Thursday, 11 February 2016

It's Not That Dark, Mate...

When Nick Kent interviews Shane McGowan (The Dark Stuff) and describes the experience of The Pogues on tour with the increasingly addled singer, he doesn't make any qualitative judgments. It is accepted that McGowan is a gifted songwriter ('you've got a God-given talent') and even in the face of his band's frustration, he is the star of the show.

Nick Kent's compilation of articles is a clear-sighted meditation on the status of decadence in the rock world. At some point, the heroic levels of drug-taking, drinking and obnoxious egotism might have counted as 'revolutionary', but Kent is intelligent enough to recognise how predictable this trope became. McGowan is a late entry into the annals of rock'n'roll debauchery: his glory days were the late 1980s into the 1990s, and he was soon eclipsed by the aesthetics of electronic dance music. Everyone got to neck the pills in that revolution.

Yet rock criticism has never been about assessing the quality of the music. It might lend a bit of context to an album or concert tour, but it is more frequently about the personalities behind the art. There is nothing surprising in Kent's chat with McGowan - he admits as much - and it operates to emphasise the established version of the artist-as-alcoholic/hedonist.

Although Kent is often a good writer, he works in a medium that has little interest in critiquing the art: at its worst, it is hagiography, at its best, it is a character study. And it rarely gets to grips with the context or nature of the art itself, unless Simon Reynolds has got a bit of time on his hands, as in Retromania.

Is this criticism as a process to maintain an accepted narrative?

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