28 February 2007

Vale Billy Thorpe

Australia lost another musical icon today with the death of Billy Thorpe.

He was rushed to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney with a heart attack, but died in the emergency room. He was 60 years old.

Billy "Thorpie" Thorpe effectively invented the genre known as "Oz Rock", which would be refined by musicians as diverse as Cold Chisel, Hunters and Collectors and The Angels, would be taken to the world by AC/DC and nearly killed-off completely by the likes of Noiseworks and the Screaming Jets.

Oz Rock, a grunty riff-based genre, was mainly four-to-the-floor, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, with one foot firmly in boogie territory and the other pounding out a sensible mid-paced rhythm while very occasionally straying into the blues, reggae, country and, from time to time, unexpected weird shit.

It appears to have been going through something of a revival, lately, with the likes of Airbourne and The Casanovas getting a lot of airplay.

Jet are also known to be straying into that territory. The Living End and You Am I have been unashamedly showing their love for Oz Rock for some time now.

Thorpe, with his band the Aztecs, headlined the notorious Sunbury music festival of 1972, (regarded as Australia's Woodstock but not nearly as innocent), and almost overnight terminated the then preoccupation that Australia had with pre-fabricated pop-stars. Popular Australian music was to remain musician-focused until at least the 1980s.

Former member of the Aztecs, Lobby Loyde, himself inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame last year was diagnosed with cancer, and should, by rights have died first.

When he goes, it will be an exceptionally sad end to a remarkable period of Australian music.

Thorpe will certainly be missed. RIP.

27 February 2007

Mallrat missionary mistakes

Once again, Akusai has provided a great story, this time of missionaries in shopping centres.

Given the circs, I would have thought that three charges of assault would be in the offing here.

But I'll let Akusai tell it as he does this sort of thing quite well.

Read it here:

Action Skeptics: Action Skeptics Storytime: Mallrat Missionary Mistakes

22 February 2007

60th Carnival Of The Godless

Brent Rasmussen has stuck up the 60th Carnival of the Godless at Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

This is the first blog carnival that I've submitted to and this has come at a surprise to me.

I always thought that I'd turn up at Carnival of Personal Finance or Skeptics' Circle before this one. Oh well.

Paley's Rock is mine.

Elsewhere, there's good reading for all.

Read it here.

19 February 2007

Why did you end up agnostic? (Part 3)

This is Part 3.

Part 2 is here.

Part 1 is here.

This should probably be titled Part 3A. The reason for this is that I had typed up about two thirds of a post, then I came across this site which kinda said nearly all of what I wanted to say. So I deleted what I had typed and started again.

But let's go back a few steps, first.

In Part 1, we discussed how I grew up as an archetypal apatheist. About the only thought I had on religion was that ECP (Evangelical/Charismatic/Pentacostalist) Christianity was very funny, while traditionalist Christianity was mind-blowingly boring. I had what's commonly described as 'care-factor zero' with regards to Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sufism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Baha'iism, Confucianism and everything else.

In Part 2, I found myself as an agnostic.

I have now come to the point where I defend my decision not to do what everyone else appears to think is obvious. That is, why I don't go 'all the way' and become an atheist?

And for my regular readers, yes. This is where I get semantic.

Gotta warn you now - there is some seriously boring pedantry approaching. Go and play with MySpace folks - this could put you to sleep.

I discovered evilbible.com on the weekend. Not sure why I haven't seen this one before.

This is a rather interesting website maintained by what I like to call a 'large-a atheist', named Chris 'Ali-Baba' Thiefe. He's dedicated it to:

...promote atheism by revealing the wicked truth about the Bible and religion.

Now, large-a and small-a atheists is a delineation that you might not have come across before. That's pretty much because I think that I'm the only one who uses this terminology. But anyway, I call a large-a atheist someone who follows the dictionary definition of atheism, and a small-a atheist, one who follows the 'disbelief' definition.

Thiefe likes to call them 'strong' and 'weak' atheists.

