Wednesday, October 12, 2005

CRITICAL BEATDOWN

I was chilling with my buddy Andrei this weekend listening to Billy Joel's "Moving Out (Anthony's Song)". Andrei noted that BJ sounds really angry on that song as well as on many other songs like "Pressure", "Big Shot", "My Life", "Still Rock and Roll to Me", etc.



Andrei's RIGHT! It's pretty easy to write-off the Piano Man as a PUSSY, but a major component of his VIBE is his PUNK(ish) ANGER. In fact, BJ is basically the Long Island Elvis Costello. He is/was AN ANGRY YOUNG MAN.

BJ's ANGER was not confined to the narrative voice of his songs. CHECK this passage from a BJ biography:

Although he had become a genuine star, critics had not looked kindly to Joel's music, and the pianist became a vocal opponent of rock criticism in the late '70s; he was known to have denounced Village Voice pundit Robert Christgau on-stage and then, as a form of protest, had torn up Christgau's reviews.

Some might argue that BJ's Christgau-directed rage is VERY LAME. Shouldn't BJ have thicker skin? WELL...



Let's look at Christgau's homepage so we can judge this situation like WISE KING SOLOMON (this may be impossible).

-Right off the bat we see Christgau proclaiming himself "The Dean of American Rock Critics." Whether or not he made up this description, he is putting it centerstage on his KIND-OF-BOOTLEG homepage.

I'm sensing some EGO.

Is it even cool to be the DEAN of CRITICISM? Wouldn't you rather be the Headmaster of an Elite SWISS BOARDING SCHOOL? I digress...

-Christgau's homepage has a huge database of his reviews. We can view BJ's ENTIRE CAREER through the eyes of THE DEAN.
HERE ARE SOME KEY QUOTATIONS:



-Piano Man [Columbia, 1973] - "Here he poses as the Irving Berlin of narcissistic alienation, puffing up and condescending to the fantasies of fans who spend their lives by the stereo feeling sensitive."
GRADE: C


A rock critic dissing fans who live vicariously through MUSIC and/or are SENSITIVE???? CHRISTGAU probably spent his whole life by the stereo feeling sensitive.



-Turnstiles [Columbia, 1976] - " As Joel's craft improves--I can recall four of these songs merely by glancing at titles--he becomes more obnoxious..."

Grade: C+

This review oozes BAD VIBES. What is the reader to think?

"Ah, the supreme and holy DEAN of AMERICAN ROCK CRITICS can recall four of Joel's songs by MERELY glancing at the titles. Surely Joel is getting better. It's a shame he's SO OBNOXIOUS."




Speaking of OBNOXIOUS:
-52nd Street [Columbia, 1978]- "Billy makes as if he really wants people to believe the words. Yuck."

GRADE: B-

Yuck?????? GIVE ME A BREAK....

THEN, in 1985, OUT OF NOWHERE:



-Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 and 2 (1973-1985) [Columbia, 1985] - "I give up--it would be as perverse to resist his razzle-dazzle as to pretend Led Zep doesn't knock your socks off. Songpoetry, rock and roll, the showtunes to come--such categories just get in his way."

GRADE: A-

WTF??? So Christgau finally came around after dissing BJ for years. He couldn't listen to any of BJ's albums without looking down on him, but with the GREATEST HITS it started to make sense. CHRISTGAU is a 1ST-CLASS POSEUR.

"I just like the GREATEST HITS"????

Compare this to Christgau's review of the Stones' 1971 Greatest Hits album, HOT ROCKS:

Hot Rocks 1964-1971 [London, 1971]
If you don't like the Stones, this might serve as a sampler--the only dubious cut is the live "Midnight Rambler." But if you don't like the Stones, why are you reading this book? Look, here's how it works. Except for Satanic Majesties, which isn't represented here, all of their '60s studio albums are musts. Couldn't even tell you where to start. Now!, maybe. Or Let It Bleed. Aftermath? Beggars Banquet? B-

Here Christgau is giving an album which he himself admits is FULL OF GREAT SONGS a B- because ONLY A DUMBASS would listen to SUCH a SUPREME and AWESOME band's GREATEST HITS. You should already be loving the Stones or else you don't know ANYTHING about ROCK 'N ROLL.

Christgau had to work backwards to appreciate Joel...



BOTTOM LINE(s):

- I'm inclined to side with Joel on this one. Christgau is a CLASSIC TYPE-A HATER.

- GRADING ALBUMS like HOMEWORK is LAME.

