Thursday, March 12, 2009

They're Ripping On AMG Guy (Erlewine)!

Ah, success - a double-edged sword? When you're the unsung hero, toiling away in the AMG basement, they adore you. But scale your way up the heights of the music critic mountain, and then one day, they turn on you, like a rabid dog on his master. And where's the appreciation, the gratitude, the reward for all your years of AMG glory? Lying in the gutter, my friends, like so many used copies of U2's Pop.

Last week, Stephen Thomas Erlewine reviewed U2's latest album No Line On The Horizon, bestowing upon it a nice, noncommittal rating of three stars. I have not heard the album myself, but, let's face it, that probably sounds about right. Some of his readers agreed. But others began doing the unthinkable: they began ripping on Stephen Thomas Erlewine! The nerve. The gall. The insouciance. Just what did he ever do that was so horrible? Listen to some of these "complaints":
I’m not surprised at this review, really. After all, it’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the man who gave Paris Hilton’s debut a 4.5. A review that will live in infamy. And Pop a measly and unfair 2.5, but whatever. He’s the king of negative backlash and bias...This sounds like the obligatory 2-star review he gives to just about every major artist once he impulsively declares them past their prime (R.E.M., Madonna, etc.). Good Job, STE, you make us proud.

Can you really trust a man who thinks Ween is better Jimi Hendrix?

Frankly, this is a lazy review, even if it doesn’t quite descend to the sedentary level of the Entertainment Weekly one. It’s almost enough to make you want to go and read Pitchfork (and take them seriously).

STE is as fickle and unrelentingly stubborn as they come...It’s been almost 12 years exactly since the release of Pop and he still hasn’t given it the reappraisal it commands and deserves.
First of all, who knew Pop had such a fanbase? But nevermind. The point is that I was shocked to hear such words directed at the master, the maestro, the AMG magician. Sure he's got his biases just like any other music critic (I still cringe at the thought of his - in my opinion - disproportionate Green Day admiration), but since when did that make him "the king of negative backlash and bias"? Fine, so he thinks Ween is better than Jimi Hendrix. Well guess what, I think Oasis are better than Bob Dylan (note: possibly not, but it sounds provocative so I'm leaving it in). Is a good music critic supposed to bend and contort his or her own personal opinions just so that they fit into some established notion of pop music taste? Hell no. A good music critic is supposed to say what he or she really thinks, consensus be damned. Sure, it may not have been trendy or hip for Erlewine to admit that he actually liked Paris Hilton's album, but hey, if he liked it, he liked it. Have you heard it? Neither have I.

I think the main flaw, if any, in Erlewine's writing is more of a flaw with the editorial style of AMG itself. Meaning: the reviewers apparently have to write their reviews from sort of an omniscient, absolutist point of view. They aren't allowed to simply say, "I" or "me" or "in my opinion," the way other reviewers can. As a result, I think this irritates people a little bit. Because AMG is so otherwise dependable, and because you know that so many people are going to read the AMG review and assume that everyone agrees that "Album #6753" deserves three stars rather than the five you'd give it, you think, "But I don't agree with that! This is just some guy's opinion!" Yet they write as if their opinion simply My guess is Erlewine would probably rather not compose in this manner, but he's required to adhere to AMG's own self-imposed style guidelines. Nevertheless, I think this keeps his writing from soaring the way that maybe Roger Ebert's does, or even the occasional Pitchfork review does. I just wished he simply tried to speak for himself rather than for some imaginary consensus. But hey, no music critic (other than me) can be perfect.

Anyways, this just goes to show you that you know you've finally made it when you start receiving your own backlash.


Herr Zrbo said...

Poor Erlewine. Still, did he really give Paris's album a 4.5?

Little Earl said...

Yeah, that one's a little hard to defend. But listen to the man himself:

"Like the best lightweight pop, Paris retains its sense of fun through repeated listens, long past the point that the novelty of Paris Hilton releasing a good album has worn off...Yes, there is no denying that this is a pure piece of product, but it is indeed pure as product. Paris makes no apologies for being mass-market pop, but everybody involved made sure that this was well-constructed mass-market pop."

OK, maybe...but even so!