The Problem With Pitchfork

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I read reviews at Pitchfork, even though I rarely agree with them.  Pitchfork at least takes reviewing albums somewhat seriously in an age where reviews seem more like tweets than actual criticism.  More and more magazines and sites seem to be mistaking a half a paragraph as enough information to base an informed purchasing decision on.  I’ll at least give Pitchfork their due in that they put out an awful lot of longer form criticism.  The problem, however, is that most of the opinions you encounter there are ones that you can pretty much guess in advance, especially when it comes to rock music.  Their writers seem to disparage anything where actual songwriting is involved.  The more an album is a collection of weird sounds, and the less it actually features well crafted songs, the better chance it has of being highly rated.

The thing is, really great songs are hard as fuck to write.  We actually need more artists that are actually saying something in a way that reaches people.  I love all kinds of music as long as I feel an artist is doing something that comes direct from their soul and they are not just following trends.

Their is a band called The Knife that I like.  Their last album, Shaking the Habitual, was a really interesting record.  It dealt in avant-garde soundscapes much more than it dealt in pop songs.  If it were a painting it would be more of a Jackson Pollock than a beautiful landscape.  But do you know how many times I actually listened to the entire record in one sitting?  I haven’t once.  It’s pushing the envelope and that’s important, but it’s not really enjoyable other than as an intellectual exercise.  As a musician I really appreciate that kind of thing, but it’s a hard thing to love.  Pitchfork gave it an 8.4 and called it the best new music.  If you read the artwork that comes with the album you know that The Knife have a political agenda, but you would be hard pressed to really get that agenda by actually listening to the music.

Meanwhile the new Morrissey record is really subversive politically and in a way that anyone listening could get.  It’s because he uses the form of the pop song as his platform.  There are intelligent lyrics that tackle everything from gender politics to animal cruelty, but they are all delivered with melodies that are undeniably catchy.  His new album World Peace is None of Your Business has some really interesting arrangements.  The album starts with tribal percussion and a didgeridoo.  I’m Not a Man, perhaps the most subversive pop song that I have heard in some time, with an incredible melody, even starts with a minute and a half of strange noises.  What I’m getting at is that this isn’t simple guitar, bass, drums stuff, although I love traditional rock n roll as much as anything.  But I can’t help but think that Morrissey was punished a couple points by Pitchfork because he actually dared write memorable melodies.  His album was awarded a 5.9.

The new U2 album got only 4.6 points.  I wouldn’t say that the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence, is one of their top three albums, but it’s really good.  Every song features really strong melodies and great playing from musicians that play as a true band.  I personally like it more than probably any record they have put out since Pop.  I think Bono as a lyricist was at his peak between The Joshua Tree and Pop.  However this new album has songs that deal with IRA car bombs and the death of his mother.  It’s not exactly bubblegum.  But out of the three albums it is the most traditional in terms of writing and arrangements.  This is a rock n roll band album by and large.  But anyone that has ever written songs with things like guitars and melodies will know that what they are doing on this record is not the kind of thing that is easy.  It would be much easier to get a bunch of weird instruments and make an atonal soundscape.

I want a world where I can hear both.  I like that I can flick on my iPod and shuffle between The Knife and U2.  Out of the three records I like the Morrissey one the best as I think it is the one that straddles the gap between the intellectual and emotional the best.  But out of the other two, I can tell you flat out I am going to listen to the U2 one way more.  It’s more emotionally resonant.  And also, even though it seems more traditional, creating great songs is actually the harder magic trick.

I feel lucky though that as a music fan I don’t have to choose.  There is different music for different occasions.  Everyone has slightly different tastes and opinions.  However, I can’t help but feel that Pitchfork tilts the scales too far in one direction.  I feel like our mainstream culture has been dumbed down too much. If you look at the music of the 60’s you will see that this wasn’t always the case.  There was a time when music could be popular and important.  Now Pitchfork alone isn’t responsible for this.  A great deal of it has to do with other aspects of our free market culture run amuck.  But sometimes I wish the writers over at Pitchfork would realize that intelligence and subversive thought don’t necessarily have to exist apart from accessibility.

That’s How People Grow Up

Last night I played a really great festival in Oklahoma.  The people were great and the festival was well run.  Yesterday I posted a poem that was poking some fun at Oklahoma.  There is almost nothing more rewarding than being pleasantly surprised by people. 

