Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The band who said no

There is at least one band out there who have decided to say no to the usual malarkey which accompanies a new album release. This band have decided that their forthcoming new album will not feature remixes, bonus tracks, corporate …

Mon, Jan 10, 2011, 14:08


There is at least one band out there who have decided to say no to the usual malarkey which accompanies a new album release. This band have decided that their forthcoming new album will not feature remixes, bonus tracks, corporate tie-ins, street teams, blog exclusives and the like. This band are taking a stand. The name of the band? Portishead.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the group are not exactly renowned for being fast off the mark with new material (it did take them 11 years to get around to releasing a third album so we could be waiting a while for the next one) and that this position was conveyed via, yes, a series of tweets. Nonetheless, we are sure there are many, many musicians who will cheer Geoff Barrow to the rafters for this public promise not to comply with the accepted wisdom of what it takes to be a rock’n'roll act in 2011.

It reminds me of a very interesting post on the Guardian a few months ago where Helienne Lindvall wrote about acts who struggle to come up with interesting blogs, tweets and updates about what they’re doing. They’re the perfectionists, the acts who already probably take their time over songwriting and songcraft.

Of course, there are some acts who have absolutely no problems in this regard – stand up Kanye West and, well, Fiddy – but there are others who have probably greeted the notion of interacting with the fans, a notion probably put forward with best intentions by management or the label, with a mixture of horror, unease and revulsion. It’s not that they don’t like their fans; it’s more that tweeting and blogging to and at them is just not what they’re good at. They’re good at writing tunes, furrowing their brows, thinking big creative thoughts, playing great shows and remembering not to say “Hello Sheffield!” when they’re in Southampton. But tweeting about the creative process and that trip from Sheffield to Southampton? Oh vey!

But will Portishead’s non-compliance impact on sales of that album whenever it appears in the shops? While there is no doubt a hardcore audience for Portishead’s music, a decision to not play the promo game will probably mean that few outside their already commited audience will find out about that new release. Remember that Portishead tracks rarely feature on primetime radio and TV, unless a show’s producers want a tune to signify something dark, brooding and forebearing. And that’s likely to come from one of the earlier albums than something new.

Yet, business and marketing logic aside, there’s a part of me which finds this news quite cheering. I’ve long maintained that the worst thing an act can do is go along with the perceived wisdom that doing press, promo and interviews is the only option. Time and time again – and I know I’m not alone in this – you go along to interview an act and you meet someone with a surly frown on their gobs. They just don’t want to do promo. They’ve been forced to do it by the label or management and their reluctance is plain to see. You rarely get a good interview from them so it would be better for all concerned if they stayed at home, made a cup of tea and played Sudoku for the afternoon.

The same logic applies to other aspects of the marketing game. Of course, there are many times when the act has nothing to do with what the marketing and promo departments are doing in their name but Portishead’s decision to take a leaf out of Rev Ian Paisley’s book is a welcome devolpment. At least, the label know where they stand – and if the new album proves to be a bit of a flop, the band only have themselves to blame.

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