The Noughties: Pessimism

If there’s something I’ve been reminded of in this decade, it’s that financial systems are all connected and that a person in a posh shirt or blouse abstractly shifting small numbers across a screen in the hopes that they become bigger numbers has the capacity to effect the everyday lives of dozens even hundreds of their fellow humans at the click of a mouse, the tap of a key. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have that power, but equally I can’t imagine having that power and not making sure I was aware of the results of my actions, of being shut out from the process. Over and over I’ve heard early digital gold-rushers, usually those who’ve lost their job too and have some distance, note that they simply didn’t know, or even if they did know that they shut that out of the equation simply so that they could do their job.

But when I hear these stories, I don’t shrink away in horror, I want to offer sympathy. Because in the end they, and we, are just part of the system. When I was working in the credit card centre, and call centres in general in fact, I was very conscious of being part of the machine. I’d say it to myself whenever I had a bad call as a way of remembering that whatever the person on the other end of the line said wasn’t personal and that indeed they were as much part of the machine as I was, that other pressures, professional or personal, will have led them to having that attitude. It’s all wheels within wheels, and even those of use who think we’ve dropped out of society, are working against the system, are probably part of the system ourselves, a kind of fail safe in case the mechanism slips out of control.

Oh, Fonzie ...


The Noughties: Film. Part Two.

Manic Pixie Dream Girls

An apparent film construct, and originally so named by Nathan Rabin in this seminal AV Club article, I’ve known a fair view manic pixie dream girls real life and if I’m being really honest, been in love with most of them. Which is why it’s entirely gratifying that the noughties has seen the exponential increase in their appearance on film. You know the type, the mysterious, funny, beautiful girls next door who turn up in some geek’s stolid existence and give them the experience which turns their life around. In old Hollywood, typecasting led to some actors playing cops, lawyers, doctors and politicians their entire lives. Some actors (female and oddly male) spent the noughties playing manic pixie dream girls (or boys) over and over and over again.

The holy trinity are arguably Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst though as Rabin notes, Elisha Cuthbert could be added, and not just for My Sassy Girl – what about Love Actually and The Girl Next Door? But there have been some one hit wonders. Rie Rasmussen in Angel-A (assuming her height doesn’t disqualify her). Norah Jones in My Blueberry Nights. Kat Dennings in Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. Amy Adams in Enchanted. Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation. Even Maggie Gyllenhal has a sinister twist on the type to her name with her unruly gold digger from Don Roos’s Happy Endings. Though we have to be careful with definitions. Do these stop being Manic Pixie Dream Girls if the films shows us too much about them?

Film Journalism

In the Noughties, everyone became a critic. I should know. At the risk of repeating a hundred op-ed columns on the subject with the advent of blogging and later twitter it’s possible to read thousands upon thousands of voices giving their opinions on new films. If the latest studio financial experiment is indeed rubbish, you’ll know about it weeks or months before you get to see it, even something like Avatar which is about as locked down as films can be. When Ang Lee’s underrated Hulk opened, it flopped overnight because of people texting their friends to tell them not to go. Since Twitter went mainstream, that is not a rare occurrence. Film writing as a discipline has eroded and paradoxically, despite the increased availability of material, an understanding of basic concepts is simply missing from this kind of discourse. Too often I’ll read reviews from people who’ve missed what the director was trying to do or will dismiss a work as boring or pretentious simply because it’s not treating the audience with contempt and with some intelligence (like Ang Lee’s Hulk).

Which I still find myself returning to those professional critics, and especially those critics or groups of critics with years of experience, with a track record. Mark Kermode (even though he’s wrong about Synecdoche, New York and a great many other things). Sight and Sound for independent, international and historical releases. Empire Magazine out of habit and for blockbusters. Time Out for the second opinion and because they’ll often review a film based on whether it’s a good example of its type. Beyond all of that and if I’m in a hurry or I just want a spoiler free percentage of star rating (it happens), it’s the aggregated but still informed opinions at Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics or Metacritics. The instant opinion of peers has its place, but there’s nothing quite like the informed opinion of someone who’s seen more films than you and can see where Sandra Bullocks’s new opus fits within film history. The importance and regard for that has reduced during the noughties and when it’s something very precious that should be preserved.