What I'm going to do today is let Thiefe do the talking, and then I'll butt in with my two cents every now and then.

Thiefe is, as I mentioned before, a large-a atheist and is not afraid to go head to head with what appears to be fast becoming the accepted groupthink around the definition of atheism.
His opening paragraphs read as follows:

It has come to my attention that some atheists on the internet are trying to redefine the words “atheism” and “atheist” to mean anyone who simply lacks a belief in gods. This definition would include babies, agnostics, and people who have not come to a conclusion about the existence of gods.

Some proponents of this definition can be found in the alt.atheism newsgroup and at the following web sites:

A “lack of belief” definition is a bad definition for many reasons. It is not commonly used. It is not defined that way in any reputable dictionary. It is too broad because most agnostics and babies don’t consider themselves atheists. And it makes no sense for an “-ism” to be a based on a lack of belief.

These atheists are usually motivated to redefine the word “atheist” because they want to enlarge the definition of “atheist” to include as many people as possible, or because they perceive it to be an advantage in debates with theists. Unfortunately, some of these people have used lies and distortions to support their opinions, and some have made extremely ignorant and grossly incorrect statements that may reflect badly on all atheists.

Goodness gracious me! Them's fighting words, alright, and Thiefe is clearly upset about this as well he might be. It may be a touch hyperbolic, but let's see where he's going with this.

After mentioning that he plans to correct some of these 'lies and distortions' he points out that there are three types of people out there:

Group A believes that gods do not exist (atheists).

Group B neither believes that at least one god exists nor do they believe that gods do not exist. This would include agnostics, babies, and the undecided.

Group C believes that at least one god exists (theists).

The crux of this is that that the 'lack of belief' definition, Thiefe maintains, renders the word atheism meaningless, as it could also cover, as he points out, 'agnostics, babies, and the undecided.'

Atheists can slot into either groups A or B depending on what meaning they assign to the word.

Conversely, small-a atheists are claiming the middle group as weak atheists and the top group as strong atheists.

Thiefe's arguments are many and really has the impact of rendering the above paragraphs unnecessary. But where he later returns to the question of meaning, he doesn't do so quite so effectively.

Let's look at Thiefe's main arguments one by one:

Stupid Argument #1: The etymology of the word "atheism" means "a lack of belief".

A commonly repeated error is that the word "atheism" was derived from the prefix "a-", meaning "without", and the word "theism", meaning a belief in God. Therefore they claim that "atheism" means "without a belief in God". This is incorrect because the etymology of the word "atheism" derives from the Greek word "atheos" meaning "godless". The "-ism" suffix, which can be roughly mean "belief", was added later. The etymology of the word means "godless belief" not "without a belief in gods".

I actually don't like the etymology argument, but not for the reasons that Thiefe gives. The etymology of the word atheism is irrelevant. The Oxford (definitive to all of us outside of North America) at AskOxford.com defines atheism as:



noun the belief that God does not exist.

And, given that the Oxford is a reflective dictionary, and not a proscriptive one, this should be the be all and end all. If that is how the word is used, then that is what it means.

Let's, just for argument's sake, consider the etymology of atheism whilst pondering the definition of 'anti-semitism', and for all the idiots out there deconstructing this, I am NOT equating atheism with anti-semitism:


noun hostility to or prejudice against Jews.

See? Not one mention of Semites at all.

All in all, the etymology argument is a pretty weak one. Thiefe and the small-a atheists can duke this one out without me. An argument this feeble is a waste of everyone's time.

Thiefe's next argument moves from etymology to the definition itself:

Stupid Argument #2: Most Dictionaries Define "Atheism" as a "Lack of Belief".

I see this lie quite often on the internet. The truth of the matter is that no reputable dictionary has a "lack of belief" definition. See page 3 for more on this subject.

This is quite an allegation. Dictionary shopping is one thing, and we'll talk some more about that later.

But to lie outright about the contents of the world's dictionary's?

