Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kingdom of the Bland

Oh Jesus shitting Christ, Classic FM are at it again. Not content with encouraging awful, awful acts like G4, Bleak, and The Divs to sing REM and Queen in a horrible cod-operatic warble, sometimes in Italian, as if that offered any insight into anything at all, now they're encouraging artists such as Emma Johnson and Julian Lloyd Webber to sully the air with instrumental "classical" arrangements of pop songs, which will apparently reveal some inner genius we weren't aware of already. This is apparently a reflection of a new genre, they tell us.

Actually, Classic Fucking Mediocre dissemble, because it's a very old genre - the genre of Fucking Horrible Arrangements Of Recent Pop Hits To Make A Quick Buck. FHAORPHTMAQB has a long and frequently ignoble history, although I have to confess to an entirely unjustifiable fascination with Deep Purple and Malcolm Arnold's seminal* collaboration, Concerto for Group and Orchestra, which is not quite the same thing, admittedly, but is a closely related genre, also being of the phylum "Terrible Things That Happen When the Rock and Classical Worlds meet" (see also: Metallica's gig with the San Francisco Symphony, Philip Glass's rotten orchestral inflations of David Bowie and the Queen Symphony). I don't include the Orchestral Tubular Bells here because it's no worse than the original.

It works the other way around too, of course, and honourable mention here must go to Waldo de Los Rios's fantastically tasteless '70s arrangements of popular classical pieces by Mozart, Dvořák, and others, which, like doughnuts and crack, are irresistible even though they're clearly not good for you.

These chimeras differ from Classic FM concept in one important respect though; they're ill-advised, overblown and gloriously lacking in taste or restraint, which in time lends them a certain charm. Classic FM's album is all about being tasteful, music to put on in the background as you sit round your coffee table with your estate agent friends discussing what car you're driving these days and when mortgage rates might come down. There's a terrible and insidious snobbishness about the whole enterprise: the implication is that, on the one hand, these songs must be tarted up in "classical" clothes in order to be acceptable, and on the other hand that Classic FM's audience isn't really clever enough to listen to proper classical music, and shouldn't get any ideas that they deserve any better than this. The first is the sort of thinking that leads to Paul McCartney's "classical" follies, which only a lunatic could believe can hold a candle to his magnificent work with the Beatles; the second is essentially the same sort of mindset that thinks it's a jolly big shame that the natives are now running their own countries in the former British Empire, and that the working classes no longer doff their caps to the toffs. it betrays an attitude of paternalistic contempt by Classic FM for its listeners: it does nothing for either pop or classical or any other type of music, it creates nothing, refreshes nothing; it just leaches and leaches until the blood is drained from its victim.

When I was a kid, you'd see "Top of the Pops" albums in the bargain bins in Woolworth's and W.H. Smiths, offering the promise of the latest chart smashes all on one disc. When you got it home and slapped it on the record player, what you got was a bunch of cheap knocked off cover versions performed by session musicians. But you couldn't really complain, because they'd never actually said it was the original recordings, so you were stuck with the record and a vague sense of empty despair. This is the legacy of FHAORPHTMAQB, and Classic FM's tawdry product is no better, demeaning everyone and everything its fetid embrace encompasses.

Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm wrong, and that, far from being a cynical piece of opportunistic marketing tat, Songs Without Words (see what they did there?) is a triumph of artistic innovation that provides hitherto unglimpsed insights into the songs featured, and charts new lands in music. In which case, Yay, Go Classic FM.

*seminal: consisting of semen, i.e. a load of wank.


An Unreliable Witness said...

Do you remember the dark, dark days of, um, ooh, about 1981?

Do you remember the 'Stars on 45' series of singles?

Do you remember the classical one? With electronic handclaps and whooshes?

For some reason, the subject of this post brought that horrible memory flooding back.


petemaskreplica said...

That's just mean. I'd forgotten all about them until you brought it up.

They did a Beatles one too, which much to my shame, I bought. I was only 10, but that's no excuse, really.

This man was responsible for Hooked On Classics, which is just as bad. There's a whole seedy underbelly of this stuff when you start looking. I feel like Pandora now.

An Unreliable Witness said...

I think the Beatles one was the first, and the most successful. Don't beat yourself up too much, because I owned it too. A whole album of it. On cassette. Utterly tragic.

Ani Smith said...

I like when you get a bee in your bonnet. (Though this is far more annoying than a bee. I am not even sure this expression translates into Brit.)