Thursday, July 03, 2003

Objectively pro-Liz Phair 

Liz Phair's new album may be the worst reviewed album ever. Spin gave it a B- (by the way, rating albums with grades is so Robert Christgau. And it's annoying when he does it, too), and writes that it's like Sheryl Crow but way less catchy. The Times calls it "an embarassing form of career suicide" and describes the effect as "spending an afternoon with a once sardonic best friend overdosing on mood enhancers." The Times' review prompted Phair to write an enetertainingly incoherent letter to the editor. Responding to reviews is always a bad idea. The Onion writes that "It's hard to sound condescending singing to a child, but Phair pulls it off" in their trashing of the album. As for bloggers, the antic muse has a long diss comparing it to archetypal movie disaster 'Ishtar'. Her review begins: "The kindest thing I can say about Liz Phair's eponymous new album is that it's easy to forget." TMFTML, in seven words, writes the best of the reviews: "Dude, your mom is creeping me out." The reviews are so bad that Slate has to halfheartedly play the devil's advocate, damning the album with faint phrase (and some terrible jokes): "Nevertheless, on 18th listen, you've got to concede that Liz Phair, while not a very good record, is not so much a very bad record as it is a record about which it's easy to say very bad things."

Why has this happened? Worse albums have been released in the last five years (practically everything on the top 40 charts in the last five years has been worse than this album), but have not been as universally trashed. Phair is getting long diss sessions, too; that Times piece goes on forever. Why pick on her? I think the reason is that very few albums even get this many reviews. Rockcritcsdaily notes (scroll to bottom) the Voice gave it three and a half reviews, the most a new album has ever received (including a positive review from Robert "elderly contrarian" Christgau). In the land of movie reviews, every new movie is reviewed by every paper and weekly. This means that Bresson-loving film critics are forced to write about 'Dumb and Dumberer'. Bad movies get many, many bad reviews. There are too many new albums for publications to review all of them. Many publications don't even try; they only write reviews of albums by artists that critics really really care about, such as Radiohead or Wilco. Even in places where there are lots of album reviews, individual critics can choose what to review. The Sebadoh fan is never forced to write about (or listen to) Justin Timberlake's latest. There is no correlation between album sales and amount of reviews, since most critics do not like top 40 and don't want to waste their vast intellectual resources contemplating the quality of a Pink album (though Eminem may lead the world in both reviews and sales these days). When they do review Nsync or Shakira, incidentally, the reviews are rarely even that bad; it's a lot more contrarian to express admiration for the Neptunes' or Timbaland's production on Timberlake's album. But when a critical darling makes music that sets out to sound like music that is generally ignored by critics, that critical darling is denounced by everyone.

And that is what has happened to Phair. Her first album, for many reasons, was one of the most written about of the 90's. One reason was that 'Exile in Guyville' is very very good, and it's aged at least as well as Phair herself has. Some others are that she's hot, and she sang about explicit sex, and the album was supposed to be a point-by-point answer to a Stones album, and you could use it to make a larger point about men and women and Third Wave feminism and patriarchy and rockism, and other subjects that people in 1993 enjoyed discussing for some strange reason. Now critics can use her latest to bemoan the state of music, and bring up how much they drank in college while listening to 'Exile', and generally indulge in nostalgia for times when people gave a shit about music critics and what they wrote. If you don't believe that this golden age ever existed, check out the antic muse's discussion of the 'Great Chicago Reader debate' occasioned by Steve Albini's long attack on Phair, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Urge Overkill. While reading Albini's diatribe, remember that soon after writin it, he would accept very large sums to produce Bush's album (archetypal awful British Nirvana ripoff group, far worse than either of the presidents that share the name). Then laugh at Steve Albini. And feel a little sorry for Liz Phair being exploited by critics for nostalgia's purpose, much as men exploited her body in the lyrics to 'Exile in Guyville'.

Critical Beatdown 

On Anne Coulter, here. I think the reason why Coulter wants to rehabilitate the reputation of Joe McCarthy (who, to my everlasting shame, I share a birthday with) is that she uses the same tactics he does. Read the piece.

