Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roy Harper re-evaluated

I think I've come to a momentous conclusion: I DON'T LIKE ROY HARPER ANYMORE! 

What does this say about me? Help! I used to LOOK UP to him!! He was a ROLE MODEL to me!!!
I wanted to BE LIKE HIM!!! Now, so much of what I used to find admirable or endearing just seems irritating to me. All that stoned rambling that I used to liken to the art of the raconteur now just seems insufferably smug and self-satisfied. All that openly expressed lust which I used to think signified a liberated and free libido now just strikes me as a distasteful lack of self-discipline which can (ocassionally) be worryingly close to borderline paedophilia. Songs like "Francesca" now just sound cloying and facile to me where once they sounded beautiful. "I Hate The White Man" is just a megalomaniacal rant from a Hyde Park soapbox - no more, no less. Once I thought it was courageous and committed political poetry. Only "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease" strikes me as the work of a genuinely talented artist. The rest is just self-indulgence, which one can enjoy to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how much you like the noise it makes. (I will always like "How Does It Feel" and "Sgt Sunshine", for example.)

I realise, of course, that it's patently absurd to apply such high standards to what is really only pop music but I do it because he himself demands it. Besides, as pop music, it fails completely. The Shirelles and Edison Lighthouse, or Kylie Minogue for that matter, easily leave this portentous, overlong, overblown material in the dust. No, Harper demands to be taken seriously as an Artist. But does he measure up? As a singer he can be wonderful, but he seems to have no sense of proportion. His wobbling vibratos and falsettos on, for example, "I'll See You Again" are quite excruciating. Where he can be sensitive and genuinely affecting, he can just as easily bludgeon and hector - sacrificing subtlety for empty bombast. As a poet he is equally inconsistent: some of his lines are genuinely insightful and thought provoking, or funny, or both ("the milkman rides his clanging cow.. and all the time it's now somehow"), he is good at expressing an angry outsider's view of the society of which he is so critical ("with your God strapped to your wrist"), and equally adept at the converse edenic ideal ("the barefoot dream of life"). But... he seems only too happy to just chuck away a good lyric with a stupid schoolboy obscenity, like an eight year old blowing raspberries in church. And.. his poetic vision of womanhood is patronising and sexist almost beyond belief! Only his guitar playing is consistently good throughout - and he seems to take this completely for granted, often burying his urgent and spiky and original playing under the more polished but infinitely less interesting contributions of his "rock star" friends such as Jimmy Page or Dave Gilmour.

So - is it all over for me and Roy? Should I send him this and piss him off? Poor old bugger. It's too late to expect him to do anything about it. I broadly suspect the old waccy baccy myself. A lifetime spent stoned has robbed him all along the way of the ability to effectively edit himself. What a shame, because, as "Cricketer" in its entirety, and a handful of other bits and pieces prove: he was a genuinely original English voice and, if he had had a little more artistic self-discipline, he could have developed into a significant one.

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