Sunday 17 December 2006

if we can destroy them, you bet your life we will destroy them...

It looks as though "Eyes Wide Open" by Snow Patrol is going to be the biggest selling album in the UK in 2006. Now this is an album that I really like. I'll admit that it took a little while to grow on me; when I first heard the lead-off single, "You're All I Have", I thought it was a bit insipid and seemed to confirm my impression that "Final Straw" was going to be impossible for the band to top. Well, I was wrong. I saw them play a charity gig at Rock City in July and they just knocked my socks off. It is the only gig I have reviewed on these pages that has received a maximum 10/10 review, but it really was the best concert I have been to in a long, long time. When I heard them live, the songs from the new album seemed to take on a new life for me, with the obvious standout track being "Chasing Cars", which had an impact on the whole audience that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It's a gorgeous song.

And yet why am I not surprised to see the knives out in the press?

Here's Miranda Sawyer in Observer Music Monthly last week:

"In 2006, Snow Patrol's Eyes Open was the biggest-selling LP in the UK. Don't blame me, I didn't buy it either".

I hate the smugness implicit in that statement: our Miranda wouldn't do anything so vulgar as buy the most popular album in the UK, and she's pretty sure that neither would the discerning readers of that illustrious music supplement.

Here's Kitty Empire in today's Observer Review:

"In late November Eyes Open overtook Arctic Monkeys and became the biggest selling album of 2006 in the UK. Phew: for a while there it was looking like a great record brimming with wit, vigour and originality might actually scoop the top sales prize. Thankfully, good sense has prevailed. Britain can pat itself on the back, having embraced an album with all the texture and edge of a security blanket doused with fabric softener. The commercial honours of the last few years - Blunt, Keane, Dido, even the distinctly classier Coldplay - tell a sorry tale. We see bands as things with which to wipe our tears, where once they were, properly, rabble-rousers, Pied Pipers and volatile party kindling."

Cobblers. This is snobbery, pure and simple. Why is it that there is nothing that the music snob hates more than success? Empire mentions Keane, and they're a good example of this trend. When they were a new band just starting out, they were THE NEXT BIG THING. "Somewhere Only We Know" was single of the week in the NME, of all places. They were hot. And then they were the current big thing, and suddenly no one (apart from the millions of people who bought their album, obviously) wanted to know. How many easy jokes about Keane have you read this year? Keane are laughed at because they are successful and because we music snobs are a little bit embarrassed that we own "Hopes and Fears", because everyone else likes them too. Well, it's bullshit, isn't it? I don't think all that much of "Under the Iron Sea", and I do find them a little bit dull, but they are still head and shoulders above most of the other shit that got released this year. Anyway, weren't the Scissor Sisters the best selling album of 2004, not Keane? Now there's a band that doesn't fit Kitty Empire's mould, what with being almost the polar opposite of Keane and all that....

And anyway, what's this crap about the Arctic Monkeys? They are a breath of fresh air into the charts, it's true.... but is that really a great album? No. It's absolutely not. Give me Snow Patrol any time.

It's okay not to like people like Snow Patrol, Keane, James Blunt and all of that... of course it is... but it's also okay to like a band that becomes unfashionably successful too.


London was great. Busy, yes.... but we managed to fight our way through the crowds to pick up a few presents. We also had a nice meal, stayed in a nice room in a pleasant hotel and we picked up a whole pile of interesting cheeses for the Christmas dinner table from the Neil's Yard Dairy.

The Velázquez exhibition at the National Gallery itself was amazing.

There are four large-ish rooms of paintings assembled from all over the world, ranging from paintings the artist did from the age of 16 all the way through to his last portraits of Philip IV when he was in his sixties. All lined up together, you really get a fantastic opportunity to watch how one of the great masters developed his style.

It's also much more than just a series of portraits of rheumy-eyed, big chinned Hapsburgs...

... although there are a few of those too.

It's on until January, so you've got some time to get yourself over to see it. Highly recommended.


  1. I'm no big fan of Snow Patrol, but I wouldn't put them in the same septic tank as Blunt, Keane, Dido and Coldplay. NB. I do not own Hopes and Fears.

  2. Thanks for writing this, ST. While I'll admit that I am guilty of sometimes going off a band I previously liked when they become too popular, I agree that it is entirely snobbish. And I heartily agree with your defense of Snow Patrol. I'm proud to have been the one to introduce most of my friends to them, before their music hit the airwaves here in Wisco.

  3. I'm like Jenni. It's everywhere now, but I get a secret pride that I knew them before their music popped up in every commercial for every movie. I'm not at all tired of them yet and I'm grateful to you, ST, for introducing me to Snow Patrol.

