Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, February 29, 2008

There comes a time....

...when everyone who cares about music has to face the realisation that they have some strongly-held liking or distaste for a piece (it might be a classical work or a pop song) that is at variance with the opinion of, ooh, just about everyone else. And the only thing to do then is to say "Sod 'em all" and (if you like something unfashionable) to play it loudly to the world. If you dislike something popular it's harder to make a snappy statement.

This thought has been suggested by my visiting Mike Atkinson's blog Troubled Diva, unfailingly stimulating as regards pop music (and other things from time to time). He's currently running a comparative assessment of hit records from the past five decades (see here for explanation). I haven't commented myself as there have been few if any sets where I've known more than two of the songs (and voting on the basis of one hearing is so Eurovision).

Mike's posts have reminded me of some forgotten gems (Judy In Disguise (With Glasses), anyone?) and some utter clunkers ("If I Had Words", which reached the apogee of embarrassment when covered by the shepherd singing to his pig in the film "Babe"). Knowing the extremes of fandom/loathing that Robbie Williams can generate, I was pleased to find Angels getting a sympathetic hearing from Mike as well as from a lot of his commenters. Yes, it's become hackneyed, but for my money it's one of the best pop songs of the past ten years. Perhaps the best example of what seems to have been Robbie's single-handed campaign for the rehabilitation of the plagal cadence in popular music.

1998's Number Four was Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, and here is where I must stand up and take my hail of tomatoes like a man, because I like this song. I don't actually own a recording of it (apart from my VHS of Titanic) but that in no way implies that I love it any less. The lyrics neither inspire nor bother me, but James Horner's music is as marvellous as all the rest of his output that I know (this is the guy who not only did the Titanic soundtrack, but Sneakers, Field Of Dreams, Willow, and The Mask of Zorro, to mention only his biggest hits) . If Angels is a paean to the plagal cadence, MHWGO is surely the tribute song for the accented auxiliary note, and none the worse for that. It's unashamedly emotional stuff, but since when was that something to hold against a pop song? No, I think a lot of the opposition to MHWGO arises from its being sung by Celine Dion, another singer inspiring love and hatred in equal measure. I have to say that this is the only song I have ever heard CD sing in English that I could be bothered with at all: mostly she's badly let down by her choice of material. Yet when provided with first-rate ammunition, Celine Dion can shoot to kill, as any of her Jean-Jacques Goldman collaborations will show. On MHWGO, she (for once) avoids her belt-it-out-to-the-back-of-the-hall vocal style until the final verse (after the key change). When singing quietly, Ms D does actually have a pleasant voice and the ability to interpret a song with sensitivity. MHWGO's lyrics don't do her any special favours in that regard, but she manages OK. Let's be clear, though: I don't love this song because it's being sung by Celine Dion (she can be heard to much better advantage elsewhere) but because of its wonderful Horner melody. Extraordinary how potent cheap music is; but it is.

Oh, and for a topically unfashionable dislike, Hilary is playing in Schubert's Ninth Symphony next week. God, I hate that piece. Each movement begins promisingly, and just goes on and on with the same mediocre material (and on) until you're ready (and ON and ON) to chew off a limb to escape. (I make an exception for the slow movement, which is OK. Given that I consider Schubert's slow movements to be his crowning glory when it comes to his instrumental works, to be reduced to "OK" says it all.) And ON and ON and ON. How the composer of the "Death and the Maiden" quartet or the B flat piano sonata allowed his name to be associated with this turgid drivel is something I shall never understand. Yet it remains a hugely popular work: and Robert Schumann (OK, he was a nutter but a musical genius) called it the "Symphony of Heavenly Length", an appelation that I cannot read without laughing bitterly.


At 29 February, 2008 16:08, Anonymous JoeInVegas said...

Oh, the Playboy band, with those pants. It was big back when I was in college (long long ago).

At 01 March, 2008 01:14, Blogger mike said...

Interesting post there, Rob. And are you sure you don't want to stick up for La Celine over on TD? We're a broad and welcoming church!


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