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Showing posts from August, 2009

Supposed Former Pop Music Junkie

Author's Note: I wrote this piece in 1998, between my junior and senior years of college. I had just read Nick Horby's High Fidelity, and it loomed large in my mind. The piece was printed my college newspaper, the Augustana Observer that same year. I present it here (mostly) as it appeared there.

There was a troublesome stage of my youth when I had insomnia for a ridiculously long series of nights. I would lay in my bed sometimes three to five hours with no sleep, my mind a tangle of confused thoughts and anxiety. My parents only advice: Listen to the radio before you go to bed, it’ll calm you. I know one thing, that radio was my insomnia’s worst enemy. The songs were almost inevitably about something complex, with minor chords and sad lyrics. I hated the radio. It soured me on listening to music for a long time. Oh, I would tune in to Casey’s Top 40 to hear Milli Vinilli, and I almost never missed the “Top Five at Nine” where“Do the Bartman” was always number two. But MTV was ne…

So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Critic: Lesson 3

Welcome to So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Critic, a ten-part instructional feature that will provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to become a real life music reviewer. As a matter of process, I've taken these lessons from exhaustive research into printed music reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Q, The New Yorker, Musician, Rolling Stone, and Spin. Additionally, I've looked into the uberhip perspective of Pitchfork.com. I also read many pieces by the godfather of music reviewing, Lester Bangs. And finally, I have not shied away from an examination of my own work here on 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds.

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Lesson 3: Birth Of the Cool

We spent Lesson 2 discussing the value of comparing and alluding to other artists in your reviews. We discussed making references that are obscure and specific, and the importance of withholding explanations for said references. But there's something more, a vital piece of comparing and alluding that every reviewer needs to know. Here it is…

Rock Bottom: Weezer

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not always agree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.

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So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Critic: Lesson 2

Welcome to So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Critic, a ten-part instructional feature that will provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to become a real life music reviewer. As a matter of process, I've taken these lessons from exhaustive research into printed music reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Q, The New Yorker, Musician, Rolling Stone, and Spin. Additionally, I've looked into the uberhip perspective of Pitchfork.com. I read many pieces by the godfather of music reviewing, Lester Bangs. And finally, I have not shied away from an examination of my own work here on 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds.

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Lesson 2: Artists Only

As we learned in Lesson 1, using words to describe music is hard (at least as hard as math is for Barbie). Evoking the instrumentation, melody, harmony, etc. of the music, or elaborating on the way a certain lyric makes you feel, is difficult work. Figurative language can help, but even that is limited in its reach. So what's left? Two words: Artist …

Monkees Wrap-Up

In January of this year, I decided that I would take on the task of relistening to and reviewing every single Monkees album. Boy, am I glad to be done with that project. I've done the same concept before, both faster (every Talking Heads album in two weeks) and larger (all 15 Beatles releases), but this one somehow felt more epic. Perhaps it was the rollercoaster history of the group, or the variable quality of the releases, but it was sort of exhausting.

What conclusions, one might ask, did the reviewer draw from the experience? Well, most of all, I find my admiration of the Monkees concept and execution to be as strong as ever. This is despite the many wonky decisions made by those involved. I also think that the Monkees' story, when viewed as a whole, is a sad one, despite all of the joyful music they made. I have the feeling that Davy, Peter, Mickey, and Mike will never be fully appreciated for their contributions to pop music history (certainly it'd be a huge surprise …

So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Critic: Lesson 1

Welcome to So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Critic, a ten-part instructional feature that will provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to become a real life music reviewer. As a matter of process, I've taken these lessons from exhaustive research into printed music reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Q, The New Yorker, Musician, Rolling Stone, and Spin. Additionally, I've looked into the uberhip perspective of Pitchfork.com. I read many pieces by the godfather of music reviewing, Lester Bangs. And finally, I have not shied away from an examination of my own work here on 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds.

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Lesson 1: Language in Our Lungs

Music critics, like most writers who wish to be universally beloved, must be maestros of the symphony of language. Metaphors that sing, similes that sting, and adjectives that assault the senses are the engine that drive the intricate machinery of pop music writing. Additionally, the importance of hyperbole can never be overexaggerated. Also vit…

233. The Monkees: Justus (1996)

In keeping with their let's-get-together-every-10-years schedule (debut in '66, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart in '76, Then and Now... in '86), the Monkees convened in 1996 to make a new album.

This was significant for a couple of reasons. For one, it marked the first time since 1968 that all four members agreed to participate in a Monkees project. For another, they decided that, like their landmark Headquartersalbum, they would do everything themselves. And the result was Justus (get it?).

I suppose the boys had the idea that the album would, once and for all, establish them as a true band. Even Headquarters featured an outside producer, a couple of session players, and songs by professional songwriters, but Justus, is really that, just the Monkees. They wrote, played, and produced everything themselves.

Now keep in mind that at this point Mickey, Davy, Peter, and Mike were rusty. In the early '90s Mike had picked back up music-making after a decade-plus hiatus and …

So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Critic?

Let's start with some existintial questions:

Why write review albums? Why read album reviews? What is the raison d'etre of music criticism? Is it a soapbox on which the writer spouts his or her opinions, thoughts, and philosophies? Is it a survivor's guide, providing the readers with trustworthy advice? Is it an encylopedia, providing information? Is it affirmation, or a conversation starter, or merely entertainment?

The answer is yes.

When I started as an unprofessional music critic nearly 6 years ago, I flew by the seat of my pants, with no flight plan, or air traffic control. Everything I learned about being a music critic, I learned from reading album reviews by other music critics. In fact, that's how every music critic learns. It's an incestuous process, but one with a clear logic to it.

Indeed, as I have continued to work at my craft over those 6 years, a clear pattern and set of rules emerged. I had been following them unconsciously, and my fellow music critics…

Rock Bottom: The Monkees

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not always agree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.

*…