(Incidentally, he quotes the 1989 Oxford which does use a 'lack of belief' definition. I'll let him get away with this, because ostensibly, he's American, but absolutely no one outside North America would ever describe the Oxford as 'no reputable dictionary'. I believe it's a hanging offense in some parts.

AskOxford is currently sourced from the 2005 Compact Oxford, which itself is sourced from the 2004 Concise Oxford, both of which post-date the 1989 version.)

If Thiefe is correct about this claim, then this is an absolute DISGRACE!!!

Not sure who to award this to. Thiefe puts this claim to bed pretty efficiently. On the other hand, I'm having great difficulty believing that an atheist would make such a patently dishonest claim.

It's here that I'm going to talk on the subject of dictionary shopping.

This is an appalling practice that really must cease.

The number of times I've been confronted by, for example, an Australian quoting definitions out of something like the 'American Heritage Dictionary' just because it happens to have the definition they're after is getting beyond a joke.

We've all been guilty of dictionary shopping. I'm disgracefully hypocritical, but I'm at least making an effort to be consistent. One of these days, I'll post a style guide for this blog, but I am really making an effort to only use the Oxford.

I'm going to award Thiefe a point at this juncture, as he has the good grace to use (other than the Oxford) up to date definitions here with encyclopaedia excerpts here. But then I'll dock him that same point, due to the outlandishness of his claim.

Thiefe's next argument looks at the reasoning behind the argument:

Stupid Argument #3: Most Dictionary Definitions of "Atheism" are Wrong Because They are Written by Biased Christians.

This absurd claim is totally unsupported by any facts, much like the gigantic government conspiracy to cover-up UFO landings.

I don't really see the need to add much to this.

The number of times I have heard atheists trot out this line astounds me. Needless to say, it's really, really pathetic. Atheists (of all people) should know better than to use this one. This is a slam dunk for Thiefe, with high fives all round.

Stupid Argument #4: Only Atheists get to Define What the Word "Atheist" Means.

This argument is absurd for two reasons. First of all, words are defined by common usage, not by the people who fit that definition. For example the word "handicapped" is defined by common usage not just by handicapped people.

Secondly, a "lack of belief" definition for the word "atheist" would include so many agnostics, babies, infants, and the undecided that the self-identified atheists would be a very small minority. Babies and infants would make up a majority of the "lack of belief" atheists and I haven't heard of any of them who could express a coherent definition.

Thiefe's really making two claims here. The first is the sub-heading itself. I've really never heard anyone make this claim so Thiefe ain't getting a point for this.

His second one is his one that he alluded to at the start, that is, by expanding the definition of atheists to include people who normally wouldn't meet the requirement, the word atheism is rendered meaningless. This is a much better claim, but it's one that I'm undecided about.

Is there anything wrong with atheism embracing more potential atheists? It's certainly better (and more inclusive) than a cookie-cutter "no true Scotsman" fallacy that a lot of theists (especially Christians) like to come out with when they exclude people. And it makes a lot of people feel included.

On the other hand, this way of thinking does give rise to blatant absurdities such as this one:

'I put it to you that you're an atheist, you just disbelieve one less god than what I do.'

Yeah, it's witty and all, and you can get a laugh at parties with it (I know, I've tried. Successfully, too). But really, if the word 'atheist' was a person, it would be on life support in a full plaster cast after that sentence. Every last ounce of meaning was squeezed out of it just like a tube of toothpaste that's down to its last dregs.

Plus it's just plain wrong. It's the atheist cliché version of Sandi Thom's I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair. Describing a theist as an atheist is the kinda thing Edward Lear would have done just to annoy Lewis Carroll. Except Lear would have written a limerick, and possibly referred to a 'runcible spoon'.

Lastly, you end up with not a lot of difference between atheists, 'agnostics, babies, and the undecided', as well as apatheists, ignostics and others.

I'm provisionally awarding this round to Thiefe, but only because a more inclusive definition seems a bit like a hippie love-in.

