Kieron Gillen's workblog




I don't know how many of your follow the comments on the posts, perhaps being turned away by the cheerful injokery of Jim, Walker, Charity and AB, but a minor debate sprung up. One AK - expressing a somewhat bizarre opinion for a professional games journalist - said that games writing is a farce.

I presumed he was joshing, until later in the thread he takes the old adage about music journalism and applies it to my corner of the world. That is "Writing about games is about dancing about architecture".

It's on the top two things people say about music journalists (The other being "Music Journalists are just failed musicians"). Since they're such common insults, I've heard a bewildering array of counter-arguments, but generally keep a couple to hand.

One of them is the cheerily faux-naive one - you know, why *don't* people dance about architecture? Why not? If a building makes you want to dance, why resist it? This is handy as it paints people who make the argument into close-minded sluggarts who should try and open their minds up a bit.

The second - and the one I more often use, not being particularly good at any faux-maive schtick - is the direct "So - a bit like writing songs about love then?". Any artist who starts saying that something is indescribable and can't be translated or examined in another form, is going on particularly shaky ground given that their entire existence is based on that idea.

(If anyone's interested, the standard counter-arguments of "Journalists are failed musicans" are i) What about all those musicians who are failed music journalists - Morrissey, most memorably. Patti Smith's another fine example. ii) Underground zine culture is all about expressing your love for music in all its forms. You talk about it. You write stupid glittery cut-and-paste nonsense about it. You form three bands a week. OBVIOUSLY they were in bands, but it all comes from the same place - it's reactions from a genuine emotional font rather than a "Oh - can't play. I'll write".)

But pithiness aside, such diktats against writing always get on my tits. It's kinda pre-emptive book-burning: an attitude that prevents books even existing. My take on writing is that it's condensced thought - the powdery stains that are left in the real world when an excess of internal dialogue builds up. In other words, claiming that there's any bounds about things you can write about is, for me, anti-thought.

And in games, it's even more ludicrous - I was chatting to a Games Journalist friend earlier, who's doing a presentation about the art of reviewing to some students. She asked me "Which directions do you think we should be pushing?". And I was dumbfounded for a response, because games journalism is in a state that whichever direction you choose to push in, you could find suitable rewards. Writing about games is a waste of time? What does that mean. That interviewing creators is a waste of time - cutting to the human nature that begats a desire to create this weirdo hybrid cultural form? That analysing how games operate is wrong - cutting away the analytical tools that allow us to examine the form. That describing how you feel when you do something is wrong - which cuts out all that NGJ stuff, and particualrly bizare when GREAT books have been written on either sport or travel. Writing about the cutural mores of emerging cultures? Simple giggling gags trying to entertain a subsect? Writing an e-mail to a friend about that game you wrote at the weekend? Texting Jim to see if he wants to go online in City of Heroes for a bit?

It's bollocks. Games are splendid. Splendid things deserve to be written about. Someone has to be there at their messy, bloody birth, and we're lucky enough that these "Someone"'s are us. It depresses me that anyone would dream of covering their ears and ignoring the call of history.

And after that awful posturing nonsense, over to the Manics new album which... actually that link doesn't work, because it ISN'T posturing nonsense after all.

I'm an Old-skool Manics fan. I physically yelped with glee at the news of 10th Aniversary of The Holy Bible. Equally, I'm not "that" sort of Old Skool manic fan - as in, a fucking over-precious retard who didn't even understand basic Manics rules like "The entire point was selling out, shitfuck".. I loved Everything Must Go (In the inevitable Manics real-life-Rock-Drama which will appear one day, the story arc will open on the day the kiddie James Dean shows everyone else the porn he's found and end as the Manics walk onstage, throwing the first chord of "Design for Life" on their comeback gig). However, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was blustering windswept bollocks. Know Your Enemy was old men playing the we're still relevant card, and barely registered on my conciousness. When the Best Of came out, I'd happily moved on. I raised my glass to them in my reviews, and presumed the Manics would bother my conciousness no more.

Then, a couple of months ago, their new single: The Love Of Richard Nixon. Cute title. The record - an upbeat piece of electro-pop - pretty much avoided most of the things that so annoyed about the Manics. No standing on a mountain top and beating manly chests here - resigned, sad, funny. A political song, its tricks were miles away from their usual simple-minded scabarous attack. In fact, it more reminded me of the sort of thing Luke Haines would do with Black Box Recorder - ironic, bubbling hatred turned down to a low simmer ("People Forget China/And your war on Cancer", indeed). As I said - cute, different and made me decide to eventually give the album a chance.

And so I did. It's been sitting on my playlist for a couple of days, including an especially intense listen while lying around at Jane's, smoking fags and getting giggly. It's an odd thing. While the rest of the album isn't electro pop or anything, its ambience is very much of that glacial adult, dance-touched eighties pop-rock. I stumble for reference points, and end up citing things like The Boys of Summer. There's even a bass-line that appears to have been ripped out of Material Girl. It's still smart. It's still got that intense, dramatic sadness. It's sang exquisitely - all falsettos and white-soul voice without the screaming. Guitar solos are restrained, or filtered into synth shapes. Drums are light instead of lumpen.

It's something different, which is exactly what I needed from the Manics.

Stand out track is "Empty Souls", the second single. Its mood recalls EMG-era B-side "Dead Trees and Traffic Islands" and even the epic, frictionless sadness of "Motorcycle Emptiness - except where that was an end-of-movie theme for the end-of-the-world this looks back with a genuine regret (In fact, the Boys Of Summer reference may be a better one that I originally thought).

Its top end is that epic-guitar pop thing - with a certain chiming stillness that could be Coldplay if you were willing to squint and fight the initial revulsion that even mentioning That Fucking Band provokes. The bottom end is straight motown four-to-the-floor driving beat, which turns it into sad pop music. No rush to wherever it's going, leaving plenty of Space for James Dean to explore the vocal. There's even a moment where we get one of the Manic's rare pleasures - that is, hearing him without flinching sing a genuinely terrible lyric ("Collapsing Like The Twin Towers", indeed. Even "Collapsing With Twin Towers" would have been more elegant) with complete conviction. The Manics never have a mildly bad lyric, when a grotesque one can be used instead.

But it's nestled in the striking chorus, where the momentum disappears as the drums drop away and the guitars start to tear prettily at the edges for the first half leaving room for James' sad falsetto, before everything recoalesces, the rhythm returns and we're strutting away again into the painfully phrased "Collosal, Endless like a Marathon" and the repeated "God knows what makes a comparison" (One burnt around the edges, once in a gasped exhalation) before a final release of the title and disappearing into the propulsive dream-pop.

No, I don't need them to breathe anymore. But since I don't need a pop group to act like my Iron Lung anymore, I'm surprised and overjoyed that our musical journeys have crossed again.

I'll even forgive them the line after "Collapsing like The Twin Towers" being "Falling like April Showers". I'm in a good mood.




Kieron Gillen's Workblog, foo'.