Friday, March 29, 2013

Album Reviews Have Been Useless for Decades

The "usefullness" of an album review is derived from the idea that there were a handful of really cool guys who could tell you what was good and what was bad. That era existed in the minds of the Sixties generation, which conformed with gusto and followed publications like Rolling Stone into a Beatles and Stones world. It was simply not cool if Rolling Stone didn't say it was cool, and if it wasn't a lesser work in comparison to the Beatles, then forget it.

Well, I shouldn't say just The Beatles. An elite cadre of respected "critics" have spent decades trying to enforce taste on people by getting them to buy a Captain Beefheart album that, year in and year out, simply does not sell. Despite glowing reviews, no one wants to hear it. Despite critical acclaim, most people still, to this day, reject the album as trash. No one publication has tried so desperately to sell a failed album--Trout Mask Replica--than Rolling Stone. Each and every time they mention it, an angel in Heaven explodes into flames.

More hype has been delivered about this album than virtually any other in rock history and yet, no one ever really buys it or bothers with it because it is derivative trash and junk from the 1960s. This has also sustained Lou Reed's career for far too long as well. He ceased to be relevant decades ago but critical acclaim has kept him in the spotlight long after his own sell-by date. The Who continue to tour despite having nothing to say. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues to exclude legitimate rock and roll artists while letting in others who have never had anything to do with Rock and Roll.

But Captain Beefheart is a critical success by virtue of what an elite thinks of his "art." Oh, sure. People swear by it. But that's done chiefly to elevate their "taste" over yours and exclude others from a secret club. This is the legacy of rock criticism--creating phony levels of cool that ignore what is actually good rock and roll music. Step one is, find someone who excludes others. Step two is, spend decades flogging that dead horse. Step three is, sustain yourself at all costs by being irrelevant and open to no new ideas.

Consumers have never been placed at the forefront of any consideration. Instead of what it good you are subjected to the bias of others and a desire to eliminate anyone who doesn't conform to their tastes. How does beginning with a mentality that excludes others translate into determining what is actually great rock and roll? I would think that inclusiveness and an open mind would be preferable, but, of course, I don't listen to what's cool and therefore I am suspect.

This post is also pretty useless. Who cares what an artist says about a critic on Twitter? Is there anything of substance being exchanged through name calling? Eliminating the stranglehold that the leftovers of the Baby Boom generation have on rock "criticism" has been the real issue. Holdovers from Rolling Stone frequent places like the Huffington Post and the like, offering up their standard playbook--everything you like sucks because you didn't start out with Trout Mask Replica and Sgt. Pepper as your all-time favorites. Bah.

Why waste your time on a review? No one ever gets it right. This is 2013--the album is dead. And the rock critic isn't dead as well? Please.

Look at the cover of Rolling Stone, above. The "five star masterpiece" of which they refer is U2's No Line on the Horizon album, which was a commercial bomb all over the world; more people went to see the U2 360° Tour (7.2 million) than actually bought No Line on the Horizon (somewhere north of 5 million). It was a hugely disappointing failure, and the album review reflects just how out of touch Rolling Stone actually is with what is commercially viable and critically acceptable.

I would never tell anyone what they HAVE to buy but I would tell people that supporting artists is practically the only way to ensure that music continues to be made. I readily champion anyone who uses Bandcamp and the like to get their music out there but I won't vouch for anything because I refuse to consider myself a music critic. Music is entirely subjective; something you hate today becomes a favorite at a different time in life. Reactions are irrational in many cases, and change over time.

I will tell you what I like and don't like, but I will not issue my opinions behind some veil of having an exclusive club that you cannot join; people have to decide for themselves what is good or bad. For all I know, No Line on the Horizon is a great album. I gave up trying to listen to it early on and I don't regret doing so.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Time For Another Tibetan Freedom Concert

The Chinese government is still punishing bands fifteen years after the fact? I guess it is time for another Tibetan Freedom Concert. This time, let's see fifty cities, worldwide, and let's see hundreds of bands play.

Anyone who refuses can go play China themselves and enjoy the fresh air of freedom.

The Dark Side of the Moon is Forty Years Old

While this sounds a bit like vanity, and something that would be impossible to explain through a simple radio play, it is worth noting that the original "head music" album is now forty years old.

There's a very good reason why no one has equalled The Dark Side of the Moon in scope or artistic achievement--no one wants to put that many good songs on an album that runs in sequence. The music business has abandoned the "album" format (roughly 38 minutes of music divided into two sides) and focuses on downloadable singles. No one wants to dump all of their singles onto a single project and then have to contend with how to market that work to a public that wants music in slices for free.