I think it is truly important in life to admit when we are wrong.  It does not diminish us to do this.  We, as human beings, can’t possibly know everything.  We are bound to make mistakes.  Suffering and mistakes are how we become better people.  As Morrissey croons, “That’s how people grow up.” 

In America we tend to view those who evolve as the flip flopper.  But it is only the prideful and the ignorant who never change their opinion.  Often the biggest mistakes, like invading a country that we have no business being in, are the ones that we as a people have the hardest time admitting to. 

But remember it is noble, good, and intelligent to say, “I don’t know that”, or, “I was wrong.”

All we can hope to do is to make the best judgments that we can based on the information we have at the time.  Until you are dead, you can always start over.  Each day begins anew. 

I was driving in my car
I crashed and broke my spine
Yes there are things worse in life
Than never being someone’s sweety
That’s how people grow up

- Morrissey

The Last of the Famous International Playboys

Morrissey Interview

The above link is simply one of the best Morrissey interviews I’ve ever read.  It is from the site Vegan Logic.  It should also appeal to the non-fan as their are interesting ideas conveyed.  Some choice paragraphs to follow.  

On the state of the music industry:

The labels don’t want the people to choose.  Marketing is all that modern music is about, and it is only marketing and not talent or ability that creates success. This is why only the dumbo generation succeeds in pop without much trouble, because synthetic excitement isn’t likely to be a problem for the labels. But because marketing is the only reason why any singer is successful, songs with no merit become huge hits, and consequently the music world is unconvincing, and it relies upon awards to make singers appear to be genuine artists.  At the same time, young people who are serious about singing or playing an instrument would look at television talent shows and find them morally repulsive.  Which they are!

On female discrimination in the music industry:

I don’t think anything has changed, thus you will hear how “she’s one of the best female singers” whereas you would never hear “he’s a great male singer.”  In your question you ask me about female musicians, but really, isn’t the term ‘musicians who are female’ because otherwise we’re acknowledging the proper musician as being without doubt male.  It’s similar to when people use the term ‘a female doctor’ as if men have the absolute divine right to be doctors whereas women do not.  “It was a female police officer” sounds as if we’re saying ‘not a real police officer’.  In music, we still look back on early Patti Smith and The Slits as being such radical breakthroughs because they were definitely not fluffy and feminine, whereas it’s now entirely flipped back to the helpless little girl voice being the one we only ever hear on the radio.  The Spice Girls were marketed as ‘girl power’, which is exactly what they weren’t.  If they’d had any guts they would have called themselves The Slum Mums, and of course, forget girlhood, it ought to have been ‘woman power’ if anything.  Could you imagine The Strokes announcing ‘we represent boy power’?  

On protests around the globe:

It’s a not uncommon story, and you must remember how the Syrian unrest began with Assad arresting ten schoolchildren under the age of 15, and throwing them into prison where they were tortured. Assad did this because the kids had written DOWN WITH THE REGIME on a wall. This incident alone started the Syrian uprising, and the families of the schoolchildren took to the streets, and it was here that Assad’s Security Forces shot at the families and killed some of them.  This action then brought 20,000 people onto the streets chanting anti-government slogans, and Assad was free to slaughter whomever he wished. The UK government is now ready to re-engage with Assad!  But increasingly we see how civilian murders don’t actually matter at all with governments.  The recent Malaysian plane attack is a perfect example.  In the first few days the media referred to it as an attack, and then suddenly it became a disaster.  By ‘disaster’ they were telling us that nothing would be done about it, as if it were a flood or something.  We all see how civilian deaths do not register with world leaders unless a loss of oil or gas is involved, and suddenly there’s no question of military intervention.  What enrages me is how people who rise up against corrupt governments are referred to as rebels, protestors or agitators but never ever referred to as “the people”, which is what they are.  It is corrupt governments who are the rebels. You will never hear a news report say how “the police shot at the people”, yet you will always hear “the police shot at demonstrators” – as if demonstrators are not really people.  By calling the people ‘agitators’ or ‘rebels’ it divorces them from being your mother or your cousin.  You suddenly imagine fringe anarchists butting in.  The so-called Security Forces cause the most trouble and the most deaths throughout the world – Ferguson in the USA is a perfect current example – and the problem is that the Security Forces are beyond prosecution.  Because of this, nonviolent protest is always deliberately made to become violent by Security Forces so that the political issues are overshadowed by the news of violence instead, and this absolutely never fails.  So, instead of hearing why the people are taking to the streets in peaceful resistance, we are told of how several policemen were hurt in violent clashes, and this alone becomes the news story, and the plight of the people is ignored.  The last thing Security Forces ever want is peaceful protest because then the anti-government message is being aired and heard as loud as a bell.

