Monday, December 18, 2006

Top Ten Ways to Start an Argument

Top-Ten Established Albums that are Amusing to Criticize

People take music way too seriously.

[Momentary pause to permeate the obvious irony of the trying-too-hard-to-be-witty opening statement from this C-Grade music blog-writer]

I am not speaking so much about the role of music in our society, in as much as how emotionally attached people get to their music. The prime example is looking confusedly at the car stereo while your friend frantically scans for “the good part” of the CD of his new favorite band that “you would totally like.” Revel in the awkwardness! Why should your friend be so invested in an album to the point where your douchebag non-chalance could crush his spirit? His mother didn’t hold him enough as a child? His father held him too much? Who cares? Whatever the reason, it can occasionally be amusing to voice criticism of music for the sake of comedic controversy. Here are the top-ten established albums that are the most fun to degrade and thus start an argument:

Note: The credence to be “established” was that it had to be one of Rolling Stones’ Greatest 500 Albums of All Time as it is THE definitive music list from THE most credible music publication on the planet. I fought back the urge to select the blatant warts on the RS list (George Michael, Hole, No Doubt, etc.) or the horribly overrated ones (Devo, The Strokes, The brilliant live recording of Bob Dylan taking a shit, etc.) and chose the somewhat “credible” albums.

Number 10: "Nevermind" – Nirvana

I purposely chose this album as my ‘number 10’ album because “Nevermind” always seems to earn the gratuitous ten-spot on many older music critics’ top-ten-albums-of-all-time list. It’s as if “Nevermind” is the token album that music critics use to prove that they are not completely biased toward the 1960’s and 70’s, and are still “up-to-date” with the new generation (biting their lip because their favorite album by The Who gets pushed out). One could call it musical affirmative action to not discriminate against Generation X.

Grunge music was only a fad-trend that was created as a backlash to the over-stylized 80’s glam-rock era - which in itself was a backlash to the early 80’s new-wave. So, three guys who commercialized suicidal sentimentality (much to the malaise of the surgeon general and concerned parents worldwide) become idolized as ‘brave musical pioneers’ with Kurt Cobain as the voice of America. It’s funny, because Harvard just released some key findings from their genome-decoding project. As it turns out, 98% of all white people share the “Nirvana gene” which allows them to play the bass line for “Come As You Are” even though they may not know anything about the mechanics of a guitar.

Number 9: “Highway 61 Revisited” – Bob Dylan

This album is just plain boring. Especially for an album that marked Dylan’s radical departure from folk to rock, this album is like a prelude to a qualude (potential band name… please don’t steal it).

The lyrics are spectacular and the songwriting is great. However, that sounds like the same two-dimensional praises that people used to give Volvo in the 80’s. “Well, their cars are super-safe and the price range is relatively affordable. But, they have no horsepower and they are designed like hideous Lego cars.” You don’t see black people willingly driving Volvos, nor do you see them willingly listening to Dylan. (No, Jimi Hendrix doesn’t count)

When do you listen to this album? There is not enough bass for it to be a rocking road-trip album, it’s too white to play at a party, and it’s way too funny trying to have sex when drowning in Dylan’s whiney drawl: “How does it feel?” The best time to listen to this album is when it is blasting from a jukebox in a dive bar in Amarillo, TX (or someother rustic hole), or if you are sitting around and smoking joints and drinking imported beers with your English-major friends while they harangue you about the brilliance of his imagery. When in that situation, it's best just to sit there looking bored and then telling your friends, "Hey guys, can we put on that Dylan song where Everybody Must Get Stoned! That's far and away his best song ever! I don't care what any of you Wesleyan kids say."

Number 8: “Master of Puppets” - Metallica

Metallica is the Ronald Reagan of music... see if you can follow: Where as metal music (screwed up conservative ideals) was previously isolated to random factions of the confused and unsupervised, Metallica rose to prominence and brought their music into the mainstream. To maintain their title as "God-annointed saviors of the free rocking world" - they sought out to be the biggest, the loudest, and most obnoxious band that had ever existed. Nevertheless, it completely divided the musical world: On one side you had the middle-American idiots who thought that being angry and pre-emptive fighting were cool (The Republican core), along with the musical technical geeks that thought the solos were genius (rich, white capitalists who find the brilliance in trickle-down economics). And on the other side you had the people that thought the music was too loud and lacked direction (Democratic pussies). But you were on one side or the other, and the Iranians(illegal music downloaders [thank you Lars]) didn't stand a chance.

