On 11th January – this week – in 1985, Sam Newton Battenberg Faulkner was born in that most average of Surrey towns, Reigate. So the seeds were sown that some 20 years later would grow into the dreariest of character-void music produced by British artists in years.
Listening to Faulkner’s music is a bit like taking public transport; it can only ever be average or bad, never an actively enjoyable experience. You hear him in shops and, if you have any self-respect, you feel ashamed at yourself for buying your clothes in there. Everything about him, from his ginger beard and white-boy dreads to his faux-lumberjack style and inoffensive, Caleb-Followill-lite voice, screams beige pop – he makes the kind of songs your mum likes but whose names she can never remember. He’s the cleanest dirty musician the industry could ever hope for. The musical equivalent of Buzzfeed.
Perhaps this is a little harsh; I have nothing against Mr Faulkner personally. Rather, what he represents is the beginning of a generation of mass-produced, ‘safe’ artists who dominate the radio waves but aren’t even especially fun to listen to. It was people like Newton Faulkner who brought about the decline in guitar playing and clever songwriting that has seen guitar music and indie bands left in the dust behind hip-hop, house and grime as the music of choice of the nation’s youth. This is not to say being popular is a bad thing – on the contrary – but the Faulkners and Sheerans of this world don’t have anything to justify their existence, let alone their legions of fans. You might hate Kanye with a passion, but at least you have an opinion. Just a few years earlier, Pete and Carl and the Libertines were clawing rock’n’roll out of its grave and making it dance manically round like the emaciated corpse of punk music long assumed dead. Fast forward to 2007, and Newton is Nice with a capital ‘N’.
Something somewhere went horribly wrong. Music should be weird, and exhilarating, and the promulgation of safe-for-work artists over the last few years is neither. Incidentally, on little Newton’s 13th birthday, another entered this world, destined for sacrifice on the high altar of forgettable drudge music, X Factor. Her name? You guessed it. Louisa Johnson. God help those of us who want to be challenged.