27 October 2006

Stock, Aitken and Waterman (Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part two)

This is part 2.

Part 1 is here.

"In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

Makes perfect sense if you think about it, and yet this particular phrase has confounded scholars for millenia. Personally, I wonder myself why people don't just call it a punctuation error and move on once and for all.

Kylie Minogue moved on from Stock, Aitken and Waterman many years ago. But it is important to note the disgraceful role that these miscreants played in shaping, not only Minogue's career, but also modern popular music.

SAW got their name by producing a Hi-NRG disco style that they rapidly got a reputation for, initially by producing acts like Divine and Hazel Dean. They soon hit the big time with serious hits from the likes of Banananarama and Dead or Alive.

At this point, SAW had complete control over the music that they made - writing, playing and producing. The singer soon became an afterthought.

They developed a sausage-machine method where they could pretty much write whatever they liked and then get in anyone off the street to sing over it. One of their toys was a microphone that allowed them to do all sorts of playing around with singers' voices to ensure that dud notes never came out. (Minogue had this used on her a bit)

Hits followed from a bunch of insipid and vacuous popstars who were pretty much never heard from again - Rick Astley, Mel and Kim, Sinitta the list went on and on and on.

At one stage, SAW had every position in the UK top 5 singles chart nailed down. Oh my poor ears!!

It was at this point that - and there seems to be no consensus as to who approached whom - but Minogue signed a deal with PWL (SAW's record label) and proceeded to get them to give her the once over.

The most likely version is this: Minogue wanted in to the music industry. Minogue's management would supposedly have sold her first born in order to get her there. If she wasn't successful first go, her career was cactus (she'd already given notice to Neighbours). It necessarily follows that SAW were more important to her than she to them.

At any rate, if SAW weren't big before, this pushed them over the edge. Minogue was a chain of smash hits and, theoretically at least, SAW should never have needed to work ever again.

This was the period that she perpetrated "the Loco-motion", "I (we all) should be so lucky", "Got to be certain" and more on us.

By this stage, a certain sameyness had crept in. SAW were lampooned for this mercilessly for this by comedian Tony Hawks with his band Morris Minor and the Majors who released the satirical "This is the chorus" which, I felt, did a reasonable job of imitating SAW's style.

There were several reasons for this sameyness - most notably, SAW's refusal to deviate from their tried and tested formula of a Fairlight CMI sampler-synthesiser, Linn LM1 drum machine (cutely credited on all their releases as "Drums - A. Linn") and Hi-NRG disco.

Actually, I have this theory that SAW owe the Fairlight Corporation lots of money. Most of their "tunes" were allegedly written by feeding a couple of chords into their CMI and using the auto-arpeggiator button to churn out a random tune. At the very least, Fairlight should have had a co-write credit on every tune that these cloth-eared nincompoops churned out. But I digress.

Putting two and two together, their luck would have to run out eventually, so SAW tried other possible avenues, just so that they'd be ready if and when this eventuated.

Firstly - they recorded a few ballads. What they recorded with Rick Astley and Jason Donovan were successful enough initially. They even did something approaching pop-rock with Donovan.

Then they did a big charity single - "Ferry cross the mersey" with a number of musicians including Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson and others.

Lastly, they had a go at moving well outside their comfort zone and produced a Judas Priest album. Fortunately for all concerned, this never got a release. I understand that bootlegs exist and are spectacularly funny.

However, none of these moves worked consistently well for them, and they were back to the disco that worked for them. Their overall preferred style moved gradually away from Hi-NRG disco towards plinky-plonk piano house. And this was reflected best in their work with Minogue, by this stage, pretty much the only one left on their roster.

And then she left too.

The three producers stopped working together. They did other stuff. Matt Aitken got into motor racing. Pete Waterman ran a rail vehicle maintenance business. No idea what Mike Stock did. Any efforts they've made to get back into music have been largely unsuccessful.

Do you know how good that makes me feel?

Meanwhile, Minogue's career just sauntered on...

Stay tuned for part 3.

16 October 2006

Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part one

Jack Marx's blog in The Age is required reading.

And today, he has had a very much needed shot at Kylie Minogue.

Have a gander:

The Age Blogs: The Daily Truth / Kylie The Showgirl Princess Archives

Now, after this kind of bagging, I couldn't let this one rest. Because Minogue needs to be bagged, and here's where it continues.

