Posts tagged "criticism"

notquiteaspopular:

Cher - “Believe” (#806, 1998, 7 weeks). Under discussion here: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/popular/2014/07/cher-believe/

This is very worth your time. A couple things to highlight in particular: the first is something (many, though not all) music critics think is entirely straightforward and yet seems to elude a great amount of regular folks:

“Believe” is not the first number one record to use it. I don’t know what is, either. The point about Autotune (and its ilk) is that when you hear it used like “Believe” uses it, you’re meant to hear it. Ordinarily, it should be invisible to the average ear. “Believe” is the sound of technology being abused, pushed to places it wasn’t designed to go. The standard debate around pitch correction – are singers deceiving the public by disguising their mistakes? – is completely irrelevant to “Believe”. It’s like criticising the bullet time sequences in The Matrix on the grounds that the actors didn’t do their own stunts.

The other is something I think critics sometimes forget:

Let’s go back to 1998 though, and remember what “Believe” sounded like at the time. Not a revolution. For a start, I’d guess most people imagined the pitch-bending effects were Cher using a vocoder, and vocoders were a known quantity. Vocal distortion wasn’t exactly uncommon in 90s dance music, either — The Tamperer’s “Feel It” has plenty of slowing down and snapping back. At the same time, the way Cher was using vocal tricks — suddenly dropping them in to mutate words – was startling and effective.

"Believe" has become so fixed in its status as what Tom calls Patient Zero that we sometimes forget no one at the time knew T-Pain and "Piece of Me" and 808s and Heartbreak would follow.


The Singles Jukebox is seeking writers!

Schlock, at its finest, is where bad taste becomes great art. Schlock is music that subjugates all other values to brute emotional impact; it aims to overwhelm, to body-slam the senses, to deliver catharsis like a linebacker delivers a clothesline tackle. The qualities traditionally prized by music critics and other listeners of discerning taste — sophistication, subtlety, wit, irony, originality, “experimentation” — have no place in schlock. Schlock is extravagant, grandiose, sentimental, with an unshakable faith in the crudest melodrama, the biggest statements, the most timeworn tropes and most overwrought gestures. Put another way: Schlock is Rodgers and Hammerstein, not Rodgers and Hart. It’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” not “Manhattan” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Jody Rosen, “In Defense of Schlock Music,” Vulture, May 27, 2014

Rosen’s piece on schlock seems one of those rare articles in which the accompanying list is more useful than the essay. The list is, like all lists at their best, a reimagining of history that highlights forgotten or ignored works and offers new understandings of existing ones.

But the thesis underpinning it — that “schlock” is an underappreciated and critically under-engaged quality requiring renewed appreciation — seems lacking. At base, the argument is Kelefa Sanneh’s “Rap Against Rockism" plus Carl Wilson’s schmaltz-musings in Let’s Talk About Love (which Rosen mentions in his article), and I’m not sure Rosen offers more than a synthesis of those two (very fine) pieces. Which is OK as an entree, but being well acquainted with those arguments already, I kinda thought, is that all?

Or in another way: welcome, guy, thanks for catching up. For a start, whatever other critics have been doing, I don’t think I’ve been ignoring schlock as a positive quality — here, for instance, I praised a Blake Shelton single, saying the singer “pours on the sugar for a big, goopy love song that brims with the same unabashed enthusiasm as Martina McBride’s ‘I Love You’ or Liz Phair’s ‘Why Can’t I.’” Or here, where I welcomed Taking Back Sunday’s “convergence of theatricality and emotional honesty, pop hooks and abrasive hardcore, bad teenage poetry and brilliant hyper-emotionalism.” Or here, where I wrote, “The Used, quite obviously, is a consummately ridiculous band, and no band should wield a weapon as powerful as ridiculousness without taking full advantage of its potential.” (Rosen’s essay has a distinct lack of emo; perhaps for many critics the genre is still a schlock too far?)

But, no, I’m not chiding Rosen for failing to scrutinize my archival work, just saying that I don’t feel his ideas are particularly new ones. And, after all, his examples of great schlock don’t lack for traditionally praised tunes: are all those stuffy rock critics who nonetheless appreciate the majesty of Prince’s “Purple Rain” really revelling in anything but the schlock? As such, his attempt to redeem the better parts of Lionel Richie seem a mere matter of taste — we both like “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “The Boys of Summer” but depart ways on “Three Times a Lady” — than a revelation of hidden depths the Commodores singer might possess.

