Thoughts on Attempting a “Review of the Year”

The Joy Collective is a rather splendid blog about music.

It tends to focus on Cardiff, Newport and Bristol, which makes a lot of sense because all three are close enough to share their gig-going crowds. Plus, truly, they are among the UK’s best cities for gigs.

Recently Will at The Joy Collective sent me some questions about my experiences of 2008. So I dashed off some answers, knowing they could never be comprehensive or definitive.

Some thoughts:

  • It’s fun to take stock of cultural things. Counting off years is a great opportunity to do that.
  • Old stuff can be good too. In fact there is much more good old stuff – because there’s more. Compare past millennia of culture to 2008, which is only one year. Of course, the old also has much more rubbish too.
  • Time CAN be a filter of quality because utter rubbish does get forgotten.
  • Old books, old films, old music can be worth the effort. While a lot of it is rubbish or irrelevant, history is rich with things waiting to be rediscovered.
  • We often don’t try to discover the old. What proportion of the books on your shelf were written pre-1900? What about, say, black and white films? (What about your computer games? I don’t play much these days but are they an exception – disposable culture?)
  • Assumptions (often false): new is “better”, new is a “progression”. Even in our digital age, these assumptions lead to a market scarcity of old stuff, or a scarcity in popular archives like libraries or databases. This deprives us of the opportunity to check the old stuff out and thus we have a vicious circle. (Examples: even iTunes doesn’t have many recordings from 78rpm era. And you can’t watch, say, Casablanca at the cinema – usually.)
  • Newness governs demand and therefore the charts, even niche charts. (Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah is definitive and better than Leonard Cohen’s original. (Discuss!) But more people bought Alexandra Burke’s new version.)
  • Over time, the significance of a particular album (or film/piece/work) can go down as well as up.
  • Annoyingly, we now have to pay huge amounts of money for originals of great things which were ignored or neglected at the time of release. This observation was annoying for the creators at the time, as they struggled to get sales. Any artform has examples of this. (Examples: Vincent Van Gogh paintings, Sun Ra or Main Source albums)
  • The cultural impact (or any other consequences) of things in a particular year will become clearer in time.
  • Just to prove a point, maybe I should post a review of the year 1988 at a totally arbitary time. Or the year 88AD. Either review could only ever be subjective and incomplete.

So there you go. Feel free to comment. You can also read other people’s 2008 reviews on The Joy Collective.

2 Replies to “Thoughts on Attempting a “Review of the Year””

  1. Sorry about getting the link wrong. Looks like I’m out of the quiz team…

    Good blog though – I like that quote about the present year always being the best for music, as the past keeps building up more and more stuff to add to the present. Shame I first heard it from Danny of Embrace.


  2. Heh!

    Some people really are better in interview than in song.

    (James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem is another – I see what they’re trying to do but never really got into them.)

    Some people are better in DJ set than in song.

    What’s a link between friends? A public apology really wasn’t necessary but thanks!

    Give my regards to Danny.

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