Tough analogy. But at its core, Master of Puppets is the album that your older brother listened to, got really riled up, and would hold you down and give you "froggers" in the arm and "dead legs" to the thigh. It was made in the mid-80's when Generation X (the most worthless generation ever) was in prime teenage rebellion mode - thus going to waste. Metallica also inadvertantly sparked the worst fashion trend of all time: a black Metallica t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up (to show off a tattoo of a flaming skull or a cobra or some other sexually frustrated graphical connotation), tucked into a pair of tight fitting, ripped Jordache jeans (sans belt), basketball sneakers, and a I-can-wear-my-hair-however-the-fuck-I-want pony-tail.

Just like Californian comrade Ronald Reagan... I am not saying that Master of Puppets is not technically-impressive and a sign of the times, I am just saying that some rich white assholes profited from blue-collar ignorance while pissing a lot of other people off. Be very careful when you criticize this album, you'll most likely get a fist in the face and a Bud (heavy) poured over your head.

Number 7: “A Rush of Blood to the Head” - Coldplay

Making fun of a Coldplay album with you music snobs is like explaining how Derek Jeter sucks to a group of Red Sox fans. It’s a safe call, it’s not necessarily anything original, but still everyone gets enjoyment out of it.

Coldplay is the poor-man’s Police. Both bands released solid albums that had impressive songwriting; tight production; inane, noxiously repetitive lyrics; and a completely unique sound that was intended to inspire suburbanites. But Sting was actually a genius who experimented with song structure and time-signature, while Chris Martin named his kid Apple. The problem is that it is physically impossible to enjoy Coldplay unless you are spooning with some girl that smells like the Gap:
Her: (mellow singing along while playing with your hair) Open up your Eyeees, Open up your Eyeees. You know that my big-sister in my sorority got me tickets to go see Coldplay, but OMG I couldn’t go because I had my COMM exam the next day. LOL!
Me: (seriously) Oh that’s awful!
Her: I know, I really wanted to go!
Me: (confused) Well, no… I meant that’s awful that your big-sister would ACTUALLY get you tickets to go see this shit-show.
Her: What? No, I like Coldplay! Wait, you don’t like Coldplay? (self-consciously now) Why, what’s not to like about Coldplay? They're just like Radiohead, except not as weird, and you like Radiohead. Didn't you put "Yellow" on a mix-CD you gave me once? I mean, the music is so sweet.

Me: That’s only because I’m currently inside of you. Watch what happens when I pull out. (do so)
Her: Oh my God! Oh my GOD! Has he really been singing the exact same phrase for the past two minutes? Can these chord changes be any more obvious? Am I supposed to feel inspired by this slow-tempo, morose chorded, neo-British-yacht-rock? Wait, his kid’s name is Apple Martin? This is terrible. Quick, get back in, get back in! (do so) Ah… (mellow singing again) Lights go out and I can’t be seen…

Number 6: “What’s Going On” - Marvin Gaye

The most amusing reason to rag What’s Going On is because no one really knows this album. People will still defend it staunchly spouting some rhetoric along the lines of: “What man? How can you not like Marvin Gaye? He had so much soul… and like people had a lot of sex to his music and shit. He spread strong social messages about our society and uh… didn’t his father kill him and shit? I don’t know man, you’re probably a racist.” The easy response then is, “Oh OK, name three songs on this album.”

The main issue with What’s Going On is that its baby-making music (BMM) and BMM goes out of style quicker than a pair of Air Jordan sneakers. And once BMM goes out of style it stays out. Otherwise we’d still be “hooking up” while having Boyz 2 Men getting on bended knee. The BMM that you first loved will probably stay with you for the rest of your life. Grand parents still slow dance to Stardust, our parents to Marvin Gaye, worthless Generation-X to Luther Vandross, Richard Marx or some other trash, and we will be slow-dancing to R. Kelly for the rest of our lives.

As a side note and to be gross for a second, What’s Going On is one of the best soundtracks for taking a dump. Try it some time… you’ll see.

