Articles Life Modest Proposals

Camomile Tea vs Motorbikes

Thursday, September 11, 1997

‘Those who go through life prepared for every eventuality do so at the expense of much joy’, runs the (half-forgotten) quote.

Camomile tea has with it the air of preparedness. For some (few), there’s an immediate attraction in the taste, and for most, a welcoming calming effect, but it still smacks of being over-cautious.

You’re not living in a great big way drinking the stuff – it’s not shots of frozen vodka or even a good nerve-tingling espresso.

As such, it ties in with other obviously healthy elements to make a lifestyle that is faultless in its logic. But not smoking, going to the gym and eating the right food all express a certain degree of fear: it’s a tough world out there, and you have to look after yourself, and you’ll be in better shape to cope with life if you’re in better shape yourself.

This is not to deny that there isn’t an inherent pleasure to be gained from staying healthy. Both the endorphin rush of pushing yourself hard on a run or on a bike, and the more measured feeling of waking up and not feeling like death are worthy ends in themselves.

It makes sense, but how does it fare when stacked up against the glorious nonsensical nature of life, not to mention the platitudes of teenage rebellion – ‘burn out, not fade away’; ‘live fast, die young’?

What camomile tea is to the careful approach, the motorbike is to this more expansive way of life. Freedom, danger, life on the edge – it’s all encompassed by the two wheels and leathers. As reader Paul Sotrop from Florida remarks: ‘There is no visceral thrill in tea. It reminds you of the times you were ill. A really cooking motorcycle reminds you of a totally kinetic existence. How many webpages out there wax about the joys of tea?’

All those years spent living within safe limits, preparing yourself for events, looking after yourself – how much are they worth when compared to getting out there and experiencing a visceral thrill? Excuse the literary quotes, but D H Lawrence’s argument was designed with bikers in mind: ‘Life is ours to be spent, not to be saved.’

And this gets to the heart of it – if you live too carefully, you might wake up one day to realise that you’ve been waiting around for your life to start, and all the camomile tea in the world won’t help calm you down then. Live too big, however, and you might not wake up at all one day, just when it was dawning on you that dying young was losing its appeal.

The lesson of The Who should be remembered – no doubt Roger Daltrey believed it wholeheartedly when he shouted: ‘Hope I die before I get old’ on My Generation. But now he’s running a fish farm in the countryside, wearing green wellies and doing ads for American Express.

He was lucky enough to live big first and survive the excesses, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do things the other way round, if that’s what takes your fancy.

A recent UK newspaper article on the increasing sales of motorbikes to people of more mature years included the statistic that more than 70 per cent of people who took their motorcycle test last year in the UK were over 30.

These are guys with cars, who are buying superbikes to ride at the weekends, and while this might smack of mid-life crises, at least they’re doing something.

Ideally, though, we should be able to combine the two approaches to life concomitantly. Live in a reasonably prepared fashion, while at the same time allowing room for immediate joy. 

While that sounds like deciding to be spontaneous, it also sounds like Aristotle’s golden mean. So make mine a camomile tea as I storm off on my Harley. 

11th September 1997

Posted by David in • Modest ProposalsLife

Articles Modest Proposals Music

Live music vs. Playing sport

Thursday, August 28, 1997

U2 are playing back here in Dublin over the weekend, and the town is buzzing with people desperate to get tickets. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who might be able to get hold of a couple, and expectation hangs in the air like Michael Jordan above the hoop. But I won’t be going.

When you’re ten, choosing a career is easy – there are only a few options. Children want to be astronauts and deep sea divers and sports stars and doctors. Test leads, fulfillment agents or (heaven forbid) Internet content editors don’t figure much.

In the teenage years, some of these ideas fade, and others come to prominence. It’s crucial to be in a band, and being the next Otis, Elvis, Janis or Jimi seems an attainable goal.

When we’re children we think as children. But when we become adults, we put away childish things. We shouldn’t want to be pop stars any more; nor should we dream of winning Wimbledon. And it’s true that quotidian concerns about work and money keep these thoughts at bay most of the time.

However, there are two occasions when we revert to our younger selves.  Seeing a good band play live has always been and remains a troubling experience for me. As much as I enjoy the performance, the community and the time-altering effect of a great set, I can never be wholeheartedly enthusiastic – it should be me up there.

