Saturday, 7 April 2012

'Union Black' - The Olympics, The Jubilee and the 'Best of British' (Continued...)

(The Olympic Mascots - About as British as France)

Britishness is a perplexing complex (indeed, if it can even be deemed a concept.) Chrome's spellchecker does not even recognise 'Britishness' as a word and yet it seems to dominate so much of our discourse on public life, culture, academia etc.  Notions of Britishness have been deployed to defend traditional cultural values, even to propagate hate driven racist ideologies, yet Britishness has also come to be seen as a less-problematic and more inclusive way in which to define an increasingly multi-cultural society. In short, Britishness means different things to different people; when I think of Britishness, for example, the image that most readily springs to mind is that of a slightly over-weight man eating a lukewarm portion of fish and chips on a park bench in the rain. I am sure you will have your own visual conception of Britishness; possibly a slightly haggard looking woman churning butter? Or maybe a man muttering angrily to himself having just missed a bus? Perhaps it is to be expected, however, that Britishness will always be a hard concept to pin down. After all, Britain is, in essence, a rather resentful enforced conglomeration of four countries that largely dislike each other - it's an identity crisis waiting to happen.

Having now come no closer to defining 'Britishness', let us proceed to continue the line up for my proposed 'Best of British' festival. I must admit, neither the Queen nor Lord Coe were particularly receptive of my initial suggestions. However, in true British spirit, this lady is not for turning - "Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more..."



Mid-Afternoon Slots (Continued...)


Carcass
Everyone's favourite northern purveyors of heavy brutality, Carcass would be the perfect accompaniment to a spot of afternoon tea or possibly a violent brawl in a pub (two quintessentially British past-times I'm sure we will all agree.) Along with Napalm Death, Carcass were pioneers of Grindcore and then, not being content to merely innovate one extreme heavy metal sub-genre, went on to aid in the development of Melodic Death Metal. When you have recorded albums as good as 'Heartwork' and 'Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious', you can even be forgiven for having a Swede in the band. Besides, there is no questioning Carcass' strong British credentials; hailing from Liverpool, Carcass are in many respects the natural successors to that other most famous of Liverpudlian bands, the Beatles, whose influence can strongly be heard on tracks such as 'Incarnated Solvent Abuse' and 'Vomited Anal Tract'. Indeed, its hard to imagine anyone other than a British band penning lyrics that are quite so grossly and needlessly offensive.
(Carcass - Heartwork, Live)



Therapy?
Much to the irritation of Gerry Adams and the provisional IRA, Northern Ireland is still a part of Great Britain and as such this band effortlessly qualify for my 'Best of British' festival. Once hailed as the 'British Nirvana', Therapy? never quite lived up to their commercial potential (and what could possibly be more British than underachievement?) Having said that, Therapy? have proved to be a remarkably consistent band, continuing to release fantastically strange and catchy alternative metal albums to the ongoing delight of an incredibly dedicated fan-base. Therapy? also showed America that Britain could compete with the Seattle-centric grunge explosion of the early 1990s without having to conform to American notions of 'coolness'. In many regards, Therapy? were probably too British for their own good; it's hard to imagine a songs like 'Knives', which largely consists of front-man Andy Cairns yelling "I'm going to get drunk come round and fuck you up," ever appealing to anyone but the most cynical and bitter of Brits.
(Therapy? - Screamager)



Dub War
Britain is now a multi-cultural society and all the better for it. Thanks to the large swathes of immigration, which have largely defined Britain since the Second World War, we now eat better food, read better books and certainly listen to better music. If you still need convincing on this point, however, then look no further than Dub War. Formed in the early 1990s by a group of working class lads in the industrial valley town of Newport with a Welsh singer of Afro-Caribbean parentage, Dub War fused traditional British heavy metal with American Alternative Rock and Jamaican Ragga to form a potent blend that, as well as being downright awesome, was very reflective of Britain's changing cultural composition. Sadly the band only released two albums before calling it a day, however, frontman Benji Webbe went on to form the similarly fantastic band Skindred. Last year Skindred released a brilliant album in the form of the fantastically titled 'Union Black', complete with a dub/electronic version of 'God Save the Queen' for its introductory track  - very British.
(Dub War - Strike It) 