Secondary side note, Marvin Gaye singing the national anthem is one of the coolest things ever.

Number 5: “Legend” - Bob Marley

Legend is so much fun to tool on because it's probably the most universally appealing CD ever made. If you put on this album at a United Nations meeting no one will ask you to turn it off (except for maybe Hugo Chavez who has to disagree with pretty much everything).

Don't you hate it when you ask a girl what kind of music she likes and she says, "Oh wow, I don't know... I'm really diverse and I suppose I really like every kind of music. Except for rap LOL!" I mean, she has Legend in the CD book in her Honda Accord (nonetheless an actual store-bought version and not a burnt copy). Wow! You really are so diverse... and worldly! You really do like EVERYTHING! Let's go eat some California rolls and drink some Heineken you jet-setter!

I would say it's almost as bad as the 17-year old "hippie" kid from suburban Pennsylvania who has kind-of-long hair and is wearing sandals (when it's god-damn freezing outside) and a surfer t-shirt on (he has never been) and all he wants to do is be peaceful and smoke some "herb" and listen to Legend and just be "jammin'." Except he is working in the deli and I am home on holiday break and he is taking god-damn forever slicing me my Boar's Head turkey breast and so I start to get antsy and he is just taking his glossy-eyed time while he is whistling the melody to "Buffalo Soldier" and my sister laughs because she reminds me of my Phish-listening days and so I give her a real hard frogger in the arm and she gets pissy, and the dude almost just dropped the turkey... wait maybe I should get some Hot Fries while I'm here... I haven't had them in forever and the cartoon guy on the bag is so funny... Oh come on! Keanu back there isn't even wearing gloves!

Here is a great idea if you are a studio executive. Let's take this amazing, inter-racial Jamaican superstar whose music transcended boundaries, broke stereotypes, and popularized an entire genre of music and let's make a greatest hits album of his whitest, most-American, least-offensive hits. I wasn't being sarcastic… it really is a great idea.

My beef with Legend is that the music on this album is the only Marley that 99% of Americans know. It is one of the best selling Greatest Hits albums of all time and is not wholly representative of his music. Who cares you ask? Well it pisses my crap off when I am going through the aforementioned girl's CD book and see this disk (as her token worldliness) in between Tom Petty's Greatest Hits and Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits. RASTAFARI!

Number 4: “The Wall” - Pink Floyd

The Wall is actually one of the easiest albums to dislike.

Pink Floyd was arguably the most pompous, self-indulgent band of all time... and this album was their magnum opus. The problem is that Pink Floyd, which was originally an artsy, psychadelic band with a loyal cult following, catapulted to super-stardom with the massive success of Dark Side of the Moon. Every single Pink Floyd album was a "concept album" and since the majority of rock music fans are stupid (yeah I said it), they had to keep dumbing down the philosophy to reach more fans. By the time they got to The Wall, their rock opera, they became so dumbed down that they might as well have been dangling a colorful ball of yarn to appeal to their adoring public.

A wall is probably the most overused metaphor of all time (whether it be emotional barricades, exercise fatigue, divisions of capitalist/communist society, etc) and especially during the volatile Cold War years, the Floyd exploited that shit like a celebrity sex tape. It is a mediocre album with lame songwriting (with very few exceptions) and sophomoric lyrics (But it was only fantasy/The wall was too high/ As you can see/No matter how he tried/He could not break free). The concerts were unintentionally hysterical as the most over-the-top musical bastardization since Andrew Lloyd Webber's. Seriously, giant styrofoam bricks, inflatable "characters," and Roger Waters farting his ego all over the stage is a bit much. Yet the album art (a freaking wall) is incredibly tame given Floyd's track record for innovative covers. To top it all off, the movie (which was apparently impossible to watch unless "stoned on reefer") gave faux-philosophical credence to mindless teenagers to rebel against society. Just what we needed.

We don't need no education!

Number 3: “The Ramones,” - The Ramones

The Ramones are undeniably the most overrated rock and roll band to have ever existed. They are, by their own admission, mediocre musicians and elementary songwriters that just happened to be in the right place at the right time. They follow the Chinese industrial model for business success – take a pre-existing idea and do it faster, sloppier, and with less production resources.

