Saturday, July 21, 2012
"Bias at Rolling Stone Magazine?" - a critical take on the mag's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Excerpt: The Rolling Stone 500 would be easily dismissed as a marketing stunt were it not for the sad fact that the superiority of boomer-era rock is viewed by some as truth. These folks would agree with what Rolling Stone says about its top album: "'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' is the most important rock & roll album ever made"; it is "rock's ultimate declaration of change." No, it is not. It had predecessors that made it possible and that are thus at least as important. And "Sgt. Pepper" brought no greater change to rock and pop music than did subsequent recordings like "Crosby Stills & Nash," "The Ramones," Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Nirvana's "Nevermind," Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet" or Radiohead's "Kid A." Sweep aside 45 years of almost-unchallenged praise, some of which has nothing to do with its 13 songs and 40 minutes of music, and really listen to "Sgt. Pepper." It is a great rock and pop album. But indisputably better than, say, "Kiko," a 1992 album by Los Lobos, or Björk's 2001 disc "Vespertine"—neither of which is among the Rolling Stone 500? Of course not. But the greatness of "Kiko" and "Vespertine" exist outside the confines of boomer-rock's narrow cultural context. . . . "White Elephants and Termites, Revisited" - a response. Excerpt: The real question, then, isn’t whether the list is focused on commercial rock and pop. It’s whether the focus on the boomer golden age is justified within than context. Fusilli notes that “Of its 500 albums, 292 were released in the ’60s or ’70s, a highly improbable 59%.” But this is only “improbable” if you assume that achievements in a particular genre are randomly distributed across time. That’s absurd. Art forms have their periods of growth, maturity, and decadence. Fusilli doesn’t want to be believe that rock is in its decadence. He suggests, for example, that Los Lobos’ 1992 record Kiko and Björk’s 2001 Vespertine rival Sgt. Pepper. I have never especially liked the Beatles, and do love Los Lobos and Björk. But their work isn’t comparable in influence or technical innovation. Sgt. Pepper changed listeners’ understanding of what rock ‘n’ roll could be. Kiko and Vespertine, on the other hand, are just terrific records. . . . My two cents: When it comes to Rolling Stone, you should know what you're getting. For a long time it's been a thoroughly mainstream publication that, in terms of its music criticism, clings to past glories. The magazine's classicist biases - like awarding five stars to nearly every recent album by Bruce Springsteen - are well known and hardly worthy of a fuss. The pop culture mythology of the Boomer generation does make for an interesting topic, but no one should be surprised by Rolling Stone's dogmatic promotion of it. And besides, the vast majority of the albums on that list deserve the praise they received.