Thiefe starts waffling a bit here:

Stupid Argument #5: Most Atheists Want a "Lack of Belief" Definition.

This argument is usually presented as fact without any actual surveys to back it up. The first problem with this is the "babies and infants" problem described above. The second problem is that most scientific surveys of religious beliefs show that only a minority of the non-religious people self-identify as atheists. For example the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) shows that 13.2% of the US population self-identified as "no religion" while 0.4% self-identified as atheists and 0.5% self-identified as agnostics. The 2000 Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year also shows similar numbers.

Again, same as the previous one, I've never really heard anyone make this claim.

Thiefe dazzles us with stats, but I'm not sure if they really support his argument or not. Not touching this and therefore, no points for Thiefe, here.

After covering some fairly minor points so far regarding the underlying philosophy of the definition of 'atheism', he decides to actually have a go at the disbelief definition itself:

Stupid Argument #6: The Phrase "Tom does not believe in the existence of God" does not mean "Tom believes that God does not exist."

This idiotic argument is sometimes presented by brain dead morons who don't understand basic English grammar. I really don't expect most people to know that "raising" is the technical name for the location of the negative in the first sentence, or that raising simply shifts the negative from the subordinate clause where it logically belongs to the main clause, especially when the main clause’s verb is suppose, think, believe, seem, or the like. (Here are two links from The Columbia Guide to Standard American English that explain it: Link 1, Link 2)

However, I find it impossible to believe that anyone with half a brain would use this argument. The English language is literally filled with many common examples of raising. I'll post a few for clarity:

A) "I don't believe the mail has arrived" means "I believe the mail has not arrived". It does not mean that I don't have any beliefs about the mail arriving.

B) "I do not believe we missed the last bus" means "I believe we did not miss the last bus". It does not mean that I don't have any beliefs about missing the last bus.

C) "I don't think the kicker can make a 55 yard field goal" means "I think that the kicker can not make a 55 yard field goal". It does not mean that I did not think about the kicker making a field goal.

D) "I don't believe in the existence of deities" means "I believe that deities do not exist". It does not mean that I don't have any beliefs about the existence of deities.

After a couple of misses, Thiefe really starts kicking goals here - which really goes to show that he was wrong about point C.

The end result is Thiefe's inference that there is no difference between a 'strong' or 'weak' atheist. Mind you, I don't recall 'raising' when I was studying English at school, but you don't really need to really understand it to get the gist of the four examples that he has cited. They are four exceptionally well chosen examples.

Thiefe gets full marks for this one.

OK. So we've looked at the underlying philosophy behind the disbelief definition, and we've looked at the fundamental raising flaw in that definition.

What would motivate a small-a atheist to move this kind of re-definition?

Stupid Argument #7: A "Lack of Belief" Definition is Useful in Debates.

Some people think that a "lack of belief" definition of atheist shifts the burden of proof to the theist and requires them to prove the existence of their god. The truth of the matter is that the theist's claim of a supernatural god with magical powers is an extraordinary claim and requires substantial evidence if it is to be logically believed. The burden of proof is on the theist regardless of the definition of the word "atheist".

As an analogy, if someone claimed that flying pigs existed, then they would have the burden of proof to prove this regardless of whether I told them I "lacked belief" in the existence of flying pigs or if I told them that I believed that flying pigs did not exist.

You know, I once complained that there was something not quite right about the disbelief definition. Something almost suspicious. And I could not put my finger on exactly what it was.

Until now.

I think that this is particularly loathsome. I wouldn't go as far as to suggest that this argument is a deliberate attempt to shift the burden of proof - unless the atheist doing it genuinely thinks that to be within the same 5,000 words as belief is bad.

Thiefe handled that one pretty well. Thus, he wins here, too.

This raises a point about the word 'belief':

The small-a atheist's fear of the word 'belief' and derivations thereof is way lame. It is so completely lame, it's funny. It's hilarious I think, because it's like those kiddies who get petrified about stepping on cracks because they actually think they'll break their mother's back. That's what it reminds me of.

