Sunday, 5 December 2004

Band Aid 20

And so it happened. As predictable as the result of the forthcoming Blunkett inquiry, the charity love-in that is the modern day pop “stars” rendition of Geldof and Ure’s Yuletide guiltfest “Do They Know It’s Christmas” has shot in at number one.

Now I take the charts as seriously as the next brain-dead music hack. Trust me, there are a lot of us about. The top 40 nowadays is more a measure of personality and promotional power than it is a reflection of the quality and popularity of the track or act involved. Why bother writing an original song when you can re-work a classic track and attach a SmashHits-genic face like Will Young or Jamelia to it?

Music the business is now so spineless and unscrupulous that Cowell, Fuller and their money-spinning melody makers will forgo the necessary creative instinct inherent in music to line their pockets with countless tweenagers’ Saturday allowances.

But then, we knew all that already. Pop Idol, as spectacularly crass an excuse for showcasing musical “talent” as it was, did us musical purists a massive favour by lifting the lid on how the music industry has turned from a fight for the best song – promoting creative talent and perfection – to a fight for the most exposure and marketing – pleasing the corporations associating themselves with the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

So why then am I paying so much heed to the fact this poor excuse for a song has sold more copies than the rest of the chart combined? Why is the fact this seasonal sludge has become the best of a bad bunch a cause for celebration?

The truth is simply this - it isn’t. But somehow it warrants a huge chunk of press and TV news attention. This news story exists for one reason only – to make the 300,000 people who bought a copy feel good about themselves. Yes, well done you, you are helping feed a starving child in Sudan.

Well, alright, perhaps you are. I’ve no quarrell with charity, and the success of Live Aid and the original (and miles, miles better) “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is testament to the fact that this method of fundraising is tried, tested and it works. But the innocence and idealism of the original Band Aid is nonexistent in this version.

Why? Because even a charity record nowadays isn’t immune to that promotional and business-like methodology that stalks todays music world.

Bringing together a rag-tag bunch of what are effectively glorified karaoke singers to murder a Chrimbo classic has one direct result.

It’s just another track, another notch on the musical bedpost. When history looks back and judges Will Young, they will note 1) winner of Pop Idol; 2) Number 1 album with “Fridays Child”; 3) Dodgy duets with Gareth Gates; 4) Sang on Band Aid 20.

Leaving the lack of soul to one side, it’s a very naff arrangement of arguably one of the most recognisable Christmas songs ever recorded. The haunting bells that ring and that punching bassline made the song what it was.

I was one of the 17million who were forced to sit through the original airplay of the video whilst waiting for the Simpsons when it went out on about 29 channels a few Thursdays back, and was looking forward to a big, orchestral, Mike Oldfield-style panoramic Dolby Digital stereo tubular bell to start it off.

Instead a creeping, irritating piano that made me ashamed to be a player of the instrument. Add to that a lack of decent harmonising by a mostly bland, similar-sounding cast (can you tell the difference between Chris Martin and that bloke from Keane?); a totally shoe-horned in, unnecessary rap by Dizzee Rascal (sorry Dizzee boyo, but even you should have told them to scrap that idea), and even to my amateur-musician’s ears the quality of the mix leaves a lot to be desired.

The only parts I thought were half-decent were the Dido (Boy George) and Robbie Williams (George Michael) solos at the start and the Joss Stone / Justin “Darkness” Hawkins duet. Even Bono’s hastily re-recorded part was pure pig poo. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it as countless people have spouted over the years. If ever a phrase applied...

This attempt at bringing a mid-80s electro/pop/rock track into the 21st Century sadly / happily (depending on your opinion) fails before it begins. Aside from the Rascal Rap, there’s a part where the beat disappears completely. How the feck are you supposed to dance to that at your office party?

Pleasing the fickle tweenagers who would surely scream their alarmingly increasingly aware little heads off at the prospect of seeing the Darkness and the Sugababes on one track is one thing. Sacrificing musical sanity in the pursuit of a forced compromise is another.

So what is my advice? Go out and buy it, play it once, then see if you can find your vinyl 7-inch copy of the original Band Aid song up in your loft and put the new one next to the old one and forget about it.

And lest us forget, another bloody cover has become number one.