Thursday, June 01, 2000
Is Francis, - sorry, Frannie - from Travis a "sexy rock man-beast" or "a potato-headed gimp"? The mysterious, secret society dedicated to destroying music who have currently hijacked Freaky Trigger say the latter. I might not go that far, but I certainly draw a blank when I try to understand the animal magnetism he exerts over so many people I know. Why do people find him attractive? For all the daring of his mountain slope haircut (oh yeah and I know there's a special name for it, but I'm not quite that clued up), he's basically made of the same stuff as his band's music. In absolutely no way offensive, he's the people's poet without the coke habit or the ego, neither powerfully charismatic, nor twee enough to be interesting, pleasantly indistinctive and completely forgettable.

So I'm thinking: perhaps people lust after Travis for the same reason they think that "Why Does It Always Rain On Me" is a modern classic. In a world where the leading edge of "cool" is defined by the plastically perfect, the technologically hyperreal and the chemically enhanced, Fran's unassumingly natural there-ness is enticing precisely because it is so boring. When I think of the three critical-consensus-cum-crossover albums of '99 (Moby, Macy, Travis), it occurs to me that all three were praised for how "human" they were, for how they put an organic sense of soulfulness back into dance/r'n'b/post-Radiohead stadium rock. People are actively embracing music which offers them a mirage of "personality" and "feeling" because it seems to be lacking at both extremes, from ephemeral pop to abstract experimentalism (in fact "Play" strikes me as the most faceless, calculated thing Moby's done, but that's a whole 'nother gripe). It's an entirely understandable reaction to the overheated acceleration that characterises our society as we perch on the crest of the tidal wave of history. I can sympathise with this collective step back from the edge: right now, personally, life does seem too frenetic, too fast-paced, too much like I'm dancing to someone else's tune; and if I liked the damn song I think I'd play "Why Does It Always..." all the time. For all its apparent gloominess this actually must be the escapist anthem of the year; an anthem about stasis in a world where it is impossible to stop.

Trouble is, I sorta like the whole heatdeath-acceleration business, and consequently I'm drawn to music which posits itself firmly in the present looking forward. It's music characterised by its own velocity, but even more so than the sounds of the "street" from halfway through the decade (Wu Tang hip hop, jungle), the cutting edge sounds of today, from UK Garage through r'n'b and bounce right up to Britney, feels positively infected by the future. The spasmodic ticks and flurries, sampladelic mutations and dense, gritty-but-shimmering arrangements (plus the requisite Hype Williams videos) envision a world where humans have been warped by technology into something alien and thoroughly compelling (actually, Britney sounds like she's being molested by technology, which might be even better). And it's true that this is not, like, real or anything, but just as the hi-fi stutterbeats of the music easily beats the insipidly shapeless ebb and flow of Moby/Macy/Travis, the superficial "fakeness" is both more honest and just damn sexy than the studied "reality" of the critical darlings. It's also more willing to challenge conventional notions of sex appeal - for every Britney there's a Missy or Kelis. And while the cyber-Missy in the "She's A Bitch" video is sex on a stick, Fran, weird haircut or no weird haircut, is the boy-next-door as boys next door actually tend to be: worth ignoring.


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