MY List of Lists 2005: Music

Last year I did something for what would become URBMN where I linked to every top-five list that Google News linked to, in an attempt to show that critics’ tastes aren’t as wide-ranging as one would normally be led to believe.  I found out that Pink Martini were set to take over the world (they probably have by now) and that Texarkana music fans are, by and large, idiots.  Still, this seemed like too much work for not enough notoriety.  I’m some nobody with an opinion, set tastes in music and a hankering to get my name out.  Yes, I’m like 98% of the people who have ever written a blog.  I’m well aware.

I’ve decided this year to come up with my own personal most/least-of lists for URBMN and Blogcritics, ones that I hope are more engaging than “Bloc Party made our white asses at The Stamford Circle Jerk dance all night” and “Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ is an abortion set to music.”  Whether this is more successful as a series of articles than what I wrote last year is up for debate.  Best-of lists are fine and dandy, and I haven’t paid much attention to music lately to warrant talking about it like every other newspaper music critic.  To that end, here are some closeminded rants about what I don’t like about “teh radio” and such.  Enjoy!

THE BAHA MEN AWARD FOR POSSIBLE CAREER-NEGATING SINGLE: If Black Eyed Peas had come out with “My Humps” as their first-ever single, they would have been laughed off commercial radio.  People remember Thomas Dolby for “She Blinded Me With Science,” which is not representative of his work at all.  The Baha Men are actually a credible world-music band, but all anyone remembers them for is “Who Let the Dogs Out” – and they’ve been around for more than a quarter-century.  “My Humps” is a godawful novelty song, pure and simple, one that could have killed Black Eyed Peas’ reputation had they not already written “Let’s Get Retarded.”  They’ve become the Hanna-Barbera of hip-hop.

“The song’s intentionally stupid,” some people might say at this point.  So is Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” but Sir Mix-A-Lot had the advantage of being over the top.  I’m supposed to take “My Humps” seriously as music.  There’s quite a difference between stupid and clever.

MOST ANNOYING SINGLE: Jason Mraz’ “Wordplay.”  Is that song supposed to be cute?  It’s the “One Week” of 2005.  I know Mraz is famous for his folk-rap songs, but “Wordplay” still seems like a novelty song that hit big on radio simply because it was a novelty song.  Mraz and Barenaked Ladies pretty much trade on the same “cute, clever” pop image, and I can’t escape either “One Week” or “Wordplay” when I’m listening to my local top 40 radio station.  I guess it doesn’t matter – Mraz sold thousands of albums on the strength of “Wordplay.”  That still doesn’t make the song not annoying.

SONG I GOT SICK OF EXPRESSLY DUE TO HEARING IT THOUSANDS OF TIMES AS PART OF A COMMERCIAL: Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.”  I forget just what exactly the song was supposed to sell.  I was ambivalent about the song before I had to hear it ad nauseam as part of some marketing campaign for…I don’t know, I think it was shoes or something.  It’s always shoes.  Or something from The Gap.  I don’t take note of this stuff.  All I know is that commercial made me hate Gorillaz with a passion.

ARTIST THAT IS STRANGELY OMNIPRESENT DESPITE THE ARTIST’S LATEST ALBUM BEING RELEASED LAST YEAR: Green Day have really been inescapable as of late, haven’t they?  Grammy recognition for Best Rock Album, the fact that at least four songs off American Idiot seem to have charted, and critical adulation to boot.  The success of American Idiot all seems a little reflexive to me – an anti-Bush album?  The indie and punk crowds being, on the whole, left-leaning?  A band known for its supposed immaturity suddenly “coming of age?”  It’s still Green Day.  Their concerts feature a bunny dancing to Village People songs.  How mature could Green Day really be?

Green Day seem to be more popular lately than they were in 1994.  Fine, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a decent song, and I’d rather “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” chart than that godawful, Cancon-friendly crawl of emo clichés coming from Simple Plan.  Still, would some of the critics still love Green Day if the band sang about George W. Bush saving Iraq from tyranny?  Think about that for a second.

ARTIST THAT CAN’T POSSIBLY MEET THE HYPE: How about metalcore bands in general?  How many bands do we need that sound like Dillinger Escape Plan?  Shadows Fall and Lamb of God have major label deals and music publications like Exclaim! and Spin have long since trumpeted the virtues of this sort of music.  Look what happened to Cave In, though – their major-label debut didn’t sell near as many copies as RCA thought it would, and Cave In were punted off the RCA roster rather quickly afterwards.  I don’t know if I’m speaking out of jealousy or not – death metal and grindcore bands rarely if ever get major label deals (they never will, but that’s another issue altogether), but metalcore’s being groomed as the next budding mainstream fad?  It seems like a case of major labels trying to anticipate the next big thing.  If metalcore succeeds in the marketplace, the major labels will trumpet it as the evolution of metal.  If it fails, who cares?  Just throw metalcore in the rubbish bin next to Nashville Pussy and The Unband.