Battle of the Marxes 

On Hugh's blog.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Abu Mazen Death Watch 

These are good times for us Israeli peaceniks. But, as even the New York Times knows, these good times are not going to last. Part of the problem, as I may explain in an upcoming post, is the accumulated bad karma you get when you name your peace plan after that most hated of items, the roadmap. Another is that if this ever goes anywhere, Mahmoud Abbas is a dead man.
You see, there are two rules when Israel signs a big peace deal. One is that everyone involved has to win the Noble peace prize, which then leads later generations to wonder how such bloodthirsty maniacs as Arafat or Kissinger could ever win a Nobel peace prize. (Though Sharon may be the one to break this rule. The cognitive dissonance involved in nominating Ariel "I didn't know the village was occupied when I set fire to it" Sharon just might be too much.)
The second is that one of the guys involved has to be assassinated by extremists on his own side. Invariably, it is the nicer guy that bites it. Old school terrorists like Begin and Arafat are, for professional reasons, really really good at not being killed. It's always the ones who are a credit to humanity, that understand the other side's point of view and have the courage to articulate it to the lunatics back home, that end up dead. RIP, Sadat and Rabin. You are missed.

Abu Mazen is, with the exception of the two stiffs previously mentioned, the most saintly guy to hit the region since the Prophet Muhammad. Or the Son of God Himself. He is definitley way nicer than his counterpart on the other side of the Green Line. But the road to peace in the Middle East is a perilous one, which often kills the pure of heart, as the cases of Sadat, Rabin, and even Jesus "H" Christ demonstrate. If this roadmap goes anywhere, I give Abu Mazen five years to live.

We can make this more interesting by putting his longevity up against the other big players' in the peace deal. Mazen is actually the youngest guy involved, at 68. Sharon and Arafat are both in their mid 70's, and the good Sheik Yassin looks to be about 140. Arafat has been living in a bunker and hasn't been allowed to leave since all the trouble started. That can't be good for a guy's health. If you've seen him on TV lately, he looks pretty senile. Sharon, on the other hand, is a very obese man, and not a healthy-looking guy at all. Sheik Ahmed is, as a typo in the NYTimes once had it, "a spiritual paraplegic spiritual leader." Yet my guess is that all three will die a peaceful death surrounded by loved ones, serenely looking back over all the babies they've killed. And what's more, Abu Mazen will be the first of the four to go.

Abu can take solace, as I always do when I'm feeling down, in the wise words of Biggie Smalls. On his posthumous album 'Life After Death', he said "You're nobody til somebody kills you." If Jesus honestly looked back at his career trajectory, he'd have to assent to Big's astute analysis.
So good luck, Abu. Keep your head up.

The Road less taken 

Kudos to everyone involved on this whole peace deal thingy. Bush, Sharon, Condi Rice, Arafat, Abu Mazen, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, take a bow. Hell, anyone who had some part in creating the delicate global balance that creayted the conditions in which this peace deal could take place -Saddam, Amram Mitzna, Thomas Friedman, the Tamil Tigers, Allen Iverson, Iranian student protestors, Chinese butterfiles- you all take a bow, too. Arik and Yasser, as always, deserve special congratulations for their crafty strategies. What Sharon did within the last couple weeks was interesting. He decried the evil unsustainable occupation, tried to blow up senior Hamas officials, floated the idea of killing Hamas leader Sheik Yassin, dismantled outposts, continued negotiating under fire after years of saying he wouldn't, started negotiating with Hamas directly, poo-poohed the trustworthiness of a Hamas ceasefire, and finally signed a peace deal and evacuated Gaza based on a Hamas ceasefire. Don't try this at home, kids. Meanwhile, Arafat's pet suicide phalanx Fatah was the last holdout on the ceasefire. But they came out at the last moment with a whopping six-month ceasefire, shaming Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's three-month offer. Yasser's still got it. Don't let anyone tell ya different.

Though may you think it very odd of me 

I enjoy the act of sodomy.

That's a line from 'Meet The Feebles'. Really. Kudos to the American Supereme Court for joining the 20th century and legalizing sodomy. The one thing people never point out about criminalizing sodomy is that if you send a sodomite to jail, he will probably engage in more sodomy, if of the nonconsensual variety. America is a deeply illogical place. But then, you probably already knew that.

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