Athiests who show this fear are at least consistent to the point of anal-retentiveness about it. So much so, that this blogger has engaged in the odd argument here and there and introduced ludicrous straw men as, 'I don't believe X,' or, 'I refuse to believe Y,' in order to test it out.

And while atheists are generally too consistent (and polite) to argue such points, it gets seen through straight away as the phony counter-argument that it is in other forums.

On the other hand, if an argument goes anywhere near accusing the small-a atheist of holding a belief of some sort, they get extremely and irrationally flustered.

This is a scenario that happens all too often:

Theist says (in all naïveté) that, 'I do not believe that there is no god.'

I've actually seen an atheist (with sheer audacious nerve) accuse the theist of putting up a Straw Man.

Amazing. Like I said, the fear that small-a atheist has for the word 'belief' is really quite incredible.

And it speaks volumes about your average small-a atheist's ability to tell the difference between an extraordinary claim and the null hypothesis. None of them good.

Incidentally, while I haven't heard the 'shifting the burden of proof' argument, I have seen another instance where this kind of rationale is invoked - one atheist I was engaged in a discussion with posited that to use the word belief provides theists with ammunition to pretend that atheism is a religion and therefore muck around with school curricula under this flimsy pretext. This is particularly relevant in countries where a separation of church and state exists.

Needless to say, that under whatever definition you care to throw at 'atheism', atheism is not a religion. It would be absurd to think otherwise.

Stupid Argument #8: All Atheists Lack a Belief in Gods so Anyone who Lacks a Belief in Gods is an Atheist.

This argument is so damn stupid that it is rarely expressed explicitly. Usually it is only vaguely implied by statements such as "the only thing atheists have in common is a lack of belief in gods".

The logical mistake here should be self-evident to any adult with half a brain, so I won't explain it. But if you are in a child in elementary school, try to figure it out with this analogy: All dogs have fur so anything with fur is a dog.

Thiefe is wrong when he says that this one is rarely expressed explicitly. The number of athiests who trot out the cliché about, '...One less god...' in all seriousness, is the rule, rather than the exception, IMHO.

Given that this argument has a different flavour to the others here, I'm not rating this.

Out of Thiefe's 8 arguments, I've given him 4, but given his pretty decisive handling of arguments 3, 6 and 7, this is a resounding victory for Thiefe.

I had a conversation with my good buddy 'Bob' about this. Bob is a small-a atheist.

We might leave the last word to him:

Me: Bob, you've had a chance to read Thiefe's arguments. What are your thoughts on them?

Bob: Rubbish.

Me: So you don't agree that you believe that there are no deities.

Bob: I have nothing to say on the matter. Incidentally, if Thiefe's grammar holds, doesn't this mean that you hold an untenable position?

Me: What do you mean?

Bob: Well, you don't believe or disbelieve the existence of deities, yet you also don't believe or disbelieve in their non-existence. Thiefe's grammar has this as being rather contradictory.

Me: Nup. I don't believe or disbelieve either. So they all kinda cancel out. But I do know which of these is the extraordinary claim. You, on the other hand don't believe in deities, Bob.

Bob: Yep.

Me: And, because of your craven fear of the word belief, you also refuse to believe in the non-existence of deities.

Bob: I wouldn't put it quite like that...

Me: So here's the $64,000 question: Doesn't this make you an agnostic?

Still waiting for that last word, Bob.

16 February 2007

54th Skeptics' Circle

Well, Action Skeptics has the 54th Skeptics' Circle up and there is heaps of good reading here.

Top of the list was a really good one from Moonflake, titled Midweek Cuckoo: How to spot a cuckoo.

This had me in stitches.

Other than that, Aurora Walking Vacation had a good one on homeopathy that had my full attention. I must blog about homeopathy at some stage - it's the silliest altie remedy there is.

Great reading for all the family.

Read it here.

