“Spin” Asks For A Little Mercy

anono | August 5, 2008 12:00 pm

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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Spin:

What is it with the cover of the August ’08 Spin? It would be self-evident that Aimee Duffy takes a good picture, so Your Correspondent can’t quite figure out why Editor-in-Chief Doug Brod, Photo Editor Michelle Egiziano, and whomever else involved would go with an image finding the Welsh pop-soul thrush bending forward slightly, her left hand extended towards an imagined reader. “Please, suh,” she seems to be asking, “may I have some more?” Or maybe it’s “Please, Spin readers, give my album a shot so that I am not dismissed prematurely as a middlebrow lightweight?” Several shots inside the mag would be more suitable, but perhaps it’s relevant that none but the cover shot hints at her modest décolletage.

In any case, this is the first female-fronted Spin since last year, when the July cover featured Miss Duffy’s less well turned out analogue. Three weeks ago, YC wrote about how Blender‘s options with respect to male cover subjects was limited: it seems like Spin has a similar quandary. Whichever band largely composed of young men at a particular time that’s being pushed beyond the blogosphere and into the wider world can reasonably shoot for the mag’s cover, or can expect the mag to come calling. But which freestanding female solo artist can expect the same thing?

Santogold? Too niche and, as YC insists on pointing out from time to time, publishing lore dictates that cover images of African-Americans on publications aimed at white folks tend to do poorly on the newsstand (several years ago, a former Spin staffer once said in YC’s presence that, in the Web 1.0 era, the mag’s readers would respond unfavorably, even viciously, to any content regarding hip-hop), and he believes that this will remain in effect in the Obama era. M.I.A.? Too niche and too exotic. Feist? Sure; in light of the placement of “1, 2, 3, 4” in an Apple ad, it’s hard to see why Spin didn’t go with her in the past two years. Katy Perry? She’s probably considered too tethered to pre-fabricated pop. And that’s about it.

As it is, writer Amanda Petrusich makes much of Duffy’s babe-in-the-woods qualities in “Girl From the North Country.” The 24-year-old apparently did not saturate in popular culture in Nefyn, the remote Welsh hamlet where she grew up, and she must now negotiate the hostility from the likes of both Estelle and Alison Goldfrapp. The drift of Petrusich’s story is that Duffy was unformed musically after competing on the Welsh version of American Idol and has since been tutored in classic soul by her producer Bernard Butler, as well as Rough Trade honcho and former PiL sideperson Jeanette Lee. So when everybody says she’s inauthentic, YC responds that, while her music has made little impression on him, we cannot punish every singer who did not tumble out of the womb grasping a copy of Shuggie Otis’ Inspiration Information.

“But wait, you logorrheaic laggard,” YC hears you shouting at your screen, “what about the band lately transitioning from the environs of Pitchfork to that of Letterman who are profiled in this issue? Why aren’t they on the cover?” Indeed, a feature on the the Black Kids is included in this issue, and YB would have thought that band the likely cover stars. But, given the skin tones of Reggie and Ali Youngblood, it would seem the conventional wisdom referred to above might scotch the band’s chances.

“The Kids Are Alright,” written in British-pop-writer-spends-time-with-hot-rock-band boilerplate by Spin‘s London correspondent Tim Chester, depicts the band running around England, saying all the standard “no one wants to be in a buzz band… people get incredibly caught up in things that we’re just not interested in, like blogs and hype and how music is distributed” demurrals that people in Reggie Youngblood’s position are obliged to offer. Not much to write home about there, but dig this issue’s lead review of the Black Kids’ major-label debut, Partie Traumatic.

Said appraisal is written by Barry Walters, a veteran freelancer who has written record reviews for all the major music magazines for at least a decade. Walters can squeeze significant insight into 50-100 words, which certainly makes him popular with review editors. But he also can spew the kind of hyperenthusiastic piffle that surely makes him popular with publicists. To wit: “Kissing goodbye to the obsolete racial and gender roles that pop, hip-hop or indie rock still demand, Youngblood and pals throw a thrillingly subversive victory party to lift the country out of eight years of anguish.” Yikes, dude! Either Walters worryingly believes this fucking record– which YB likes just fine for Bernard Butler’s huge, crackling production and probably not for the band’s own merits– has made the presumptive Democratic candidate redundant, or he really really wants to continue receiving albums from Columbia Records.

Now, as long as we find ourselves grappling with issues of race in our rock rags…

While it can seem at times that black music is only suitable for inclusion in Spin when filtered through British women proffering decades-old iterations of R&B and soul –not to mention Black Kids’ hangup on Robert Smith and Jarvis Cocker– this issue happens to feature pieces on African-American musicians known for working in traditionally African-American musical contexts. In “Body & Soul,” a story of the sort Vibe should invest in from time TO time, David Peisner reports on the ascent and decline of D’Angelo, who evolved from doughy teddy bear to sculpted loverman to doughy drunk driver over the course of a decade. In the telling of Peisner’s typically well-written and diligently reported story, D’Angelo’s inability to produce much new music is chalked up to his discomfort with how his figure was fetishized in the video for “Untitled,” as well as his being generally unprepared for stardom. Meanwhile, Thomas Golianopoulos interlocutes Q-Tip, who is readying The Renaissance (his first solo record in nine years), in the Spin interview.

Both articles regard artists who cannot be said to be currently situated in the thick of any kind of vanguard, and both dudes are likely to count a lot of fans in Spin‘s readership. These conditions are easily reconcilable, in that African-American artists are most likely going to seen with greater affection by rock fans the further they are from their most creative periods.

Thankfully, Music Editor Charles Aaron pens a record review a black artist who, like him or not, is firing on all cylinders. Aaron finds Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III confounding, and thus assigns a series of ampersands, exclamation points and other non-star symbols to convey his assessment. It may seem like a dodge, but at least Aaron is struggling with a hip-hop artist whose time is now.