Headliners

Genesis
In choosing two artists to headline a 'Best of British' music festival the notion of 'Britishness', or at least my warped understanding of 'Britishness, was at the forefront of my mind. However, from the outset of this pointless exercise in self-indulgent time killing, Genesis (or at least Genesis in their earlier Peter Gabriel incarnation) were the logical choice of headliner. Few artists encapsulate that uniquely British sense of eccentricity, bordering on clinical insanity, quite like Genesis. Take a song like 'Supper's Ready', for example;  clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, 'Supper's Ready' is a bizarrely beautiful exploration of the quirks of the British psyche in which Peter Gabriel's lyrical musings touch upon subjects as wide ranging as 'Winston Churchill dressed in drag' and 'mum doing the washing'. If you are still finding this a rather confusing proposition then I'm sure this sample lyric will explain all: "the frog was a prince, the prince was a brick, the brick was an egg, the egg was a bird" (or not, as the case may be.) Genesis' next album, 'Selling England by the Pound', is, in my eyes at least, the finest musical encapsulation of Britishness we have to date; a beautiful exploration of melancholy, eccentricity and misty-eyed nostalgia that is as haunting as it is beautiful. You can keep your Elgar, because nothing is quite as fantastically British to me as Genesis in full flight powering through 'Dancing with the Moonlit Night'. Simply stunning.
(Genesis - Dancing with the Moonlit Night)




Iron Maiden
Of course, when I say there is nothing quite as British as Genesis' 'Dancing with the Moonlit Night' I am lying - and that is largely because this next band thankfully exist - the incredibly fantastic Iron Maiden. Formed in the mid-1970s Iron Maiden have gone on to be one of the most well respected and commercially successful heavy metal bands of all time. Despite often being maligned by the mainstream press, Iron Maiden have sold over eighty millions albums (and in case you need any help visualizing that, just imagine a lot of albums,) sold out some of the biggest music festivals in the world and helped create and define a genre. All of this is even more remarkable when you consider that Iron Maiden have rarely compromised nor deviated from their own creative vision. Whilst peers, such as Metallica, may have felt the need to get trendy hair cuts and conform to prevailing cultural trends, bassist and band leader Steve Harris has steered the good ship Iron Maiden through the tempestuous seas of critical opinion for over thirty years - always remaining true to course. Surely that sense of stubborn refusal and determined singularity is one of the things we Brits can truly celebrate. We should also not forget that Iron Maiden were formed in the east end of London, a literal stone's throw away from the site of this year's Olympic games; so if Lord Coe is looking for local talent, look no further! And if you still need convincing, please view the video clip provided for your convenience below - I defy anyone to tell me that a Union Jack waving Bruce Dickinson singing a song about the charge of the Light Brigade is not the most British thing you have ever seen.
(Iron Maiden - The Trooper, Live)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

'God Save the Queen?' - The Olympics, The Jubilee and the 'Best of British'


(The Queen's Diamond Jubilee will be accompanied by a concert celebrating British music)

For us Brits who love large sporting events and ageing monarchs, 2012 is shaping up to be a truly superb year. Short of a proletariat uprising or a Scottish invasion, it seems 2012 will most likely be defined by the Olympic Games in London and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; the former being a global celebration of sporting prowess with the latter being a celebration of one woman’s sheer determination not to die. Somehow both of these seemingly disparate events have been construed to be celebrations of Britishness; like a giant glossy brochure for our fair island, enticing you to come and admire our disappointing attempts at sport and our inordinately old undemocratically appointed head of state. As part of this fantastical orgasm of Britishness, both events are being accompanied by concerts in which British artists will take centre stage to do some musical flag waving. The Olympics concert so far boasts Blur, New Order and The Specials with the rest of the as yet to be announced acts promising to represent ‘the best of British’, according to the organisers. Similarly the Queen’s concert has been quick to draw in British talent, with Jessie J’s truly remarkable fringe making an appearance alongside less fringy acts such as Tom Jones and Elton John. Kylie Minogue will also be singing for the Queen, in a symbolic gesture reinforcing the penal colony of Australia’s continued subservience to the British Empire. Apparently Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber are also writing a song for the event - what beautiful melodious spawn that act of musical intercourse will give birth to we can only imagine...

