Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the jump, a look at the new issue of Blender:
This week marks the third out of the last four that finds Your Correspondent assessing a music magazine boasting a cover image of a guy who any reader of Idolator–or a consumer of any other media outlet nominally invested in popular music–would be forgiven for being very very tired of.
Rolling Stone, Paste, XXL and probably a bunch of other mags went with covers of Kanye West in the weeks and months leading up to last week’s release of Graduation. While the October Blender may seem timely, hitting newsstands a few days before West became the newly minted best-selling recording artist in the U.S., YC wonders if the mag’s editorial star chamber is a bit chafed at having its marquee feature, “Way Out West,” appear so late in the game.
They shouldn’t, if just for the fact that Blender‘s West story contains the most ingenious and most ably set-up punchline that YC expects to read in any magazine article–or in any piece of entertainment journalism–this year.
Like many competing profiles, the story notes West’s fondness for music that isn’t hip-hop or R & B: he samples Daft Punk and Thom Yorke; likes the Killers, Modest Mouse, and Keane; notes that VH1 hipped him to Regina Spektor, Feist, and All-American Rejects; collaborates with Peter Bjorn & John and Chris Martin; commissioned an alternate video of his “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’” from Zach Galifianakis and Will Oldham; and remixes Fall Out Boy.
Blender‘s inference? “Maybe it’s Kanye West that doesn’t care about black people.”
WHAP!!!! POW!!!!!! WATCH THAT MUFUGGER SAIL OUT OF THE BALLPARK!!!!! IMAGINE WEST’S PUBLICIST’S NECK VEINS SWELLING WITH RAGE AS THEY PLOT VENGEANCE AGAINST BLENDER!!!!
YC feels awfully thick! Why couldn’t he have come up with that bon mot when he noted in past weeks that editors and writers for white people-centric magazines are besotted with West’s interest in blog-rawk? But he didn’t–either writer Jody Rosen or a Blender editor did. Whoever it was earned their paycheck this month, and for whatever it could possibly matter, receives YC’s commendation.
In any case, Rosen is a fine writer who wrote a book about “White Christmas” and is currently the music critic for Slate; he also writes frequently about music for The Nation, a “strange bedfellows” gig that’s right up there with a position that YC applied for a few years ago: bridge columnist for Guns and Ammo. Rosen follows West around during July’s Live Earth event, but doesn’t get West to say anything much different than what he has said to any other outlet recently. No matter: It’s all in Rosen’s lively prose, astute observations, and proximity, such as watching West try out rhymes for his cameo with the Police and John Mayer. As any fule kno who saw the broadcast, West’s rhymes were terrible, and Rosen diplomatically describes them as “not exactly the kind of freestyle liable to strike fear into the heart of Lil’ Wayne.”
Immediately following in the feature well is an excellent profile of the exceptional and exceptionally odd Finnish “love-metal” quintet HIM. Apart from the metal/goth/butt-rock press, the band has been ignored by the mainstream music mags, so Senior Critic Jon Dolan’s story is particularly welcome. Dolan mentions that frontman Ville Valo was voted as the 13th-greatest Finn in a list of the Top 100 Finns of All Time a few years ago: YC isn’t sure what to think of a list of top Finns that doesn’t include this man.
Then, in Senior Editor Josh Eells’ “So You Think You Can Sing,” Blender maintains its unending interest in All Things American Idol. Therein, young kids are depicted going to a Massachusetts camp run by the Idol organization, where they sing all day and spend time with marginal Idol figures. It’s a good story, with plenty of color (many of these kids have the same “Oh, there’s no question I’m gonna be famous” self-confidence that marked that guy with the huge blond/black frightwig in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years), but YC wonders if Blender overestimates the interest in year-round Idol coverage on the part of its readership, which is largely 20-to-30something males (there’s also a FOB “Collect Call” featurette from that nice Daughtry fellow).
The issue also contains instances of what very likely happens when Blender‘s staff members feel like they have to cover artists whose music will sell pretty well, but who don’t interest them all that much–which is to say, artists who have next to no known drug/sex foibles, aren’t arrogant and aren’t known to misbehave. Hence, the Starbucks/hausfrau-approved KT Tunstall is slotted into the “How To…” featurette in the FOB, a space often designated for artists that Blender is obliged to cover, likely due to horse-trading with record labels. (Tunstall shows us how to live in a tree.) Same goes for Plain White T’s, the boringly dubbed quintet behind the very dull hit “Hey There Delilah”: the dudes participate in a fashion shoot and relate their snoozy history to Associate Editor Mark Yarm.
Now quickly, Robin, to the reviews section! We haven’t a moment to lose!
Jon Pareles, moonlighting from his chief pop critic gig at the New York Times, pens the section-leading double review of new records from the 50 and Kanye of freak-folk, and he gives Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam four stars and Devendra Banhart’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon three. Oddly, Pareles’ review of the latter is dismissive and far less generous then the rating would warrant (he also doesn’t mention that Banhart, whom YC abhors, has become semi-famous for what amounts to a by-the-book, adding-nothing-at-all Donovan homage). This suggests that Blender‘s institutional opinion of the record, reflected by the rating, is not the same as that of Pareles. He also authors an overview of every album made by Genesis: YC likes both the Gabriel and Collins-fronted iterations of the band quite a bit, but is amused that Pareles believes that 1986′s abominable Invisible Touch is as “essential” as 1973′s prog opus Selling England By the Pound and better than 1981′s prog-pop Abacab. Oh well!
YC will conclude with a few words regarding “Rock’s Greatest Dynasty,” one of Blender‘s March Madness-style competitions wherein the result of the “greatest” this or that is whittled down via statistics, some of which are valid, some of which are fanciful and arbitrary. Oddly, this installment, in which musical families are pitted against one another, largely forgoes stats. The result is that the Jacksons prevail over the Beach Boys’ Wilson clan as the most musically significant and most bizarre family in pop music history. You might think that Blender picking the Jacksons and the Wilsons is a bit boomer-ific. Then you might remember that, were Rolling Stone to do the same kind of exercise, the victors would be either the Lennons or the Dylans.