1 comment:

  1. Great, great blog. Inspired me to start my own.