After selling his soul to Big Brother and the tabloid media, punk rock-Preston claims he was subverting from the inside. But was he?
You believed Samuel Preston when, in February, mere days into the post-Big Brother media frenzy, he told NME that he was having “the time of my life”. Not only that, but you could understand his reasons for doing what he did. Pre-Celebrity Big Brother, The Ordinary Boys were, by their singer’s own admission, a “becoming boring” indie band on the verge of that most depressing of post-limelight cycles: the couple of years playing to an ever-diminishing faithful in venues of an ever-diminishing size, followed by the split that no-one bar – maybe – the drummer’s mum would even notice, let alone be upset by. But that was then. Now… well, we all know what happened next, don’t we?
That Preston took the chance to experience this most fascinatingly horrible 21st-century TV phenomenon is understandable (BB producers, I’m definitely in if you want me!); that, subsequently, he was so honest about his reasoning for doing so is commendable. The problems started when he began to see his actions as something more than mere last-gasp career gamble. He talked of being on a crusade to “satirise” celebrity and of “breaking down the boundaries between alternative and mainstream”. Grand ideals, yes, but well thought out ideals? No. In reality, the thought process behind those blue eyes appears to amount to little more than: “Well, because I’m in an indie band and not Jodie Marsh, I am laughing at this. The money and the fame is fun, but the real reason I’m here is to take the piss. Which makes it cool. Doesn’t it?”
In truth, whether or not it is “cool” matters little. Cool, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and that this, the preposterously-titled third Ordinary Boys album, is so persistently self-reassuring, so endlessly preoccupied with justifying its creator’s actions, speaks volumes about Preston’s conscience, and about just how much he likes being a proper celebrity. For ‘How To Get Everything…’ sounds, to all intents and purposes, like a Preston solo album, and a cynically conceived one at that. The righteous, oh-so self-aware lyrics and titles (‘Introducing The Brand’, ‘Great Big Rip Off’ and – get this – ‘Ballad Of An Unrequited Self Love Affair’) are intended to satiate the old-school fans, to cast Preston as “one of us” reporting back from inside the fame machine.
The music, conversely, is polished to within an inch of its life, with a synthetic production sheen aimed squarely at the Hello!-reading housewives. Hell, it’s not like The Ordinary Boys have ever been known for their forays into ear-splitting feedback, but the politest thing you can say about the likes of lead-off single ‘Lonely At The Top’ is that it recalls Blur’s insipid ‘The Great Escape’, had Graham Coxon’s guitars been mixed out completely. That the most abrasive moment here is Lady Sov’s rap on ‘Nine2Five’ says it all. Sonically speaking, this is a record that has more in common with Girls Aloud than with influences-of-old, such as The Specials or The Clash.
What’s worse for Preston, though, is that in trying to appeal to fans both old and new, he’s likely to put both off for different reasons. For example, not only is ode-to-Chantelle?/not-ode-to-Chantelle? ‘I Luv U’ way to sickly for any self-respecting indie kid to stomach, but at the same time its couplets (“It doesn’t make it any better/To just steal kind words off Phil Spector”) are just too clumsy for mass consumption. The likes of ‘The Higher The Highs’ and ‘Shut Your Mouth’ (“Like eating digestives/After brushing your teeth”), laden as they are with bleeps and other assorted tacky production gimmicks, suffer a similar fate. ‘We’ve Got The Best Job Ever’ meanwhile is intended to convey Preston’s blasé attitude towards his position. But, like your mate who goes on about how they don’t fancy that boy/girl actually, it’s unconvincing. The boy doth protest too much – clearly he likes fame, likes attention and will not be happy, you suspect, going back to the toilet circuit at the end of the year.
Ultimately, ‘How To Get Everything…’’s biggest failings lie in Preston’s lack of certainty in the direction he is taking. He’s a staunch advocate of the punk-rock ethos, commandment number one of which is thou shalt never “sell out”. Because of this, he won’t immerse himself fully in the ex-reality show lifestyle and will always have to justify it, to himself and his audience. But there’s no point in clinging to your roots half-heartedly. Sadly, it has to be one or the other.