It’s not that I think I’m a great songwriter, or as good a guitarist as The Edge – I know my talents lie (or rather sleep) elsewhere – it’s just that I’ve wanted to be a pop star for so long now that I don’t know how to stop wanting it.

Rationally I know it won’t happen, and that the whole music business is full of egos, greed, suicide, depression and broken dreams. But emotionally, I’ve not got too much further than playing my tennis racquet in time to ABBA records.

The other time we relive our childhood aspirations is when we’re playing sport. My similarity to a top-class footballer (that’s football as in soccer) is pretty limited, both in ability and vocabulary, but when I’m having a kick-around with my mates, that doesn’t bother me. I know I’m not very good, but every now and again I can fool myself. A swift turn, or a volley into the corner of the net, and the commentary starts in my head – ‘Oh yes, he’s done it! Moore has scored!’

There’s no getting around the fact that this is deeply sad behaviour for a grown man, but I’m not alone. Nick Hornby describes this phenomenon frighteningly well in Fever Pitch with sport, and High Fidelity with music, and the success of the books show that it’s a common malady.

Of the two problems – not being a pop star and not being a professional footballer – the first is harder to cope with. My sports craving can be satiated with my amateur sporting endeavour, where the team spirit and element of contest mirrors the real thing whether the venue is the local park or the San Siro. (Nike’s current advertisement with famous stars playing in pub-team matches on Hackney Marshes makes this point.)

But there’s no getting round the pop star thing. Maybe it’s not too late to start. But I’m still not going to see Bono and the lads this weekend.  And it’s not that I can’t get a ticket or anything. Oh no.

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, 28th August 1997)

Articles Modest Proposals Music

Vinyl vs. CDs

Wednesday, July 09, 1997

Let’s see now – sound quality vs coolness quotient, durability vs authentic wear and tear. Despite the megastore’s embrace of CDs, vinyl refuses to die – is this just nerdy affectation, or is there something wrong with those shiny silver discs?

CDs are like the vision of the future we used to get on Tomorrow’s World, the BBC TV show that optimistically heralds technology’s ability to improve everyone’s life. They were supposed to be better at everything – indestructible, gorgeous and with a sound quality that meant you could hear the rustle as the guitar player’s shirt rubbed against the bridge of his guitar.

In this bright new future, vinyl was overly fragile, had sound quality that was never great and deteriorated rapidly, and came in sleeves that disintegrated with use.

So why don’t we all feel enthused now that record shops don’t deserve the name anymore? Maybe it’s because CDs are just too squeaky clean. You want your music collection to age with you, so that the time you’ve spent with an album is reflected in the dog-eared sleeve.

Just as owners and pets start to resemble each other, so a control freak’s pristine record collection starts sporting protective plastic sleeves, while the relaxed and generous person ends up with a dishevelled collection containing about half the records they’ve bought, and a vague idea of all the people that have the other half.

There’s also a sexual frisson to using records. As well as the whole Freudian stylus and groove thing, the virginal tightness of a new record’s sleeve (and inner sleeve) is an evocatively suggestive thing.  CD cases (even the slick green Rykodisc jewel cases) can’t match this.

However, a more persuasive (and frankly less weird) reason for favouring vinyl is that vinyl offers the capacity for production while CDs only allow consumption. DJs create new music from vinyl records – the deck has become its own instrument – while CDs just sit there being annoyingly immutable. Technological developments are starting to change this, but we’ll never reach the stage where DJs can gouge their initials into their CDs.

It’s possible to compare audio CDs with CD-ROMs. CD-ROMs looked to have everything sewn up, but their read-only nature means that for all their strengths, they’re being sidelined by the fragile and clunky Internet.  Just like the Internet, vinyl’s more inclusive approach guarantees its continuing life into the future.

Of course, as things stand at the moment, there’s a lifestyle choice involved. As reader Jan McIntyre points out: ‘the rarity of vinyl (supposedly) singles out its owner as discriminating and aloof from the mass market.’ Buying vinyl asserts your identity as the sort of leftfield person that either listens to things that aren’t on CD (increasingly difficult to justify), or the sort of leftfield person that still has a record player that works (increasingly easy to justify).

Maybe with time we’ll come to love our CDs, but I somehow doubt it. If and when we rely on our computers for the latest tunes streamed instantaneously over the Net, the appeal of the low tech records will be enhanced even more. Records are very like their owners – fragile, a little worn and easily marked but also valuable, individual and perfect for combining with others to create new stuff.

