Thursday, April 12, 2012

An Early Clue to New Direction: Special "The horror...the horror..." Edition

So the other day I was browsing through various back issues of the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review (which are currently residing in the back of my bedroom closet) and I chanced across this little piece I'd written on the eponymous debut album by Satanic Hell Beast multiple Grammy winner Christopher Cross from May 1981. Which I had pretty much forgotten about.

Hard to believe that this guy was, if only for about five minutes, the biggest rock star in the universe.

In the wake of Christopher Cross' surprising (to some of us) five-way sweep of this year's Grammys there will no doubt be a spate of mournful pronouncements from the critical left that if this kind of aural Valium is State of the Art for 1980, then the art is bankrupt and why even bother to give awards? This is understandable, perhaps even true. In fact, if you got me alone I'd probably say the same thing.

Which misses the point, even if I'm not sure just what the point is. The fact is that it's not Cross' fault that he and his group dominated the Grammys, and, what's more (to paraphrase the truism), people get the pop music they deserve. There are, after all, a lot of acclaimed geniuses making music that is far more pernicious, and they are selling it in larger quantities. Bantam-weight a talent though Cross may be, he is decently accomplished at what he does, which is to make brainless, catchy, quintessentially California pop records -- no more, no less. If critics can bend over backwards justifying the Doobie Brothers (whose head honcho, Michael McDonald, is all over Cross' album) then it's the height of hypocrisy to mourn about Cross' fluffy appropriation of their sound.

Yes, there are people who make music in a similar vein that is both better crafted and addressed to somewhat weightier subjects (if Cross could rhyme June and moon, I'm sure he would) but that too is irrelevant. People like THIS stuff, so they buy it. Who, then, is the villain of the piece? Somebody once asked H.L. Mencken why he didn't leave America if he hated it so much, to which he replied, "Why do people go to zoos?" Why have more copies of Christopher Cross already been sold than of the last four Clash albums combined? Probably for the same reason that people ride in elevators. -- Steve Simels

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what the hell I was going on about in that second graf; clearly I was pissed off over something or somebody -- it may have been then Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh's rhapsodies to the aforementioned Michael McDonald, although I have mellowed on McDonald since then, and in any case what was bugging me has been lost in the mists of memory.

That said, the "aural Valium" crack is pretty good, and I have to admit that the Mencken/elevator joke at the end made me chortle mordantly.

And of course, as always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who gleans the review's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.


edward said...

Songs that put you to sleep

Worst award winning songs

Best Drug songs

Songs about elevators

Powerless Pop

Singer songwriters you would bludgeon to death in public with their own left leg if not for the fact they are so boring they suck all of the energy right out of you leaving a quivering lump begging to be euthanized before the second chorus.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Singer songwriters you would bludgeon to death in public with their own left leg if not for the fact they are so boring they suck all of the energy right out of you leaving a quivering lump begging to be euthanized before the second chorus."

I was going to say that.


Artist/Band better than similar artist/band who gets more credit.

Gummo said...

Flash-in-the-pan "superstars" that are all but forgotten now?

Anonymous said...

finally, the Yacht edition of Listomania.

tommy quest said...

best/worst song about elevators?
best/worst songs about zoos?
best/worst songs about elevators in zoos?
best worst songs about zoos in elevators?
best/worst songs referencing h.l. mencken?
who's worse-christofer cross vs. michael mcdonald?
songs by artists with the same first letter in first and last names?

TMink said...

"which is to make brainless, catchy, quintessentially California pop records."

Well, they were very well recorded and sounded beautiful. Like ribbon candy. That said I have not listened to it in decades.

But on to the contest.

Lamest Grammy/whatever winners.

10 bands that you were once into that did not age well.


buzzbabyjesus said...

Vulgarians whose dubious talents, or lack of, inexplicably draw the attention of the drooling masses who lemming-like plunk down enough cash to win them irrelevant awards, only to end up a few decades later as a forgotten trivia factoid?

steve simels said...

No, no, no, no and no.

But Edward deserves a No-Prize just for eloquence.

FD13NYC said...

Songs that Michael McDonald sang backing vocals on?

Oh, and call me an easy listening sap, but Christopher Cross really wasn't that bad. Back in the day, while listening to the heavier stuff, his music was like the audio valium I sometimes needed. Arthur's Theme is nice.

Even if he's forgotten now, he won Grammys, has an Oscar, and other awards. That's more than any of the rest of us can say.

Noam Sane said...

Songs that leave you stuck between the moon and New York City.

steve simels said...


Oh, I agree; to be honest, when a Cross song comes on the radio, or more likely, if I hear one on a movie soundtrack on TV -- I wouldn't change the station.

But when I wrote that piece, it was the early 80s; I was a lot more righteously pissed off in those days.

Sal Nunziato said...

pete said...

Artists with the same initials in both names?

A stretch, I know

spinetingler said...

I likely still have that ish of SR in a box in the garage.

SS was always my fave reviewer.