This was the decade when I stopped going into cinemas. During the nineties, this was a weekly pursuit, often greeting three films in a day. But somewhere in and around 2003 I got out of the habit and it’s very rare that I’ll see the inside of an auditorium now. Initially this wasn’t a conscious decision, but a string of poor experiences over time have led me to consider the proper release of films to be on dvd and to look forward to Lovefilm sending me a copy. Often I don’t even know when something is being released at the cinema unless I hear Mark Kermode reviewing it. Which is quite a change from someone who actually kept a diary, diligently copying them over from Empire Magazine each month.

The cost of tickets has skyrocketed; there’s really no justification for charging eight pounds to see a film, especially if it will then be available at roughly the same price or cheaper two or three months later (factoring in travel expenses). Attending the cinema is a different experience of course, but at home there’s less chance that you’ll have to deal with total strangers talking all of the way through the film, running around the auditorium and laughing inappropriately during tense moments (all of which happened during my first viewing of The Dark Knight). I’m not sure if cinema audiences have got considerably worse behaved over the time or if my tolerance level has reduced, but I really can’t understand why someone would pay those prices and then not bother to watch the film.

Getting It Wrong.

Both of which lead to my most surprising discovery of this decade – that all too often studios, some critics and even other humans don’t seem to know anything about film. Time and again, over and over, there have been films this decade which I’ve been beguiled by, which I’ve thought were impressive, interesting, even classic additions to the canon, which others have dismissed out of hand, marked as artistic failures or which haven’t managed to find an audience for one reason or another. I mentioned some of them in my old Forgotten films project. Arrogantly I assume it’s because I have an innate ability to see what the director or writer were trying to achieve which others don’t, but it’s more likely that I’m just different. 'Twas forever thus.

Just for the record, here are some of the films this decade which I’ve loved against the tide of popular and critical opinion and this is just what I can see on my dvd shelf from where I’m sitting: My Blueberry Nights, Hollywoodland, Heaven (Twyker), Tristan & Isolde, Easy Virtue, AI, Intolerable Cruelty, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Family Stone, Planet Terror, Across The Universe, Rent, The Fountain, The Beach, Angel-A, Paris J’Taime, Kate & Leopold, Music & Lyrics, Sunshine, Stranger Than Fiction, Superman Returns, Jersey Girl, King Arthur, 13 Conversations about one thing, Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen, Bubble, Elizabethtown, Full Frontal, The Island and The Italian Job (remake). I’d include The Happening too but I’m still not sure what “Night” was trying to do. Why would anyone do that on purpose?

just the right amount of Lewis Carroll

Liverpool Life Artist Ed Purver recently visited Liverpool and saw the empty streets of Anfield. He was inspired to suggest this rather mind blowing site specific art project which has just the right amount of Lewis Carroll about it to impress me:

Ed Purver - On the Street sketches from Liverpool Biennial on Vimeo.

He talks about his inspiration on the Liverpool Biennial blog:
"So it’s a strange thing to experience this in Liverpool, of all places, which is home to some of the warmest, most expressive people in the whole country. It is a city that is overflowing with personality, and so it is even more of a disturbing experience to visit these places where personality has been removed.

"In Anfield, around the ‘V streets’, I sometimes felt like I was walking through a micro ghost town. It made me think again about ghosts, phantoms and phantom limbs, about who were both here and not here. Who used to be here? Who would still be living here in these houses if they hadn’t been slated for demolition? What would it look like to ‘repopulate’ these houses with these ‘ghosts’?"
Parts of the Smithdown Road area are similar. Some of these aren't the best houses every thrown up, but we always must question the demolishing of one set of houses simply top build new ones. Seems like an awful lot of effort.

neither by the looks of things had Jane Lapataire

Elsewhere I've reviewed John Barton's book Playing Shakespeare:
"In the session on speeches, Barton explains quite correctly that the great soliloquys are about the actor communicating their mood to the audience, something too often forgotten when Hamlet strolls onto the stage then looks at the ceiling. As Barton notes on the dvd (and I hadn’t realised this and neither by the looks of things had Jane Lapataire who's sitting next to him), “To Be Or Not To Be” is not only a series of questions but also the only soliloquy in the whole of Shakespeare without a personal pronoun, immediately externalising the choice that Hamlet has to make."

'Playing Shakespeare' by John Barton.

Co-founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, John Barton was, with Trevor Nunn and Peter Hall, one of the legendary theatre directors whose work and acting collaborations in the mid twentieth century would effect the course of Shakespeare on stage in successive decades. His biography includes a range of landmark production through the sixties and seventies (including the 1969 Twelfth Night with Judi Dench as Viola, and the 1970 A Midsummer Night's Dream with Patrick Stewart as Oberon), and with his abilities in helping actors through workshops, his presence and influence are felt even further.

In 1984, Channel 4 commissioned Playing Shakespeare, a television series based on such workshops and during twelve sessions, Barton and range of actors including Peggy Ashcroft, Sinead Cusack, Judi Dench, Sheila Hancock, Ben Kingsley, Jane Lapotaire, Ian McKellan, Roger Rees, Donald Sinden, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, Michael Williams and range of other (most still yet to feel the breeze of international fame) worked speeches and scenes and sonnets within a rehearsal situation before a studio audience. Unseen for years, the series has been available on dvd.

The book of the series, Playing Shakespeare, recently reprinted, is a transcript of the sessions, augmented by Barton to clarify material that might not be quite so apparent in the transfer from video to page, and augmented with extra material which had to be cut from the television series for time (and commercials). First published in 1984, Barton still stands behind the material and so rather than updating the text, has been tucked in the back featuring new interviews with Stewart, McKellan, Dench and Lapotaire considering what has changed in Shakespearean theatre between now and then.

Barton's wisdom begins with Hamlet’s “speak the speech” dialogue from Act III in which he reminds the players to project the words naturally and with some truth and not to simply “mouth it as many of our players do” otherwise he might as well get the town crier to do the work. The director’s thesis is that though the characters and themes of the plays are important, it’s vital that the text should be communicated with the utmost accuracy otherwise the audience will not be able to make sense of the story and even the language can seem overwhelming, Shakespeare gives clues throughout as so how it should be spoken.

To this end, throughout these sessions, Barton purposefully ignores what the plays are about and gives minimal direction in terms of the characters. Instead he pulls apart the syntax of the words, the stress patterns, noting when antithesis is being employed and monosyllables demonstrating that though there is poetry in Shakespeare, the playwright is just as interested in pointing the actor towards the emotion he is conveying, which unavoidable, through a handy bit of circular logic, leads the actor to understand to internalise the character they are playing.

In the session on speeches, Barton explains quite correctly that the great soliloquys are about the actor communicating their mood to the audience, something too often forgotten when Hamlet strolls onto the stage then looks at the ceiling. As Barton notes on the dvd (and I hadn’t realised this and neither by the looks of things had Jane Lapataire who's sitting next to him), “To Be Or Not To Be” is not only a series of questions, but also the only soliloquy in the whole of Shakespeare without a personal pronoun immediately externalising the choice that Hamlet has to make.

A set text amongst actors, Playing Shakespeare best serves the layman in its general discussions of acting and Shakespeare’s use of language. The sessions considering what Barton calls the “two traditions” of Elizabethan and modern acting, the use of sonnets as rehearsal pieces, the discussion of different approaches to playing Shylock with Stewart and Suchet and an extended interview with McKellan about the challenges of producing contemporary Shakespeare (well contemporary in 1984) can't help but illuminate our viewing experience.

