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:
Your Boy is going to out on a limb and guess that the respective bigwigs at Blender and Rolling Stone have not been entirely pleased with one another in recent weeks.
Generally speaking, entertainment magazine higher-ups do not much like it when one of their competitors puts a celebrity on their mag’s cover at the same time that they do. Lo and behold: both Blender and RS hit the street last week with cover images depicting Jay-Z sporting a bespoke suit in front of a white background.
YB’s guess is that Blender’s staff noted months ago that Z’s second post-”retirement” album was to be tied into this year’s big-budget guns-and-drugs blowout film American Gangster, and thus set up an interview and photo shoot with Jay. Whereas possibly less than a month ago Rolling Stone concluded that that both Gangster the movie and Gangster the album were sure to top their respective charts, so the staff flipped a switch and slapped its own cover package together.
It wouldn’t strain credulity to suggest that this is Wenner Media’s way of telling prodigal senior VP/general manager and current chairman/CEO of Blender’s new publisher Alpha Media Group Kent Brownridge that they can fuck with his newsstand sales any goddamn time they want, would it? It’s much harder to imagine Mr. Z being much worried about playing both sides of the field than it is to picture him lying back with his feet up on his desk, the knowledge that less affluent pop stars than he risk much by flouting the very notion of “exclusivity” briefly crossing his mind before he decides whether he’d rather purchase a villa in Tuscany or on the Riviera.
In any case, contributor Chris Norris’ Q&A with Jay, “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster,” is not particularly revealing: it suggests that their sitdown lasted no more than a half hour and didn’t rouse the interviewee’s interest. Norris has a much more fun time following one Heidi Montag around and documenting her asininity in another profile. (YB was only dimly aware of The Hills before reading Norris’ story, so he watched the program the night before writing this. He can say that the chasm separating his interests from those of the demographic MTV caters to has never been more profound.) Norris not only has great sport with this pneumatic ninny but with Blender‘s raison d’étre itself: she begins “work on her debut album in February. ‘It will kind of be like Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears and Fergie,’ she has promised fans. Thus has Blender come calling.”
Back in June, YB wondered why Blender sat by and watched as its competitors went to town on Amy Winehouse. A few months later, the mag dispatched contributor Jody Rosen to London for “Chasing Amy,” a story that Winehouse’s minders probably intended as the big “she’s got herself together” story. But Winehouse falls asleep at the beginning of each of the two interviews Rosen was granted, although a story depicting the singer as alert and thoughtful would have been far less appealing to Blender‘s editors.
Moving on to “The Guide”: Senior critic Jon Dolan assesses Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and the record is awarded four stars as Dolan employs more Blender-style snark than he normally does; second-billed is “Sore Winners,” contributor RJ Smith’s two-star review of the Eagles’ Long Road Out of Eden. YB is fascinated with Henley and Co., so he may be somewhat biased when he opines that Smith’s assessment is fucking great. It is, however, more likely due to the the simple fact that Smith sharp-shoots what kind of person Henley appears to be in the review’s lede. To wit:
Every office has one. The guy whose cubicle you quickstep past, to avoid his opinions: Television is debasing our culture. People don’t recycle. Politicians lie. Let’s call this guy Henley. He’ll tell you and tell you, and tomorrow he’ll tell you again.
He then goes on to detail how Henley’s finger-wagging dominates the record, and how it subtly suggests that, 30 years after he had his fun, no one else should be allowed any indulgences.
Smith, an old hand at the rock crit game, has written for LA Weekly and for that matter has written about the Eagles for Blender before. In that passage, he does something that YB wishes he’d see much more often in arts criticism: he makes the correct assumption that his reader knows the basic facts of the band’s history, and spends his time making a useful point about the band’s motives and how they affect what that band does.
This template could have been used for Erik Davis’ review of the new Led Zeppelin compilation Mothership, but Davis insists on recounting vintage Zep lore at a time when any kid can access said stories via the Device You Are Currently Gazing At, and thus doesn’t have much in the way of fresh insight. He only makes passing mention that this is the second time in a decade that the band’s hits have been repackaged, and makes none at all that LZ scheduled a reunion gig at the end of the year–it was announced on Sept. 12, well before Davis’ deadline.
Finally, YB notices that Blender‘s editors either do not think the Hives new album will sell terribly well or are not very interested in said Swedes, since the band is slotted into the “Useful Tips From The Stars” front-of-book ghetto, where they detail how to ride a bike in the city. Unlike Spin, which included a profile of the band in its November issue, Blender feels no longing for the halcyon days of 2002, when definite article-favoring bands received hosannas for bringing back “real rock.”