Pop

‘Netflix are incredibly conservative’: documentary-maker Nick Broomfield interviewed

A documentary by Nick Broomfield is always to some extent about Nick Broomfield. He has cultivated an image as a gonzo filmmaker, striding into shot holding a boom microphone, headphones clamped over his ears, and in the politest possible way provoking chaos. ‘Unfortunately it comes very easily to me, to be slightly out of control,’ he confesses. His previous adventures have included getting on the prickly side of South African white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche, striking up a strange rapport with the convicted serial killer Aileen Wuornos on death row in Florida, claiming to have worked out who killed the titular gangsta rappers in Biggie & Tupac, and provoking a firestorm

Heartfelt but bland: Ed Sheeran’s – (Subtract) reviewed

Whether by accident or design, the mathematical theme of Ed Sheeran’s previous album titles (+, ×, ÷ and = respectively) resolves rather neatly with – (Subtract). I interviewed Sheeran around the time of × and found him likeable enough but a bit out of reach. Multiplication did indeed seem to be foremost on his mind. Perched on the edge of a bed in a room above RAK studios in central London, he came across as a man obsessed with sales figures and chart placings, a coolly pragmatic mix of talent and ambition. (You don’t think Sheeran is talented? I watched him entertain 60,000 people in a football stadium for two

Tenderness and menace: Bob Dylan, at the London Palladium, reviewed

Bob Dylan has always toyed with audiences. He plays what he wants, how he wants, letting his mood dictate tempo and often key (sometimes switching songs to the minor). On Dylan’s return to London for the first time in five years, he summed it up early. ‘I ain’t no false prophet/ I just know what I know,’ he gruffly sang. Dylan spent the night at the Palladium doing what he knows best, singing songs of love, loss and immortality. Covid temporarily ended his ‘Never-Ending Tour’, which had seen Dylan play more than 3,000 shows since 1988. Now it’s billed as ‘The Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour’, with the strapline: ‘Things

Compellingly personal arena experience: Bon Iver, at Ovo Hydro, reviewed

A reliable metric for measuring pop success is hard to find these days, as Michael Hann noted in these pages recently. Massaged figures for sales and streams are so opaque as to be almost meaningless. The charts are old news; social media reach wildly distorting. Bon Iver have won Grammys and released platinum-selling albums, but that was a decade ago. Such accolades feel oddly old–fashioned now. Perhaps the most assured barometer is the traditional one of bums on seats – by which gauge Bon Iver appear to be doing just fine. Yes, they are a band lacking any semblance of a song your postman could whistle. And yes, they are

We should take Robbie Williams more seriously

Oh, nostalgia – so much better than it used to be! You’d never have guessed pop music was once the preserve of teenagers had you been visiting the Greenwich peninsula last week – not from the crowds, or from the artists. Here were Roxy Music, whose four core members boast a combined age of 295, playing what might be their last ever show. Here were the Tops and the Temps, bands each with just one original member left – 86-year-old Duke Fakir of the Tops, 80-year-old Otis Williams of the Temps. And here was the absolute youngster of the lot, Robbie Williams, a stripling of 48, but 32 years into

The death of the pop star

The definition of ‘pop star’ in the Collins English Dictionary is unambiguous: ‘A famous singer or musician who performs pop music.’ Well, that seems fairly self-explanatory, doesn’t it? It also seems way wide of the mark, because being a pop star (or a rock star, its longer-haired cousin) encompasses a great deal more than being famous for singing pop songs. As Nik Cohn wrote, describing the first flush of idols of the rock’n’roll age, they were ‘maniacs, wild men with pianos and guitars who would have been laughing stocks in any earlier generation… They were energetic, basic, outrageous. They were huge personalities and they used music like a battering ram.’

Incredibly his new songs were the best songs: Lindsey Buckingham, at the London Palladium, reviewed

Lindsey Buckingham, at 72, still has cheekbones that cast shadows. He has the upright shock of hair, too, though now it makes him look less like the kohl-eyed pop god of 1980 and more like Malcolm Gladwell’s cooler, angrier brother. He still has fire, too. A couple of solo renditions of Fleetwood Mac songs won the crowd over, but it was the following run of three numbers from his newest album, played with his three-piece band, that put the spark to the show. It proved he’s not yet a heritage act. He had no choice, really, but to forge ahead. In 2018, he was booted out of Fleetwood Mac, for

Simple songs; voice like the grand canyon: George Ezra, at OVO Hydra, reviewed

It would be easy to be a little dismissive of George Ezra. A wholesome late twentysomething hailing from the rock and roll badlands of Hertfordshire, Ezra is the kind of pop star you could happily take home to meet your grandparents. A graduate of the British and Irish Modern Music Institute, good-looking in that long, toothy Prince William way, he seems to be laboratory designed not to offend or challenge even the most prickly sensibilities. His music is harder to pin down. With its repeated calls and refrains, it blends folk, pop, soul, blues and calypso styles into an uncomplicated feelgood mix that is both old-fashioned and summer-fresh. The melodies

Holds out huge promise for future seasons: If Opera’s La Rondine reviewed

One swallow might not make a summer, but it certainly helps rounds the season off. ‘Perhaps, like the swallow, you will migrate towards a bright land, towards love,’ sings the poet Prunier to Magda, the heroine of La Rondine, but love itself is the real bird of passage in Puccini’s gorgeous Viennese operetta-manqué. Magda trades in her old lover for a younger, cuter model and after a summer of happiness leaves him too, without undue regret. That’s basically it. No death leaps from battlements, no ritual disembowelling; none of that stuff that we’re meant to find so regressive and problematic in an opera house, and so visceral and cool in

Confounding and fantastic: 100 Gecs, at O2 Forum Kentish Town, reviewed

Let me introduce you to the two poles in pop and rock. One is marked by authenticity, musicianship, a certain traditionalism. This is the pole that in critics’ discourse is called ‘rockism’ – the assumption that rock (or, at least, real people playing real instruments) is the normative state of music. The other is artificiality, brashness, a disdain for heritage – a celebration of everything that is inauthentic, where a good idea is worth 100 guitar lessons. And that pole is known as ‘poptimism’. Poptimism is why you end up with learned essays in the New Yorker analysing the singer Ariana Grande nicking a doughnut from a shop with reference

The new master of the American Whine: Ezra Furman, at Edinburgh Festival, reviewed

The American Whine is one of the key vocal registers in rock and roll. You can trace that thin disaffected quaver through the decades from the Shangri-Las to Lou Reed, from Jonathan Richman to Neil Young. Inveigling, needy, smart-assed, it’s as vital a part of the DNA of the medium as a black leather jacket and a souped-up Chevrolet. Ezra Furman, I’m pleased to report, is in possession of a vintage whine. Furman is a Jewish transgender woman who composes with compassion, wit, empathy and anger from those particular personal viewpoints. She wrote the soundtrack to Netflix blockbuster Sex Education and has just released an eloquent sixth solo album, All

Full of unexpected delights: Green Man Festival reviewed

One learns the strangest things at festivals. That, for instance, this summer has been a bit of a blackcurrant disaster in the UK because the extreme heat caused all the different varieties to ripen at the same time and fall from the bushes before they could be properly harvested. That fact came from a retired Kentish farmer called Ian, next to whom we were sitting at a £65-a-head dinner at this year’s Green Man, just outside Crickhowell in Wales. That alone should spell the difference between Green Man and the scene depicted in the Netflix series Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99. No one here was getting mouth ulcers because the drinking water

Sensational: Herbie Hancock, at the Edinburgh Festival, reviewed

‘Human beings are in trouble these days,’ says Herbie Hancock, chatting to us between songs. ‘And do you know who can fix it?’ ‘Herbie!’ comes the instant reply, shouted from somewhere in the stalls. Hancock might be a jazz legend, but he’s not quite the Saviour. Kicking off this year’s excellent contemporary music programme at the Edinburgh International Festival, he’s a hit from the moment he strolls into view. In his long black frockcoat, Hancock has come tonight as the High Priest of Cool. When he straps on a keytar, he’s a funky gunslinger. When one of his outstanding trio takes a particularly inventive solo, he cracks up with undisguised

