Listening to 'Fireflies' is like wandering through a magical petting zoo made of ambient sound. It's like your higher functions have been handed a glass of warm milk and tucked under a fuzzy blanket. It goes 'plinkety'. People downloaded it in their millions; it soared to the top of the charts in a happy haze of shiny beetleish bleeping, and stayed there for five weeks, and the only thing that managed to topple it from the number one slot was a bunch of dreary, anodine pop stars covering a dreary, anodine REM song in an effort to raise money for a high-profile humanitarian disaster that everyone had seen on the telly. Modern music is a big bag of candies: sweet, addictive and cloying, failing to nourish even as it congeals into a homogenised mass of sugar.
This season's fashion is another huge sleepy faceful of candyfloss. Sugary pastel colours, drapey sportswear, flowing, 'feminine' shapes, curves and softness everywhere, except on the models themselves - if Paris, New York and London fashion week are anything to go by, the brief trend for 'plus size' (size 10) models hasn't lasted the winter. Ruffles, flounces, florals and 'fairytale' styling were all over the catwalks, trends which will soon be filtering down to the high-street; the look is sugar-sweet and high femme, with advertising spreads already begging us to buy branded blush and lipsticks in a variety of candy colours. The escapism was overpowering. Unfortunately, the tragic suicide of designer Alexander McQueen right in the middle of Fashion Week, at the height of his career, belied the sickly fairytale logic of the shows: real life, even for the young and stunningly creative, has few happy endings.
Last weekend I went to see The Indelicates, one of the last real angry, clever, poetic bands, launch their new material. The upcoming album, 'Songs for Swinging Lovers,' is a white-hot work of nihilistic lyrical brilliance with its dark, dank roots in 90s grunge and Weimar cabaret. Be Afraid of Your Parents is a glorious parade of paranoid cadences, whilst Flesh is a jangling, brutal critique of contemporary pseudo-feminism: Hey doc, can you take my skin and melt it into plastic? Beauty isn’t truth, it’s just youth, and it’s adaptive, and it’s elastic. There is no place for this type of songwriting in modern culture, because there is no place for grim, searing originality in modern culture. Anyone who tries to give the lie to bland sex and plastic romance is probably doomed to commercial failure.
There’s a part of me that doesn't want fire and rebellion and words and images that terrify and energise, that doesn’t want culture to be an acid-etched reflection of a nightmare future. I want the fairytale. I want sweeties, fluffy pastel frocks and pretty, vapid songs to lull me to a sleep full of fireflies and starshine. And that frightens me more than I care to admit. When the world is grey and uncaring, it’s far too easy to find oneself complicit in the chilling, soporific impulse that's slowly strangling contemporary creativity.
[written for Morning Star, 21.02.10]