Alex James: The Great Escape

Cheese or pop, it's got to be good
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The Independent Online

Make-up, hair, lights, camera, action! Darlings, it's been a wonderful week in show business. I've been at the front line, trouping. It's ages since I've had a record out and it's good to be back. When you're in your thirties it's much easier to make cheese than records. Since I mentioned my cheesemaking plans on the farm, the phone hasn't stopped ringing. In order to do anything in the 21st century, you need an angle. "Rock star makes really good record" just isn't quite as good as: "Rock star builds cheese factory." It works the other way round, too. If you have a very successful cheese, you can probably make a record about it. The Stinking Bishop Skank would definitely have a shot around Christmas.

It's a whirlwind, promoting a record. Sales are a simple function of exposure, so you have to get your mooey out there. I went along to cd:uk on Saturday to review the week's videos. I seemed to be twice as tall and twice as old as the other guests. The drummer from McFly didn't have much to say but he was causing quite a stir among the studio audience.

The tricky thing about telly is that it happens so fast. It's like getting mugged for your thoughts. You get a split second to react and speak before the conversation has moved on. Last time I did Newsnight Review, The Strokes' new album was up for discussion. I didn't really hate it, I thought it was mediocre and I made a real effort not to be too horrible about it. But when the rest of the panel started saying that it was a really cool record by a bunch of really cool guys, I found myself staring wide-eyed down camera one, ranting about its lack of ambition. A pop record that is anything less than brilliant is a disaster, I said. It's easy to make OK records, but the whole point about pop is that it dazzles. Why were we even discussing this?

Then, on cd:uk, I was surprised to hear myself saying how much I liked The Strokes' new video. Just before, I'd been telling Kym (ex-Hear'Say) it was pish. It's such a buoyant, uplifting atmosphere in that studio, it's pretty much impossible to be nasty.

This was one of many TV things I've said yes to, as the record comes out at the end of March. My new band, WigWam, were booked in for an afternoon at E4 Music, introducing videos and interviewing each other. In the evening, we were filming a pilot for something called The New Music Show. I think it'll get commissioned. It was excellent. There were a few familiar faces from the old Top of the Pops team, and, strangely, Graham Coxon, Blur's erstwhile guitarist and my old buddy, was the act before us.

It felt odd to be on the same show as Graham but on a different stage. Then I realised I'm happier sharing a dressing room with WigWam's singer Betty Boo. We make each other laugh, which makes the endless round of dressing rooms agreeable.

The problem with television is that, as channels proliferate, their target markets become ever smaller. The wonderful thing about a great record is that it crosses boundaries. If you forget about all that demographic crap and just do something you think is really, really good, everyone really, really likes it, and it finds a place and endures. A strong melody is the most universal communication tool. It crosses language barriers and age gaps. I know WigWam is going to do just fine because both my two-year-old and the NME have given it the thumbs-up. Thank God for that. Making cheese is pretty dull, really.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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