These probably work best because they’re far more discussional rather than going about the business of working the text. But the book can sometimes be a frustrating experience because though Barton’s intelligence is undimmed, as he acknowledges himself, a few of the sessions hinge on the audience hearing the modifications an actor is making to a speech, and obviously that is lost on the page. Yet it's worth persevering because every now and then you're bound to find a new way of thinking about a character. The section on irony and Richard II has led me to rethink my reaction to the play.

Though the chat with Ian McKellen on the dvd largely reiterates what was said in the text and Judi Dench offers some funny anecdotes about the recording of Playing Shakespeare, Hamlet casts a shadow over the retrospective interviews. Barton has Lapataire workshop “To Be Or Not To Be”, which in isolation she turns from the insecure musings of a teenager into the morbid fears of an older woman and the interview and Patrick Stewart, recorded in the midst of his run as Claudius in the RSC Hamlet, demonstrates, through each their opening lines, the differences between Hamlet’s uncle, the ghost and Macbeth helping to confirm the logic of Barton’s thinking that all you need to know about a character is in the sound of their words.

Playing Shakespeare by John Barton is published by Methuen Drama. £18.99. ISBN: 978-0713687736.

Japanese title cards

Film Having watched the whole of Max Mon Amour this afternoon I can tell you that everything you need to know about it is in this trailer. Despite the Japanese title cards, it's fairly clear what is being implied, and you'd be right. The director, Nagisa Ôshima, who previously released Ai no corrida and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, did not work for another thirteen years:

Some answers to your questions.

(a) Yes.
(b) Yes, indeed.
(c) 18 certificate.
(d) No. Though the husband hires a prostitute to see if it's even possible.
(e) Laughed all of the way through. Mostly because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Sometimes it looks like a comedy, but everything is being played very, very straight.
(f) A Disney film. Or Bunuel.
(g) Yes, despite all of that, I still feel like I've seen everything now.
(h) £7.98.

Moo minicards

Life I always thought it would be quite ostentatious to have business cards with my email address, twitter details and the URL of this blog on them. Then I saw the small Moo minicards being handed out here and there and after weeks and weeks of mental itching I decided to order a box full. Each of the cards has one of the hundred things about me printed on the reverse side (with a few contemporary modifications) so they're all unique, and I dare say, conversation pieces.

Why not the BBC?

BBC Much as a love the BBC's podcast directory and all of its wares the one black spot is in the area of RSS feeds. On the iPlayer, it's possible to subscribe to a whole channel's output, or by genre, or both. For some reason, this isn't possible with the podcast range, you can't subscribe to a feed of everything from Radio Four, or Three or Five. No genre support either. Which means if you're interested in interview or documentaries you have to scoot through the whole site and subscribe to them all individually.

Since there doesn't seem to be an easy way of contacted the BBC, nothing in the way of a simple electronic suggestion box, I thought I'd pop it on here instead in the hopes that someone from the BBC internet team might find it through a referral. I know this wouldn't be very user friendly for iTuners, but we users of RSS readers would be able to pick and choose from the range from programmes when something interests us and there's less chance of us missing a new podcast when it begins. The Guardian has a single feed for all of its podcasts. Why not the BBC?

probably even Coldplay

Spotify Alicia Keys's album is ok, but it's not the kind of thing you could stand to listen to more than once. One of the problems is that all of the songs remind me of something else, probably even Coldplay (a bit). All of them. Some examples, with links to the Keys track on Spotify, for those of you who have Premium:

The Bible
Gabriella Cilmi's "Awkward Game"
Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy"
Pussycat Dolls's "Stickwityou"
The Kids From Fame
Richard Marx "I Will Be Right Here Waiting For You"
Derrivative R&B. Take your pick.
Bonnie Tyler
Early Destiny's Child
Featuring Beyonce. Also a bit Salt N Pepa.
Hill Street Blues

Ultimately, then, a major step down from the genius Songs In A Minor which still sounds fresh and new.

The Noughties: Film

As studios run scared from ploughing too much money into experimental choices and with mainstream cinemas essentially offering what used to be called summer blockbusters all year round, I've generally retreated to dvd and a tv screen. The mainstream media is already putting together plenty of worthwhile review lists, so rather than copy them, I thought I'd simply talk about my own obsessions:

William Shakespeare

There haven’t been any truly great Shakespeare films over the past decade. Plenty of noble attempts in the slipstream of the late 90s teen cycle with Michael Almereyda’s city set Hamlet with Ethan Hawke in the lead and Michael Radford lucid Merchant of Venice that had Al Paccino’s Shylock striding about real locations both noble experiments. After the triumph of Hamlet in the late 90s, Ken Branagh went back into acting with his Macbeth project left unmade. Love’s Labour’s Lost was a fun musical with some lovely performances, but As You Like It was a strange disappointment, never quite gelling until the epilogue with Bryce Dallas Howard taking us on a tour of the production trucks (but it could have been that it just didn’t measure up to the remarkable Globe production I’d recently seen).

In the main the bard’s own language has taken a back seat in adaptation, either within a teen setting (O, She’s The Man) or international locations (Omkara, Ye Yan) sometimes illuminating the original story but often obscuring it. Otherwise the best works has been about the history of Shakespeare in production. Stage Beauty cleverly pulled the Stanislavsky technique backwards in time a couple of centuries to demonstrate the change in the acting process brought about by the introduction of women into the profession. At the other end of the decade Me and Orson Welles and me, coincidentally also starring Claire Danes is receiving great notices. I can’t wait.

Hyperlink films

Or the subject of my dissertation. Multi-stranded narratives were nothing new. Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolstoy all wrote in that style, and examples appeared throughout the first century of cinema from DW Griffith, MGM and Robert Altman. But during the noughties they became the key approach to covering a social issue, with drugs (Traffic), globalisation (Syriana), fast food (Fast Food Nation), karaoke (Duets), border politics (Happy Endings), race (Crash) and love actually being all around (Love Actually) covered.

They lost traction later in the decade because although having dozens of characters allows for dozens of star names and famous faces on posters, the sheer process of editing these behemoths has led to directors and studios shying away – plus despite cache they only ever tend to be moderate box office successes. With the exception of Altman, few come back and make one again. The original cut of Love Actually was three and half hours and was absolute torture for Richard Curtis to deal with. You can tell at the climax because Martin Freeman seems to drop Joanna Page off at the end of a date and then we’re expected to believe he picked her up again and they went to a nativity. On Christmas Eve. Um, no.

Harry Potter

The decade began with the Lord of the Rings spread over three Christmases and I could write volumes about that, crying over the sight of an Olyphant again as I go, but to an extent the Harry Potter films are the more interesting choice because of their longevity; the chance to see these child actors slowly develop their craft (under the tutelage of some legendary British stage and screen presences) and age into talented teenagers across the series, which isn’t something you can otherwise see outside of soap opera or long running sitcoms.

Most Hollywood franchise things also become very bothered with the business of making sure the main character has a goal which is set up at the beginning and is dealt with at the climax. The Potter films inadvertently appropriate the alternative narrative style of the art house, in which a collection of incidents cumulatively lead to a story, with only the broadest of linking tissue between the scenes. Not everything is clear, sometimes we don’t really know why something is happening. It’s as a result of adapting huge books into two and half hours and having to chop whole swathes of J K Rowling’s text and relying on the fact that a large percentage of the audience will have read the story already and will know this information. But if you’re simply keeping with the films they can at times be as entertainingly scatter-shot and obscure as an Andrei Tarkovsky film and all the better for it.