  4. I'm not a big fan of that whole Snow Patrol, Keane type of thing as you know.

    I'm sure it really is a great album if you like that sort of thing but I can see where the Observer is coming from; it has all been done before many, many times before. Most years the biggest selling album does seem to be 'coffee table music' rather than something to bounce around and get sweaty to. It would be nice one year if something different won for once.

  5. As you know, I loathe Keane with a passion. Snow Patrol I can take or leave. I have very fond memories of them playing here six years back and being fantastic, but I now find them a little bland. In fact, I have consigned them to "guilty pleasures" listening!

  6. ST, your (excellent) point seems to have gone entirely unnoticed in the comments above.


    Stef, the biggest selling album of the year is not a "winner". Why does it matter that something you might like tops the sales charts? If you like it, it oughtn't to make a blind bit of difference whether it sells 1.3 gazillion copies or just the one you buy.

    As ST correctly says, last years biggest selling album was the Scissor Sisters? "Coffee table music"? really? And what on *earth* does "coffee table music" mean? I have never listened to Keane whilst sitting on or around a coffee table of any description. I have listened to Keane play that when I have been bouncing around getting hot and sweaty, though.

    dear oh dear.

  7. Scissor Sisters were the best selling album in the UK in 2004. James Blunt was 2005.

    2003. Dido - Life for Rent
    2002. Robbie Williams - Escapology
    2001. Dido - No Angel
    2000. The Beatles - One
    1999. Shania Twain - come on over
    1998. The Corrs - Talk on Corners
    1997. Oasis - Be Here Now
    1996. Alanis Morrissette - Jagged Little Pill.

    But what does it actually mean? Nothing. Does it guarantee it's a great record? Of course not. Does it guarantee it will be shit? No.

    Of the albums mentioned above, I think I own six. Apart from Oasis, I could listen to any of the other 5 albums today. They're perfectly decent albums. They're perhaps not cool albums, but since when has that been the most important thing?

    And don't get me started on James Blunt either. He may not be the next Jeff Buckley (who in my opinion is hideously overrated anyway), but he surely does not deserve the amount of bile that has been poured on him in the last twelve months by "serious" music fans. I saw him live this year, and much though I wanted to hate it and was a touch embarrassed to be there, he was actually pretty good. The crowd reaction to "You're Beautiful" was amazing, for starters. I keep that ticket stub in my pocket with all the "cooler" gigs I've been to this year.... it's sort of a reminder to me to never get all "fugazier than thou".


  8. To continue ST's list....

    1986 - Madonna - True Blue
    1987 - Michael Jackson - Bad
    1988 - Kylie Minogue - Kylie
    1989 - Jason Donovan - 10 Good Reasons
    1990 - Phil Collins - But Seriously
    1991 - Simply Red - Stars
    1992 - Simply Red - Stars
    1993 - Meatloaf - Bat Out Of Hell Two
    1994 - Bon Jovi - Crossroads
    1995 - Robson/Jerome - Robson/Jerome

    So whilst not guaranteeing that the best selling album of the year will be shit, I think it's a pretty good marker, certainly for the last twenty years. If you go back further, the trend seems to change. I'd not expect much argument from the premise that, say "Parallel Lines" was a great album. But Stars? How far into the future will we have to go to look back and declare that to be a great album. Robson and Jerome.

    Why anyone needs two Dido albums is a mystery to me.

    These are albums that have crossed over from people who listen to music to people who hear music. People who see the album in a supermarket, and pick it up without thinking on the basis of a single song that they like on the radio. I'm not criticsing their taste, personally, or their right to enjoy it, but these sales are a reflection not of interest, but of marketing and radio play. I don't know whether the increasing pop-idolisation of the charts is cause or effect, but it's still not a good thing.

    I saw Blunt last year. He was shit. What does that prove?

  9. it doesn't in itself prove anything. I saw the Raconteurs this year and they were shit too, despite being a whole lot "cooler".

    I feel as though the argument is shifting though. I'm not criticising your taste, Ian, or saying you are wrong (and you are quite right to highlight a few more of the bestselling records - I deliberately stopped at Alanis Morrisette as I knew what was coming up next!). It’s just I don’t like it when people – and I’m not suggesting anyone here is doing this - have a pop at someone for no other reason than that they have become popular. For some people it’s as if it’s a personal insult when they start to hear a band they may once have liked playing through the in-house stereo system in Asda. If you think James Blunt is crap because his songs are one-dimensional, his singing voice is a horrible whine and there are hundreds of better examples of singer/songwriters out there – fine. If you just think he’s crap because he’s ubiquitous (or he was last year, anyway) and because your nan quite likes him, then that’s not good enough.

    It's an interesting point you make too about people 'hearing' music and people 'listening' to music. I know exactly what you mean, and you are careful to avoid directly suggesting that one is ‘better’ than the other… but we’re edging into territory I’m uncomfortable with. One opinion – however well informed it thinks it is– is not inherently worth more than any other.


  10. "an album with all the texture and edge of a security blanket doused with fabric softener" - not heard it, though I did have the misfortune to hear 'Chasing Cars' for the very first time on Saturday and if the rest of the album is like that, then Kitty Empire is spot on.

    Of course you're right that it's music snobbery of the most blatant and unjustifiable kind to turn against a band simply because they've achieved popular success - but the truth is that when that success comes, bands very often lose their edge (or at least whatever made them interesting in the first place) and become self-indulgent or self-parodying.

    If it's a choice between agreeing that there are some very good albums in that list of recent best-sellers or being "fugazier than thou", I'll take the latter cheers...

  11. That’s not your only choice though Ben – it’s perfectly okay to suggest that every single album on that list is a pile of shite! That’s fine, and you can certainly do that without being all ‘fugazier than thou’. Christ… I hope you don’t think I’m endorsing all of them either *shudders*

    Simply Red? No thanks.

    All I’m saying is that being popular doesn’t NECESSARILY make them shit. Actually, I was holding up your argument about James Blunt as being a good example of criticism – you think he’s appalling, but you know why you think he’s appalling and you are able to articulate it.

    As for Snow Patrol, I think you should listen to the album before you jump in to agree with Kitty Empire too quickly. It may be soft, but since when did an album have to have “edge” to make it good? What does that mean anyway? I also think it’s wrong to say that “Eyes Open” doesn’t have any texture. Just because the texture it does have might not be to Kitty Empire’s taste doesn’t mean it has no texture at all. Isn’t ‘soft’ a texture anyway?


  12. I'm sorry, but this brand of music snobbery is one thing that I find unbelievably hard to tolerate. I'm not even going to start a great diatribe on why becuase it firstly, and above all, just makes me angry.

    Ian's this:

    "...So whilst not guaranteeing that the best selling album of the year will be shit, I think it's a pretty good marker...

    is absolute and utter cobblers. You don't own "Hopes and Fears"? Well done. I don't own "Revolver". Do I get a medal as well?

  13. ...and the worst "best-selling" album of the alst 20 or so years, in my opinion?

    The Beatles "1's".

    Must be all that marketing and radio-play that Beatles have had....

  14. You're right, Bargain. It was cobblers. I've reviewed the list of the last 20 years, and concluded that being the best selling album of the year does absolutely irrevocably mean that album is shit.

    Of course One was a triumph of marketing. An album, consisting of exactly no new songs, compiled out of songs that pretty much everyone already owned anyway is the greatest trick the music industry has pulled since "upgrade to CD".

    And for the record, I've always disliked Keane, ever since I first encountered them around the turn of the century. I did find their "is it any wonder" single moderately catchy, but it soon became apparent that was an aberration. It's not because they're popular; it's because they're whiny bedwetters making music designed to be inoffensive.

  15. "It's not because they're popular; it's because they're whiny bedwetters making music designed to be inoffensive"

    Now, now Ian.... that's just naughty.

    ** stands back and waits for the inevitable roar of indignation from the Bargain household **


  16. Ah, I think I like Ian....

  17. you know what? whilst I don't agree with it, at least it forms a marginally more coherent argument for why one might not like Keane rather than just "lots of non music snobs like them".

    which is, I think, the point of ST's original post.

    QED (or something).

    (I dont think Keane deliberately set out to be inoffensive is the one thing I would say. I think it probably just turned out like that. Looking at Ian's top singles of the year, there's nothing terribly offensive on there either, I would suggest...)

  18. Although I'm late here, I agree that Eyes Open is a good album (Not quite up to Final Straw for my money).
    I also agree that Miranda Whatsherface is talking utter tosh.
    I do not agree, however, that the Arctic Monkeys album wasn't great.
    It's utterly fantastic.

    So there.

  19. "One opinion – however well informed it thinks it is– is not inherently worth more than any other. "


    Even despite you declaring some opinions to be 'not good enough' a few comments up, you still persist with this.

    But, yes... the central point of popularity not being an intrinsic reason to either like or dislike something is one I agree with wholeheartedly.

    I write as someone who thinks Madonna's 'True Blue' and Alanis' 'Jagged Little Pill' are the best albums to be mentioned in this discussion by a good way, but still feels that there seems to be a somewhat unfair undercurrant towards Fugazi. I've seen the supposed anti-snobbish snobbishness malign people who mention them (even as a comparison) just as unfairly as the James Blunt fans of this world get picked on. I suspect a few of the people here have too. If y'get'me.