The problem with the billings for both concerts thus far, however, is that they are trying to present an image of Britishness that does not really exist. One can imagine these bills were meant to present a view of Britishness that is contemporary, classic, edgy and cool. Yet when I think of Britishness the words that most spring to mind are, repressed, eccentric, disappointed and cross. With that in mind here is the first part of my alternative festival billing representing ‘the Best of British’ for consideration by the Olympics Committee, the BBC and just about anyone who cares for my inane chatter.    


Opening Slot

Napalm Death
What better way to start a celebration of Britishness than with Birmingham’s finest, Napalm Death. Pioneers of an extreme metal sub-genre known as Grindcore, Napalm Death represent the continuation of a long line of British innovators going back to Alexander Graham Bell and Isaac Newton. In the spirit of the Olympics, Napalm Death were once world record holders themselves, albeit for penning the shortest song ever recorded (a two second blast entitled ‘You Suffer.’)  With such a vast back catalogue of classics, such as ‘Scum’, ‘Human Garbage’ and ‘Conservative Shithead’, it’s hard to imagine anyone not having a good time. 

 (Napalm Death - When All Is Said and Done)


Mid-Afternoon Slots

Jethro Tull
With both the Olympic and Jubilee concerts feeling the need to celebrate the success of British Urban artists, I can’t help but feel that rural Britain is being poorly underrepresented. With this in mind, progressive folk-rockers Jethro Tull would be the perfect addition to any music festival purporting to be a celebration of Britishness. Taking their name from an agricultural pioneer from Norfolk, Jethro Tull have long celebrated the merits of the British countryside. From penning odes to farming, such as ‘Heavy Horses,’ to singing songs about wooded areas, ‘Songs from the Wood,’ Jethro Tull are the musical embodiment of rural Britain. Jethro Tull also wrote a song called ‘Thick as a Brick’ which should we ever need a new national anthem would be the natural contender.

(Jethro Tull - Songs From the Woods)


Manic Street Preachers
Whilst I have nothing but respect and admiration for Sir Tom Jones, it seems a shame that he constantly hogs the ‘token Welsh artist’ slot at any festival purporting to be a celebration of Britishness. Far better to give the Manic Street Preachers an airing; their angry hymns to Welsh working class life would prove a nice counterpoint to the saccharine mush of Take That. Also, tracks like ‘Repeat’, with its lyrical refrain of “fuck Queen and country... dumb flag scum,” would surely prove popular with the whole Windsor family.

(Manic Street Preachers - Revol)


Cradle of Filth
Although frequently derided in both the mainstream and alternative press, Cradle of Filth are something of a British institution and should be celebrated as such. For one, they are the highest selling Black Metal band of all time – a British achievement we can all be proud of. Their global success has resulted in Cradle of Filth being international ambassadors for Britain. Songs such as ‘Gilded Cunt’ and ‘Shat out of Hell’ successfully combine epic Black Metal melodies with British lyrical sensibilities and are avidly consumed by an international audience. Despite all the sensationalist hyperbole, Cradle of Filth have always embodied a certain dark strand of the British psyche, from the dark romanticism of Byron and Shelley to the black humour of Monty Python, Cradle of Filth are disgusting, offensive and very British.

