13 April 2007


(know what it means? i betcha joanna newsom does)

basically the entire music section of last week's philly weekly pissed me off... so i figure it's time to deliver some popjustice, bedbugs-style.

first of all there's this always-useless feature, wherein they (oh, i see, it's a 'comedian') make snarky jokes about album covers and say nothing about the music. this week wasn't any more obnoxious than usual (except that the targets were more recognizable and possibly more legitimate), but the thing about the lcd album really doesn't seem to make any sense.

then there's this very silly and nonsensical piece about how white people only dance in times of national distress. i know it's supposed to be cutesy and playful but this really just makes me angry:

Fact: Traditionally, straight white American males don’t like to dance. They think it’s gay. You might find a few here and there who profess loving it, but that’s because it’s gotten them laid a few times. It’s a Pavlovian something-or-other that’s left them confused. Believe me: no bushy, no dancey.
(you can't tell it from that paragraph, but "bushy" actually refers to our president.)

well, whatever. the thing i really wanted to respond to was this column about amy winehouse. craig lindsay, who writes a weekly about "soul" (interpreted pretty broadly), has annoyed me occasionally in the past, but for the most part he's no more harmless than your typical genre-blinkered, generationalist music scribe, and i often enjoy reading his pieces. but this one really ruffled my feathers.

fair enough that he wants to share his excitement about winehouse - but isn't it a little backhanded to hype her by grousing about an impending backlash? and, really, is it necessary to frame his entire column as a response to one measly negative review, in the raleigh news & observer of all places? granted, awarding the album 0 stars is a very harsh move that betrays some serious personal/ideo-cultural bias on the part of the reviewer, josh love.

love readily admits that the album is listenable (though only "on the surface" - if that's even coherent), and that his primary gripes boil down to (extra-musical) identity politics - and then attempts to justify the rating by hastily adding that winehouse is "simply uninteresting." well...okay. back to black has been kicking around on my hard drive for over four months now, and it hasn't done a lot for me either, outside of a few tracks (mostly "rehab" and the title song. and i really really wanted to like it too - contemporary music that sounds this much like soul achieving genuine success ought to be cause for excitement.) but there's enough base-level musical merit there to make up for a bland persona. especially in the face of such an overwhelming consensus of praise (even the lowest-scored blurbs on metacritic are phrased positively), a zero-star review of this album is a political statement, not an aesthetic assessment.

to his credit though, even though i'm not necessarily convinced by love's assertions about the album's problematic racial politics or "cynical formula," his review is very upfront about the source and substance of his issues. lindsay's response, though, almost completely sidesteps love's clearly (albeit briefly) articulated gripes, and baselessly accuses him of fomenting hipster backlash for the sake of backlash. this is criticasterism of the most obnoxious stripe - petty stereotype-mongering - and it just comes of as willful misrecognition of love's arguments, second-guessing his motivations to set him up as a target for scorn. indeed, the quote which apparently provoked the bulk of lindsay's outrage is a secondary comment, practically an aside, in love's piece:

“People call Ashlee and Britney artificial all the time,” Love wrote, “but they feel 10 times more genuinely expressive than Winehouse.”

Yeah, he’s going to hell for that one—and let’s hope Lester Bangs, Paul Nelson and Ellen Willis are there to take turns sodomizing him with red-hot rhino horns.

whoa! hold on there. okay, this is mostly (or at least partly) a misunderstanding, and a rather understandable one on lindsay's part: i doubt he even considered that love might actually like ashlee and britney, so he assumed that that comparison was intended as a dire, vindictive insult, whereas it was actually just trying to put things in perspective. (turns out love wasn't the josh who wrote the stylus review of i am me like i thought, but he did give kelly osbourne an A-) but, um, seems like it made lindsay pretty angry.

