Little Mag, What Now - Articles - Soundblab

Little Mag, What Now

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

You gotta wonder how many more indignities NME can stand. Once the market-leader in alternative music cool (it could justifiably claim this title up till the mid-to-late-90s), it now appears so clueless that somehow great big gaffs like sticking a pic of Alanis Morissette over a review of the new album by singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (I've just read that title a few times and it still makes no sense) get past its subs. They don't even look alike, apart from both being female.

Pretty sad, but worse is the almost-apology the mag was forced to make in the same week to living perma-sulk Morrissey, following a court ruling. The singer issued a libel writ following a 2007 interview which he claims made him look racist - not the first time he has accused NME of that. I say almost-apology because the mag neatly side-stepped saying sorry outright, instead apologising for the 'misunderstanding' and clarifying that it definitely didn't think he was a big old racist.

It's telling how widely these two stories were reported. It definitely feels like the once great mag is entering something like a death-spiral, battling increasing irrelevance, dwindling sales and a pretty indifferent market. The general perception is that the mag is long past its peak. Last year, the Guardian reported the dramatic fall in its circulation (although other IPC titles suffered smaller losses): http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/aug/18/nme-circulation-falls?CMP=twt_fd

Although recently-departed editor Krissi Murison launched something of a valiant fight to win back the mag's credibility after the unrelenting shallowness of the Conor McNicholas years, the increasing attempts to encroach on the heritage rock market seem doomed to failure. Mojo and Uncut have got that demographic locked down, just as Kerrang! has the metal and emo market zipped up, so there's no point NME sticking My Chemical Romance on the cover and pretending it loves them. Most metal kids loathe NME anyway, so they're not likely to make the leap to permanent readers. It's this sort of cluelessness and shortsightedness which has done for the mag since the 'new rock revolution' thing died a sad death.

In a way, the failing fortunes of Morrissey and the NME feel interlinked. Moz, as the mag has freely admitted, was the quintessential NME cover star. He reflected its core readerships' tastes, likes and dislikes as no musician before or since. NME launched him towards stardom and then, with Britpop rearing its triumphalist head in the mid-90s, slew him as a creditable artist in a way which was probably justified (those racism accusations again) but arrogantly executed and positively Oedipal in its symbolism.

The magazine had killed its greatest icon, and the singer scorned his former champion. But both needed the other more then they could let on, not just to boost respective sales, but as comforting fellow travelers in a world and industry where the music they loved looked increasingly like an irrelevance. In a way, NME got its karmic retribution for this act of betrayal as Britpop quickly became a case of diminishing returns, its hastily appointed new icons proved to be dull, ephemeral or unwilling and once solid titles like Melody Maker faltered and closed.

Chastened, NME narrowed its focus accordingly and even made up with Moz in the mid-00s, at which point both the mag and the singer were enjoying short-lived revivals. Now that it looks like a long slide into irrelevance is irrevesable for Morrissey and the NME, it has to be said the main problem for both is basically the same: the dire quality of recent output. The strong hits for NME.com show that the hunger for the music it traditionally covers is still there. But why would you bother to fork out for a mag which is little more than a glossy comic with irrelevant, regurgitated lists every other week? Why keep the faith when you can get all your reviews and music news for free online?

Morrissey recently, and with characteristic melodrama, announced his retirement. The likelihood of him sticking to his promise is, well, dubious. But unless something radical is done, and soon, NME, at least in its magazine form, may well be making the same announcement.

Comments (5)

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Great article. It makes me a bit sad when I read the NME, to think how poor it has become. The worst part for me is that they're afraid to put new artists on the cover. I know the Connor McNicholas years were bad but at least new acts were given...

Great article. It makes me a bit sad when I read the NME, to think how poor it has become. The worst part for me is that they're afraid to put new artists on the cover. I know the Connor McNicholas years were bad but at least new acts were given a chance. Working on Soundblab you realise how many new releases don't get covered. You're right that they don't know they're audience, giving a full page to a Rihanna album review while ignoring some great indie debuts.

I'm less sad about Morrissey's demise though. I want to remember my Smiths albums without watching him sweat his way around a stage. Please don't reform next year.

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There's nothing wrong with NME trying to broaden its focus. That's laudable (after all, its focus was pretty broad in the 80s when it was at its peak) and very necessary for its survival. But its attempts to do so are just botched and crass. Its...

There's nothing wrong with NME trying to broaden its focus. That's laudable (after all, its focus was pretty broad in the 80s when it was at its peak) and very necessary for its survival. But its attempts to do so are just botched and crass. Its main problem is that it has totally forgotten how to be an actual decent music mag. It's stuck in the empty bombast of the Britpop years, still pretending that every new band of skinny white guys in the best thing in the world ever. It needs to get out of that fast and face up to the fact the rest of the world moved on a long time ago. It's clinging to the remnants of an empire which no longer exists.

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Some good comments there, especially the 'skinny white guys, next big thing' line. They are all over Howler like a rash and they frankly shocking.

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I don't think Howler have had too much hype from them, not any more than other bands anyway. They are pretty average though. I don't think they only focus on the skinny white guys either, loads of coverage for Azaelia Banks, Asap Rocky and Lana...

I don't think Howler have had too much hype from them, not any more than other bands anyway. They are pretty average though. I don't think they only focus on the skinny white guys either, loads of coverage for Azaelia Banks, Asap Rocky and Lana Del Rey recently. There's plenty wrong with the mag but the one thing they do right is push new music, the only thing they do wrong for new music is not put the acts on the cover. My biggest gripe right now is the overall quality of the journalism and the magazine as a whole. Too many lists each week, features on old bands or dead people. If they could expand the coverage of new artists and bump up the features to 3 or 4 pages as it used to be, then I might take longer than an hour to read it.

I hope they sort it out as I've grown up with it. It's sad to see it in it's current state.

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To be fair, I think NME does spread its net quite wide in the music it covers, certainly wider than a monstrosity like fucking Q, and I would be sad to see it go. But it's very haphazard about the non-guitar music it covers and quite clueless, as...

To be fair, I think NME does spread its net quite wide in the music it covers, certainly wider than a monstrosity like fucking Q, and I would be sad to see it go. But it's very haphazard about the non-guitar music it covers and quite clueless, as evidenced by giving Rihanna loads of coverage. I think it's down to a loss of confidence the mag has suffered since Britpop, which was basically terrible for the alternative music industry. NME, for better or worse, is now tied to this idea that some amazing new scene of white boys with guitars are gonna come along and fix everything. And I just don't think it's going to happen.

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