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Black Sky Thinking

Music For The People? Why We Deserve Better Than The Enemy
Luke Turner , April 23rd, 2009 12:48

Since Oasis, argues Luke Turner, a succession of lad rock bands have coined it in by patronising large swathes of British society.

Coventry was once a city of invention, a place where new ideas of progress and reform were forged in the heat of the Industrial Revolution. But these days the city's most famous musical sons The Enemy follow a Luddite path. They are the logical conclusion of the Britpop-inspired idea that a certain type of male can only cope with ham-fisted guitar music and songs about birds, drinking, and living for the weekend. Along with the likes of Hard-Fi, their celebration of the ordinary exists not merely in how they commit their plodding indie to disc. New album Music For The People proudly announces that it's made using tape rather than those new-fangled computers for a more authentic sound.

But of course, it runs deeper than this. These groups are primarily celebrated for their weary lyrical break-downs of what it's (supposedly) like to live in a grey and tedious regional town. Although (clumsy) political lyrics pepper their new album, and in the NME the band professed to not being "spokesmen", The Enemy reductively reinforce the stereotypes of white, working class life that they began to 'explore' on 2007's We'll Live And Die In These Towns — a furthering of the work of Jarvis Cocker this is not. In the same way as the worse instincts of religiosity make people happy with their earthly station in the hope of eternal paradise, The Enemy act as a mere panacea. What matter improving your lot, or daring to dream, if you can get the lads and lager together for a good old bellow along to The Enemy and their swaggering chums?

Like many of the things that have gone a little awry in the world of British music of late, the blame can be laid at the feet of Oasis. When the Mancunians first emerged, their lyrics were full of a desire to escape their background for a dream of being a rock 'n'roll star — never mind what they became, there was a certain starry-eyed glamour to the band in their early days. Yet since? Bloated album follows bloated album, all flogged by motormouth Noel's ceaseless proclamations that he's a man of the people, despite having a healthier bank balance than Iceland. Oasis' negative impact was immediate. The Verve abandoned deranged sonic exploration in favour of post-Definitely Maybe lad-rock as Richard Ashcroft sang "I stand accused / Just like you / Of being born without a silver spoon" in tribute to Gallagher senior. It's tedious to go on about class honesty (though the legions of boozy footy fan men in the music biz desperate to hide their comfortable origins are certainly partly responsible for all this), but if Ashcroft was christened without a precious tea stirrer, his band's new direction suggested that he knew exactly what he needed to do to get the full Sterling set.

After Britpop's blokes cleaned up (see John Harris' The Last Party tome for a brilliant exploration of how conservative blokerock stifled the more creative end of mid-90s indie), record labels realised that the 'lad market' made for a convenient and easily marketed cash cow in the face of falling sales. Even good bands still end up getting lumbered with a tag that they clearly don't want — the only words I heard Alex Turner utter to the beery sausage party crowd when the Arctic Monkeys played the Astoria were a terse "shut the fuck up" when they started chanting the footie results.

Why is it automatically assumed that groups like The Enemy are somehow speaking for millions? Why has have they become a cultural paradigm? Does this not smack of exploitation, rank snobbery, and a patronising attitude on the part of the record labels? Are vast swathes of the population being pigeonholed by cynical marketeers, and even bands themselves? You only have to look at Roxy Music, The Fall, Pulp, The Smiths, PiL, Manic Street Preachers and Scritti Politti to see bands who came from working class, or lower middle class, backgrounds but went on to make groundbreaking, intelligent music that engaged with experimentation and radical thought. Where are the dreamers, the romantics, the visionaries? One can only hope that The Enemy join the rest of the landfill indie groups currently drying on the gibbet in this glorious spring sun of 2009, leaving the people of Britain to be rewarded with the music that they so richly deserve.