(Cradle of Filth - Gilded Cunt)




To be continued... (possibly)

Monday, 27 February 2012

'10 Worst Lists' - The NME and the Current Crisis in Music Journalism


(Featured in the NME, February 2012. Soon to be followed by '10 Best Album Liner Notes' and '10 Worst Britpop Shoes')


To many, the concept of the ‘list’ and the practice of ‘listing’ may seem an odd, possibly even inane, choice of subject matter for an article. I certainly would forgive you for presuming an article on lists would be dull in extremis; so mind-numbingly bland as to not warrant even the most cursory of glances. In these assumptions you may well be correct, however, lists are central to the seemingly never ending discourse of music.  Ever since the dawn of music criticism (when Neanderthal men first cast judgement on the pretentious drumming of the local stick smasher) people have been compelled to sort their musical opinions into lists. Ancient cave paintings in France depicting images of Stone Age percussionists sorted vertically in order of preference are testament to this. This may be a slight exaggeration, or possibly a grotesque lie, but nonetheless lists are a staple of music journalism and something of a proud tradition of the medium. At its best, the list can inform but also entertain. In this regard you could argue the list is a force for good in music journalism; a moral bastion of integrity divulging information in a neatly condensed form. Conversely, however, the list can also be used for evil; such is the power of the list that it also has the ability to divide, offend and peddle falsehoods as absolute truths. Sadly in these times it is the latter which seems to predominate and it therefore surprises me not that the list has fallen into such disrepute amongst large swathes of the music press reading public. 

As with many of the present ills in music journalism, much of the blame for the debasement of the list can be placed on the NME; a paper which currently holds the number two spot in my list of ‘10 Worst British Music Papers’ (naturally, the only reason it is not number one is because Kerrang still exists.) As a substitute for writing articles (or ‘proper music journalism’ as I like to call it) the NME has morphed into one continuous under-researched, shit-stirring, hate mongering and downright snobbish list. Recent lists published in the NME have included ’10 Worst Songs of the 90s', a list so banal and extraneous in its subject matter that it is surely only a matter of time before we are treated to the NME’s pick of ‘10 Worst Hair Cuts of the 1970s’ or possibly ‘10 Best Coats as Worn by Liam Gallagher/Alex Turner/Chris Martin...’ (you get the gist.) More worrying than the lists which are merely devoid of any meaningful content are the lists which seem intended solely to annoy, anger or ‘cause a controversy’ and ‘provoke a response.’ Recently this was apparent in the magazine’s decision to label Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this Way’ as the most ‘Pretentious Album’ of all time in a top 10 list on the subject. Naturally this caused a frenzied online response from Lady Gaga fans which was then turned by the NME (in a decision that was almost as farcical as it was nauseatingly smug) into a list of responses from Gaga fans entitled ‘50 Angriest Lady Gaga Fans.’ As one of the list's more astute readers commented: "Why is this article even on here? It's like your trying to piss people off. Not sure if this is journalism or just trolling." Let's be honest - it's just trolling.
(Taken from NME.com, February 2012)

Now, I must profess I am not a particular fan of Lady Gaga and I would be inclined to agree that some Lady Gaga fans need to reassess the emotional relationship they have with her. However, it seems clear that from the outset the list was only ever intended to cause controversy and to be insulting. As a result the opinions contained within it are not even particularly worthwhile; even as an impartial observer I would struggle to label ‘Born This Way’ the most pretentious album of all time. If you want truly pretentious music, in the worst sense of the word ‘pretentious’, why not listen to Angel and Airwaves’ (featuring Blink 182 guitarist Tom Delonge) recent double concept album ‘Love: Part 1’ and ‘Love: Part 2’ (or better still, don’t.) Naturally, Angel and Airwaves’ doubly pretentious abomination did not make the NME’s list presumably because it would have been an uncontentious choice and whilst being valid it would not have needlessly offended anyone and what would be the point in that? Perhaps it is too much to expect informed opinions in NME lists; a recent list of ‘Top 10 Metallica Songs of all Time’ put ‘Hero of the Day’ at number four and ‘King Nothing’ at number three! Whilst I appreciate that everyone is entitled to an opinion, there are some opinions which we can all agree are wrong, such as Holocaust denial or the NME’s views on Metallica. Sadly, unlike Holocaust denial, the NME is not illegal in Austria. 

