Last year, for the first time in my life, I genuinely got excited about the charts (apart from in 2001 when Slipknot's second album hit the top. . .but more on that later). Despite the murky ideological entanglements of Rage Against The Machine sharing the same label as last year's X Factor winner, it was a sweet, sweet moment of christmas cheer over the SiCo stronghold: Rage Against the Machine reform, sell half a million singles, donate the proceeds to charity and play a free victory gig? Amazing! Perhaps the band slightly over-egged the eggnog with suggestions of a revolutionary shift in popular politics, but there have been some long-lasting benefits, aside from raising money for charity. Although it's nearly twenty years since their debut, Rage opened a window onto interesting, innovative, excellent music. It's a telling feat given the bland banality of mainstream 'rock' today. So with this in mind, let's take a look at the Christmas number one hopefuls, in solidarity with the spirit of forward thinking music, charity and sticking it to the man, man.
Firstly, of course, there is the miserly ghost of Christmas two-years-past; Simon Cowell and the X Factor's Matt Cardle with 'When We Collide'. Now, it goes without saying that this is very bad. Musically it's a lift-music version of our ex-label mates Biffy Clyro's original 'Many of Horror', only it's patently the case that it's being sung by a painter/decorator from Essex. Is this perhaps Cowells' attempt at winning a rock audience for the show, after Rage's coup last year? Who knows. We need dwell on this no longer. The mainstay of my argument here is to look at whether this constitutes as Biffy Clyro 'selling out', which more often than not is a fickle, protectionist criticism. Their blend of angular emotional turmoil through progressive pop metal along with an intense gigging schedule throughout Scotland and the UK made them an underground sensation. They landed themselves in it though with their forth album, Puzzle, which achieved moderate mainstream success. Despite this, it was by no means an easy, chart conscious album; it's arguable their darkest. After this came 'Only Revolutions'. Undoubtedly, the album was written with the the radio in mind, however it's mostly satisfying collection of shiny rock anthems, with moments of genuine maturity and craftsmanship. I still feel as I did when the album came out – Biffy have changed their sound, but on the whole the quality of songwriting has developed, and it's by no means slapdash or cynical. The saddest thing for me is that 'Many of Horror' is probably the laziest song on 'Revolutions' and in this sense will only help to quicken the final nail in their coffin as a 'credible' band. I hope not though. Evidently I'm not alone: there's already a facebook group been set up to try and get 'real Biffy' to No. 1.
Which brings us to our second contender. Biffy. It's a good song, and obviously better than the cover. To be honest though, I wouldn't bother. The truth of the matter is that Warner Bros. own the rights to use the song, as well as the cover, similarly to Rage, however Biffy haven't pledged to donate any money to charity. If you want to download it merely as a jibe then there are better things to get behind, and if you're doing it as a 'real' Biffy fan, presumably you have the album already? Biffy are a band who've got where they are today through critical acclaim, as well as an intense relationship with their live crowd. I'd be interested to hear whether 40,000 Slipknot fans have their back, when Biffy play the metal festivals of next summer. Which brings us to Slipknot, a band who I believe have truly 'sold out'. On the contrary to Biffy, Slipknot's fan base seem to think they have never been better. Bred out of an almost religious devotion to 'the 9', there seems on the surface to be few detractors in the 'maggot corps'. I know, as someone who has been in denial about their downward curve for a few years now. It's not easy for me to admit, but an exploitation of a devoted core-fan-base, coupled with an increasingly lame pedestrian sound; confused and churlish lyrics chugging along to pretty unremarkable heavy metal guitar are the hallmarks of Slipknot's decline.
That and lead singer Corey Taylor that is. The third contender for the top spot is this guy's debut solo single 'X-M@$'. Oh dear. And you thought Stone Sour were terrible? Light years more depressing than our televised karaoke competition (for me at least), Corey Taylor it seems must be the only person who still believes his own hype. He looks and sounds an absolute joke. The macho swearing, the trailer trash drunkenness, the boring half-baked consumerist cynicism, the dreary punk-rock swagger, the sheer self-importance of the man. He's Axel Rose's grumpy, washed up uncle who works as a marketing executive and has worked out a way to sell x-mas singles to disenchanted, unimaginative metal-heads. He's not a hundredth of the man who once fronted the most emotionally wrought, dangerous, inventive metal band of all time. Still, he's giving the money to a cancer charity, so in one sense it's at least a little more christmassy an investment than Matt Cowell.
As if things couldn't get any worse, we now arrive at a deluge, no, a reservoir of shit, namely 'Bird is the Word'. . .by The Trashmen, via Family Guy. . .the cartoon. I don't want to dwell long on this, it's not worth it. Suffice to say that I believe this is ideologically worse than anything Si has ever been involved with, and that includes Mr Blobby. Not content with a glorified Butlins showcase, the people of Great Britain have, of their own accord, 'randomly' elected to lower standards further than previously thought possible, by promoting this inane, tedious, out of context parody of a 1960's Trashmen rock n roll number, which culminates in a baby blowing his own head off. LOL. It's empty facile nonsense for empty moronic people. The sad irony is that anyone brain dead enough to download this is playing into the hands of the X Factor's grand project; to plunge expectations and standards to such a depth, that we will loose the ability to judge music in any constructive, valued way. We will buy absolutely anything from the compost heap of 'talent' that ITV et al. foster. Merry Christmas. LMAO.
Which brings us to the angel atop the tree, the shining star of hope that is Cage Against The Machine. We've come full circle here, to something of genuine merit and quality. As my bandmate Al previously commented, John Cage's 4'33” goes further than a sonic joke. Cage's point is that all noise is music, and therefore music is impossible to escape. We have become desensitised to the organised sounds of western chords progressions, scales and instrumentation. When this is all stripped away, how do artist and audience alike takle 4 minutes 33 seconds of 'silence'? The piece has been performed at the Proms and by Frank Zappa, but Cage Against The Machine is unlike any performance attempted of the work so far. A room stuffed full of celebrity egos - one take. And as the tape rolls, things start to take shape. A bemused but earnest looking Kook. A serious Suggs. A cough from Scroobius Pip. One stares confused at an empty score. Another holds his hand aloft a power chord. Dan le Sac imitates a scratch on a turntable. Some of this is probably premeditated, but the situationism and strangeness of the whole thing makes none of them look as cool as they'd like. As they ease in a spontaneous swaying of hands begins. They've been Caged. Imogen Heap did an overdub and Billy Bragg recorded his part on his phone from a bus. Fantastic!
This will be lucky to make the top ten, but it's by far the most exciting, provocative single of the year. Download it! Proceeds go to charity.
So as Rage kicked our charts into gear last year solidifying sales through an anti-bland, anti-greed campaign, this years split vote puts our collective imagination of spontaneous rebellion into context. All in all it's a shame that the spirit of Rage hasn't been recreated – a spontaneous celebration of great music. Cage if the only christmas song this year which doesn't treat it's audience like a child. With this in mind it would be a triumph if Cage gets higher in the charts than any of the aforementioned.
Aforementioned indeed, because there's one more contender: White Heath with their magnificent free single 'GG'. Download it here:
They aren't even on a major label yet so they're much cooler than Rage and Biffy put together. Get the original now before it features as the X Factor winner's song Xmas 2011.
To round things up, here's a few all time greats.