I don’t have an awful lot to say about this lovely track from female hip-hop duo THEE Satisfaction (whose album awE naturalE has been out since March) – it first stuck in mind mind because it sounded a little bit like a harsher version of one of the slower cuts from Janelle Monae’s album The ArchAndroid (which is a brilliant thing – that album was one of my favourites from 2010). I won’t spoil it too much with pointless waffle, so I’m just going to post it below and let the looping beats and chilled out synths wash over you like a soothing wave.
Oh, the humanity! Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ will be covered by Ed Sheeran and Devlin! I think I want to crawl into a small space somewhere and hibernate or possibly go through a wardrobe into another world where Sheeran and Devlin don’t exist and I can listen to classics in peace.
Okay, actually the definitive version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ was undoubtedly by Jimi Hendrix (obviously more of an influence here than the original version), but it’s a classic and shouldn’t be messed with, particularly by someone labelled a ‘sensitive crooner’ and a rapper who does some of his own stylings over the top of the iconic riff. I’m not actually as offended by Sheeran’s part in this as I thought I would be (my dislike for Sheeran is well known) but it’s the idea that the song should be tampered with any more that gets me. In the video, it’s hard enough to hear Devlin’s rapping without all that noise going on and that’s just another factor that tarnishes the memory of the classic. Why have so much noise going on in the video if you want the music to do the talking? Surely the whole point of rapping is that you can hear the words and the message that might be added to it?
Well, it could be worse. It could be Sheeran doing one of his raps *shudder*.
It’s no secret that I love American novels, so when I saw an article by Matthew Spencer in the Guardian searching for the Great American Novelist, I was instantly drawn to see who he might include in the mix. The two lists (one of seeded contestants, non-replaceable, and a second of equal length of which can be changed if a stronger case is made for another novelist) were strong but it niggled me somehow. I spent a while thinking about what points I thought were making me wince a little bit, and I’ve come up with a short list.
Before beginning, I have to say that this doesn’t mean I’m rubbishing the list by any means: no list would be complete without the likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald and Mailer, but I just wanted to highlight some of the sticking points with creating such tournaments and why searching for the Great American Novelist could be a fruitless search.
1. What Constitutes a Great Novel?
I had a hard time working out whether each of the listed authors had four novels that could be considered equally great or, perhaps, masterpieces. Undoubtedly there are novelists that have produced good bodies of work, but most of those have one or maybe two standout novels with the rest being good, but maybe not quite as masterly as that one defining work. Everyone, for example, thinks of The Great Gatsby when they think of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but fewer people have read Tender is the Night or The Beautiful and the Damned. Does that mean that Fitzgerald has created one masterpiece and a few other good works that aren’t quite up to that level?
On a similar topic, many of the novelists on the list can be said to have written ‘heavy’ works. By that I mean works that either have a heavy subject matter or are written in a complicated, serious or classical literary style. The authors of the modernist period (of which there are many on this list) are clear examples of this. Maybe that’s why we don’t see names that are synonymous with a genre that couldn’t be more American: pulp fiction. We don’t see the likes of Bret Easton Ellis, Raymond Chandler and, arguably, James Ellroy, on the list. Surely these works have something specifically American about them that perhaps sets them in a league of their own.
As a last point, where’s Jack Kerouac?
2. The one-book dilemma
An author has only written one work of fiction. Okay, according to the rules they’re off the list but… that’s not fair is it? The four-book rule means that a whole host of authors are being excluded. I say: does an extensive canon equal a quality author? I’d like to use the example of Jean Toomer here: Toomer’s only novel was Cane, an experimental mix of loosely interconnected stories interspersed with songs and poetry following the lives of African-Americans in the Deep South and Washington DC and the everyday racism and frustrations that they face. Though largely ignored at the time, it is now widely regarded as a brilliant novel filled with insight (and it’s beautifully written). Should novelists like Toomer be penalised for an unfortunate lack of work? After all, sometimes this is not the author’s fault, other issues impose upon them and they have to quit.
3. Where did all the women go?
Linked to this idea of the four-book policy… where are the women? It’s as if the competition was designed to keep Harper Lee from winning (she famously only wrote the one book, To Kill A Mockingbird, but it’s one of the most beloved books in the American canon). 1/8 of the list are women, and two of those women aren’t actually safe. But thee are a whole host of women you could add into the mix. At one end of the scale you could include Ayn Rand and her novels which were an inspiration to the likes of Silicon Valley (her books are controversial in a way, but in that way they embody the edgy spirit of American writing) and at the other you could easily shout out for some children’s literature and include Ursula Le Guin, whose books are unconventional and challenging (at least they were to me when reading them when I was about ten or eleven). It’s an interesting one to ponder: does the lack of women novelists mean a lack of ‘great American’ women novelists (i.e. the men are just better in America?) or are the rules just locking them out of the competition?