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, 9th July 1997)

Articles Modest Proposals Television USA

David Duchovny vs. Gillian Anderson

Wednesday, June 18, 1997

Discussing The X-Files on the Internet is like being English and talking about the weather – it’s so common as to be stereotypical. However, keeping banality at bay, there are some crucial things to say.

Firstly, the show is deeply manipulative, working on us in a very skilful way. This is done partly by a tight and recurring pattern for many episodes – a precredit sequence gives us an insight into someone we know to be weird, and ends in a death. Then we have a brief piece of investigation, and an autopsy (oh, Scully in her surgical scrubs). By this stage, the viewer is required to have recoiled in horror at least once – uuuuugh! – we say, as someone spontaneously combusts, instantly suppurates or loses a crucial limb.

Scully comes up with a plausible explanation, then looks in increasing disbelief as Mulder starts a speech with, ‘What if . . . ‘, in which his mad explanation is first expounded. The duo split up and Scully rings Fox, saying ‘Mulder, it’s me.’

His suggestion almost invariably proves to be correct, but at the end of the show there’s still a suggestion that this might not really be the end of the matter. Perfect postmodern balance between closure and being left deliberately unsatisfied. The pacing of the series reflects the pacing of individual episodes, as we’re giving hints and suggestions about the big story of abduction and colonisation, but never feel like we really know what’s going on.

The storylines play on our pre-millennial tension – our loss of faith in big government, big religion and big ideas is exemplified in the perfect combination of aliens and conspiracy theories.

However, other shows before and after have tried this – The Twilight Zone and Nightstalker before, Dark Skies and Millennium after. The difference is that in the X-Files, the relationship between the two leads powers the show as much as the weird stuff.

It’s become a given that the show reverses the normal power relations between the male and female leads. Before, the ditsy woman would be convinced there was something odd going on, and the big logical man would get to the bottom of things and reveal the logical explanation.  Now Mulder is the passionate believer and Scully the hard-headed scientist.

This sounds great, but as has been remarked, in the value system of the show, Scully is still the weaker partner, as her explanations are shot down by a credulous but correct Mulder. The X-Files are his baby, and he gets to discover things, shoot things, storm off in huffs, and look troubled.

Scully meanwhile gets cancer, abducted, and her family members killed while she’s chasing around after the big kid Spooky. Unsurprisingly, she’s been branded a saint in some circles.

Then there’s the Moonlighting-style sexual tension element. If ever we were being manipulated it’s over this. All the hints about Chain-Smoking Man and the big colonisation plans pale beside this blatant piece of titillation. Take two attractive leads, and simmer them gently, always threatening to bring them to the boil.

So up until recently I’ve let myself be led, and enjoyed the trip, still knowing that there was something hollow at the heart of the show. The duo have been through so much, but little of it seems to have left a mark. Scully’s hair and suits are better cut, and Mulder is a bit more wisecracking, but that’s been it.

Thankfully, this is changing, with Scully’s attitude to her cancer lending her a certain grace and dignified fragility, and Mulder’s self-obsession leading (possibly) to his downfall.

The show’s always been good, but now it’s shifting from being knowingly manipulative to genuinely moving as it explores the internal lives of the two leads. The truth is in there.

Articles Film Life Modest Proposals

The Empire Strikes Back vs The Bible

Wednesday, June 04, 1997

Your modest proposer is not normally given to self-revelation, but this week we come to a topic that warrants some autobiography. When I was ten years old my older sister and I went to see The Empire Strikes Back.

I enjoyed the film in a ten year-old way and spent the whole summer playing with an imaginary light sabre (not the dodgy plastic ones you could buy in the shops – they were bobbins).

It was not until I saw the film again earlier this year that I was suddenly struck by the scary thought that my moral view of the world might have been shaped by a 3-foot high muppet with a croaky voice.

Of course, it’s not news that the Star Wars trilogy is steeped in mythic grandeur. George Lucas knew Joseph Campbell’s work on the monomyth, and it’s clear that the reason the films are so powerful is due to the ancient archetypes and tropes they invoke as much as the special effects.

Look at even the most obvious literary, mythic and psychological borrowings. Luke’s journey from farmer’s boy to Jedi knight is a classic medieval quest for identity. Then there’s Luke’s Freudian desire to kill his father, his descent into hell to rescue Han from Jabba, and all those suggestions of incest with Leia. Add the Jesus, Hamlet, Odysseus and Gary Cooper parallels, and it’s a very heady brew indeed.