09 February 2007

Paley's Rock

William Paley's Watchmaker Analogy is held aloft by creationists everywhere as proof that the earth and everything on it was created by God, or at least, a higher power of some sort.

Critics of creationism are quick to refute the Watchmaker Analogy, and rightly so.

Let's just quickly re-cap on what Paley himself had to say about the whole matter, in his book Natural Theology:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (...) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (...) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

– William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)

Now this is all largely nonsense. Paley is suggesting, on the basis of his watch example that everything in this world is intelligently designed by someone or something to serve some sort of purpose.

Charles Darwin accepted this while studying theology at Cambridge and came to the conclusion that this argument held up.

He later, after sailing away on the Beagle to study nature and the distribution of species around the world, refuted this analogy quite explicitly in the Origin of the Species by explaining that the Law of Natural Selection was a better model for explaining the diversity of species around the world. In so doing he paved the way for Evolutionary Biology which took Darwin's findings one step further and developed into a field primarily concerned with examining the origins and evolution of species.

By far the most famous evolutionary biologist on the planet today is, of course, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins had a serious bash at the Watchmaker Analogy in his book The Blind Watchmaker and concluded that, as complex as evolution sounds to the layperson, it pales next to any creation argument. The very idea that everything is the subject of complex design implies an even more complex designer.

Which of course implies an even more complex designer for the first complex designer, a sort of "Turtles all the way down" scenario.

Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time explains this concept very well, by quoting a story that may or may not have involved Bertrand Russell:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"
"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"

- Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (1988)

And this is good, because it is pretty clear from these arguments that evolution is easily the simplest explanation for life on this planet.

But it has occurred to me that Paley's argument falls on its face in a much simpler and much more embarrassing way.

Darwin and Dawkins, as well as countless scientists and creationists have been led astray by what was a magnificently well-placed red herring in the story.

The Watch.

How much time has been spent poring over the Watch?

How many mental pictures have been created in peoples heads - what the face looked like? Was the glass scratched? Was it a gold watch? Did it have a 2mm or a 5mm chain? If it was gold, how many carats would it have been?

The problem with Paley's example is not with the watch, though.

If we go back and accompany Paley on his hypothetical walk across the heath again, we'll see that he didn't just hypothetically come across a watch that day.

Paley also came across a stone, which he gave very short shrift to. His answer to what he thought of the stone appears to be complete disinterest:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer.

So why does he not subject the rock to the same level of scrutiny which he gave the watch?

Paley has no, repeat, no idea of how the stone came to be there, nor does he consider it to be important.

What is important, though, is that in dismissing the stone as being unimportant to his story, he is essentially applying a double standard to the stone compared to the watch.

He mentions it in passing, because it is important for comparison to the watch.

But Paley's comparison ends there.

It should not.

Why has everyone, Darwin and Dawkins included, appeared to have missed the bleeding obvious on this? Paley does not at any time discuss the "purpose", "contrivance" or the "design" of the rock at any stage.

Paley has had a free kick on this for over 200 years - so why don't we do what Paley did not, but should have done?

Paley lauds the watch as, "There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer;"

But a rock? We would need to know its "purpose".

The rest of the story serves no purpose unless someone can come up with way of assessing the rock in the same way that Paley evaluates the watch.

Its a great trick - introduce the rock and then dazzle us with implied bling - and for all we know, the watch that Paley finds on his walk might only have been a cheapie made in Sheffield.

And being the humans that we are, the flashy piece of chronometry has everyone's attention, whereas the drab rock - basalt perhaps, diamond, maybe - vanishes into the background.

The wonder of it all this is this: why hasn't anyone taken Paley apart for this?

It's really that simple folks.

Someone should call their blog Paley's Rock.

05 February 2007

The Deconstruction years (Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part four)

This is Part 4.

Part 3 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 1 is here.

News to hand – Kylie Minogue has just dumped her boyfriend of 4 years, Olivier Martinez. Good for her.

Mind you, is this any of anyone’s business?