All in all, it’s one that could be debated for hours. Everyone will have a different opinion on who should win (nobody has the same taste in novels after all: I love the modernist period, but a lot of people will recoil in horror at the likes of Faulkner), so is a competition like this actually pointless? Maybe the quest to find the defining novelists, encompassing a wider variety of novelists, would be more of a worthy competition than trying to find one standout writer. Still, it’ll be interesting to see who actually wins so we can all quibble over who should’ve been the real winner…
A couple of years ago Chapel Club released their debut LP Palace that was a slice of hazy, goth-tinged indie, spawning the fairly memorable track ‘Five Trees.’ It was a decent effort, but nothing particularly special. They did, however, seem like a band who’d stick around for a bit – I just didn’t envisage that when they did return, they’d come back with such a radical change of direction that I couldn’t tell it was the same band. Seriously: they’ve turned themselves into a quasi-Passion Pit and joined the electro-pop revolution. It’s instantly more catchy than any of their previous work and has tinges of The Avalanches’ hazy compositions. Not even The Horrors’ transformation from goth-punk upstarts into swooning, Teardrop Explodes-esque wonderkids quite compares to this. It takes guts to do something like this, particularly if it comes off: Chapel Club, I salute you.
‘I’m His Girl’ by Friends was widely regarded to be one of the best singles of last year and it remains a highlight on their debut album Manifest! which came out a little while ago. I don’t usually post remix tracks, but this reworking of the track by UK R’n’B rising stars AlunaGeorge, featuring Caribbean grooves, 8-bit electronics and a steady build up to the original’s amazing riff was just too good to pass up.
It’s only been a year since their third album Ritual Union came out, but Little Dragon are back with a new song, ‘Sunshine.’ It hits all the right notes for fans of the Swedish band: Yukimi’s vocals are as smooth and luscious as ever, there’s some wonky-pop synths over minimal percussion and… even the tiniest hint of some panpipes. It’s been a dismal summer so far (at least it has been here, it’s probably wonderfully sunny everywhere else) but the return of Little Dragon always puts some colour into a dreary day – their latest effort is no different.
I know it’s been a long (long long long) time since the casting and shooting started on Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby and I’m still highly skeptical. Very skeptical. First I was put off by the fact that Baz found the need to shoot the film in 3D – I still don’t understand this logic. 3D works best when there’s a lot of action, not when it’s a tender talkie (unless he’s trying to reinvent the image of 3D, which is admirable in a way but still a bit… pointless). Still, that’s just a small quibble when compared to the casting of the film. Well, the casting of one character in particularly.
I have no qualms with the following: Carey Mulligan is wistful and pixie-like enough to be airy-fairy irritator Daisy, while Leonardo DiCaprio is the obvious choice to play our eponymous hero as he’s one of the only modern actors I think is suave but also quietly ponderous enough to play Jay. No, I have a huge issue with Carraway, our narrator and eyes through the story, because Baz has cast Tobey Maguire.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with Tobey Maguire or his acting. He’s great in the likes of Pleasantville and was the perfect Spiderman (his adolescent, almost nervy performances were what you wanted in a Peter Parker, not Andrew Garfield’s too-cool-for-school approach). But… he’s just not Carraway. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book, Carraway is a man who intimates the strain of his own life, how he has had to struggle through, and he presents a world-weariness, an almost depressed view of the world. For every time he mentions the brilliance of the metropolis, there’s some downer to go with it. The Jazz Age isn’t so great for Carraway, and his conclusions at the end of the novel sum up his attitude to life and the world around him.
Tobey Maguire just doesn’t scream ‘world weary narrator’ to me. Despite some stills and his attempts to look more manly, I can’t shake the fact that Maguire looks a bit too young and fresh (still!) to be Carraway. You’re probably thinking: ‘well, smartypants, who should play Carraway?’ Yes, admittedly the options seem a little bit limited nowadays. I am, though, tempted to suggest Michael Fassbender as an alternative Carraway – more rugged, more beaten by life and just a bit less adolescent.
Of course, Maguire could prove me completely wrong and be the biggest revelation I’ve seen, producing a pitch-perfect Carraway that defies all expectation and if he does, all power to him. Until that happens though, I’ll remain skeptical.