** It's hard to nail down the general public taste in music of Australia. A lot of people look straight at the charts and dismiss it immediately. I can understand why they would do that, after all, the charts 'supposedly' represent the most popular music being consumed in the country. And yeah, a lot of it is pretty naff considering what often manages to slip in there.
I think the reason for this is that a lot of people who do buy music, are not necessarily connoisseurs of music. They perhaps would recognise high quality music if they heard it, but there comes the problem: They don't hear it.
Locally, the Australian music industry is in a weird place at the moment. Interestingly on the other hand, the Gotye Rush of 2011/2012 seems to be doing wonders internationally, all of a sudden, artists such as Tame Impala and The Drones are starting to gain a good profile with their music (although it would be unfair of me not to acknowledge their own musical efforts in doing so). However here, the record companies are stuck trying to force a lot of music down that the public isn't taking to otherwise. We have Timomatic's career to thank for this.
But the major problem is the notion of selling out. I don't refer to the backlash that artists get from it, but for the fact that it actually works. It's rare to see more than couple Australian songs in the chart that are there completely of their own merit and not through promotion companies' efforts. Because it's necessary to sell out, the only local artists that are going to appear in the charts are the ones that already don't have any credibility or subsequently songwriting chops. I don't know whether this is purely the meddling of the record companies, or the artists in question wanting/not wanting anything to do with it. The international scene is probably the same, but too complex for my mind to process.
I know that there are a lot of artists that really aren't made for chart success, no matter how good they are or how popular they are. But I do believe that Australia has plenty to offer that doesn't get the time in the sun that others undeservingly do. I suspect that for some people who believe themselves to hate popular music, it would be out of spite that it takes precedence over the music they like better, because they probably take more effort into discovering quality music than the collective hivemind.
The thing about that collective hivemind is that since they don't listen to as much music, they're more easily thrilled by what they do hear, even if a connoisseur would suggest otherwise of the quality. Not only that, but they will settle for what they do have. I hear a song that has an awful rap bridge by say Pitbull and think that it would be much better without it. The public still lap it up however. While I'm sure that there are (for some reason) people who would think that Pitbull's presense makes it better, I think a lot of people merely settle for it, not bothering to hunt down a similar song without his presense. I won't deny that I settle to an extent too, I'm sure just about everyone does.
I think a combination of the selling out factor and the settling theory gives us the charts as they are. It works for the record companies of course, rather than digging deep into their roster to find the real gems, they can just chuck out any thoughtless song by the alumni of whatever talent show was on 18 months ago, and then get them to go on whatever talent show is on now, as well as put the song on a TV ad and hey presto, that'll give it enough gas until that promo stops and it suddenly drops out as fast as possible.
Which brings me to this release from Harrison Craig, the 2nd winner of Australia's The Voice. Most of what I said earlier refers to Sony, but The Voice is a Universal affair. Unlike Sony, Universal don't play the game, especially with The Voice. It was an awkward situation for them last year when after the big hype of Karise winning and subsequently making up a significant percentage of music sales for a week (which was enough to tip the country's music revenue into the green for the first time in many years, I predict it will be back in the red next year), she was pretty lost in the charts after that. Well, the single charts that is, because if any fans of hers read this review and stopped right there, they would be quick to point out that she had the highest selling Australian album of 2012. I don't have any bad will against Karise but that achievement does bother me. As mentioned, I can't help but think of the many artists that are considered less successful (and according to some of the ridiculous opinions I see, automatically not as good[!]) just because they don't have the same opportunity to have their likeness endeared to the TV watching public which is much greater than the music buying public (another way Sony plays the game, because it's far too hard to sell a talented artist out of nowhere, they'll want a reason to like their music).
And then, the result is that boring music rises to top. It may not be the most interesting or likeable music around there, but that music doesn't get heard enough for it to outnumber the actually small percentage of people who do purchase such music. I really like Coldplay, but as the years go by, I more start to realise that they're not necessarily still popular because of their clever musicianship and strong melodies, otherwise Radiohead would still be getting hits!
