When Critics Won't Let Bands Escape Their Past
In our latest IM-conversation-as-blog-post, Freedom and I go a little "inside baseball" and talk about whether reviewers should compare a band's new album to that band's best work or if that's just living in the past, man.
Malitz: So after I more or less panned the new Oasis album in Tuesday's paper, Kyle "Leafblower" Gustafson gave me one of these: "For once I wish I could read an oasis review without comparing their current record with their first two. Sigh." Is he right?
du Lac: Won't happen -- and shouldn't. Unless, of course, they release one or two truly notable albums that measure up to "Definitely Maybe" and "Morning Glory." But they haven't.
Malitz: My feeling is that if it wasn't for those first two albums we wouldn't be reviewing this new one in the first place, so you have to hold them to that standard, especially since they haven't really moved away from that sound.
du Lac: Exactly. And again, until they reach those heights again and/or do something completely radical that no longer makes you think about those albums, the comparisons aren't going away.
Malitz: Well, sounds like we've pretty much decided Kyle is wrong. That was easy! But to your last point, it's why you won't see "Sister" or "Daydream Nation" referenced too often in new Sonic Youth reviews.
du Lac: For certain artists, you just don't need to go there. What's the point in referencing "Highway 61" in a Dylan album review circa 2008, unless there's a clear link?
Malitz: Right. I suppose that bands that come out of the get especially strong are sort of at a disadvantage here, but that's just the nature of the beat. If the Strokes ever release another album, do you think people won't mention "Is This It?" Of course they will. That's why we care about the Strokes. Or at least once did. (I still do. A little.) There's also the case of something like the recent Metallica album where a band is making a concerted effort to sound like those albums people actually liked. In those cases, it would be especially wrong to not mention/compare to those early albums.
du Lac: Exactly. If Stevie Wonder ever recorded an album that brought him back to his early/mid-'70s sound, you'd have to reference the epochal albums he recorded during that period.
Malitz: So is there anything Oasis can do to make it so "Definitely Maybe" and "Morning Glory" aren't referenced when they release their next album?
du Lac: Yeah, sure. Do something great - though even then, they can't escape it, since the reviews will say something like: "'Album X' is the band's best since 'Morning Glory.'" But it's a better comp than the ones they're getting now. You know: "They've been wasting our time since 'Morning Glory.'"
Malitz: Yup. I'm sure M. Night Shymalan feels the same way.
du Lac: This, by the way, is your best IM exchange since the Super Bowl halftime show.
Malitz: Now I'm reminded of that Hitsville post about how every R.E.M. album was "their best since..."
du Lac: Yeah, Bill Wyman did some great work on putting that post together. Clearly, R.E.M just keeps getting better and better. Never had a down period!
Malitz: Maybe the real answer is to just stop reviewing albums by washed-up bands like Oasis? Oh, I keed, I keed.
By David Malitz |
October 9, 2008; 9:01 AM ET
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