Dark Mountains, Optimism, and Pessimism

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The following is from an interview in 1984:  

Interviewer:  Are you a pessimist or an optimist?

Morrissey:  I think I’m an optimist, because I am here and I’m doing this.  If I was a total pessimist I would have never have bothered.  I would have just, you know, stayed in bed, and didn’t bother to do anything.  So I think I’m an optimist.  

Anyone that knows Morrissey’s work would know that he often deals in dark themes and human failings.  Flannery O’Connor once said that, “If a writer writes about dirt it is because they despise dirt, not because they love it.”  

I’m sometimes told that I dwell in the dark too much.  However, I too would consider myself an optimist.  I believe the world can be a better place.  In order to get to that place though you must realize what you are dealing with and tackle it head on as best you can.  You must attempt to look for the truth even if that leads you down dark alleys at times.  There is a great deal of joy and beauty in the world, but there should be more of it.  It is those dark mountains we must climb and conquer.  

Oboe Concerto

Many of you liked the unofficial video for Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business.  Here is an excellent one for Oboe Concerto by Sharon Jheeta, who is the same person that did the last one.  I found this thanks to http://www.true-to-you.net, which is Morrissey’s official website.  Oboe Concerto is the fitting final to Morrissey’s excellent new album.  

P.S. I read that Richard Strauss was asked to compose an oboe concerto by an American soldier after World War II. 

Random Thoughts Before Departure and Weekend Picks

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I am heading out for Houston today to play the Redneck Country Club in Stafford, Tx.  You can check out details and other dates at http://www.shinyribs.org.

Because of this posting will probably be light today, although I am hoping I will have time between my soundcheck and gig to get something up.  After this I am off for three days and will hopefully get to work on here with a little more regularity.  I feel like I have gone through the looking glass today!  

Some random thoughts:  Against all intelligence and reason I would like to satiate my bloodlust with Expendables 3 at some point, which comes out today.  I grew up on 80’s action movies and they are definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. (Well, they would be if I felt guilty.)  I was just watching 2 a couple weeks ago and the body count in the first few minutes alone was ridiculous, all while the main characters cracked jokes and one-liners.  

The new Sinead O’Connor album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, is excellent, and I hope to write a full review at some point, even if it falls slightly short of her masterpiece How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?.  

I have been listening again to the George Carlin concert Life is Worth Losing.  He somehow manages to take suicide, murder, and all forms of human depravity, completely hilarious.  I have trouble deciding if that or It’s Bad For Ya is my favorite Carlin concert.  He is one of the few people that got braver and bolder as he got older.  He never mellowed out or stopped searching.  See if you can YouTube “extreme human behavior”.  The part about Roman torture is especially funny.  

I am still listening to the new Morrissey album World Peace is None of Your Business nonstop.  If you haven’t gotten it yet, do, and get the version with the bonus tracks.  The bonus tracks are all absolutely fantastic.  Art-Hounds has been in my car stereo every day.  Look up the lyrics if you need a laugh.  

I’ve read more of the Hampton Sides book In the Kingdom of Ice.  I’m still not far enough in to write a review or to decide where it places in his work, but it is another fascinating well told story.  One of the best history writers working today.  

Well that’s all folks…I need to hit the highway…

In the future when all’s well…

Jeff

 

 

Soldiers or Police in Missouri?

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http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/08/13/not-again-ctd-2/

World Peace is none of your business
Police will stun you with their stun guns

Or they’ll disable you with tasers
That’s what government’s for

World Peace is None of Your Business – Morrissey

Andrew Sullivan has been doing a really good job covering the events in Missouri.  The police shot another unarmed black teenager.  If that isn’t horrible enough the police reaction to justifiably angry black protestors has been disgusting.  If you look at the picture above you have to ask if those are cops or soldiers in Afghanistan?