Could critics look more kindly on plain, even gauche, emotionalism? Sure. Critics at large are still too apt to lionise authenticity and traditionally white and male approaches to creativity. Could even critics interested in the varying schools of “poptimism” expand their definitions of pop, and remember how wide is the world outside rock? Absolutely. But as much as I enjoyed Rosen’s 150 songs that form the blueprint of a schlocky canonical alternative, I don’t think he’s identified a quality as rigorously defined nor as consistently marginalized as he presents it to be.


Flamboyant masculinity is not common in Australia; our celebrated “mateship” only really functions when a man is much the same as his neighbour. The great dynamism of You Am I, at least on their early records, came from the ordinariness of suburban life as directed through Rogers’ blowtorch charisma and, at times, his rage. He was sexy, and he was angry – an almost irresistible combination – windmilling and pirouetting across the stage, but his lyrics were wry, tender and generous. In his narrative sympathy, his eye (and ear) for small sadnesses, Rogers closely resembled his idol, The Kinks’ Ray Davies.

Anwyn Crawford, “You Am I and the New Nostalgia,” The Monthly (October 2013)

A touch awkward to write it out, since I work with her, but it’s amazing what a great critic, and a great writer, Anwyn is.

From the same piece:

Sound As Ever wasn’t that great an album, even 20 years ago, but it does contain two genuinely great songs: ‘Berlin Chair’ and ‘Jaimme’s Got a Gal’. The latter remains as moving an examination of male friendship as I have ever heard, rivalled only by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s crushingly sorrowful ‘I See a Darkness’. “Jaimme’s got a girl / Don’t think things gonna be the same,” sings Rogers at half-volume. “He ain’t coming out and drinking tonight / I think he’s gonna change his name.” It’s a love triangle not often broached in popular music, a woman interrupting the poignant, unacknowledged intimacy between two men.


Saul Austerlitz:

I spend most of my time, professionally speaking, writing about movies and books, and during quiet moments, I like to entertain myself by imagining what might happen if the equivalent of poptimism were to transform those other disciplines. A significant subset of book reviewers would turn up their noses at every mention of Jhumpa Lahiri and James Salter as representatives of snobbish, boring novels for the elite and argue that to be a worthy critic, engaged with mass culture, you would have to direct the bulk of your critical attention to the likes of Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. 

lol

Saul Austerlitz:

I spend most of my time, professionally speaking, writing about movies and books, and during quiet moments, I like to entertain myself by imagining what might happen if the equivalent of poptimism were to transform those other disciplines. A significant subset of book reviewers would turn up their noses at every mention of Jhumpa Lahiri and James Salter as representatives of snobbish, boring novels for the elite and argue that to be a worthy critic, engaged with mass culture, you would have to direct the bulk of your critical attention to the likes of Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer.

lol


Still think this is one of the better things we’ve ever done.

Still think this is one of the better things we’ve ever done.


Note, however, that “difficult” is not the same thing as “valuable.” Solving a Rubik’s Cube is difficult, but not particularly valuable to the world.

Nate Silver, “What the Fox Knows,” FiveThirtyEight, March 17, 2014

Oh, man, totally appropriating this completely obvious metaphor for future use. I’ve struggled to find the perfect way to describe how inessential difficult things can be, (usually settling on calling it a “party trick”) and this is ideal. Your guitar solo? Rubik’s cube. Hitting the right note in the studio every single time without Auto-Tune? Rubik’s cube. Speed rapping and beat boxing? Motherfucking Rubik’s cube.


U2 – “Discotheque”

Good advices.

She sang a rousing version of “Politically Uncorrect,” which is, perhaps fittingly, an un-protest song. (“I’m for the Bible/ And I’m for the flag,” she sang, as if she were expecting a fight.)

Kelefa Sanneh, “Gretchen Wilson Sings at Radio City Music Hall,” The New York Times, June 17, 2006

Looking for an old article — not this one — and I was reminded yet again why I love Sanneh so much. This is perfect: he gets out of the way, detailing Wilson’s intent plainly and fairly, yet he still finds room for his own voice. “As if she were expecting a fight” is such a mild rebuke, but those seven words — such marvellous economy! — deflate Wilson’s entire argument, and yet they aren’t rebuttal, they don’t oppose per se, but rather permit her stance to crumple through its own weakness. I wish I could write like this.



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