The Written & Recorded office hums to the sound of podcasts and music. Once a week we’ll highlight our favourite new podcast and album. This week the oldest man in podcasting presents Harry’s Last Stand and we enter the less-than-virtuous circle of Arcade Fire’s ‘Everything Now’.
Harry’s Last Stand
It’s not often you hear from the older generation in podcasts, but Harry’s Reasons could change that. At 95 years old, Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression and RAF veteran. He’s an activist and an author and now – podcaster.
Harry’s not happy about Brexit or the recent leadership in his beloved England. He’s seeing similarities of his experiences around the Great Depression and he wants to warn us before it’s too late – for us and himself. In the opening episode, Harry declares ”As one of the last remaining survivors of the Great Depression and the Second World War, I will not go gently into that good night. I want to tell you what the world looks like through my eyes, so that you can help change it…’
As content creators, our first response to Harry’s Last Stand is an appreciation for the craft that went into how the podcast is made. Harry delivers a monologue over six to 15 minutes that sets the scene and sounds like he’s been talking directly to us for years. No doubt this would have required a few stops and starts while recording, to ensure all the elements that create the images in our minds are included. Harry’s editor knows how to make a great podcast and pieces it all together seamlessly, then mixes in the relevant ambient sounds.
The result is part old-world radio play, part next-generation podcast.
I say ‘Harry’s editor’, but for all I know, Harry could be doing all this himself! Apparently his son, John, helped him with the technicals, but Harry’s no stranger to technology or getting his opinions out there. He’s got over 150,000 followers on Twitter. He writes for the Guardian and addressed the UK Labour Party Conference in 2014. And he went to see the refugee and migrant encampment called Calais Jungle for himself before it was closed in 2016.
Harry started this podcast and it’s widely referred to as his own podcast.
Harry’s Last Stand started in April last year and ran through to Christmas. It wasn’t weekly, although it started out that way. I guess when you’re turning 95 you can take a few weeks off to look after yourself. In each episode, Harry emotively tells his story, then takes the opportunity to offer his opinions on the current political situation in Britain. Some of those opinions have dated, but things change so slowly in politics, that his comments are still relevant a year later.
It’s the kind of podcast that brings tears to your eyes for the harsh world that he grew up in, while reminding you that it’s been too long since you last spoke to your own grandparents. And for many of us, you’ll hear more about the experiences of growing up in the last century from Harry, than our grandparents will ever be able to tell us. Harry says he isn’t a historian, but at his age, he is history.
Check out Harry’s Last Stand on Apple Podcasts
Arcade Fire ‘Everything Now’
While Harry’s Last Stand is a linear story that started almost 100 years ago, Arcade Fire’s 2017 album Everything Now kicks off with the last track, creating a less-than-virtuous circle of an album that you can play on repeat to create an ever diminishing circle.
It also features a song called ‘Infinite Content’, so it was a gimme for our first featured album as we embark on our journey as a content creation business.
‘Everything Now’ is the first real song of the album (of the same name) and it kicks off with bright pianos that invoke memories of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ from the 70s, which isn’t a bad thing at all!. Before long, the song drags you into the 80s with a chorus reminiscent of the one hit wonder ‘Life in a Northern Town. It’s ticked two major boxes in the taste buds of Written & Recorded.
The album continues with a funky 70/80s sound that begins to reveal it’s message in ‘Signs of Life’ declaring, “the cool kids are stuck in the past”. There’s even a keyboard refrain that brings to mind the theme tune from Netflix’s flagship program Stranger Things. Are Arcade Fire suggesting that our fascination with the recent past is preventing us from moving forward?
Arcade Fire have become one of those reliable bands that deliver meaningful music that makes you want to roll the windows down, turn the car stereo up and drive loud. Meanwhile there’s some serious commentary on life as we know it, but we haven’t bothered to think about too deeply. And they do it with such great turns of phrase like “god make me famous, if you can’t, just make it painless” in Creature comfort.
Pitchfork Media weren’t fond of this album, giving it a score of just 5.6 out of 10 and saying “the pale, joyless songs don’t transcend their social critique-they succumb to it”. We disagree. While some bands with a distinct sound appear to release the same album over and over, Arcade Fire’s social critique blends with their familiar sound to create a new and exciting album.
Then there’s the content. ‘Infinite Content’ comes half way through the album with a minute and a half of crunchy, distorted guitars and a chant of – you guessed it – infinite content.
While we’re in the content creation business, we don’t think infinite content is the goal, even if it sometimes appears to be the outcome. We established Written & Recorded to create engaging content that serves one purpose – to satisfy the audience. There’s no point providing constant, or infinite content if it doesn’t provide answers or add value for the people you want to communicate with. It’s worth the time to research and understand your audience, before communicating with them in your unique voice.
After all, isn’t that why we’re enjoying this Arcade Fire album? It sounds like they are living among us, experiencing the same pressures, disappointments and challenges that we are. The only difference is, rather than complaining about it, they have the talent to create music from that experience that not only tells us we’re not alone – but it sounds great too!
The album almost ends on a high with the penultimate song ‘Put Your Money on Me’ which brings back the Stranger Things synthesizers, thanks to some input from Daft Punk. The mood pulls back with the lament ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ before Everything Now ends where it began, with the self-titled track that turns the whole album into a loop if you let it.
Everything Now is a fine addition to the Office Playlist – it won’t startle the horses (or those in other cubicles) – and it gives you something to think about, while you tap your toes and create more infinite content.