It's An Instant Classic, Folks!

Google's a wonderful tool. I just entered "nme instant classic", and much to my no surprise, it came up with around 107,000 results. The NME is given to a bit of hyperbole and it's almost expected now. I did a quick NME site specific search and a couple of the names thrown up with reviews blazing "Instant Classic" all over them were the Harrisons (who?), Jean Jacques Smoothie, and, ahem, Andrew WK's 'Party Til You Puke.

The thought crossed my mind this morning on the train past Alexandra Palace that 'instant classic' is, of course, a contradiction in terms. Again harnessing the brutal might of the interpipe, dictionary.com throws up "Having lasting significance or worth; enduring," which suggests to me that my theorem has some merit. How can, say, Hard Fi who released their debut album in 2005 have said debut album described along the lines of being a million times better than The Clash, without a soup├žon of suspicion creeping into the mind of your average Joe-somewhat-musically-informed?
I've refused to listen to the Hard Fi album on principle. I've heard the singles (almost endlessly, against my will), and I stand by my decision. This is a band claiming a rock credibility from songs which are more commercially-treated than McFly's more recent offerings; one which rode off the back of Clash comparisons seemingly based solely on the fact that they come from Staines, which is near the M4, which goes roughly in the same direction as the Westway. On this principle, I could form a band and surreptitiously compare us to anyone from Madness to Blazin' Squad.

I've strayed from my point. My point was, that all too often the media will fete a new band (the NME remain the principle offenders), such as Hard Fi, as the saviours of rock'n'roll, or a record as an instant classic. For such a journalistic treat, you might wish to read the NME's review. Or, you may not.
A real album is one that takes time to sink in to collective consciousness, one that earns it's place in people's affections. When Radiohead's OK Computer came out, I loved it immediately: I was 15, that's what 15 year old's do. Yet when Q's 50 Greatest Albums Ever was published, I think at the end of '98, OK Computer was number one. It'd been out eighteen months, which you'd imagine was a decent amount of time to learn to appreciate an album. Yet, allow me to speculate, you tutted when you read that, didn't you? How can an album be sure of standing the test of time? Even Sgt Peppers, for a long time the Greatest Album Ever has fallen to third or even fourth best Beatles record now.

You simply cannot proclaim an album as an instant classic, you're setting yourself up for a humiliating, yet well-deserved, fall. For a start, it makes no literal sense, and secondly, you're missing the point of music in general. Music is something to be adored, to immerse yourself in, to live with, and to let live with you. What defines a classic album is not it's instant appeal, its it's ability to stick with you throughout, no matter what. One that won't let you down when you listen to it. There are plenty of records that can thus be described as classic, and opinions range as to what qualifies from person to person. For me, I would include albums like Mogwai's 'Happy Songs For Happy People'; Low's 'Things We Lost In The Fire'; maybe Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'. But that's just me.

Again, you can't proclaim that an album out six months fulfils these criteria, unless your life has the traumatic peaks and troughs of a Premiership footballer (NSFW). You'll be proved wrong.

Right, so I'm not going to break my own rules here. The Dirty Three's Ocean Songs was originally released in 1998. It's just been re-released on Bella Union in Special Edition, and last year the band were asked to perform an album playback at the Barbican as part of the Don't Look Back series, also featuring the likes of Patti Smith and Dinosaur Jr. I've had innumerable people tell me to get it, and they wax lyrical about it's many delights.
And you know what? It seems they're right. Ocean Songs is indeed a sublimely beautiful album, a sparse and lyrical instrumental album that hits more emotional buttons than the vast majority of worded records. And yet do I have any right to proclaim it a classic? I don't, but many will do it all the same, and it certainly has the respect of a great many people. So I present, The Restless Waves: http://s62.yousendit.com/d.aspx?id=3F3J42FRZBRRB3LLSCWS5W4K5K


Em said...

ocean songs IS a classic. they are phenomenal. their rendition of it at the barbican was top 5 gigs of all time material. mr nick cave on piano, complete with silly 'tache and everything.
don't make me come over there.....

Oh Simone said...

Alright, I'm jealous, but then, you're not seeing Mogwai tonight choosing to exacerbate your RSI instead. Good choice, brainiac.

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