In the late 1990s I used to read the NME as religiously as rgl would buy it and I would visit to steal his coffee. As he eventually had a subscription (to which he might no longer admit) then that was fairly frequently. Back then it wasn’t necessary to read the magazine ironically: pre-Select meltdown, pre-Melody Maker fold-in, the NME would do the irony for you. It’s easy to look back on those times as halcyon, whereas the NME has always been shambolic, and its adoption of the Spice Girls as some sort of cause cÃ©lÃ©britÃ© was even then clearly an act of fake rather than real rebellion.
Fast-forward the lion’s share of a decade and much about the NME hasn’t changed. There’s still an intensely studied DIY ethic at work, with titles and box-outs at carefully calculated angles, and rough borders resembling Dymotape that suggest the same old clip-art CDs are knocking around. Nonetheless, the magazine has changed subtly. Since the turn of the century the print magazine has become a kind of static pastiche of the website, and now has layout and navigation instead of page arrangements and indexes.
The front cover now looks like a site’s splash page, post-Flash, with cramped content, classic three-column teaser layout and text floating as if it were all powered by HTML and CSS. Inside there are two alternative indexes: by band, or by feature. All that’s missing is a sitemap, and clickable page numbers. Several articles hyperlink—well, quasi-link—to the website, and there’s even a find-band-members forum towards the back.
The content has suffered to some extent over the last few years. As MM and NME fused, and in part because MM no longer existed as a separate publication against which to compete and with which to compare, the surviving magazine has become fluffier, with a lack of criticism more akin to the Big Issue than a commentator on a cynical billion-pound industry. The editors seem to rate Arctic Monkeys and Babyshambles as overly as the non-specialist press, giving them pages of non-critical editorial, and Bloc Party’s Kele joins them with a cringeworthily self-referential album diary. Some things do change, though: no sign of the Spice Girls. Instead, there’s three letters lambasting a recent feature about Girls Aloud, followed by the inevitable “put those deep-seated prejudices aside” editorial comment in bold. Bold, but not exactly innovative.
Perhaps there’s an age at which you can enjoy the NME, with its excitable, stydnty attitude towards crazy A-level postmodernism that’s fun for the first two or three sightings. Perhaps beyond a certain age it’s best to hang up one’s indie spurs and buy Word or Q. But personally I find it hard to reconcile that notion with my own rediscovery of 6 Music, obscure podcasts, YouTube and—when I can supress the urge to retch—MySpace. As K. said, when I suggested with a sigh that I was probably too old to enjoy the NME these days, “nah, not really; just too bright.”