Along with the demise of the album you have the abandonment of the B-side as well. How sad.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Music Map of Britain

You can click on this map to expand it into readability status, and most of the bands I like are covered. I would add Ride to Oxford and I would delete The Police from London; Sting was from Newcastle, Andy Summers was raised in Bournemouth, and they were transplanted Londoners with a globe-trotting American in the mix anyway.

I would expand this effort so as to find a way to put most of the indie bands on a separate map. You could divide this into 50s-80s and 90s-present as well; a separate map of Britain detailing heavy metal would also be a good idea.

But, overall, what a great map.

Billy Bragg

I would consider myself someone who has lefty politics but a healthy disinterest in anyone who sings lefty songs.

That's not to say that I like right wingers and conservatives in music; far from it. But, having been raised in the 1980s, when music either mattered or twittered around in beeps and frivolity, I come with a bit of baggage about music and politics that does not serve an artist like Billy Bragg very well.

You see, I've trained myself to ignore Billy Bragg. And that's probably unfair to him, especially when he has a new album to sell.

Who do you blame for the disgust people have about politics in music? Do you blame Sting, who seems to have started the whole thing in 1980 with "Driven to Tears," which was a non-single from an album (Zenyatta Mondatta) that had only two decent songs on it? Or do you blame War-era U2, who simply decided to start doing political songs when no one wanted to hear their October album?

I tend to blame Sting; U2 came after, after all.

So, as the man says, blame it all on Sting. I'm deliberately oversimplifying, primarily out of unfairness, but it was the rise of politics in music during the early 1980s that ruined things for the likes of Billy Bragg. At no time would his folky approach have been confused with anything other than a Dylanesque attempt to carve out an audience amongst the politically active youth of Thatcher's England. Plenty tried, but Bragg went to the states and found lefty sympathizers and released albums on major labels, trying to carve out a place in that market. But Bragg never became Sting, and for that, he's probably a much happier fellow.

At the time, I suppose I tolerated that stuff more than I should have. But I never got into Bragg's kind of music, even after sampling it, because that sort of things was already being done by people who were better. Why would you pick Bragg over John Wesley Harding? And why would you put up with politics in music anyway?

The exception being, of course, Oasis.

You could stack everything Bragg has done up and his entire catalog still does not compare to just one line from the Oasis debut that encapsulated the entire political situation of Thatcher's Britain better than anything actually sung during those years. It arrived in 1994, at the height of John Major's Prime Ministership, and it is the single most brilliant assessment of politics, culture, and society delivered in a song:
Is it worth the aggravation / To find yourself a job when there's nothing worth working for?

Has Bragg ever written anything better? I sincerely doubt it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sounded Good to Me

I heard Noel Gallagher play with Blur the other day, and it sounded good to me. It was one of those seminal moments when people from a now-defunct music genre get together and play just for the sake of playing. Everyone seems to have put the history aside and let it go. Moving forward for the sake of not worrying about what was said and done in the old days and all that--healthy thinking for healthy minds.

What's Liam Gallagher's take on it? Dredge up the past and make a tweet about it? You gotta move on.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Cure Pictures of You EP

I would rank the Pictures of You EP up there with one of the best things of 1990, and I think it is one of the best singles from The Cure.

Coming during one of the most prolific periods for the band, they owned the world with the Disintegration album. Massive tours, videos everywhere, and songs that immortalized the idea of doing it the right way.

What I love about the cover is that I still have the same reaction to it that I had when it first came out--it's the perfect mix of mystery and suggestion, and it tells the story of the song almost as well as the song itself. It appeals precisely because it is a personal, looking in, over the shoulder view of a life lived in bedrooms and the inner space owned by bands like The Cure.

How Robert Smith could translate something so personal into an arena tour of the world is the mystery nobody making music right now could even bother to attempt to figure out on their own.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Jesus and Mary Chain April Skies Single

April Skies is the highest charting single from the Jesus and Mary Chain (I would have guessed the collaboration with Hope Sandoval, Sometime/Anywhere), and it came out when the band was riding an amazing creative streak throughout guitar music. The Eighties were a horrible time for guitar music, and the Jesus and Mary Chain were one of the few good things that managed to stem that tide.