A magnificent farewell: Stornoway, at Womad Festival, reviewed

The greatest pleasure of writing about pop music – even more than the free tickets and records, nice as they are – is seeing some tiny, as yet unnoticed act and being dazzled by them, then taking every chance you can to wang on about them until other people start to feel the same. Music writers tend not to have many opportunities to do something good – alas, Nick Kent did not expose the thalidomide scandal; it wasn’t Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs who got to the bottom of Watergate – but it’s truly gratifying when a band you have championed rises from the toilet circuit, even if they never

She’s pop’s Damien Hirst: Beyoncé’s Renaissance reviewed

You feel a little sorry for Renaissance, the first solo album by Beyoncé in more than six years. It just wants to dance, but will anybody let it? Such are the claims made for the singer as a cultural figure – superwoman, warrior queen, saviour of Black America – that everything she does carries a weight of expectation which would crush granite, let alone a pop record. The songs on her last album, Lemonade, released in 2016, spun out from the infidelity of her husband, Jay-Z, linking a personal breach of trust to fissures in her family history and racial divides in the United States, past and present. It was

In defence of country-pop

I am aware that the music I enjoy is widely considered to be the worst ever produced in human history. Worse than a roomful of children with recorders, cymbals and malice; worse than a poultry abattoir. Every so often, someone will ask me what I listen to, and I’m forced to tell them the truth. ‘These days,’ I’ll say, ‘it’s mostly country.’ Their nose will wrinkle, as if I’ve just let out a stealthy fart in their direction. ‘But old country, right?’ they’ll say, almost pleading. ‘Classic country?’ No, not classic country. I like Johnny Cash fine, I appreciate Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings and all the

Rod Liddle

As good, and inventive, as modern rock music gets: Black Midi’s Hellfire reviewed

Grade: A+ The difficult question with Black Midi was always: are you listening to them in order to admire them, or because you actually enjoy the music they make? By which I mean when you’ve finished listening to them is it a sense of admiration which lingers in the mind, or are you captivated by one or another of their songs? Previously it has tended to be the former – and there is an awful lot to admire. If you add superlative musicianship to a certain witty and anarchic imagination, you end up with this rather deranged, occasionally irritating, millennial mash-up of styles, where jazz fusion meets post-punk, James Brown,

Only traces of their eerie early spirit remain: Kings of Leon, at OVO Hydro, reviewed

A few years ago, I spoke to Mick Jagger and asked him which of the (relatively) new crop of rock groups he rated. It was a short list, I recall, and not hugely inspiring, but Kings of Leon made the cut. ‘They have a kind of Texas weirdness that you don’t find in a lot of modern rock bands,’ he reckoned. ‘I like their quirkiness, and the fact that you can hear the countryish and blues thing behind them, but it’s not that obvious.’ Aside from the fact that they are from Tennessee, not Texas, it felt like a reasonably astute summation of Kings of Leon’s appeal when they first

The subtleties of her songbook were lost in this enormodome: Diana Ross at the O2 reviewed

When Motown first packaged up a roster of artists and songs that could be embraced by a non-black audience, no new act – not Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye or Little Stevie Wonder or Martha and the Vandellas or the Temptations – crossed over into the bosom of Middle America as easefully as the Supremes. Or Diana Ross and the Supremes, as with many internal ructions they were later rebranded, Ross being the one with shimmering star quality who stood in the middle and sang the lead. They were signed to Motown 60 years ago and given songs by Holland-Dozier-Holland to sell in floor-length gowns. Those songs have seeped into

Glastonbury has become a singalong event for OAPs

‘Well, it’s just not Glastonbury, is it?’ said my daughter aggressively, when told that our yurt featured an actual bed, wardrobe with hangers and electric points, and hot showers just around the corner. Our excuse was this was my and my partner’s first Glastonbury and we had a combined age of 125. ‘Anyway, why are you there?’ she said. ‘These are not your people, these are my people.’ Not from what I could see. With headliners such as Diana Ross, the Pet Shop Boys and Sir Paul McCartney, Glastonbury today is more a singalong event for people born in the 1950s (my husband) or 1960s (me) than anyone within shouting