Perhaps we should really pity the NME. The magazines’ sales have been in decline for a number of years hitting a new low in the second half of last year when sales declined to under 30,000 copies a month. In fact the NME is now routinely outsold monthly by traditionally more niche music magazines, such as Classic Rock and Metal Hammer, which overtook NME sales in 2009. So perhaps really the NME just desperately wants people to care again, just like the ‘good ole days’ of the 1970s when it could duly claim to be documenting and influencing the popular music culture of the era. So perhaps the NME's '50 Angriest Lady GaGa Fans' feature, rather than purely being an excerise in childish name calling, was actually a representation of the NME editorial staff's excitement that there are still sentient beings who acknowledge and respond to their opinions... even though the rest of the world continues to shrug in nonchalant apathy. If the good ship NME is going down, however, it seems callous and cruel for it to take the list with it. Much like Hitler’s dog in the Berlin bunker, what did the list do to deserve this?




N.B. For an example of an excellently constructed list please consult Sam K.'s rather good 'The List' - http://rantlist.blogspot.com


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

'The Xmas Factor' - Christ, Popular Revolt and the Christmas No. 1

(Simon Cowell: The man who stole Christmas?)

As January trundles into February and, if the Mayans are right, we edge ever closer to our apocalyptic demise allow me to cast your minds back to rosier pastures - mainly, last Christmas. Everyone loves Christmas; food, family, fun, frolics, festivities, fruit cake - it’s an alliterative smorgasbord of delight. For all its charms, however, Christmas hangs on a series of bizarre absurdities. It represents a form or ritualized weirdness in which we are all encouraged to conform to a series of chronologically specific traditions that at any other time of the year would send alarm bells ringing for the early signs of dementia. Wearing a crown made of paper, heating wine up in a saucepan and standing up when the Queen appears on the television are the sort of behaviors that would see you ostracized from your community throughout the rest of the calendar year. Yet at Christmas this sort of behavior is perfectly acceptable because it is Jesus Christ’s birthday and it is what he would have wanted, or at least I am fairly sure that is what the Bible tells us. If that is indeed the case, as well as his personal quirks, Jesus had at best, a very questionable taste in music; I only refrain from describing it as “embarrassingly piss-poor” to avoid some malicious form of divine retribution. 

Like it (or more appropriately) loathe it, Christmas music has become entrenched in the holiday’s rich pageant. From the dour god fearing hymns of yore to the dour god fearing hymns of Cliff Richard, nothing quite encapsulates the spirit of Christmas like Christmas music. The cult of Christmas music is enshrined in the ‘Christmas Number One’: the highest grossing music single of the festive week. Throughout the rest of the year most people remain fairly indifferent to the singles chart (unless you’re Reggie Yates of course) but come Christmas it is apparently impossible not to care. Having a number one single during the week leading up to Christmas is a supreme artistic triumph, infinitely more important and prestigious than having a number one single in the second week of February or, god forbid, the third week of June. Indeed past luminaries of this most prestigious of honours include, Mr. Blobby, St Winifred’s School Choir and Rolf Harris. With such a rich artistic pedigree it is understandable why the Christmas Number One continues to attract such public interest and musical competition. In recent years the accolade has traditionally fallen upon the winner of ‘The X Factor', Simon Cowell’s immensely popular ‘talent’ competition. For most of these faceless purveyors of mediocrity it represents their sole excursion into the realms of chart success; their day in the sun in the middle of winter before returning to the lukewarm waters of the sea of disappointment. Indeed, for a period of time between 2005 and 2008 it seemed that Simon Cowell had the entire nation under some sort of hypnotic trance; he had somehow poisoned the collective cultural well forcing us all to buy his corrupt and corrosive product, somehow steeling Christmas in the process.