Critics have long been wise to this, from Roland Barthes to my breathless undergraduate essay about Thomas Malory and Star Wars, but this is of more than academic interest, at least to me.

Sitting in the dark watching The Empire Strikes Back again, I began to realise that in some deep way, I agreed with all of Yoda’s exhortations about the Force. Maybe it’s the way it recalls many Eastern belief systems. The mix of physical and spiritual effort required of a Jedi parallels Buddhist monks learning karate, and the Force binding everything together sounds like Shinto animism to (ignorant) me.

When Yoda says, ‘A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. . . For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is.  Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.  Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,’ I found myself thinking that, give or take the odd name, that doesn’t sound too weird.

Against all this, The Bible didn’t stand a chance in my house. It didn’t really speak to me in the language a ten year-old would understand. The merchandising was rubbish, for a start. A 3-inch plastic John the Baptist was never going to be as valuable in the playground as a Boba Fett First Edition.

One scary site, ‘The Force is a Tool of Satan’, acknowledges that Jesus might be losing souls to X-wings and Ewoks, but the Church of England didn’t put up much of a fight in early 80s Buckinghamshire.

It could be worse, I could have taken my moral instruction from ET or Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, but I’m still a bit concerned. However, while she mightn’t admit it, my sister has been affected at least as badly. She’s now a yoga teacher (yoga/Yoda, a coincidence?), and when she says, ‘Be calm, at peace. Passive. Now, nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions. Mmm. Mmmmmm,’ I wonder if she knows who she sounds like.

(first published as a Modest Proposal newsletter, 4th June 1997)

Posted by David in • Modest ProposalsFilmLife

Articles Modest Proposals Television UK USA

Friends vs. This Life

Tuesday, May 27, 1997

You live with or near a pile of friends in a big city, you’re in your twenties, your problems revolve around relationships and your career, and you spend lots of time in bars, cafes or pubs.

The description applies both to Friends, the ubiquitous US sit-com, and to This Life, the rather more low-profile BBC2 drama-cum-soap. Throw in the tension of a couple of the protagonists going through an on-again off-again relationship, and you might be wondering if there are any differences at all.

You live with or near a pile of friends in a big city, you’re in your twenties, your problems revolve around relationships and your career, and you spend lots of time in bars, cafes or pubs.

The description applies both to Friends, the ubiquitous US sit-com, and to This Life, the rather more low-profile BBC2 drama-cum-soap. Throw in the tension of a couple of the protagonists going through an on-again off-again relationship, and you might be wondering if there are any differences at all.

Unless you’d actually seen the two shows. Friends is bright, comfortable and safe, for all its lesbian couples and ‘commando style’ suggestiveness. They live in nice apartments, look gorgeous, are funny and almost always sort things out by the end of the episode.

Most of the Friends are likeable – except Monica, who’s hateful, one-dimensional and sour (or is that just Courteney Cox?). Ross is affable in a whimsical kind of way, Joey foolishly dishy, Rachel gutsy, Phoebe ditsy and Chandler vulnerable and inimitably pithy.

In contrast, everyone in This Life is horrible. There’s the arrogantly snobby careerist Miles, the earnestly well-meaning control freak Milly, Anna, the vampish sex-bomb past her sell-by-date, and Egg the ineffectual blokish bloke who’s too wimpy even to be a New Man. The new member of the house, Ferdy, might be alright, but he never says anything and it’s hard to judge his true worth by watching him step out of the shower.

The atmosphere surrounding This Life is suitably grimy and unpleasant.  The rooms are all small, it’s never sunny and London’s dirt seeps into every shot. The editing and NYPD Blue-style camera work jar and each episode is full of drinking and swearing. It feels like real life.

Friends on the other hand, feels like a sit-com – but a very well-written one. The pacing of the episode is perfect, and the comic threads are skilfully interwoven. You get the right combination of main plot, subplot, observational humour and one-liners, but it never feels like it’s reality.

So which works better? The full-on gory details approach of This Life, which confirms your expectations about how unbearable it would be to live in a house full of unpleasant lawyers, or the soft-pedal warmth and comfort of Friends’ neverland, in which a waitress and a short-order chef can live in a New York apartment that size?