I like the albums chart more than I like the singles chart because it represents a more attentitive music public, the kind who really have to choose wisely about what they're laying down $20 for, and thus I get great enjoyment of imagining labels squirming trying to sell albums by artists like will.i.am, and thus showing how the public really values them. And the album chart champions quality much more often than the singles chart does too; I can't imagine Foals* or Karnivool getting a hit single any time soon, but as of 2013, they are #1 charting artists in Australia, and that speaks a lot better than some of what manages to get to the top on the singles chart. But then what that shows is the major flaw in the charts by not perfectly representing what music people are enjoying. As a result, I try to stress that the ARIA singles chart merely presents a representation of the top 100 selling singles (although there are usually about 2 or 3 missing every week) in Australia for a single week frame. It does not represent longevity, and thus chart peaks should be looked at like a grain of salt. The Jezabels' first EP "She's So Hard"** was accreditated gold in Australia despite having never cracked the list of the top 100 selling singles in Australia. There are #1 hits which have sold less copies than it.
However, the album chart is not free of its own issues. All year round, people are having birthdays (which is quite convenient for Hallmark and associated I imagine) and people's parents are having birthdays. I imagine that a lot of people don't know a whole heap about their parents' interests and how to add to them, but they might know what they watch on TV. It's very possible that this has contributed to a lot of sales for this album. Whether the gift is appreciated, or never even listened to, it doesn't matter; a sale is a sale. The dismal digital sales performance doesn't do it any favours and also makes it quite difficult for me to work out where it's going to appear from chart to chart, which is quite annoying :p I would love to see a chart that represents which albums have been listened to the most week by week, but alas, it's completely impractical and thus a pipe dream.
So as I write this review, this album is still wedged in the top 30 of the ARIA Charts despite The Voice having ended 3 months ago. This album contains all covers except for one track which falls prey to Birdy syndrome in that it sounds indistinguishable from the rest. Cover versions fall into the same issue as the sell out paradox: to a discernable listener, it doubles as being old hat as well as lazy, but to the less than discernable, it cashes in on familiar melodies and endeared lyrics. Why dare risk something new (especially since all new music is crap1!!!11) when you can just stay to the tried and true?
I'm not letting it off like that and am rightfully calling it out as a lazy musical non-endeavour that exists purely to perpetuate buyer's impressionable taste so they can continue to bait them (I could perhaps go off on another tangent about something like how "Little Talks" sounds weirdly different on CHR radio and the repercussions of it, but that's for another time)
Incidentally, the performances I most enjoyed on this would be the ones of tunes that are not tired standards to me. "Broken Vow" and "It Had Better Be Tonight" at least set out what they aim to do reasonably well, but much of the rest is dreadfully placid and a chore to sit through. I await the day when this sort of thing stops being marketable, but alas, the music buying public is cyclical, and as they say, every second another sucker is born.
I do wonder what Universal plan to do with Harrison, as I imagine they're starting to notice that the major flaw with the concept of The Voice is that they're unable to market their stars to anyone but the reality TV tragics and the people who see it when they're bored waiting in the post office. Sure, they sell, but they don't leave a good impression on the rest of the general public and are inevitably destined to become an occasional punchline for their lack of presense in the general music scene. If Harrison Craig did release another album, I'm sure on its own merit, it would struggle to sell even a fraction of what this does (which would be ironic if it turned out that he had honed his songwriting craft and made something of creative note, but then subsequently pushed aside for the next star in the spotlight. Given how Karise fared earlier this year with all Universal's might, it looks pretty bleak for Harrison. Although if he does achieve some success, it will be more to do with the timing of the release. It's actually pretty funny that at the time of writing, Rachael Leahcar is the only Voice alumni to have two top 10 albums to her palindromic name. This blocked Jay-Z from having a #1 album, and much like the UK's Robson & Jerome to Pulp or Oasis situations, I can pretty confidently say whose legacy will shine better.
Harrison can sing pretty well though.
*I do notice every year or so, there seems to be the breakout band who after years of steadily releasing albums to a growing fanbase, suddenly goes gangbusters in the charts in ways that continue to blow my mind. Kings of Leon & The Black Keys are two excellent examples, and so I write this tentatively because I think there's a tiny chance that Foals COULD do it one day. More than likely not, but the outside chance intrigues me.
**I also immediately had to listen to this EP upon mentioning it, and it's a major improvement on the boredom of this album. The Jezabels are very successful in Australia but the fact that Harrison Craig has sold more albums than them (although I can't imagine by very much) means that they aren't successful enough, their music is actually interesting
** Like many on these shows...yes they can sing....
But how long does this trash have too go on for... like really..."let's give some bit of clay (easy too mould) 15 minutes of fame"....make fucks loads of money for the managers, record companies and every other twat involved... a bit of juice, and then without the slightest concern for the nimrod involved...dump them like a sack of shit...