Monday, 11 June 2007

The Brave, the Bold...and Kirsty MacColl

To diversify or not to diversify, that is the question. It is a question that haunts not just successful businesses, but successful pop stars as well. Once a winning formula has been found there is always the temptation to repeat it ad infinitum until your adoring public has had enough and skulks off to do something else.

There are those that discover that elusive formula quite early on and make a whole career out of it, like Oasis or, dare I mention them, Status Quo but the reason for such doggedness is generally a large financial return so who’s arguing? Then there are those that get bored with the formula and try something else. These are the risk takers; the ones that seek to gain not only monetary reward but also that most elusive attribute: artistic recognition. Of course, as with all risky ventures, you tend to win some and lose others – Tin Machine, anyone?

The reason why I am ruminating on the subject of diversity is that I have just bought a CD of the best of Kirsty MacColl and the first thing that strikes you about its contents is the sheer range of styles on display. In a career spanning some twenty odd years before her tragically early death in 2000, we are treated to songs in virtually every style imaginable. Pop, country and western, folk, dance and latin are all covered with varying degrees of success. She is also extremely adept at covering others’ material as her reinterpretations of Billy Bragg’s ‘New England’ and the Kinks’ ‘Days’ attest. It is always the sign of a strong character that artists can make others’ songs their own.

But a propensity to diversity is an unpredictable trait and although her biting wit is apparent in virtually every song, there is definitely a hit-or-miss quality to the collection. In other words, some work brilliantly and others are average at best and dire at worst.

But I can live with all this because the highs are very high indeed and the remainder justifies the reason why ipod playlists were invented. There is something heroic about those that go out on a limb and try a different style in the face of potential public desertion that deserves our support. True, not everything works to plan but there is always the chance that a gleaming nugget will emerge to brighten our world. Funnily enough, many of my most cherished albums are not ones that are consistently good all the way through, but have a reasonable number of real crackers of tracks amongst the also-rans. In the days of vinyl, these were difficult albums to play but in the age of the skip button, they have made a comeback.

I never imagined that I would welcome Latin American into popular music but then I’d never heard ‘In These Shoes’. It is the brave and the bold that show us what might be. Rest in peace, Kirsty.

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