Friends is sharp without being pointed, while This Life is accurate without being honest. With its journalistic style, This Life appears to be more realistic, but in going for the details they’ve missed the universal verities that Friends confirms every week. When it comes to describing life, a good piece of fiction often tells more truth than a hundred documentaries, or a thousand would-be documentary-style soaps.

Articles Ireland Modest Proposals Television UK

Hamish Macbeth vs. Ballykissangel

Wednesday, April 30, 1997

Your modest proposer, normally content only within the sound of Christchurch’s bells, currently finds himself in California. But when the sun glints off the Pacific, one’s thoughts turn to picturesque Celtic villages. 

Ballykissangel and Hamish Macbeth both trade on their scenery and their whimsy. The characters have a twinkle in their eyes, a quaint turn of phrase, and spend all day in the pub. Both villages have a plentiful lack of problems – policemen Hamish and Ambrose have so little to do that they can take a full part in the many community activities that revolve around beating the next village in obscure contests.

This lack of drama is perfect for dramas shown after the Antiques Roadshow on a Sunday evening, when suburban England wants to feel that life is a bit more colourful elsewhere in these islands. When Mrs Thatcher said there was no such thing as community, she had reckoned without Lochdubh and BallyK, but it’s because so many people feel isolated and rootless that these advertisements for a thriving rural idyll do so well. 

In both shows, unrequited love also plays a part, as black-clad young figures of authority from outside the village enjoy smouldering relations with dark-eyed locals. On the one hand this is a time-honoured ploy to build some tension into the pedestrian goings-on (as Gareth Sellors from London points out, it’s Moonlighting meets All Creatures Great and Small), but the different treatments of this theme point up the shows’ deeper contrasts. 

In Ballykissangel, there’s no way Father Clifford will give up the priesthood to be with Assumpta; the show plays with the possibility, but if this were truly the passion it’s supposed to be, we’d have had wrecked lives by now, rather than meaningful stares and some embarrassed silences.  For all Assumpta’s pouting, her part is underwritten and Stephen Tompkinson’s baleful stare is beginning to grate. If it weren’t for Dervla Kirwan’s attractiveness and the off-screen romance that blossomed between the stars, I wonder would we still be watching. 

Hamish Macbeth, on the other hand, is much more menacing in its treatment of relationships. We’ve already seen one of Hamish’s partners die a dramatic death, and Robert Carlyle broods so well that you can only guess at his future with Isabel. 

Rachel Chalmers from Australia is unimpressed by the power of either show, arguing that for Celtic whimsy and unrequited love, Father Ted is a clear winner. This sheds a new light on the relationship between Mrs Doyle and Ted (or is it Ted and Dougal?), but the show’s too hat stand to qualify as mere whimsy. 

Back with the battle for Sunday evening, the romantic storylines show the differences that exist beyond the eye-candy similarities of the shows. The values and morals of Hamish Macbeth are much harder to pin down than those of the WYSIWYG BallyK, and Lochdubh’s characters are true eccentrics (TV John is masterful), while BallyK’s are by-the-yard Oirish. The Scottish plots are also more wilful and knowing, the air of mystery that hangs over Lochdubh recalling Northern Exposure at its most esoteric, while BallyK reminds you more of the cliches wheeled out to introduce the contestants in the Eurovision Song Contest. 

In the end, it might come down to the water. While the Kissangel river sparkles brightly, it’s essentially shallow; Loch Dubh has similar picturesque qualities, but a much greater depth.

Articles Life Modest Proposals

Pringles vs Playstation

Thursday, April 17, 1997

An intelligent young man sits in front of the TV, clutching a PlayStation controller and screaming in horror as his alter ego crashes to his death off a pixellated cliff. He bitterly shakes his head and mumbles, ‘just one more go’.

He doesn’t want another go. He knows he should be doing creative and positive things, but instead he feels about nine years old, and part of him wants his Mum to come in and tell him to get up those stairs and tidy his room.

Hitting the Start button again is a crucial modern experience. It’s the pivotal point between enjoyment that comes from wanting to continue and enjoyment that comes from not wanting to stop. From here on, the buzz he gets is from the knowledge that he’s wasting his time and spoiling himself.  You tell yourself you’ll play till you get another hi-score but you know that even if you stop then you’ll still get annoyed with yourself for not stopping earlier.

This ‘once you pop, you can’t stop’ attitude applies equally well to another 90’s phenomenon, Pringles potato snacks. Like computer games, Pringles are fine when diluted by company, but if it’s just you and the tube, you’re in trouble.