This single is a complete and utter piece of genius, and I love the cover and the typography on the back. If you're going to thumb your nose at the people who think you're blasphemous, why not embrace it and get it out there for all to see? The Jesus and Mary Chain were absolutely fearless. They didn't care what anyone thought of them. Why were they controversial? The name? The Catholicism and all that? Who even remembers? It was just great music.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Justin Bieber is Vanilla Ice

I'm not sure why your go-to guy for an examination of Justin Bieber is a fiction writer, but here's the easiest take I can give you on all of this:

Justin Bieber is simply the new Vanilla Ice. The hatred directed at him, the vacuous non-career built on phony adulation, and the fascination with being a gangsta whatever are all there, right for anyone to see. This kid is going to flame out fast, and he's going to end up having to keep it real while visiting the stoney lonesome.

Matt Bellamy of Muse Riding On a Train

This is Matt Bellamy from Muse, riding on public transportation.

I won't bore you with the details, but this is what has changed about music over the last few decades. Matt Bellamy is, arguably, one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. His band is huge--huge--in Britain. He is instantly recognizable in public places.

In the 1970s, Bellamy would be riding in a limo, or he would be traveling in the equivalent of a tank. Muse are at least as big as The Police were in the 1970s, if not astronomically more so, and they had to travel from gig to gig with assistance. Fans used to try to tear them apart.

In the 1980s and 90s, Bellamy would have been able to drive himself or ride with others as the subsiding crushes of fans gave way to a more refined form of hero worship. The only problem he would likely have faced would have been all the free cocaine shoved into his hands.

In the 2000s and beyond, we're all self-aware to the point of being ridiculous. Here he is, taking selfies on the way into the tube, and people think this is interesting. In many ways it is--music stars are now so far down the food chain, they can go back to having regular lives.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Taylor Swift Is Clingy, Insane, And Desperate

If you take a moment to really try and understand what is going on with Taylor Swift, you come away with several key things to consider.

Right up front, she has tendencies that could be best described as clingy, desperate and insane because if she wasn't, at least one person she has dated would still be with her. You don't leave behind a string of men without being difficult in some way, unless you have other issues. Typically, men don't break up with fabulous women. Typically.

But let's talk about one thing that people tend to overlook. She's been "famous" or in the public eye for almost seven years and she's still only 23 years of age. This is incredibly young to be thinking about settling down or getting married or doing anything along those lines. And yet, she's had enough "relationships," if you can call them that, to compete with any of a number of women in their thirties. This is because her reaction to the end of those relationships far outweighs their significance because of her youth.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that she's dated as many men as she has dated; it has been her reaction to the failure of those relationships that has gathered all of this attention around her. It has been the consistently ridiculous manner in which these public romances have been her career, almost as much as making music has been her career.

This is where she needs to look to independent artists and some of the people who have come before her. You can be successful and you can make great music if you use other people and the pain they cause you to feed that creativity. But, at some point, after it has eaten you up, what are you going to do for a second act? Where do you deviate and grow as an artist and learn to experience things outside of immature love affairs? Where does it become something other than your own payback for men who have wronged you?

How would you like to be the guy who dates her next? No one worth dating would ever hook up with her. That would be more abuse and unwanted attention than any decent person would want. Hence, the only thing left for her to do is to get on a downward spiral, being used again and again by men who only want to use her as a means to another end.

At this point, she does need, as Tina Fey said, some "me" time. She needs to grow up, create something that isn't fed by taking revenge on others, and she needs to go away for a while.

Isn't the problem more about her being overexposed than anything else?

The Stone Roses I Wanna Be Adored Single

I Wanna Be Adored is the third single from the debut album by the Stone Roses; it didn't come out as a single until 1991. After this, excitement in the band began to fade considerably because their followup was delayed throughout 1992 and 1993; these were the grunge years and the Roses were all but forgotten, which was just about the worst thing to happen to music, but still.

This is one of the best covers ever, and it is an inspiring piece of abstract art. Instead of adulation and a flattering photo of the band, you're greeted with something incredibly well designed and executed.

Finding a clean, easy to enhance image of this cover proved to be a bit of a challenge, but I was able to find this wonderful Silvertone postcard that advertised the single:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Is There Any Reason Not to Make This Permanent?

I guess that you would have to be of a certain age to know exactly what the Stone Temple Pilots really were--a fraud.

Sometimes, you just wish a band would go away. You know they don't have anything to say anymore and you know it's all a lie. The grunge bands and the popular American bands of the 1990s were never really worth getting into and so I just stayed away from them. When it came time to market Stone Temple Pilots, why wouldn't they make a video where Scott Weiland looked like Eddie Vedder and sounded like him, too?

Marketing 101. And, in their old age, they forgot all the basics and have turned into a joke. When they finally decide to go away, will anyone notice?