ARTIST THAT SEEMS TO MEET THE HYPE: Kaiser Chiefs are the real deal.  They’re the best thing to come out of the “new wave” revival bandwagon by dint of the band actually having a personality.  I’m not huge on what people are calling new wave these days – The Killers and Franz Ferdinand are better than a lot of what’s out there, but it’s not like self-consciously “weird” bands like Tubeway Army or Devo are suddenly breaking into the top 40 again.  “New wave of new wave” seems like a contrived attempt to bring back an era of music that will never be duplicated – The Sex Pistols can only exist once, after all.  The Kaiser Chiefs could become legendary in their own time, or they could be the modern-day Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  The future’s wide open for them.

STUPID INDUSTRY PRACTICE: Sony BMG’s attempts at implementing Digital Rights Management.  That whole secretly installing what amounts to malware on one’s computer wasn’t good publicity for the monolith, was it?  Sony BMG then tried to put another, worse malware program past people, which is either ignorance or stubbornness on the company’s part.  What’s the point of implementing DRM when the solution to file-sharing is worse than file-sharing itself?  Didn’t Sony BMG executives realize how stupid this would make the company look?  More to the point, did the executives actually care?

SMART INDUSTRY PRACTICE: Warner Music Group finally admitting that the major music labels try to influence station managers and radio DJs (like the computerized playlists haven’t completely taken over by now) through some sort of financial incentive.  Sure, pay-for-play isn’t going to end now, and using the term “payola” just leads to wags making Alan Freed jokes and acting unsurprised about how the music industry sells itself.  Frankly, Sony BMG and WMG admitting to payola is redundant in the face of the Internet, Cubase and CDR/online-based labels.  At least more than one major label is at least trying to look above-board now, and that’s all that matters.  Frankly, I’m amazed that the music and radio industries haven’t merged with each other yet.

COMEBACK THAT EVERYONE SEEMS TO HAVE A HARD-ON FOR, BUT I CAN NEVER FOR THE LIFE OF ME UNDERSTAND: The Pixies.  I know they reunited last year, but their live DVD recently came out and they’re in the process of recording a new album.  Could somebody explain to me what is so great about this band?  This is why I stopped following indie rock around 1998 – I don’t have a problem with Frank Black, and from what I’ve heard of The Pixies I don’t have a problem with their music, but some fans call them THE MOST AMAZING BAND IN THE HISTORY OF FOREVER.  I can’t remember a reason for people liking The Pixies beyond “THEY’RE SO GODDAMN COOL, THEY ARE LIKE GODS AND IF YOU HATE ‘EM YOU’RE GAY” or “FRANK BLACK IS SUCH AN ASSHOLE ON STAGE!  HE’S DREAMY!”  They’re a late-1980s indie rock band that broke up before they outlasted themselves, not the second coming of God.  David Bowie and Kurt Cobain may like The Pixies.  Neither of them speak for me or my tastes and never will.

COMEBACK THAT I CAN ACTUALLY VOUCH FOR: Johnny Cash is quite popular among people lately, considering his death and the biopic about him that recently came out.  If it means one of the best country singers of the 20th century is coming back into vogue, then that can only be a good thing.  Cash was true to himself, and he was as truly “counterculture” in the 1960s as he was when he released American IV: The Man Comes Around in 2003.  It’s sort of sad that Johnny Cash’s popularity might be the highest it has been in decades two years after his death, but anyone who can cover a Nine Inch Nails song and actually make the cover better than the original deserves all the plaudits (s)he receives, posthumously or otherwise.  Cash is just too good to have something as transient as death keep him down.

ARTIST THAT CRITICS THINK IS THE DEATH OF MUSIC WHEN THE ARTIST ISN’T THAT BAD: American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson and J.D. Fortune off Rock Star: INXS.  So what if they won contests and had insta-fame thrust upon them?  Yeah, I’m sure no other aspiring musician secretly wants to have marketing campaigns behind them.  There are worse things in the music industry to worry about than those two figures of fun – you know, like DIGITAL RIGHTS MANAGEMENT.  I guess things like DRM are too heady for light reading.  Er, I mean “Since U Been Gone” is an abortion set to music.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

C. Archer
Le Social