The first third of them are genuinely lovely, and you can try and decide which way round you prefer to eat them. Eat them like an ‘n’ and they fit round your tongue in a satisfying way – harmony and balance; eat them like a ‘u’ for that feeling of crushing them against the roof of your mouth – domination and conflict.

Half-way through the tube, you really don’t want any more but you imagine the licentiousness of letting yourself just finish them all anyway. Doing something so obviously unnecessary affirms, in a ridiculously tiny way, that you don’t always do sensible – you can also do reckless and spontaneous.

MTV works in the same way. You’ve enjoyed a few videos, and now it’s time to watch some real television, but you’re still there four songs later, saying ‘let’s just see if the next video’s any good’.

It might seem pathetic that much of our enjoyment from these wonderful new things comes from getting to the stage where we hate ourselves. Either we should enjoy them till we’ve had enough and then stop, or do something really spectacular if we want gluttonous overindulgence. Finishing a tube of Pringles isn’t exactly a Bacchanalian orgy.

People have always enjoyed being bad, and the ‘just one more’ syndrome has been around as long as chocolate, but the real lesson to be learned from Pringles and PlayStations is that the overindulgence they demand from us is impersonal, fleeting and mass-produced.

These epiphanies of consumerism are just shadows of real excess. Like rollercoasters, they offer cheap thrills in complete safety. We risk nothing in eating a few too many potato snacks, or playing an extra game of FIFA football, and yet we feel like we’re bold transgressors. To be really rebellious, you have to eat Pringles only until you’ve had enough. Once you pop, you can stop.

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, 17 April 1997)

Posted by David in • Modest ProposalsLife

Articles Modest Proposals Music

Spice Girls vs. U2

Thursday, April 10, 1997

This whole thing is about words and deeds. The Spice Girls have created a phenomenon by projecting an image of sexy misbehaviour and irreverence.  The attitude is their unique selling point, because the music itself is glitzy but essentially mundane. The lyrics mouthed by these advocates of girl power are actually simpering tributes to the values they denounce in their frequent public statements.

With the Spice Girls, the hype obscures the fact that they are at heart deeply conservative. Like a Shakespeare comedy, the exciting suggestion of chaos eventually gives way to the restoration of order: we are titillated by the thought of Ginger Spice’s antics while a ‘club dancer’ in Majorca, but end up buying the platitudinous ‘Mama’.  The music isn’t the message – the minidress is the message.

It’s scrupulously honest – everyone knows the image is at least as important as the music in pop (why else does Eric Clapton outsell Richard Thompson?), and the Girls have simply done away with the pretence that the music matters at all.

It’s a trope in the development of teen bands that there comes a time when they become ‘serious about their music’. Sporty Spice and her sisters should never fall into this trap, because that’s not what they’re about – the music is simply the hook to hang the product on.

U2 are, strangely enough, apparently following a similarly lightweight path at the moment. Their latest album, Pop, comes complete with a trashy po-mo image that has them dressing up as The Village People for the ‘Discotheque’ video, and hosting a launch event in a supermarket (Music’s a commodity?  You don’t say.). The live show is billed as a consumerist extravaganza, with Edge explaining, ‘it costs millions to be this trashy’, and everyone reflects on how the old earnest U2 are best forgotten.

Not taking yourself too seriously is crucial for mainstream success in the UK and Ireland at the moment – who’s to say if The Divine Comedy or The Lightning Seeds are laughing behind their hands? It’s especially important if you?re an established group with a track record like U2’s – honest emotion might have been fine for the late 80s but now no-one expects to find what they’re looking for.

In this environment, U2’s move shows they’re impressively light on their feet. Like the Spice Girls, the gloss surrounding the music is much more apparent than the music itself. Edge’s ‘Spun’ baseball cap on the sleeve of Zooropa was perfect – the band has spun itself in a way that would make Peter Mandelson blush.

However, let’s not start expecting the lads to change their names to Bald Spice, Hunk Spice, Weird Spice and God Spice. While the Girls are all spin and no substance, U2 are using this self-marketing guile to sell songs that are as substantial and earnest as they’ve ever been.

Wise to our current thirst for superficiality, they cunningly pretend to be as throwaway as Boyzone so they can sell bucketloads of an album that they genuinely mean. Genius. While the Spice Girls are honest about their lying, U2 are lying about their honesty.

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, 10 April 1997)