When in 2009, two unknown British citizens, Jon and Tracey Mortimer, started an online campaign to get Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ to the Christmas number one spot it was heralded as a grass roots revolt; a classic David and Goliath story where a band of lowly peasants are pitted against the might of the despotic tyrant Cowell. The song choice itself was significant; the lyrical refrain of “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” was seen to attack the corporatism of the music industry, which the miserly Cowell perfectly personified. I was initially grabbed by the novelty of the campaign, ‘power to the people!’ I thought, ‘fight the power!’ – I was positively overtaken by the spirit of Chuck D. Yet its eventual success left me cold - what had we actually achieved? Had we really exercised our collective will or had we merely substituted one kind of mass-media decision inducing pressure for another? It seems that instead of buckling to the incessant marketing and advertising juggernaut of the X factor we had merely succumbed to the cumulative effect of an online campaign and its ensuing media coverage. In effect, instead of doing what Simon Cowell told us we did what two anonymous internet users told us – what a win for independent thought that was. We had invested in a media orchestrated allusion of rebellion which really represented the other side of the conformity coin (which in case you were wondering looks very similar to the former side.) So this year when a similarly anonymous internet user tried to instigate a similarly themed campaign to get Nirvana’s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ to the Christmas number one spot I thought, “fuck you sir, I will not do what you (or Simon Cowell) tell me!’ I will eat, drink and be merry whilst listening to Cannibal Corpse because that is the way Christ intended it! So a Merry Christmas to all and to all a ‘Hammer Smashed Face.’


(Cannibal Corpse - Hammer Smashed Face)




Friday, 28 October 2011

The Fragile Art of Collaborations, Part I: Kanye West and Jay Z

(West & Z - should probably stop watching the 'throne' and try watching the 'news'.)


(A Note From the Author: This article was ostensibly meant to be a subtle and balanced piece about the nature of musical collaborations, taking a fair and authoritative look at some of the better known collaborations between musical artists and examining their respective merits and draw backs. As it happens, what I actually ended up writing was a protracted rant about Jay Z and Kanye West and the sorry state of modern hip-hop. Sometimes these things cannot be helped. Enjoy... and I promise I will say something nice about someone next time, maybe.)

Earlier in the year we were presented with the fruits of Kanye West and Jay Z’s combined creative labours, ‘Watch the Throne.’ The title itself is apparently a reference to the way in which Kanye and Jay Z are watching over the hip-hop throne, presumably as the throne’s self appointed guardians. So if you have found yourself awake at night, stricken with worry, fearful that the hip-hop throne was going un-minded - relax, Kanye and Jay Z have got it covered. Quite frankly I had no intention to listen to this album and why I did is still a mystery to me. Presumably the boredom of unemployment coerced me into it or, far less likely, some lofty notions of journalistic enquiry. Perhaps I wanted to try for one last time to hop aboard the good ship ‘popular culture,’ to embrace the contemporary sounds of the kids of the 21st century and to escape from this lonely cultural exile in which I find myself. After all, if Youtube is to be taken as an accurate representation of prevailing cultural trends then what Kanye West and Jay Z have produced here is nothing short of a masterpiece; as one Youtube enthusiast described it:

"JAY Z & KANYE WEST ARE ADULT - GROWN RAP
BUT WEEZY LIL WAYNE I GOT LOVE FOR THIS NIGGA BUT HIS RAP SOUNDS LIKE TEENAGE RAP- I THINK HE GOTTA TRANSFORM FROM BEING TEENAGE TO GROWN RAP IN ORDER TO MAKE A CLASSIC LIKE WATCH THE THRONE."

Such astute and well put forward views are hard to dismiss out of hand. Another Youtuber said of 'Watch the Throne' that it was "the realist beat I have ever heard." High praise indeed. Sadly I could not really relate to either commentators' views.

