News that The Enemy have named their forthcoming second album ‘Music For The People’ drew a few groans in the office last week.
Not because we don’t think it’ll be a good record – on first listen it sounds pretty colossal, albeit in a maxed-out, ‘Be Here Now’ kind of way – but because it’s just one of those self-aggrandising titles that bands only go for when they’re already pumped up with sky-high self-belief.
You’d never get a debut album, for example, with the hideously bloated, punning title of ‘Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ – but after six million-odd sales of ‘Siamese Dream’, and, one assumes, a hefty payload of ego-inflating narcotics, it seemed like a good idea to Smashing Pumpkins.
Ditto Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends’, a title whose fussiness and long-winded pseudo-intellectualism (it’s a reference to a painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo) makes you yearn for the days when Chris Martin hid behind of mop of studenty curls and sang about parachutes.
Generally speaking, album titles swell in direct relation to a band’s sense of self-importance. Confessional singer-songwriter Fiona Apple took this to extremes in 1999 when she gave her second album a title that ran to 90 words and 446 characters. The whole thing was a staggeringly self-involved reference to a series of negative letters that had been written about her in ‘Spin’ magazine.
When it comes to unpleasant levels of angst and neediness, however, Apple’s efforts pale in comparison with that other purveyor of psychiatrist’s-couch folk-rock, Alanis Morissette. The title of her second album, 1998’s ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’, is irritating on many levels, not least the titanic levels of self-regard it embodies (“supposed” by whom, exactly?)
But it’s not just about length or wordiness. There’s also a particular tone that creeps in when a band reaches a certain level of success, a finger-wagging, setting-the-world-to-rights quality – as with Public Enemy’s clumsy and pompous ‘How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?’
Then, of course, there’s good old-fashioned egomania. The Stone Roses dominate this field thanks to ‘Second Coming’. Not even the second coming. Just ‘Second Coming’. When you start explicitly comparing yourself to Christ, it’s probably time to lay off the monkey dust.
Then again, at least Ian Brown and co bothered to come up with a title. Surely the ultimate mark of rock star arrogance is when a band swerves language altogether in favour of an unpronounceable cipher. Led Zeppelin, Prince and Justice (who instructed magazines to review their 2007 debut album using their italic cross symbol), hang your heads in shame.