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:
Somebody who should know once said something along the following lines in Your Correspondent’s presence, regarding how to get the newsstand attention of young men: “In the late spring and summertime, they can see all the tits and ass they want on the street. In the fall and winter, they can’t, and that’s when you put nearly nekkid chicks on the cover.”
So–despite the unseasonable warmth around the country and after covers featuring Andy Samberg, Kanye West and Jack White (relatively chaste images of Kelly Clarkson and Meg White don’t count)–comes the November Blender. Here we have Nicole Scherzinger, her raven locks, her remarkable S-curve, the top of her two pert buttocks and a discreet hint of the space between.
YC enjoys current pop music very much, but somehow the Pussycat Dolls’ singles have not managed to penetrate his purview. He will say that it’s funny that “burlesque shows” are sold as a high concept, acceptable-for-female-patrons iteration of a titty bar, and that he was amused that a pop music version of same was being marketed to young girls as “empowering.” So he was curious if Scherzinger would be represented as a fairly interesting person in Blender‘s telling.
In fact, she is not. But, like other cover story protagonists discussed in this space, it’s not in her interest to say anything thoughtful or revealing to a journalist. Instead, she indulges in “this album is my one shot for the big time and I don’t want to blow it” boilerplate, refers to herself in the third person, and winkingly denies that the imagery in her videos is overtly sexualized. To his credit, writer Michael Joseph Gross does a fine job with the same kind of quasi-writearound that he authored for Avril Lavigne, writing vividly on her efforts to “pledge the empyrean sorority” and interviewing her svengalis. He catches Interscope honcho Jimmy Iovine nearly admitting that marketing Scherzinger is challenging since her ethnicity is hard to pin down, or “you can’t tell what the hell she…” The word Iovine stopped himself from saying is, ahem, “is.”
Alright, so they’ve made their bid for the attention of backwards baseball-cap wearers, but it’ll be some time before new boss Kent Brownridge will be able to gauge the effectiveness of Blender‘s first newsstand gambit under the stewardship of his Alpha Media Group. However, one trick, directed towards the national media and bloggers, worked straight out of the gate: “The 40 Worst Lyricists in Rock” list was picked up all over the damn place a week before most issues hit the stands.
Blender is an old hand at the list game. The calculus is simple: picking “the worst” of anything is arguably more newsworthy than picking “the best”; the casual music fan will always understand how the English language works better than they understand how music is put together (which is to say, not at all, which goes for most rock critics as well); and awarding Sting top honors is an easy way for Blender to draw a line in the sand between it and Sting-BFF Rolling Stone. The entire exercise is pretty amusing and well-written, and so, since your boy believes that nitpicking lists is pretty pointless, he’ll just say that hating on prog-rock, as this list does overwhelmingly, is the hoariest rock crit cliché known to man. Neil Peart, Sting’s runner-up, is the Lil’ Wayne of virtuostic, ex-Objectivist Canadian drummers, and that’s all there is to it.
Moving on to the front-of-book Burner section: It leads with a picture of Pete Doherty and his cat, to whom he apparently has been feeding crack cocaine. YC can hardly suggest that it is only Blender that persists in highlighting the various misdeeds perpetrated by this miserable creature, as well as Amy Winehouse: so does nearly every media outlet in Christendom. But other items in the section concern minor hijinx relating to Supergrass, Madness, Lily Allen, and Morrissey. The effect is that it seems that British rock writers, with their NME-bred myopia regarding native pop figures, have an outsize influence at Blender some three years after its former editor in chief, their countryman, left the mag. But beyond a few Anglophiles, it doesn’t seem like Americans are particularly interested in the minutiae of English pop musicians. In any case, YC finds himself thinking that every piece in Burner should be like the recurring “You Rock” and “When Will Your Favorite Pop Star Croak” featurettes, and that it should leave straight reportage of wacky shit to the kind of outlets that flourish via the Device You Are Currently Gazing At.
So we come to the Guide, and like clockwork, here’s a four-star appraisal of Springsteen’s Magic in the marquee spot. While Senior Critic Jon Dolan approves of the record, he calls the record “frustratingly myth-happy” and “a little behind the times,” which would seem to disqualify the assigned rating. If Blender doesn’t observe the “thou shalt not speak ill of the Boss” commandment obeyed by Rolling Stone and every American newspaper, there’s still some dissonance between Dolan’s words and the mag’s rating.
As there is for a review of Avenged Sevenfold’s new self-titled album, penned by British critic Simon Reynolds. He’s known for a number of things, among them coining the terms “electronica” and “post-rock,” writing several theory-drenched books, and consenting to appear in a clip wherein he and his wife, Joy Press, congratulate themselves on their adventures in bohemian parenting. One thing he is not known for is his fondness for heavy metal: in various posts on his personal blog, he writes of the disdain he felt growing up as a post-punker towards the rather more downmarket devotees of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Earlier this year, he noted “hipster-metal” with approval, since acts like Sunn O))) are influenced by the experimental/electronic music he favors.
Toward the conclusion of his review of Avenged Sevenfold, he mentions that the song “Critical Acclaim” baits liberals and in doing so “upholds (metal’s) legacy of conservative politics.” This, frankly, is utter dog shit. As a musical genre, heavy metal is too huge to be tarred as such: If any political content is articulated, it tends toward indiscriminate anti-authoritarianism and antagonizing religious authority. But here Reynolds–and possibly the editor who let him get away with such a condescending and factually incorrect slur–tells us more about himself than he does about the band or the record. In any case, he doesn’t like the album (it is, after all, the kind of music metalheads like these days), but it’s still awarded three stars and is second-billed to Magic. YC would understand awarding that amount of space to a take down of a much-anticipated album by an artist everyone is aware of, but only metalheads have heard of AS. Huh!
The Guide editor should have sent Reynolds a draft of Dolan’s three and a half star review of The Metal Box, which comprises genre highlights from the late ’60s to the early ’90s. Dolan may not have been a metal fan in the ’70s and ’80s, but he understands its codes, is amused by its frequent absurdity and seems to, y’know, like some of the bands therein. He certainly is not blinkered by decades-old class bias (then again, Americans have a much easier time escaping ancient class distinctions than English people do). YC should also note that a review of The Brit Box, a similarly wide-ranging collection of non-metal music from the British Isles from the early ’80s to the ’90s, is penned not by an English writer, but by one Jim Barber, who is probably the onetime manager/boyfriend of Courtney Love who has that name.
Blender is more confident than its competitors–or it at least succeeds in evincing confidence, which is just as important. So why it continues (as many American publications do) to let British stringers run around unchecked is very odd indeed.