Thursday, February 23, 2012

Have the Brits lost the art of making great songs?

By Emmanuel Legrand

That’s what I asked myself after attending the 2012 BRIT Awards on Feb. 21 at the O2 in London. I could not remember one song that was played there, except for Adele’s (but more about her later).

Coldplay’s opener (‘Charlie Brown’) was blander than their average songs (and it takes some!). It was totally unremarkable, despite the fireworks.

Ed Sheeran’s acoustic song (‘Lego House’) was a winner with the public (and you need some balls to go strip naked in front of 20,000 people), but it was hardly ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. 

And Florence? As Andy Gill quite rightly said in The Independent, she came with her big Machine but forgot to bring a song with her.

And what was that track from Noel Gallagher? It sounded like a pre-Creation demo. Is that the best he can do? (He also looked like he’d been happier working on an assembly line than on the Brits’ stage…)

No need to even mention two alumni from the School of Simon Cowell, Olly Murs (who performed some indigent song) and One Direction (who, luckily, did not perform, but did get a lot of exposure).

That said, the international acts present at the O2 (fantastic venue by the way) did not raise the bar either. All I remember from Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ extravaganza was the Eurodance beats and the pumped up synth chorus, but was it a song? (BTW, it was composed by a Brit, Calvin Harris)

And Bruno Mars charmingly sang a sub-Marvin Gaye track (‘Just The Way You Are’) – and all we could talk about afterwards was his nice smile and his hairdo.

It took Blur to come on stage to show that you could have great songs with substance and some kind of rock’n roll attitude too. But these songs were about 15 to 20 years old!!! It was also a reminder that the combination singer/guitarist has produced some of the most amazing songwriting partnerships in the UK (think Jagger/Richards, Plant/Page, Morrissey/Marr, Anderson/Butler, Albarn/Coxon, to name but a few).

Which brings us back to Adele. I make no bones that I do not like her music. It leaves me cold, and that’s been the case since her debut ‘19’. But I can see why it works: she has a good voice, she is true to herself, and she has…SONGS! You know, these little gems that contain an intro, a verse, a chorus, a verse, a bridge, etc. Her music is not over-produced so you can really hear the songs behind the instrumentation. And her songs stick to mind. Eureka!

One can argue that the BRIT Awards are just a snapshot of the year that went by, but they are also a reflection of what “worked” in the commercial environment (the BRITs experienced their best TV audience since 2005, so something must have been working for the viewers).

Maybe it was a weak year, maybe it was a sign of the times where a good hook and production values are more important that the overall structure of a song. Maybe good songs do not matter as much as they used to. Maybe it’s just me being nostalgic.

Nothing beats a good song. And I could not find one to bring home with me the other night.

PS: in his 20-point plan to revamp the BRITs, Independent's Andy Gill suggests to bring Ricky Gervais to host the show. I second that motion! If Gervais is good enough for the up-their-own-arses crowd of actors and film directors, he should be good too for the music biz crowd. And he'd be funny.

[Typed while listening to Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Suck It And See’ (Domino) and Laura Marling’s ‘Night After Night’ (Virgin), two of the grand absentees of the other night.]


  1. You have hit the nail on the head with this post and you are right, most of the tracks die with the braincells - nothing memorable, that people can sing to, dance to (if they want to) and get excited about. There just aren't the songs around that stay the distance. The industry seems to be focusing on celeb music status rather than the music itself. Somewhere out there are bands and solo artists biting at the bit to change things around - its just a case of the 'industry' getting off their backsides and finding them (can't fault Adele's performance, nor Coldplay come to that for professionalism but totally agree NG's didn't hit the mark)

  2. Totally agree EL, my FB comments on Coldplay & Florence said exactly the same thing: no songs, both horrible. Meanwhile Noel should have sung the infinitely better "The Death of You And Me", but then that sounds too much like Oasis' "The Importance of Being Earnest" (only a year or two for the reunion anyway!). And to give Calvin Harrris credit, Rihanna's stomper does exactly what it says on the tin, and I couldn't really fault Bruno Mars - slick, energetic and a catchy song, even if he did nick Billy Joel's title.

    Which leaves us with Adele (I'll take Blur as read), for me the night was really all about "Rolling In The Deep": a triumphant anthem and rare occasion where song, production, arrangement & performance all shine to maximum effect, I can't imagine anybody not being sucked in by those glorious answer-back BV's which really define it. But never mind the Brits and the Grammys, as Adele will certainly be "Rolling in the Ivors" in a couple of months where it really counts - and we both know which is the best awards ceremony by a long mile....

    Btw my vote for a Brits host who would appeal internationally and provide a good level of authority, humour and musical savvy would be Mr. Hugh Laurie.


    David Stark,
    SongLink Int'l

  3. The current dire state (not Strait!) of lack of songs (no need to go as far as ‘good songs’) is a direct result of A & R Departments for years thinking they are the only arbitrates of talent and in the process ‘pallying’ up to independent producers who have placed themselves as a buffer between artists and labels. They’ve lost their ‘ears’ and become little more than venture capitalists.
    The importance of the ‘independent producer’ (once an in-house, salaried position like Sir George Martin) has prevailed to the point where a good producer (and there are many) works to make a mediocre song into a hit – and claim production accolades in the process!
    Yes, good production can turn a fair song into a Hit song – but it will never make it MEMORABLE!
    Good A. & R. men do what their historic name suggests – Artistes and Repertoire. They listen to bare songs and match them with good artists. Others – often contractually hamstrung - just listen to the best of what their artist has written or the end product of a production house. Result: marketing budgets are spent on keeping the established name up there with mediocre songs.
    The onslaught of legal ‘download’ should have welcomed back the era of good songs. Even the return of Top of The Pops or a similar single-sales-based chart TV programme!
    It presented the opportunity to say goodbye to ‘filler album tracks’ as only good tracks would be downloaded. I dreamt of a future of albums like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters,’ ‘Best of the Eagles’ or ‘Thriller’ – all of which were packed with MEMORABLE hit songs. Instead we’re recipients of tracks that ‘must be released because we’ve spent money on it’ and ‘because we’ve got a commitment’ (to the label / producer / artist).
    The industry is in a state of flux – but rather than flummox in the unknown, why not look back at what made the music industry great? Let’s return to the adage: A hit song, is a hit song, is a hit song! That doesn’t limit any type or genre of music, or progress – just re-focuses on building from strong foundations.

  4. You only have to trawl the live music scene here in Yorkshire to see the wealth of British musical talent that's on offer. The tricky thing is being heard above the masses and being given the opportunities to prove your worth to a mainstream audience.

    Its no wonder that festivals have sprung up all over the UK in the last few years. You can't beat a cracking live performance. Thanks to BBC Introducing, young bands are being encouraged, but to steer a real change in the perception of the quality of today's British music, it would be nice to obliterate the marketing hype around lesser talented musicians, and swap the repetitive mediocrity of the playlists on daytime radio with regular BBC Introducing type sessions that trawl unsigned talent from around the UK. Real music lovers find great music on channels such as YouTube or even iTunes and at live gigs where unsigned acts support and play to receptive audiences. Surely we need to embrace this and hear for more original, audience-led playlists on the radio?

    For example, here's a couple of really catchy hit songs by some excellent young live performers. They wouldn't be out of place on Radio 1 but who will give them the oportunity? (Pony and Trap) (Crafters)


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