Anyway, we’d got to the point in the story where Minogue had just signed a deal with Deconstruction Records.

About 1994.

She immediately got to work by picking out some songwriters and producers with the best track records in the British music scene.

Her first album for Deconstruction featured a staggering 8 producer and 19 songwriter credits including the Brothers in Rhythm and the Pet Shop Boys. Minogue wasn’t messing around.

The first single, “Confide in Me”, was hugely successful, but the album itself was only moderately more successful than the previous one that she recorded. Minogue wasn’t happy, and could not understand why her albums weren’t selling more.

Some reasons for this are now, in hindsight, pretty obvious:

  • Minogue’s work is hugely popular with dance music fans who largely do not buy albums;
  • In fact, albums themselves had been declining as a preferred package of music. This had previously come and gone in cycles, but the rise of clubby Eurotrash was proving to be fairly much unstoppable at this point in the 1990’s; and
  • As much as she tried, Kylie’s attempts to garner a more grown up audience was yielding her old audience, but all grown-up, only. They had long since reached the age where they stopped buying long players outright;
  • Lastly, Minogue continued to be popular with a segment of the music market who didn’t buy music all that often anyway – the incidental fans.

I won’t accept the shitcanning it got from the critics as a valid reason for it not selling – Kylie’s previous works were similarly pilloried, and they still sold.

Minogue simply wasn’t getting the extra audience boost that she had hoped for. This was, no doubt, frustrating for her.

It was probably symptomatic of a rising threat to Minogue’s career – in mid-1995 the Brit-pop explosion of the nineties was pretty much going full blast, and by the end of the year, Oasis had released their now classic album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and Blur had released their not-quite-so classic, The Great Escape. In their wake came efforts from Pulp, The Verve and (The London) Suede, further cementing the Brit-pop revival as a movement to rival that of Grunge 5 years beforehand.

Record companies across Britain and, indeed across Europe and the rest of the world (except North America) abandoned their Eurotrash filler for another couple of years as they got behind Brit-pop for all it was worth.

I always wondered why it was Brit-pop and not Brit-rock. After all, these guys were playing rock and roll with real instruments.

At about this time, Nick Cave embarked on an ambitious concept album called Murder Ballads. On his wish list was a duet with Minogue called “Where the Wild Roses Grow”. The song was released as a single, and was a rip-roaring success.

For Minogue, there was but one option after seeing the new audience that this single opened up for her:

Milk it!

Minogue started writing her own tunes and ensuring that her image was a little more “rocky”.

She wasted no time getting back into the studio and recording a new album, and she supplemented her stable of writers and producers with the likes of Dave Ball, Rob Dougan and James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers.

She hung out with all the right people, and made sure that she was seen in all the right places.

Then boyfriend, photographer Stephane Sednaoui, ensured that her image was absolutely spot-on.

And when the new album, Impossible Princess was released, it was an unmitigated disaster for her. Sadly for her, Brit-pop was over, and Eurotrash was on it's way up again.

Minogue had timed her move into this sphere appallingly.

04 February 2007

5 Songs to Die For

I've been tagged by Beepbeepitsme. The theme of this "tag" (phew, "internet meme" cleverly avoided... d'oh!) is to list 5 tunes that you'd like played at your funeral.

Normally I don't take this sort of thing seriously at all, so we'll see how we go with this:

I have a couple written into my previous Will, so I better put those in:

1. The Gambler - Kenny Rogers
2. Loser - Beck

So that leads us to three more songs which is going to be tricky.

So how about these:

3. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead - The cast of The Wizard of Oz
4. Dead - The Pixies

And I probably need a nice one to finish up, particularly if I have a night funeral followed by a wake:

5. Under the Milky Way Tonight - The Church

I missed out a few that would fit this theme nicely, actually:

Good Die Young (The Divinyls), Asshole (Dennis Leary), Eulogy (Tool), Say Hello to the Angels (Interpol)

That's done. I might leave this tag open this time - pop me as comment if you have a go at this.