DVD rental by post

One my key responses to most film related questions over the past decade as been “it’s on my list” meaning, no, because of the fragmentation of production and the fact my interests tend to run counter to whatever happens to be in the cinema at a given moment I haven’t seen that Neil Gaiman inspired animation/documentary about a faded rock band/Moon but I will do when Lovefilm decide to send it to me because I’ve asked them to. For film fans, dvd rental by post is a liberation.

Instead of having to wait for television to have one of its rate fits of taste and show some world cinema/old Hollywood noir/John Sayles drama all we do now is add it to our online list and still wait, but in the knowledge that it will come rather than not even knowing which channel has the rights to it. I began the decade working through the BFI’s century of cinema list, continued with film noir and everything Truffaut and Godard directed, worked my way around the voluminous viewing lists for my film course then off into even more obscure areas before pulling back now to try and catch up with whatever I’ve missed at the cinema. For the record, here is everything I watched in 2004.

Woody Allen

Still being a fan, I have a brighter impression of Woody’s decade than most. There’s no denying he got off to a disastrous start with The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Hollywood Ending which looked cheap and rushed and in which his own on screen comic timing was very clearly faltering. He worked much better as the supporting role in Anything Else, the charms of which really depended upon whether you enjoyed watching Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci rerunning a less intimate version of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park (I did). Melinda and Melinda was arguably his best film of the decade, telling the same story through comic and tragic filters with a complex performance from Radha Mitchell in both (along with Stranger Than Fiction it’s still about the only Will Ferrell film I can stand to watch all of the way through).

The British films were generally kiboshed by his unsteady hand with writing for English actors, the speech patterns and cultural references basically Dick Van Dyke’s Mary Poppins accent writ large. Cassandra’s Dream is unwatchable – poorly written, unfocused and roughly acted. But Match Point and Scoop are two of Scarlett Johansson’s best films, the little seen latter also has Ian McShane as a ghostly conman. Vicky Christina Barcelona was a proper return to form, and Whatever Works, his first New York film in ages is apparently very good (but yet to have a UK release date. Hello

[click here for part two]

DVD spine consistency FAIL.

Half a decade of the title in the middle then -- oh why the hell would you do that? (Earlier)

Review 2009: Subjectively Speaking

Last night I chatted to my new friend Zoe on Facebook and as you can see, without Twitter's character counting restrictions, it became more of an essay writing competition than a conversation. Same rules as before -- I didn't know what the subject would be until we started talking (typing). See if you can spot the moment when I turned into Paul Morley.

Zoe: Oops, I've started talking here. Shall we carry on here? This thing still confuses me!!

Stuart: Let's carry on here. How are you? What would you like to talk about?

Zoe: I'm ok thanks for asking. Bit odd this as I've never properly met you. Ok how about this to break the ice ... Pop Music is Dead. Would you agree or disagree with that statement?

Stuart: Disagree. Vehemently disagree. Why do you think it's dead?

Zoe: Oops, did I hit a nerve? lol. Manufactured boy/girl bands, one hit wonders promoted by televsion shows, cover version after cover version filling the charts, where have all the good pop bands of our youth gone to?? What has happened to originality?? Do you still listen to the top 40? I haven't this decade. Even the BBC knew pop music was dying out cos they pulled Top of the Pops!

Stuart: All of which is true of course, but to an extent it was also true in the 80s with Stock Aitkin and Waterman (which I was huge fan of at the time) and even earlier you could argue that the motown sound was entirely manufactured. Pop music if you're talking about in terms of Spice Girls thru Girls Aloud is manufactured but always has been.

I agree that the Simon Cowell axis of shit has gone some way to changing the perception of pop music but if you look at something like the PopJustice website you can see that pop music is alive and well. I'd call Lilly Allen, Kate Nash, Little Boots, Lady Gaga, Paloma Faith even Metric, pop music, even if the sound is often based on guitars or electronica.

