The NME is 60 years old. Having recently experienced further dips in readership numbers and increasingly concentrating on ‘heritage’ acts as much as new talent (Lennon, Bowie, Blondie The Ramones and The Sex Pistols have all featured on the cover in the last 12 months), the magazine has been struggling to remain relevant and vital and also to support the ‘New’ of the title.
As the new issue reveals, with a host of old faces talking about their experience of the magazine, it is a seminal British music paper (and has survived, where its old rival Melody Maker has not). With the glossy music magazines like Q also losing sales, it will be interesting how the NME continues to evolve. Written in 2003 for another web site, here are my views from those nine years ago on the magazine’s then state of affairs (in my humble opinion). Has much changed?.
The New Musical Express has been the backbone of the music press for over 50 years now, but while I’ll admit to the old rag having reinvented itself recently in quite a successful fashion; it’s not what it was.
The NMEs descent into mediocrity in the late ‘90s is a sad sign of the times. There are no new Julie Birchills offering a spiky commentary on all that is new and loud. Hell, maybe I should start bothering their mailbox, but I’d feel seriously uninspired. There’s very little in the likes of Coldplay that I find remotely interesting. No rock n’ roll heroes to be found there, my friends, just competent rock music. Nothing wrong with that of course, but what have we lost along the way?
By the late ‘70s the youth were becoming a bit disatisfied with the musicians that had once been singing songs like “My Generation”. Overbloated on booze and drugs, some of them were a shadow of their former selves. Or dead. Those that survived had morphed into a great lumbering herd of Jurrassic embarrassment. The meteorite of Punk didn’t wipe out those dinosaurs altogether, but it made things much more interesting for a while. The NME changed its editorial staff almost overnight and this signalled a radical new direction. Blaring out of CGBGs in New York and out of the very suburbs of middle England, came a new sound. Into the ’80s and beyond and the rise of considerable talent signed to independent labels and the burgeoning club scene, not to mention the wealth of innovation coming from elsewhere (not least Grunge, signalling the NME’s switch of hero worship from Morrissey to Cobain). But what now?
There’s currently hope, and this piece of writing will forever be dated by the mention of these (now) new hopefuls. Can’t stand The Distillers personally and The Strokes are, frankly, rather bland, but they’re better than most. Yet The White Stripes have all the hallmarks of a classic band, even down to having a fantastic dress sense.
The Pistols are long over with, but perhaps the new Rock n’ roll swindle is going on under our very noses. Love or loathe it, the NME has been a vital part of the British music scene for so long, but now it’s run out of things to say in the way it used to say them. In a world were the youth are more likely to be turned on my computer games- a market which is now coming of age. Add to that the continued dominance of pop’s other rival- the cinema- and there is a problem. The music industry is in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own mediocrity, with product like Hear ‘Say and the latest boy band being examples of their earners in recent years.
Many people will welcome the death of ‘pop’ and the music charts and applaud the need for a band or singer of the moment. But ultimately that will mean no music permeating the conciousness of a future generation. I think that’d be a crying shame, after all, who wants to get excited over a pixelated character when they can scream at a real rock n’ roll idol?
Pop needs feeding with your support, before it eats itself.