Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rock Criticism: Prejudice Made Plausible, or Just So Much Chin Music?

Alert readers may recall that I have on several occasions this year had a little fun at the expense of extremely irksome New York Times pop music critic Kelefa Sanneh, a guy who at heart believes that pop music really is (or at least should be) nothing more than good looking young kids with great haircuts. The kind of critic who could write embarassing sub-Tiger Beat gush like this --

There have been ominous signs for months. Like the pair of flip-flops that showed up in the mail, courtesy of some record label looking to influence the outcome. And the half-hearted arguments among friends who seemed to be merely going through the motions. And the stagnant pop charts, which all but eliminated suspense.

Yes, it’s probably time to stop talking about the so-called Song of the Summer

-- for the Newspaper of Record and yet not die of shame.

Alert readers will recall as well that I have found time to scratch my head over the fact that the Times pop music coverage generally (Sanneh's the worst, but he's not alone) is so ponderous and shallow while its movie coverage is so entertaining and perceptive.

So it was not without a certain irony when I noticed that the paper's really excellent Arts and Leisure feature on Bruce Springsteen and his new album this weekend was NOT by one of their pop guys, but rather by estimable film critic A.O. Scott (who got the album exactly right, I might add -- read it here). I don't know which Times editor was responsible for the decision to allow this little bit of turf poaching, but all I can say is -- more, please.

Meanwhile, you can contrast it with Hugo Lindgren's amusingly snarky but surprisngly obtuse take on the same album in this week's New York Magazine. Obtuse in the sense that Lindgren didn't seem to notice the 800 pound gorilla in the room, i.e., the album's Iraq War subtext.


Anonymous said...

“Pop is funny. It’s a tease. It’s an important one, but it’s a tease, and therein resides its beauty and its joke.”


steve simels said...


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

That was a great review.

Like the author, I got swept up in punk and came to Springsteen largely as an adult.

But with that review, and the two track titles - Last to Die, and Radio Nowhere - I know this album is going to speak to me, at least a little bit.

I hope I get the chance to see that magical sustained chord this year.

Anonymous said...


I'm in the same boat as A.O. Scott and yourself. It's a pleasure to listen to his music having the luxury of a better knowledge of rock history and 30 years of perspective.

TMink said...

Man, Bruce was hugely important in those days of the 70s before punk came to save us from disco drums and whistles. He was still important after punk because he is, well, Bruce.

Michael Fremer of $tereophile has a similar beef with the NYT music hardware guys, as they are all computer types. The good reviewers of anything, pop music, cd players, whatever, take their subject and task seriously. The writing is secondary to the subject matter for them. (my 2 pesos at least.)

Sanneh reads like he just likes to write in a clever fashion. No gravitas means no interest for me.


Anonymous said...

Sanneh was the guy I was thinking of who said this about the Stones:

Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards have two very different ways of moving around the stage. Mr. Jagger strutted and preened, sticking out his chest and swinging his knees. Perhaps it was a visual pun, a way of admitting that he's not a spring chicken. Mr. Richards, on the other hand, has turned infirmity into a rock 'n' roll pose: his knees kept buckling beneath him, and each time he brought his guitar low before he righted himself.

But the review of "Magic" in New York was even more ridiculous.

His boomer fans revere him also as a role model—of how to grow old with integrity, how to get rich without going soft, how to not lose all your hair, how to not get fat, how to not turn into someone who would embarrass your younger self. It’s not eternal youth he symbolizes so much as a version of middle age that you wouldn’t be afraid to look at in the mirror.

Excuse me, Lundgren, but the album isn't about growing old gracefully. Did you pay attention to the ... um, what are they called .. oh, yeah ... the LYRICS?

Steve, you know what he can do to you, again.

steve simels said...

Brooklyn Girl:

To be fair, I think Lindgren has a point; I think a lot of fans, myself perhaps included, admire Bruce for finding a way to honor Lester Bangs admonition that while you shouldn't hold on to your adolescence like a state of grace, you should also give yourself the latitude to go a little crazy sometimes.

That said, he missed the fucking point of the album by a country mile. And that stuff about the songs just being recycled is nuts. I hear a lot on "Magic" that feels new, particularly "Your Own Worst Enemy," which is like nothing else in his catalog that I can hear.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with you! I just felt he was trivializing Bruce and his fans with a couple of his examples, and along with missing so much of the meaning in the album, he trivialized that, too.

steve simels said...

Brooklyn Girl:

Oh yeah -- somebody was being condescended to big time in Lindgren's review.

Screw it -- I'm hitting the ear buds and cranking Girls in Their Summer Clothes.

Anonymous said...

(Click on "Bruce in Hartford" button.)
The three Hairy Gentlemen interviewed are Good Running Buddies from my Beantown music posse. I couldn't be more proud!
- Bill Buckner

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I listened to the new Springsteen twice yesterday. Umm, three times, actually, I went to sleep with it playing....

I agree there's some new feeling there; but I've felt like he was looking for some new ground starting back at the Rising.

But I like it. And empathizing your musical heroes for how they are dealing with real life is PART of what makes them... well, your heroes.