- I was watching Wall Street the other day. There's a scene where Charlie Sheen's working-class Dad chides him for working as a broker. "You're just feeding off of other people. You're not actually making anything."

Are critics the I-BANKERS of ART?



- HERE'S THE BIG QUESTION:

Is there any point in NEGATIVE CRITICISM?

I can see the point in POSITIVE CRITICISM. There is just TOO MUCH art out there. It is HELPFUL to hear about COOL, NEW art from someone you trust. It encourages you to CHECK IT OUT. Presumably, after checking it out, you will DECIDE FOR YOURSELF if you like it.

NEGATIVE CRITICISM will only PREVENT you from checking it out and THUS deciding for yourself.

OF COURSE, I'm basically just talking about NEGATIVE ROCK CRITICISM right now. If you need to criticize the government or your lover's handjob-techniques, GO FOR IT. That criticism could very well have a POSITIVE effect.

Yesterday, Pitchfork gave the new Kate Bush single two stars. I haven't heard the single yet, but as a KATE BUSH FAN, I want to. How does this NEGATIVE review do anything but CLOUD MY JUDGMENT? You can say it's my fault for letting it cloud my judgment. MAYBE YOU'RE RIGHT.

HOWEVER, the question still remains: HOW DOES PITCHFORK'S NEGATIVE REVIEW OF KATE BUSH BENEFIT ANYONE?

I don't think this question is easy to answer. We should all meditate on it....

32 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ezra

check out what Christgau said about The Walkmen's first album:

Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone [Startime International, 2002]
Just what we always wanted--Jonathan Fire*Eater grows up. Put some DreamWorks money into a studio, that was mature. Realized Radiohead was the greatest band in the world, brainy. Stopped playing so fast, hoo boy. And most important, switched vocalists from Nick Cave imitator to Rufus Wainwright imitator. Wainwright makes up better melodies with a dick in his mouth, and not only that, Cave has more literary ability. New York scene or (hint hint) no New York scene, DreamWorks isn't buying. C+

4:14 PM  
Blogger Ezra said...

WHAT A HATER!!! WTF is up with that "dick in his mouth" part? Is that a gay putdown ?
The tone of this review is RIDICULOUSLY CONDESCENDING. Plus, Radiohead??? Classic bad rock-critic comparison.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wouldn't you rather be the Headmaster of an Elite SWISS BOARDING SCHOOL? I digress..." Is that a shoutout to tushi? God, Ezra... why don't you just tongue wrestle her in front of my big brown eyes?!

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

christgau's homepage is worse than kind of bootleg...

its straight up bush-league

9:30 PM  
Anonymous juelz said...

'what is dis?'

3:14 PM  
Blogger Ezra said...

haha, what the hell is Santana's Town? Does Juelz actually have something to do with it? Why the hell are they selling plane tickets on that website?

3:36 PM  
Anonymous a lake said...

haha! I don't know!
you can also buy 'butterfly dream' a beautiful photograph by dave rivera:
http://santanastown.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=33&products_id=69

new kate bush is weird!!
clean guitar!
wind sound effects!
sparse
drumsz

i don't know

3:47 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

All post-Rolling Stone rock criticism is hipster-pretentious asshole-speak. That's the way of the world. Don't read it, seriously. It's supposed to make you mad. Or make you laugh. Which is basically the same thing unless you're the guy whose mom the reviewer's calling a whore.

2:52 AM  
Blogger Tozie said...

Like the take on rock crit, but how can positive rock criticism guide us to 'good' music without also defining a 'bad'?

Didn't expect Christgau to drop the A+ on Modern Vampires. Good work.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We can only really judge music personally (what we like, what we don't like) and therefore labeling any music as 'good' or 'bad' just doesn't make sense- it's too objective. I think the duties of music reviewers should include describing music in as detailed terms as is possible, and maybe drawing comparisons to various artist/albums/songs in order to give readers a better idea of what they might be interested in. Giving music a letter grade, or a certain number of stars, is pretty dumb unless it's for completely personal use (ie rating your top ten favorite albums in order).

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Blogger Balb├║rdia Serena said...

young late 2005 eZRA look at this, my man:

http://www.robertchristgau.com/get_artist.php?name=vampire+weekend

even the most annoying, condescending, and ludacris music critic likes vampire weekend's (your future band) albums

also i need to point out he hasn't changed that BOOTLEG'D VIBE.

no but you'd have a BLAST by reading your OLD POSTS and the COMMENTS on them

xoxo

iuri lang

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