Music journalism has a lot to answer for. The career of Jack White, for instance. Why him? Nobody can answer that, and anyone who claims they can tell you is a lying charlatan. But I care less about Jack White than I do about the people who are paid to write about people writing about Jack White: does that make any sense at all? Neither does music journalism.
To get to the bottom of music journalism, we should start with the core of music journalism: the record review. A record review is allegedly an opinion about a record- however, music journalists, by and large, have to fit an entire worldview into it. And they do. Every time. Here’s the opening sentences for a review from Pitchfork of a reissue of Paul McCartney’s Ram:
Flipping through the booklet to Paul McCartney’s Ram reissue, you’ll find no scholarly liner-notes essay. This is odd. Usually the reissue-packaging gods demand the positioning of an eager critic between you and the product, dispensing wisdom on how you might experience the music they’re standing in front of.
First of all, the author assumes that you have never bought a reissue, and sort of explains how reissues work. This is because you need to be situated as entirely ignorant of how everything works. Secondly, the critic mentions critics to fool you into not realizing that you are reading the writing of a critic. That critic “dispensing wisdom”? That’s this guy. He’s dispensing wisdom on you. About critics dispensing wisdom. And this isn’t even half of the ouroborous-shaped peen music that journalism is. Not even half. And why aren’t there these liner notes by a critic?
Ram is a domestic-bliss album, one of the weirdest, earthiest, and most honest ever made. No wonder critics loathed it so passionately.
Note that not one thing said in either of those sentences can be proven. Well, maybe weird. But that’s subjective. Earthiest? Most honest? What do you mean? What is dishonest music? David Bowie, I guess. Maybe Madonna pretending to be 17. And critics hated it? Really? But I’m not reading a critic, otherwise he wouldn’t be mentioning critics so much and HEYYYYYYYY. Is this record any good or not?
Critics hated “Uncle Albert”. “A major annoyance,” Christgau opined.
So this record review is about record reviews? OKay, I’m being unfair: it’s a reissue. Let’s skip over to Rolling Stone Magazine. Check out what a Rolling Stone reviewer has to say about the new Killer Mike album:
This Dirty South fixture has evolved into the Noam Chomsky of the strip club.
I should have a contest for readers to tell me what that could possibly mean. Nothing! I guarantee you! That’s why there isn’t going to be a contest! Because nobody would win!
Some of his punditry is pure Che T-shirt prattle, but even when he’s arguing that there’s no difference between Reagan and Obama, his Ice Cube-style bark tumbles down over harried, aggro beats from indie-eminence El-P and hits like a gut punch of revealed wisdom.
But what really gets my goat is just how many record reviews get published all over, everywhere: I mean, what business does the Toronto Sun have reviewing the new Slash album, let alone anybody? I don’t think it’s unfair to judge that particular book by that particular cover. But here’s THE ENTIRE REVIEW:
This is what you call sticking to your guns. Slash doesn’t try to fix what ain’t broke on his half-dozenth post-GN’R studio release; instead, the guitar god and latest touring band — featuring Axl soundalike Myles Kennedy and an all-Canadian rhythm section — dish up a platter of classic meat ‘n’ potatoes rock as dependably familiar as his old top hat. Comfort food for old headbangers.
WHAT DIFFERENCE COULD IT POSSIBLY MAKE THAT HIS BAND ARE CANADIAN? How familiar is his “old top hat”? Isn’t it “broke”? I thought hair metal broke in 1989. If he needs an Axl soundalike why couldn’t he get Axl if it ain’t broke? I GIVE UP.
If you haven’t been keeping up with Jones, now’s the time. The 71-year-old Welsh belter has been on a holy roll the past couple of years. His 40th disc follows the trail blazed on 2010’s Praise & Blame, with Jones unleashing his powerhouse pipes over Ethan Johns’ rootsy, rough ‘n’ ready reinterpretations of spiritually minded gems by Odetta, Cohen, Waits and others. Lord have mercy.
Anybody? Anything? I didn’t think so. To think: somebody got a free Tom Jones CD for writing that. Disgusting.
Which brings us back to the Globe and Mail’s weird advertisement for Jack White, and the people who are paid to write about people writing about Jack White:
A recent New York Times magazine piece bluntly assessed Jack White, the former White Stripes frontman, as being the “coolest, weirdest, savviest rock star of our time.”
Is that an admission by the Globe that they know their readers would rather be reading the New York-fucking-Times? Or can they cut even deeper?
And White is on the cover of May’s Uncut magazine, with arms crossed and eyes glared. The feature promises “the (mostly true) confessions of Jack White.”
I didn’t think so. Me, I think if you want to know about music, you’re better off reading this: