Critically Critical Of Critical Critics

Okay, time for another rant against Pitchfork.

So 21st Century Breakdown came out a few weeks ago. I bought it and while I’ve only listened to the whole thing all the way through once, I enjoy it. It’s no American Idiot to be sure but it has its high points and is still better than Nimrod and Warning.

Still, if you don’t like the album that’s fine, that’s your opinion and you are more than welcome to it. Jess Harvell at Pitchfork did not like it, and he wants you to know right off the bat that he didn’t like American Idiot either, starting his review with “I wanted to like American Idiot. Really.”

Okay, Jess didn’t like American Idiot, big deal, but as the review continues he acts like that was the popular opinion, adding, “Two listens in, though, and it was clear: American Idiot was musically dodgy and politically empty. Political pop has its place, at least when didacticism doesn’t drain the wit and life from a band’s songwriting. But American Idiot failed utterly as coherent propaganda and as rock invigorating enough to agitate the pleasure centers.”

If he wants to think that fine, but considering that nearly every other critic in the world said the exact opposite, including the critic who reviewed the album for Pitchfork back when it first came out, maybe Jess should’ve realized that he’s in the minority with that opinion and state as such. If your only information about American Idiot came from this review you’d think that the album was an undeniable critical bomb (when it was, y’know, the opposite of that).

Harvell has no business reviewing this album. Not because he didn’t like American Idiot, but because he is obviously not suited to give the readers the information they want to know about the album, i.e. is it as good as American Idiot.

Partially-hypothetical example: I really really really do not like The Joshua Tree. I think it’s a bloated, indulgent piece of shit and there are only two things I hate in this world more than “With Or Without You,” and those things are “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

My opinion of The Joshua Tree isn’t any more right or wrong as the next guy, however, I understand that I am in the minority viewpoint when it comes to that album. So, if I was a critic in 1991 tasked with writing a review to Achtung Baby (another album I’m not a fan of) I would not begin it with, “Joshua Tree was a failure of a record,” because that’s not really fair. In fact, me reviewing that album at all wouldn’t be fair, I would be ill-suited. Everyone reading a review of Achtung Baby would want to know if it sounded in comparison to The Joshua Tree, and me saying “it sucks less than that other album that I thought sucked” is not a valid answer to that question.

Can a critic review an album by a band he doesn’t like? Sure, but he has to be honest about it, say something like, “I’m not a fan of this band, but if you are and want more of the same by them then you should enjoy this record.” Instead of doing that Harvell retconned reality and turned American Idiot into a critical flop just because the truth didn’t fit his fucking lead.

And if anyone can tell me how a 4.8 album is worse than a 4.9 album I’ll give them a cookie.

They Might Be Giants
Larger Than Life (Joshua Fried’s remake of She’s Actual Size)
Holy shit TMBG b-sides! You have any idea how hard it is to find these? For a band as fan-friendly as TMBG it’s pretty amazing that they haven’t yet released a rarities compilation (that I’m aware of). Sure, there was Then: The Earlier Years but that only encompassed their first two LPs, we need more dammit! These b-sides are from the maxi-single of “I Palindrome I.”

The Sugarcubes
Vitamin (Babylon’s Burning)
Vitamin (E Mix)
Walkabout (Remix)
After buying that massive box set I was surprised to find out that there were singles by The Sugarcubes that I somehow didn’t own. “Vitamin” is not one of my favorite Sugarcubes tunes, so I’m not that into these remixes. I will say though that the “Vitamin (E Mix)” is one of the most cleverly named remixes I’ve seen that isn’t an Eraser remix, and the remix of “Walkabout” is pretty good.

Siouxsie And the Banshees
Fear (Of The Unknown) (Vertigo Mix)
Cities In Dust (Remix)
The Passenger (LLLLLoco-Motion Mix)
I’ve had that Vertigo Mix of “Fear (Of The Unknown)” for years, but it was a rip from a vinyl that looked like two cats had sex on it then died, so it sounded like shit. Thank god for random maxi-single finds are sub-par record shows! Strangely, the remix isn’t posted on the tracklisting of the single, but only on the CD itself, which makes me believe it was a last minute addition. It’s a hardcore house re-imagining of the track, and is pretty damned good, which is not that surprising since it was remixed by everyone’s favorite gay formerly meth-addicted DJ from PA, Junior Vasquez. The other two mixes are from 12” promo singles. I don’t know what makes the “Cities In Dust” mix that different than the LP version, but the remix of “The Passenger” is about 5 minutes longer than the album cut. Awesome cover.

7 Responses to “Critically Critical Of Critical Critics”

  1. icastico says:

    When I used to write music reviews for money I had a rule. If the album was popular and I liked it…my opinion added nothing to the discussion, so I would not review that record. If the album was popular and I didn’t like it…I wrote about why I didn’t like it. If the album was unknown and I didn’t like it, there wasn’t a discussion going yet, so why start one. If the album was unknown and I liked it I wrote about why to the the discussion going.

    It served me well…although it resulted in lots of hate mail.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hey – I check your blog daily, and couldn’t agree more with your critics rant…

    The second TMBG track appears to be the same as one of the Sugarcubes tracks…

  3. John says:

    Great stuff, but the “Siftin” link is linked to the “Vitamin (Babylon’s Burning)” track. Guessing at your standard formula, this link worked just fine. 🙂 Keep it up… loves me some 80’s remixes…

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think the compilation “They Got Lost” would count as a TMBG rarities collection… good stuff including lots of the online eMusic only release “Long Tall Weekend”.

  5. Anonymous says:

    good god. decimals. someone at pitchfork thought that was cute?

  6. Pawn_Sacrifice says:

    Sorry but that fear of the unknown remix is garbage…sounds more dated than their eighties stuff.

    Love the blog by the way…similar to my own

  7. bibulb says:

    TMBG had a couple of b-sides albums back in they day, and they all ended up on Then. There was TALK that a record encompassing all the b's from the Elektra years would hit in the mid-nineties, and then everything fell through. (The name of the project was going to be Superfueled Freaksicle, which seems to be a Flansburgh name through and through…)

    Since it DIDN'T hit, though, stuff like Sensurround and things like that just disappeared into the past. I'm just glad that my monomania was acting up at the time so that I was willing to buy the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Movie soundtrack for one TMBG track. (And a halfbaked Devo track.)

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