I think the problem is that as such the definition of "pop music" has narrowed lately. Blur/Oasis and before them The Rolling Stones/The Beatles were considered to be pop music whereas these days they're thrown in with rock music and fans of that kind of music tend to look sideways at "pop" as though it's something entirely different.

Zoe: Yeah, but how many people will have heard of most of those names you just mentioned?? Where are our 21st Century Rolling Stones, Oasis, Beatles etc? I doubt if those bands started out today you would ever get to hear of them! Not too sure I agree with your comments about Motown music being manufactured though when you compare it to the likes of Pop Idol/X-Factor these days. I see little similarity between likes of Stevie Wonder and Leon Jackson, and Diana Ross and Michelle McManus! S/A/W started the decline of pop music back in the late 80s and it hasn't recovered since.

Stuart: Oh I see. So what you mean is that there aren't any bands producing the kind of groundbreaking music that we heard from The Beatles etc and even if there were they wouldn't have the same following.

Firstly, with digital distribution and mass demographics it is increasingly harder for bands to get noticed because there's such a diverse audience. I'm listen to an album right now by a band called Metric which was released earlier in the year and is very good indeed and I wish I'd known about it sooner so it could have soundtracked some of the past few months.

But that doesn't mean that something, if it's as good as The Beatles, can't break out. The question is whether it has to. The measure of success has reduced and I suspect quite a lot of bands are happy to have a smallish but loyal following because it allows them to have the creative freedoms that mass production prohibits them from having.

Plus the problem with guitar bands is that they're rather caught in their looong shadow. Even Oasis who have never lived down the fact that everything they do sounds like The White Album (or whatever).

My understanding of Motown is that was the musical equivalent of the old Hollywood system and was essentially copied by S/A/W. They had a roster of stars and would choose who recorded what, effectively filling a gap in the market. If that's not manufacturing music I don't know what is. In terms of musical quality there's a country mile between what Berry Gordy was doing and Simon Cowell, but the methodology was very similar indeed.

Good god, that's an essay isn't it? Sorry.

Zoe: OK, I'll try not to be as epic but I can't guarantee lol. I do think there are bands out there doing good music but they don't get given the exposure that the more "instant-hit", if you like, pop acts are. It so much easier for a record company to go with the easier option rather than invest in something that may or may not turn out to have more longevity.

On the point of digital distribution etc this should surely have made it easier for people to find any good music that is out there? After all didn't the Arctic Monkeys supersonic rise to public prominence derived from the internet and such sites as Myspace etc??

Then again, when you think about it, maybe there just aren't any really really good pop bands out there anymore. If you think back, for example,to Live8 a few years ago, who were the big bands that performed? U2, The Who, REM, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney - were where the 21st century generation of good pop bands? If that concert had been in the 1960s who wouldhave headlined? Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hendrix? The 70s - Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie? The 80s - Queen, Dire Straits U2? Are you with me? In the 21st Century we don't have our really good pop bands any more.

The methodology in what Motown and S/A/W did I can undersatnd was similar, but quite rightly the quality between the 2 couldn't be further apart. Motown took good singers/artists and produced amazing records. S/A/W took soap stars and the like and produced utter musical diarrhoea in my musical opinion. If they had wanted they could have put Geoff Capes in a blonde wig, written a tediously catchy synth song and promoted it on CBBC till it got to No1! lol

Stuart: Exactly. When they should be spreading the money around and investing in lots of different music (which was rather the case in the early to mid-90s, the money is being put into less acts but that changed in the late nineties and hasn't improved much since.

Arguably the sea change happened when the first, best, Sugababes line-up were dropped by the record company because their singles only charted in the top twenty and that was registered a failure.

But that doesn't mean pop music is dead. It's just different. I think you have to be careful not to mix up the definition of what constitutes "pop music". There are perhaps no bands like the ones you list, but that's because pop music has moved on to other things. Girly pop mostly, bluesier influences. R&B.

