THE BEGINNING

Tesco exclusively stocking albums is helping no one, says Stuart Stubbs.

tesco

TESCO EXCLUSIVELY STOCKING ALBUMS IS HELPING NO ONE

In the great Tamagotchi rush of 1994 I seem to remember that if you didn’t live near a Toys “R” Us (and let’s face it, nobody does) your only chance of getting your hands on one of the pixelated palm pals was to join the overnight queue at Tesco. Then, in the kind of bloody bum-rush not seen since the historic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles drought of ’88 (yeah, I lived through that shit too!) you’d realise that your store wasn’t one with a toy aisle, so you’d limp home, curse your boring, real-life friends for not fitting in your record bag and maybe try a branch further afield the following week. The word is Basildon are getting a load in. That would never happen today, and not because an entire remedial class of arse fluff can tell you that Tamagotchi’s are totally shit. It wouldn’t happen because Tesco now sells EVERYTHING. And this month – having already decided that the next logical step from flogging carrots is obviously car insurance, bank accounts, mobile phones and furniture – the supermarket giant is going Simon Cowell.

On November 1st, Irish girl aloud Nadine Coyle will release her debut solo single, admittedly not via Tesco Records (although give it a year) but through her own label, Black Pen, which, yes, does open a can of worms regarding mainstream pop acts ‘going DIY’, but let’s not get into that now. No, Nadine’s ‘Insatiable’, and her succeeding album of the same name (released a week later) is her baby, released on her imprint, because, as she rightly puts it, “I think we have learned that the traditional model for selling an album isn’t the only way of doing things. To be able to create an album where you are in complete control of your own work is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an artist.”

So Nadine Coyle, one fifth of the most justly successful British girl groups since Sporty, Baby and the others, is bravely shunning the music machine that made her to get some records pressed herself in a bid for autocratic control. Brilliant! Only, the thing is, if you want ‘Insatiable’ you’ll have to buy it with your processed meat balls (and garden furniture, of course) because the savvy singer has signed a big fat deal that means it’ll only be stocked in Tesco.

The deal itself is hardly something we can righteously blame Coyle for accepting. Nor can we claim that Black Pen Records was ever likely to be her mad dash for indie credibility, which has now damaged the DIY ethos shared by micro labels run by non-pop stars. (It’s quite safe to say that Black Pen is possibly a rouse for this whole arrangement; a front not unlike the mob’s ‘laundrettes’, which is no doubt backed by a major label). But we can surely moan about a conglomerate’s endless muscle flexing.

The greengrocers were first to feel Tesco’s wrath, then almost every other corner of the retail market was mined with varying success, and now, as X Factor culture hurtles onward, it’s music that’s for the squeeze, having already been largely affected by the fact that we’ve been able to buy CDs in supermarkets for years, as long as they’re in the top ten.

What the exclusively clause in Nadine Coyle’s deal does do is save the Internet’s blushes a little, not that the web has ever apologised for revolutionising music distribution. It has, however, always been considered the lesser way to buy music, with ‘real music fans’ opting for a trip to a musty record store for their Gaga album…the vinyl edition. But now there’s surely an even more inferior record-shopping experience, which involves purchasing Nadine Coyle’s debut album in a shop-of-all-trades. You’ll probably slip a Mars Bar in your basket too, in a failed attempt to hide your embarrassment, like in the great porno revelation of 1997. Not because of what you’re buying, but how you’re buying it.

By Stuart Stubbs

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Originally published in issue 22 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2010

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