It’s a fun listen sure. But unlike Chinese industry, The Ramones are terribly inefficient. I was pissed off when I bought the album from Sam Goody for $18.99 when I was in high school. That was almost four hours of ravioli making at the local Italian restaurant where I was working in the kitchen. The disc is 29 minutes long. That is almost 66 cents (or 12 minutes of kitchen labor) per every one minute of 70’s punk glory. You don’t need to have an Ivy League business degree to know (all though it certainly helps) that is a terrible return on investment (ROI as we say in the biz).

They had style, they represented 70’s New York hyper-nihilism, and they made CBGB’s famous. Yeah, Blink 182 could boast comparable credentials. But, there is no reason to revere them as one of the all time greats of music. I personally just think that New York was getting bitchy because England and Los Angeles were making all of the good music in the 70's and they got pissed off and so the first iconic band that came around from one of the boroughs became canonized. I’ll tell you what, even the most jaded hipster will get pissed when you rag on the Ramones. Which is what makes it so much fun in the first place.

Number 2: “Hotel California” - The Eagles

Where to begin with this one? OK, I’ll start with the positives: The guitar solo in the song Hotel California is actually quite impressive (as Angela had proved), and it is very difficult to sing and play drums at the same time. Um… that’s it.

I would suggest that most people find the appeal of this album in a similar manner as they would enjoy a good Billy Joel or Elton John record. Chances are you like the music because your parents had introduced you to it at an early age and it made for some family theme songs. However, Billy Joel and Elton John both have immensely more talent than Don Henley or Joe Walsh (who, by the way, put on THE single-worst concert that I have ever seen a few months ago in Los Angeles); and are actually fun to listen to.

There is no soul in this album. Not every album needs “soul,” but when you are making a timeless, reflective album… well then there needs some emotive substance behind the record. Kind of like the problem with Los Angeles as a city. Hotel California is a depressing album that is probably “best” listened to when you start dating some state school girl (whom you let choose the music when driving in the car and you feigned interest in this garbage) and you realized that you became stupider by buying into her artistic preferences.

Number 1: “All That you Can’t Leave Behind” - U2

Sure, aging rock stars get a free-pass with their later albums because it’s difficult to criticize rock “legends.” But its particularly annoying when the new album gets such widespread exposure and acclaim that it turns a whole new generation of fans on to the music. I was young and naïve when Aerosmith released Get a Grip and I didn’t know better (and so I still think that its kick-ass out of nostalgia), but All That you Can’t Leave Behind is another story.

Modern Times is a nice album that probably is not going to win Bob Dylan any new, younger fans; but it’s a great treat for his long-time fans who have been craving unheard material. Same goes with Brian Wilson’s SMiLE (not really new), Cat Stevens' new album, any new Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton album, etc. But when All That you Can’t Leave Behind came out, not only did it revitalize U2’s career, it thrusted them to the Best Band in the Universe status. Huh? What? How does a crappy album (at best) not just save a dying band, but makes them the biggest rock band in the world (adored now by two generations and future Ipod buyers)?

The only people that should have been excited by Elevation and The Sweetest Thing are DJ’s at classic rock radio stations who finally get some new material to play, freeing them from their 40-song strict Clear Channel playlists.

There you have it Felds, ten ways to amuse yourself when trying to agree on music with a friend when drunk and standing at the bar's jukebox. Happy Holidays!

3 Comments:

Blogger Angela.Lansbury said...

Brilliant Ritter. Even though I enjoy the most of the albums vilified, notable, poignant, and brilliant nonetheles.

However, no matter how much The Dude adibes, the Eagles are still a great band.

Oh, and inasmuch is one word, you sorry excuse for a Ivy Leaguer.

12:12 PM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger Jafar said...

Ritter, you hunk of a man, excellent post. Interesting way to look at some albums...I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Sorry Angela, but you cant say the dude abides and then say The Eagles are still a great band. As The Dude said, "Come on, man. I had a rough night and I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man!" As usual, The Dude speaks for me....Eagles suck. Also, good call on Coldplay and U2.

Long live the Feldheim, Long live Jafar!!!

1:59 PM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger woody.allen said...

I hate the fucking eagles, man (the band, not the football team -- I only dislike them).

3:00 PM, December 18, 2006  

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