 In a nutshell, the album is the artistic embodiment of the idiom, ‘two wrongs do not make a right.’ I am still not entirely sure what two wrongs do make, but judging by this album, it is definitely not a right. Most of the album consists of Kanye West and his friend Jay Z waxing lyrical about being the ‘Illest Mother Fucker Alive’ and what it’s like to be ‘Niggers in Paris.’ It really is a far cry from N.W.A.’s classic ‘Real Niggers Don’t Die’ or Public Enemy’s politically charged ‘Anti-Nigger Machine’. In many ways, when you consider the vitally urgent political rebellion of many early rap artists, such as the aforementioned ‘Public Enemy,’ it’s slightly disappointing that the only obvious rebellion taking place on ‘Watch the Throne’ is against the laws of the English language (as far as I am aware ‘Illest’ is not and never has been a proper adjective.) Sadly Kanye and Jay Z’s disregard for sentence structure and words is not my main point of contention with this record. One of the great strengths of well executed rap has been the demonstration of a degree of social awareness that is often lacking in other music genres. Beneath the often rolled out clich├ęs of rap being ‘street level’ and ‘down with the kids,’ rap and hip-hop have often presented a world view that many people can empathise with; the struggle of a down-trodden and often ignored minority in a society which offered them little in the way of hope or prospects - a scenario which possibly has a great degree of contemporary relevance, perhaps? 

Apparently not if you’re either Kanye West or Jay Z. What they present here is an image of a world-view so divorced from most people’s reality that it’s hard to muster any empathy or compassion for either of them, let alone like them. When Kanye West perceptively asks ‘what’s fifty grand to a mother fucker like me?’, in the lyrics to ‘Nigger in Paris’, it’s hard to arouse any feeling towards him at all other than a burning urge to punch him in the gut. By track four, ‘Otis’, I’m finding it hard not to turn my pent up aggression on myself and start mutilating my own face; but when you’re confronted with lyrics like these it’s probably an understandable involuntary response:
"They aint see me cause I pulled up in my other Benz
Last week I was in my other other Benz
Throw your diamonds up cause we in this bitch another 'gain." (Otis, Messrs. West & Z)
 Other than reading like a bad car advert, this lyric underlines the central theme of the album, which can be summarised thusly: “we have money, lots of money, huge amounts of money. As a matter of fact, we have vast sums of accumulated wealth, in a time when everyone else is suffering due to the inherent unfairness of free market capitalism – we’re not! Why? Because we have lots of money!” As a result, the experience of listening to the album as a whole is a bit like having Kanye West wipe his ass with your face for forty-six minutes and two seconds. Or if you'd like a more pleasant simile, its like losing a rather protracted game of monopoly. The music video to the aforementioned song features Kanye West and Jay Z destroying what looks like a very expensive car, presumably just because they can (they both have lots of money, in case you had not gathered that from all the other songs on the album,) before proceeding to drive the car around in a hap-hazard fashion with more girls in the back seat than are legally permitted. Also, upon closer inspection, no one appears to be wearing a seat belt, but I digress... 

At best you could probably dismiss this combined artistic effort as a bad album; nothing more than two friends sharing a urinal that also happens to be your ear. But the sad fact is that, in many ways, this album is a reflection of the sad state of current popular rap/hip-hop; having lost all awareness of the society of which it is a part, it has become little more than a form of materialistic masturbation (with a liberal splashing of misogyny for good measure.) Quite frankly I expected this from Kanye West, but Jay Z really should have known better (or should he? I’m not entirely sure.)  
If Kanye West and Jay Z really are the kings, sitting on their rap/hip-hop throne, then we can only pray for a repeat of events in Russia in 1917. I feel slightly bad that I can’t help but chuckle at the image of Kanye West and Jay Z being lined up against a wall in a remote basement somewhere outside St. Petersburg, but, like Tsar Nicholas II, they probably deserve it. On that point I am fairly sure Chuck D and Flava Flav would agree...