Monday, October 29, 2007

PROPAGADA Reviews Phonogram.
Exhuming the corpse of the pop that was Brit.


By Kieron Gillen and Jame McKelvie

Phonogram the comic hit like a breath of fresh air. The individual issues on the shelves at Nostalgia & Comics looked stunning, completely iconic and different, which is ironic since each issue’s cover was a pastiche of a famous 90s Britpop-esque CD cover. I’m hardly giving it away by saying its Elastica, Black Grape, Oasis, Blur, Suede and the Manic Street Preachers. Thankfully they continue the riff by making Rue Britannia’s cover a tribute to Pulp’s This is Hardcore.

(the first six issues of the Image-published Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jame McKelvie, all riffing on well-known British albums, borrowed from the creators’ website)

Why music covers for comic covers? Because Phonogram is all about music and the special power it has, that ability to enter into our lives and profoundly affect us, the almost magically quality it possesses. Hopefully you know what I mean. That feeling certain songs give you, that glorious emotional connection where 3 or 4 minutes of music can put you on hold, stop your life and fill you with more emotional power than a first kiss. When the music is more important than breathing. If you’re one of the few who’ve never experienced that feeling, I feel sorry for you. Maybe Phonogram’s not for you; back to your Chris De Burgh, Simply Red, and James Blunt CDs.

Phonogram takes that idea of music having an emotional power and posits the theory that maybe music could have a magical power of its own. From this key, brilliant hook, Phonogram then launches into a world where some people make a higher connection and realise that music is magic. Songs have power, to spellbind, to entrance - even to kill. In Phonogram, David Kohl is a one of a select breed of Phonomancers: musical magicians. His particular brand of magic is tied to the spirit of Britannia, the demi-goddess who gets her power through the works of Suede, Blur, Oasis and all the followers of the pop we once called Brit. Hell, there’s even room for Echobelly, Sleeper and Ocean Colour Scene in there as well.

Heaven help us all, we loved it at the time, but reason and age has taken hold for both us as readers and for David Kohl as a Phonomancer. For Kohl, the death of Britannia means his powers are unravelling and his very life could be going the same way. We’re dragged delightfully through the corpse of the music, stopping only to gaze wistfully at the pop stars, wonder what we saw in some of the bands and imagine what the musical landscape would be like if it were Luke Haines rather than Brett Anderson that the music papers all decided to elevate to near godhead. Better, methinks.

(page from issue#1 of Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jame McKelvie,
borrowed from the previews on the creators’ website

This story is a little love letter to music and especially Britpop. Like Gillen and McKelvie, I was there, singing along with Jarvis, Damon, Brett and the rest. Whether the book will have as great an emotional impact with those who didn’t play along with Britpop I really don’t know; somehow I doubt it.

I’ve talked a little about the stunning covers already, but Jamie McKelvie’s interior art is just as good, with a minimalist style and careful use of black space that succeeds in making it redolent of pop art in places. But it doesn’t just look pretty on the page, it tells the story, simply and easily.

(Suede’s eponymous debut album and Phonogram #5’s cover - remember when this album cover was controversial and NME told you that you had to have this album or be uncool?)

Phonogram really, really works. It analyses the music and the movement with a passion only available to those who really loved it. It also takes the whole thing apart with the venom of those who’ve come out the other side. It’s a cheap shot perhaps, but it is true that Ocean Colour Scene were shit and Kulashaker should never have been allowed a single note in music’s history. But that is something we learn in time. The whole point of Phonogram is to celebrate the insanity of music, of the way it can make you feel and the glorious magic it can bring into your life. It envelops you, takes you deeper than any lover could and blinds you to its faults. While you’re in the moment there’s nowhere better and God help us, even Kulashaker sounded good while we were there. (Or maybe that really is stretching things). For those wanting to read more the guys maintain a Phonogram blog here.

Originally published here as PROPAGANDA on the FPI blog.

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