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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Alone With Oakenfold
I've got way too much to say about the Polaris Prize, most of it mean-spirited and involving the New Pornographers, but first I have to update my favourite annual honour - The Worst Record Of The Year According To Metacritic Prize.

Here's the current top ten with Metacritic scores.

1. A Lively Mind by Paul Oakenfold 35
2. Generation by Audio Bullys 40
3. Types Of Wood by Whirlwind Heat 45
4. Songs From Black Mountain by Live 47
5. Todd Smith by LL Cool J 48
6. Fast Man Raider Man by Frank Black 48
7. Keys To The World by Richard Ashcroft 50
8. We Don't Need To Whisper by Angels & Airwaves 50
9. It's Alive! by The New Cars 51
10. Daniel Powter by Daniel Powter 52

The lessons here are pretty obvious. First, if you're generally considered past your popular prime, just stay away - you can come back eventually but you have to wait long enough for everyone to forget that you were popular in the first place (see Lynn, Loretta). Second, if you rose to fame with a pop punk group, starting a new band and recording a sci-fi concept record is not quite the best idea. And, third, Daniel Powter is basically a slightly less-dickish version of the New Radicals guy.

Otherwise, to be honest, it sort of breaks my heart to see Richard Ashcroft on this list. Between opening for Coldplay, getting dissed by Wayne Coyne and drunkenly attempting to speak with school children, dude is having a pretty rough year. The worst part: when he got arrested trying to help the kids, he resorted to signing old songs in the back of a police cruiser in an attempt to confirm his identity because the cops had never heard of him. That seems somehow worse than death. Relatively speaking.

In fact, I was thinking about it and Ashcroft's sad fall from grace might be the closest I've come to experiencing the death of a beloved rock star. When Kurt Cobain died I was unfortunately a little too young and a little too well-adjusted to consider my life forever scarred. The rest of the Grunge Era deaths passed with little to no impact and by the time Elliott Smith stabbed himself I was too cynical and dead inside to get all that worked up about it. Unhelpfully, the rest of my adolescent rock star heroes - Darius Rucker, Sammy Hagar, Jim Cuddy, etc - refused to even choke on their own vomit, depriving me of the sort of formative experience every young man deserves. Jerks.

Had Noel Gallagher fallen asleep forever in a pile of cocaine shortly after releasing Be Here Now (at the time, a definite possibility), I might have been heartbroken. Or I would have at least tried to tell myself that this was big and important and I would try to remember where I was when the evening news in Detroit mentioned it in passing (by the way, apropos of nothing, the fourth story on the Windsor evening news the other night: Cat Stuck In Tree... I kid you not). When he and Liam inevitably kill each other, I'll probably have something to say. And when Pete Doherty finally dies, I'll probably try and post something poignant and wry. Same probably with Tom Petty and any members of Radiohead and/or Broken Social Scene. But otherwise I've probably missed my chance to properly meet rock star death with the necessary exaggerated mourning.

Which is, of course, tremendously sad. But this Richard Ashcroft business is possibly much worse. Or at least way more demoralizing.

It is a given that every rock star who lives to be older than 35 will eventually become something of a joke. There are almost no exceptions to this rule. Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen... even David Lee Roth... either now or at some point since they turned 35, they've seemed sort of goofy and/or lame. Richards (booze, drug) and Dylan (mumbling, general weirdness), for instance, are almost comedic standards on par with Bill Clinton Likes Boobs and OJ Simpson Kills People jokes. McCartney seems actually motivated to make an ass out of himself - now that George and John are gone, he wants to go after Ringo's market.

In other words, I suppose I should have known that this time would come for Richard Ashcroft (and, therefore, all the rock stars of my youth who have not yet died). But still, it's uncomfortable. Because now I have to choose between Mad Richard and the psychotic children's entertainer who fronts the Flaming Lips. Now, if I want to see Ashcroft perform live, I have to pay for a ticket to a Coldplay concert. And now, if I want to listen to any of Ashcroft's solo records (just because, you know, someone should... just to be polite), I have to imagine him slurring The Drugs Don't Work in the back of a police cruiser while two affable British constables look on confused.

I suppose this is preferable to no Richard Ashcroft at all. But surely not by much.

(By the way, say what you will about Richard Ashcroft, the man has perfected the Walking Around, Just Doing Stuff music video. See here, here and, of course, here.)

(If we could go back in time to 1994 and start a British pop songwriter fantasy league, I'm pretty sure Ashcroft is my first pick. Consider though that if we'd actually started such a fantasy league in 1994, a few years later I would have bet heavily on Fran Healy and Badly Drawn Boy. I imagine that some pub in deepest England now features a nightly set from a band featuring those two, Guigsy, Bonehead and Tony McCarroll.)

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