Archive for January, 2011

“The King Is Dead” The Decemberists

Will Hermes, Rolling Stone

Will Hermes’ review in Rolling Stone magazine for The Decemberists’ new album “The King is Dead” lacks clarity and a credible critical perspective. He begins with a lofty statement that acts as faux proof that he is, in fact, familiar with the band’s former work: “When a 12-and-a-half-minute murder ballad (“The Island,” from 2006’s The Crane Wife) stands as one of your more concise career high points, it’s probably time to consider reining things in.” When discussing former works to prove an aesthetic point like this, it is rarely necessary to provide further explanation, mostly for the case of brevity. However, classifying a 12-and-a-half minute song as “concise” is contradictory within itself, and certainly could use some clarification. Hermes’ justification for this sentiment is unclear and makes for a poor introduction.

The overarching theme throughout Hermes’ review is that The Decemberists have simplified their sound, paying closer attention to simple song structures and memorable melodies. Aside from the band’s prog-rock exploration on 2009’s “The Hazards of Love,” they have seldom made music that has deserved any tag of complexity. This lack of density within their catalogue pre-“Hazards of Love” contributed to a referential sound that called on influences ranging from the narrative folk rock of Fairport Convention to the simplistic alt-rock of R.E.M.—not unlike the influences heard on “The King is Dead.” Hermes’ failure to recognize the band’s return-to-the-basics/return-to-their-roots intention is an indication of pure critical laziness.

I do not doubt Hermes’ ability as a writer (his adjectives are spot on). He has just made it abundantly clear, however, that he has not paid much attention to The Decemberists’ new and former works. And if he has, his ability to convey an honest and insightful opinion of their material is fundamentally flawed.

Link: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/the-king-is-dead-20110112

“Let It Be” The Beatles

Robert Christgau, Village Voice

Robert Christgau’s penchant for dense, insightful writing has been well documented, and this talent is apparent in his Consumer Guide review of The Beatles’ 1970 release “Let It Be.” Christgau immediately takes an ideological stance in the first sentence by quoting John Lennon and referring to him as the band’s leader.  Lennon’s highly esteemed rock and roll inclinations comprise the bulk of his—as well as the rest of The Beatles’—input on “Let It Be.” By calling him “the leader,” Christgau is implying that Lennon’s contribution and direction shaped the sonic identity of “Let It Be,” and, as an extension, The Beatles’ career. Making a provocative statement like this in the opening sentence will entice a reader, and should keep them on their heels throughout the entire read (even if they don’t agree with the viewpoint).

Using precise adjectives and striking comparisons, Christgau goes on to aptly describe notable songs throughout the album, including a poignant position on the Lennon/McCartney duet “Two of Us”: “an adult song about couple bonding that I hope applies to their songwriting duo.”

A surefire departure from—and possible inferior to—  the splendid eccentricities of “Sgt. Pepper’s” and “Magical Mystery Tour,” Christgau cites the sprightly mood and nature of “Let It Be” as what distinguishes the album against the “dramatic brilliance” of its predecessors. Those familiar enough with “Let It Be” will certainly concede that Christgau is spot on with this intelligible notion, and as a result, spot on with his entire review.

Link: http://robertchristgau.com/get_artist.php?id=1382&name=The+Beatles


Read Full Post »