    But, yes, anyway. The central principle of this is one I support.

  20. hehe - sorry Russ. I did write that and wonder if you would read it! It's actually bloody hard to write without slipping a value judgment in though. I should have a little disclaimer on here somewhere saying that every opinion is intrinsically equal, no matter how much it sounds like I think otherwise.

    I suppose my point is that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we are all entitled to disagree with that opinion and to debate it in vigorous terms. It's just that we can never categorically prove that someone is fundamentally wrong in their opinion, no matter how much we believe it to be so.

    I've got nothing against Fugazi either, I just used them on the art of noise once as an illustration of people being willfully obscurist (someone was denying that "Take Me Out" was a great song, saying that Fugazi had done the same thing better). And yes, it probably is a reflection of my ignorance of Fugazi's work and a kind of inverse-snobbery.

    I don't actually think we're as far apart on this as it sounds (and frankly, I may be labouring a philosophical point)


  21. Oh, Swiss Toni. You've no need for such a disclaimer - all it would be is an excuse to keep on banging the drum of all 'opinions sre equal' in theory but then act contrary to it in practice. This is what you're doing anyway! You can beat out the tattoo of relativism for as long as you like, but you say it yourself - the value judgements keep slipping in. I think we aren't at all far apart, no, but (as I've said before) it's more in the way that you only seem to be paying lip-service to the position you're defending.

    And yes, that was the incident I was referring to. I don't think his invocation of Fugazi was as full of artifice as you evidently do, though.

    Peace offering to the ST Place Massive! I have a one-track promo of a Snow Patrol single (I forget which, it didn't exactly stick in the mind) that can be had (if they want it) by the person to make the funniest anagram of any or all of the words Snow Patrol, Keane and James Blunt.

  22. I don't deny that I am as guilty as most people are of presenting my opinion as fact - like I said, it's almost impossible not to, because that's the lens through which I see the world.

    I think perhaps I should shift and re-state my position thus:

    All opinions may not be intrinsically equal, and some may well be better informed than others. The problem is that it is impossible to prove categorically which is which, because to do so, each individual must make a judgment themselves, and true objectivity in that decision is therefore impossible.

    You are making me think about this, which is a very good thing. I will move away from my glib soundbite, but I studied history, and old habits die hard (no such thing as true objectivity, no such thing as a fact and all that).

    On reflection, I also concede the point on the Fugazi incident. I have much the same approach to classical music - I tend to assume that someone is being a smart arse or pretentious, and it's much more a reflection on me than it is on anyone else.

    I'll get my thinking cap on about those anagrams, but really no need for peace offerings - your comment is always welcome here.


  23. ...and whatever you think of someone else's opinion, you can't deny that it's *their* opinion. If someone (for example) says

    "I hate 'How Soon is Now', I think it's a dirge"

    then you may well disagree, but you can't deny that this is what the other person thinks - no matter how wrong you believe they are.

    If they said

    "How Soon is Now is shit"

    I can deny that as an opinion because they are speaking on behalf of everyone, and I know that I disagree because I think it's a good song.

    I know I'm guilty of the former from time to time. I try not to be.


  24. OK heres some anagrams for you:

    james blunt + keane:

    -> junk a semen table
    -> junk as a beetle man
    -> bleak anus jet men

    snow patrol:

    -> no part owls
    -> art slop won

    james blunt:

    -> ant jumbles



  25. Ah, good good. This'll do me, I think.

    "All opinions may not be intrinsically equal, and some may well be better informed than others. The problem is that it is impossible to prove categorically which is which, because to do so, each individual must make a judgment themselves, and true objectivity in that decision is therefore impossible."

    That's fine by me. I'm not claiming to prove anything - I always think that going over the top in voicing relativistic ideas is pointless since they're so entirely obvious. I think the next man's opinions are crap, he thinks mine are even more so etc. Only a git would claim to have proved it, but there's enough shared perspective amongst 'most' people to certainly distinguish between the two extremes of "outright stupidity" and "a nifty idea" even if the shades of grey in the middle aren't quite so easy.

    As such, I'm more than happy to say that deciding you suddenly dislike something purely because it has become popular is a pretty cretinous mode of thought.


    "Bleak anus jet men." That's a very disturbing image, 'Tone.

  26. disturbing and yet also strangely apt?

  27. Possibly.

    Do you want this CD, then? It's nothing exciting, just the one track (it's "You're All I Have," upon examination. Send me an address and I'll stick in the post, if you can be bothered.