[i really don't understand what lindsay thinks is the big difference between winehouse and joss stone - certainly amy's not much less "callow and pale-skinned." he mentions stone like it's understood that we're supposed to be disdainful, but i thought stone was reasonably well-liked by neo-soul folks - i haven't heard her much, but i'm enjoying the singles from her new record. anyway. i guess we'll find out at the end of the month.]

the only "substance" that lindsay really seizes on from love's review is the complaint that winehouse doesn't have the life experience to back up her persona. actually, love doesn't really say that - he complains that the "boringly 'taboo'" drug references in the lyrics are cheap and manipulative, and that the persona she presents is uncompelling and unoriginal (and therefore not detectably "herself"), but he never suggests that the problem is winehouse's lack of life experience (he certainly doesn't claim she's "too young.")

regardless, lindsay counters by bringing up her widely-publicized alcoholism. indeed, it would be pretty hard to deny that "rehab" is drawn from life, no? (still, a drinking problem that leads to public punchups and unprofessionalism doesn't quite constitute "heartaches and hardships," especially when she doesn't face up to the issue by seeking treatment.) but somehow this sidesteps again (suddenly he's not concerned about the "haterade from critics") into a vaguely patronizing concern for winehouse's health - and the bizarre, incongruous assertion that the fact that amy's "self-destruction is so imminent" makes her "the sort of pop/soul star we need more of." wtf? we want our talented musicians to be mentally unstable?

whatever...i'm going to bed.


Dave said...

Only if it leads to more head-shaving.

Y'know, I thought I was going to have more to say about this when I read it and snarled etc., but I don't. Still puzzling/fuming/racking my brains over Sam Ubl's humor thing in Stylus last week; it really got to me (not really in a bad way, but in a way that made me want to have a conversation in the same universe as his that didn't include anything in particular that he said, which is very frustrating). Whereas this, by comparison, is just pretty much run-of-the-mill idiocy.

Josh Love definitely pulled a Pfork-style "political" statement with the 0 (though with Pfork, you never know exactly where the politics are coming from, because controversial reviews tend to be discussed before they're applied).

But the key sentence is It's hard to approach this album without running headlong into issues of authenticity, caricature and especially race. I think he's right, if we're looking at Winehouse in the same sort of context as Ashlee and Britney (which, as a poptimist or at least poptimist sympathizer, he does...he's talking about "recent pop memory"). Problem is, as you say, I see Winehouse filling a niche much closer to, say, Joss Stone. Anyway, the ideas are there, but unexplored...and minstrelsy connection is ridiculous. More later?

Ross said...

yeah, i agree that there's nothing that exceptional about the piece. it didn't really merit this lengthy a discussion, i'm just incapable of keeping my comments brief.

i actually think it's very easy to listen to winehouse without worrying about authenticity and especially race - just listen to and enjoy the music. especially in ABM-ish territory (which is how much of the album seems to function), genre traditionalism doesn't require personal experience-qualified "authenticity." i guess what you're saying is that those issues are relevant if we're interested in her pop-star persona.

apparently, joss stone is making a popward shift - not britney maybe but at least beyonce - among other things, making a bid for a younger audience.

honestly i think the reason people are so captivated by winehouse is that she appears to fulfill a different niche that we didn't know existed - sort of like lily allen. and that's what makes me want to like her too - but i feel like what she actually does is not nearly as interesting as what she is.

Dave said...

i actually think it's very easy to listen to winehouse without worrying about authenticity and especially race - just listen to and enjoy the music.

I do too, which is why I don't necessarily agree with Josh's review, but I also don't think there's much in it (it being pretty darn short anyway) I strongly disagree with (aside from the minstrelsy bit). I just think he's kind of griping about non-issues.

Amy Winehouse definitely creates her own context, audiencewise (and yeah, in that sense the Lily connection is pretty strong, though I wouldn't put Lily in quite the same camp as Amy...maybe have their own individual camps?), but this also makes it hard to understand why anyone would get extremely upset about what she was doing (ditto the knee-jerk negative reactions to Lily, which tend to make all kinds of weird assumptions about what the people in her audience must love about her, or what everyone should hate about her).

Dave said...

By which I mean, yes, if Amy Winehouse was somehow an anti-Ashlee or an anti-Britney, I might be interested in how her "authenticity" works. But she's clearly NOT intended as such; I'm not sure what she intends herself to be or what her audience perceives her to be (if this can even be generalized; in Lily's case I don't think it can, just a bunch of smaller sources of appeal that add up into a big but ambiguous audience).