Posted by irresponsibility
Q – aka the rag formerly subtitled ‘Britain’s biggest selling music magazine’ – has just had a redesign. Allegedly. On the cover, pulling a pose familiar to anyone who’s ever sat through an hour of VH1 rock videos, is goon-ish pint sized guitar god Angus Young of AC/DC. In the familiar red logo box a new tagline appears, in ugly, sans serif font: A different take on music.
I was party to two or three Q redesigns in the years I worked there so read with amusement editor-in-chief Paul Rees as quoted in Music Week: “The forthcoming redesign will be the most comprehensive and striking one in the magazine’s history…. I think it’s very much safe to say that people can expect something that’s both completely fresh and also entirely different.” The bullishness (and the redundancy) is vintage Rees; the comment safely indistinguishable from those he offered before the last relaunch. But will the magazine be different? Will Q break the final taboo and have some women in it?
It doesn’t look promising. Angus Young on the cover is different from the rotating U2/Oasis/Muse/Coldplay cast that has covered the magazine like an aging rockstar pox for the last couple of years. But we’re still taking: middle aged white guy with a geee-tar. Business as usual?
Cracking open the cover, I’m thrilled to find it is business as better than usual. The first feature in this “completely different” edition is… Who The Hell…? Who The Hell dates to the early/mid ‘90s – an innocent era before ruthless PR machines led to the demise of the ‘stitch up’ feature. Q journos would encourage gobby subjects like Tony Wilson and Irvine Welsh into saying things which made them sound a bit twattish, come back, write “gotcha” and everyone would chuckle. It was boys’ school humour. Resurrected, it isn’t even funny. Everyone knows Q can’t afford to piss off Will Self; the resulting toothlessness is as inevitable and embarrassing as granddad dropping his dentures in the Christmas punchbowl.
The second revelation, courtesy Paul’s editor’s letter, is that there are four new Q columnists: John Harris, Dorian Lynskey, David Quantick and Billy Bragg. Three-quarters of whom Q put out to pasture five years ago. Clearly, in the current economic climate recycling is the vogue. Though given all of them have thriving non-music-related careers I’m guessing this recycled copy is costing a bundle.
So far, so ‘money for old rope.’ Are the features going to be any better? What fresh revelations await? Let’s see. We have aging curmudgeon Ben Mitchell writing about Travis. Jesus. Shut your eyes and it could be 2001 again. At least then, Travis was in the magazine because the band was close personal friends of the then-editor and art director. What’s the excuse now?
Writer Tom Doyle gets a break from his usual U2 duty to interview Brian and Angus from AC/DC. In a nine-page feature which freely admits their best album was released in 1980 (the year I was born, fact fans). Elsewhere we have the mildly subversive inclusion of a woman of colour – Santogold – as interviewed by a bald, middle-aged white guy.
Q’s unofficial girl band, the Sugababes (who picked up a Q Best Video award back in 2002 and have been staple ‘fit chick’ fodder for the mag ever since) are lightly grilled by loveable goombah football writer Matt Allen who elicits the riveting information that they reckon new girl Amelle would be ‘tastiest’ in a fight.
The first genuine, wow, moment comes when I discover a Keane interview done by a female. The mind-crushingly dull trio of posh muppets are handed over to Sylvia Patterson. Even she can’t muster more than the (entirely predictable) comment from fatface singer and wannabe cokehead Tom Chaplin that “I probably did [cocaine] no more than a recreational user.”
Even Q knows this ain’t up to snuff. In the reviews section Rob Fearn attempts to justify the soul-sucking Keane feature by comparing them to, er, Depeche Mode. “The relationship between Chaplin and… Tim Rice-Oxley… felt like an uncanny echo of the relationship between singer Dave Gahan and songwriter Martin Gore… and when cocaine addiction forced Chaplin into The Priory the analogy seemed complete.” Right. Tell you what, Rob. Get back to me when Chaplin has legally died of a heroin overdose, and been resuscitated, and when Rice-Oxley has written a song of the calibre of Personal Jesus, then we’ll talk.
Lack-of-conviction bleeds through every page. From the frankly apologetic review of Snow Patrol (“A Hundred Million Suns is just what their hordes demanded… perhaps we ought to stop sniggering at the back”) to the painfully forced “rock vs pop” debate they try – and fail – to ignite in their review of Franz Ferdinand live. Also, notably, their DVD review features U2, because no issue of Q is complete without a word or two on the Irish god-botherers.
The problem? Q isn’t writing about music it loves. It’s writing about music it thinks its audience loves. Unfortunately for them their “audience” exists almost entirely in their heads. They don’t seem to realise that it is 2008, not 1998, and that in the 21st century it’s okay to like rock and pop. And that even men have interests beyond devil horn salutes and car racing. The even bigger news that has yet to flash across their radar is that women exist. Hell, some of them even like music.
When I was at Q the routine justification for a tacit ban on using women journalists or ever featuring more than one or two “laydeez” in an issue was that “most Q readers are men”. The chicken/egg aspect to this phenomenon was, needless to say, never discussed.
What was inexcusable when Q was successful is doubly so now. Clearly their all-male fortress mentality is commercially bankrupt. Their “new” ideas aren’t. I predict their redesign will, like the $700 billion dollar US economic bailout that has driven the market to new lows, send what little stock they have left spiralling downwards. Like Bush and his GOP cronies the GOB (good ol’ boy) Q crew is desperately trying to save face – and their arse – by slavishly clinging to bankrupt ideas. The difference between Q and the global economy being, of course, no one will miss it when the former ceases to function.