Music by numbers

IF you have been feeling a bit bored recently, you’re not alone.

We are living through a golden — better make that beige — era of soul-sappingly listless music.

They’re calling it the ‘new boring’ and, unless you’re about to spend the next two years hiding in the International Space Station’s stationary cupboard, there’s truly no escape.

Last month’s Brit Awards were a veritable debutantes’ ball for New Boring. Spewed forth by a conveyor belt of banality, each performer somehow conspired to be drearier than the one before.

Adele, the coffee-table hewn arch-goddess of NB, was festooned in gongs; Ed Sheeran, so boring he makes James Blunt look like Lady Gaga, received numerous ovations; Florence and the Machine, basically a boring Siouxsie and the Banshees, mugged along with several truck loads of dancers. It was, to borrow a phrase from one pop writer, a vortex of boredom: a boretex.

So asphyxiating was the tedium that Coldplay, previously the most boring four men in rock, were made to seem rather interesting. To turn Chris Martin into the soul of the party is, you will agree, an astonishing achievement.

How to define the new boring? Well, Adele’s 21 would surely enjoy top billing in any future NB hall of fame. Ed Sheeren’s debut album + merits a place too, as does every note ever committed to tape by Mumford and Sons (boring, with waist-coats), Laura Marling (willowy posh girl sings boring folk ballads), The Script (boring nu-soul, or, as we think it should be called, ‘nu bore’).

You could go on, mentioning every X Factor winner since Leona Lewis (you sense even Matt Cardle was bored with his album), the last U2 record, greatly hyped crooner Michael Kiwanuka (surely the most boring winner ever of the BBC Sound Of poll), One Direction (a young Take That brought back as rictus-grinning zombies) and The Saturdays, aka the boring Girls Aloud (inferior tunes, no cat fights).

Even band reunions and break-ups are boring nowadays. Does anyone truly care The Stone Roses are getting back together? Or that REM called it quits?

Where is all this boring music coming from? The blame, inevitably, lies with the internet. Not that the web itself is cranking out dreary new acts. Anything but — spend 20 minutes surfing a tastemaker music blog such as Gorilla Vs Bear and you will see that, on the fringes, rock and pop are as dynamic as at any time in the past half century.

No, the problem is that technically clued-in consumers — anyone under the age of 40 with an ongoing interest in new artists — are no longer required or inclined to pay for their music. They either steal it from file-share sites, or access it from streaming services such as Spotify.

With the computer literate no longer willing to pony up for their tunes, the record industry is forced to court other markets. At the risk of a horrible generalisation this has tended to mean a) older people, or b) the sort that purchases only two or three records annually and are essentially incurious about new music.

Thus the coffee table listener has become the lifeblood of the industry. Always huge, the middle of the road market is, thanks to the siphoning effects of the web, today utterly dominant. So while individuals who like to think they have good taste in music feast on all the free stuff swirling through cyberspace, those of more conservative inclination are plonking down their cash for the new Ed Sheeran.

Not only are New Boring artists deathly dreary on stage, they’re even more of a drag off it. Strange though it may sound, this is a reversal of the old way of things. For decades it was a fundamental rule of rock that, the crazier an artist was under spotlights, the better balanced in person (Alice Cooper played golf on the sly, heavy metal bands were inevitably sweet and cuddly at close quarters). The opposite was also true: superficially easy going types such as Crosby Still and Nash and The Eagles were inevitably the ones glugging their way to oblivion.

Sadly, no whiff of scandal attends the New Boring.

Having met her, we can vouch that Adele is a sweet young woman, just not the sort with a great deal to say for herself. Similarly Laura Marling, so softly spoken she seems to imitate a dormouse, approaches interviews as though the goal were to give away as little as possible and Michael Kiwanuka appears at times to be boring even himself. The New Boring isn’t just a style of music. It’s a way of life, a world view, a credo.

Where is it all leading? Worryingly, indications are the New Boring may have seeped into the blood stream of wider pop culture. Late last year, commentators pointed out the disconcerting preponderance on the airwaves of incredibly boring television — from Downton Abbey (boring in frocks) to Mad Men (well turned out people being boring in the sixties). Last year’s Booker Winner, Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, was arguably the most bloodless to yet scoop the prize; The Artist, best picture winner at the Oscars, was a heartfelt, incredibly dreary Valentine to silent movies (which audiences had decided were boring 80 years ago). Ryan Tubridy? New Boring comes to RTÉ.

Is there a bright side? Well, perhaps the New Boring will end up infecting the financial markets. That way, Ireland can go back to being drearily well off and fully employed.

You could also argue that the Ireland soccer team is NB in sporting form. Not only is the Irish side limbering up for the European Championship finals the most technically limited in the competition, with the cautious Giovanni Trapattoni managing, it is by some distance, the most boring to watch.

Adele may have put the New Boring on the map — but leave it to 11 Irish men in shorts to raise it to a fine art.


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