Saturday, 20 February 2016

What on Earth Has Happened to "The New Musical Express"?

I used to read the NME religiously. Music was my groove and the NME its Bible-cum-DJ. As an opinion setter and source of new artists to try out it was second only to the late John Peel's radio show (albeit a rather distant second). More than that it was an entertaining read, with the likes of the two Dannys Baker & Kelly wondrously themed 7" single review page (the theme was always bathed in snark), or the from the underground authority of Charles Shaar-Murray & Nick Kent, the snotty teenage brat reporters on punk Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill, and the post-modernist musings of Paul Morley. I suppose the last time I read it was around 1990 and the 'Madchester' scene. It's intellectual weight might be judged by the fact after my second year exams at university, I went into the library and asked for 4 years worth of NME back copies for some research. The librarians complied without a bat of an eye and I spent a week researching everything on Joy Division in the four years of their existence, following their emergence and demise in real time as it was reported weekly by the press. I wrote my second ever stage play on the back of this research and it was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1985.

I also once applied for a job at the magazine. They wanted a subeditor and the application was a CV and some photos of our choice which we had to caption 'in the house style'; to wit, snarkily. I was called in to meet the editor who appreciated my captions but my complete lack of any subediting skills or experience regretfully meant he couldn't offer me a job.

26 years later and I've called a mini-cab to transport me and family weekly shopping from the supermarket and I've nothing to read to kill the wait time. My supermarket is giving out free copies of the NME so I grab one. The fact that a supermarket has free NMEs by the exit doors should have been an indication in itself. 48 pages, 1 contents page, 20 pages of adverts. 4 pages of TV and film against 2 pages of new album reviews and 1 page of single reviews. Then there are only 6 pages devoted to music artist features, of which 1 is wholly taken up with the photo of Kanye West, this is a bit poor. The magazine is what I would describe as thin on music. The writing is bromidic, much of the Kanye piece is done as a photo journal. The only worthwhile music piece is an analysis of Beyonce's new video for its political messaging. But this is Beyonce for flip sakes, hardly cutting edge.

In the early pages there's comedian Katherine Ryan having a page long commentary piece which I can only assume is a regular feature. Now I love Katherine Ryan, cos she's hard hitting and funny in her comedy. Plus I once passed her coming out of my local bus station with her kid, so she rates as a local celebrity, but not one who is too big not to use the buses. Anyway, here Ryan is talking about Piers Morgan and Susan Sarandon, neither of whom I'm aware of having a new album out. I just can't quite see what the column is doing here and it's perhaps significant that it comes before any of the few pieces on musicians.Then I look back on the front cover and see there's a yellow circle proudly boasting "Music, Film, Style". Now the NME of old didn't restrict itself to just music and got involved in politics quite openly. But style was in passing, not the surface gloss and lifestyle its contemporary incarnation is presenting. Bereft of any cultural context, merely playing to hoped for popularity.

Yes we know it's a hard time for music and that print journalism is on its knees (RIP The print edition of "The Independent" newspaper announced this week). But NME I'm afraid you have become a pale shadow of your august forefathers and I'm afraid, utterly pointless.


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3 comments:

Hawksword said...

When I was a children's librarian the lads used to hide behind NME in the teen library reading sex ed books...

Sulci Collective said...

would have been the other way round with me, hiding the NME between the covers of a sex book!

Katherine Hajer said...

We live in a world where some ninny from Stratford freaking Ontario gets called "actually kinda cool" by a major British magazine. And that's after he's been arrested multiple times, basically for being a douchebag.

[Smacks self in head multiple times, trying trying trying to wake up]