People are just listening to other things, and like I said earlier, the sound mixes guitar music riffs with dance beats it's all very postmodern because the people creating the music have a much wider range of musical tastes because they have access to a wider range of music.

Not necessarily worse, just *different*. Rock music will have resurgence soon probably just as it did in the early nineties with Brit pop and actually earlier this decade with your Arctic Monkeys and the like. What S/A/W and their successors have done has *nothing* to do with that. They're different genres of pop music.

But I think we're hitting against a taste issue. I love all of the music you list, but I also love Shakira and think her contribution could be and is potentially as important, particularly in relation to introducing world music sounds into mainstream pop.

And people are finding the good music. Little Boots was a grass roots discovery, v popular before she was signed by a record label. Kate Nash too. These things still happen. And both of those are country mile away from most other things and look to the past for influence.

Zoe: I do find it interesting you mention the Sugarbabes, because this in a way has a lot to do with what seems to have become "karaoke" pop music. I think I'm right in saying that none of the original members are still in the "group"? Surely they are now a tribute act? If not, what's the point any more? Just resurrect any band with new personnel and call them The Grateful Dead, Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd?!

Talking of Karaoke, lol, the one thing I despise about the way pop music has gone these days is almost upon us again - the X Factor Xmas No 1!!! Do you realise that if they do it again it will be the 5 year in a row??!! A British institution ruined by a reality TV show. What chance do Bob the Bulider or Mr Blobby have of ever regaining the top spot at Xmas?! lol

As an aside, did you know that 9 of the last 25 Xmas No1s were cover versions of one sort or another . . .?

Stuart: On that we can agree. There are no original members. It is just a tribute act with the same name. If Sugababes are the yardstick, then pop music is dead.

Zoe: Somewhat ironic when you think about it that Mr Blobby and Bob the Builder actually did do original Xmas No1s! lol May pop music rest in peace.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Daleks

The Noughties: Fractions

Web User’s recent headline, “Brits spend three days a month online”, offers a nice soundbite and though the “facts” within their article simply reveal the results of a survey given by a company with a vested interest, that wouldn’t exist unless people were sitting in front of a screen providing a predominantly textual window into the world. I’d say it was pretty accurate. Indeed I expect that if I were to keep my own diary, taking all of the hours into account, I too would be horrified by the amount of time I spend online, wondering what happened to me, and why I don’t have something better to do.

The story of my decade would be a randomly edited avant-guard production consisting mostly of shots of me sitting in front of a keyboard of some description. I first went online at home in the final embers of the nineties and it’s long enough now that I can’t really remember what it was like not to be in front of the internet somehow. I used computers a lot in the 90s so that wasn’t anything new; but to have all this information and the capacity to communicate at my finger tips from the moment I wake up to when I got to bed, that was something new.

When I was in Stratford-Upon-Avon earlier this year, I cut myself off from the web and from television. My only sources of information were a radio and newspapers and I felt liberated. By the day I came home I’d decided that I wouldn’t spend half as much time online that I’d continue with the simple pleasured I’d rediscovered, of reading, of listening to plays, of eating out. Why spend so much time online anyway? And yet months later, here I am again. It’s the itch, as the article says of one in four people, there’s the wonder if I’m missing anything, a bargain, a meetup, an arts show, not to mention the news about this that and everything else going on in the world.

Do I feel the isolation sometimes? Yes, and probably more than sometimes. Do I feel like a richer person because of the web? Yes, that too. I have a far greater awareness of the world, of how it all fits together, how nothing is clear cut, how everyone in fact has a vested interest. But the result is that I also find it difficult to settle on one thing, my mind often splitting in half, even smaller fractions, as I think about how to achieve the next task whilst still accomplishing whatever’s in front of me, even in my leisure time, with the result that they something cancel each other out and I’m left broken. Perhaps Lily Allen has a point. And you won’t hear me say that often, no matter how much I like her music.