Kylie Minogue's career started off, not in singing, but in an annoying, yet inoffensive Australian soap opera called Neighbours. Neighbours is a lightweight family drama that has more in common with the great soap operas of Britain (think EastEnders or Coronation Street) rather than those of the USA.

She was only young when she worked on Neighbours, but already, at the age of about 16 or seventeen, she was easily one of the most popular people on the TV show. This was in about the late 80's.

Actually, she was easily the most popular TV star in Australia (with the kiddies anyway) full stop. She won something called a Gold Logie - which would deserve kudos, if it actually was something, but instead, it's the award for the Most Popular Personality on Australian Television. Although it greatly pains me that the most prestigious award you can win in the Australian TV industry is a popularity award, I found Minogue relatively innocuous up until this point.

Minogue had her eyes set on bigger things than just TV. And as a middling actor who wasn't a classic Hollywood beauty, she really was not going to set the acting world alight.

So she launched herself along the career path that the world now knows her for. Singing.

This is where she started to annoy me. The critics were similarly annoyed, because they completely went to town on her. They've long since lightened up.

Incorrectly so, in this blogger's humble opinion, because, with the exception of one period where she actually churned out something interesting, the bulk of her career has been unrelenting claptrap, out-bubblegumming all other bubble-gummers along the way.

And boy, were there some when she started. Remember Tiffany? Debbie Gibson? The entire Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable?

Minogue outlasted all of them.

One of my friends has, incidentally, this theory that suggests that Minogue is the only Australian artist to have never "sold out".

That word "artist". I'm going to come back to it later on. Maybe not necessarily in this post, though. Sorry.

Also, the term "sold out" is a loathsome term originated by mindless cucumber impersonators who think it's admirable to have suffered for one's art. Not to mention highly subjective.

But getting back to his theory. And to stop my blood pressure creeping over the scary level, we'll replace the offending word "artist" with "musical act." I did think for a moment of using the word "musician", you know. Oh yes, I will be self-flagellating for this.

Anyway the theory. Have any Australian musical acts been successful without having "sold out"? I can only think of two:

  • AC/DC - they never caved in to record company pressure and recorded the power ballad that The Man so desperately wanted from them. Kudos; and
  • The Wiggles - these guys couldn't possibly sell out their core demographic. In fact, we often hear about acts growing with their audience - the Wiggles seem only too happy to say a big metaphorical, "f2ck you," if their audience was to collectively say, "The Wiggles are too juvenile for me - I'm into Ashlee Simpson, now."

But Minogue?

I can think of at least 4 points in her career, where didn't just slightly sell out. Oh no, Kylie went into full on artistic whore mode.

So why is it that I believe that Minogue needs to be literarily keel-hauled?

Firstly, Minogue is an unrelenting sadist who perpetrates some horrible crap on us. I work in an office where Melbourne's most annoying teenybop station NOVA is on high rotation on several desks. I get to hear Sandi Thom's "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)" several hundred times a day.

Minogue has made a career out of such sh!te, only in Minogue's case, hers comes with a delightfully camp dancy rhythm.


Secondly, Minogue has demonstrated more than amply that she is a morally bankrupt capitalist swine. Normally, I'd defend arch-capitalism as a quality to my dying day. However, Minogue isn't just any kind of capitalist: Just like tobacco and alcohol companies, Minogue has both barrels of her marketing 12 gauge aimed squarely at the kids of this world.

This is getting kinda long, so I'm gunna have a go at stopping here.

Stay tuned, though. This woman is bad!!

03 October 2006

Sleep deprivation

Amnesty International says sleep deprivation is torture.

Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock says it is not.

Ruddock does not agree that sleep deprivation is one of the cruelest and inhumane punishments there is. That's because Ruddock is one of the nastiest pieces of work to ever get a job in a federal government ministry.

You can read some more of his fucked and wrong opinions on what constitutes torture here:

Sleep deprivation is torture: Amnesty - Yahoo!7 News

Honestly, why Amnesty doesn't post his membership fee back to him is beyond me.

Not long after that, Amnesty came out with this. Major General Bill Crews - not this Bill Crews - who is the national president of the RSL - represents quite a few members who received precisely this torture at the hands of the Japanese in World War II.

I bet they're thrilled to hear the comments that their membership subs have bought them. Read them here:

Amnesty rejects Ruddock's view of sleep deprivation - Yahoo!7 News