RANDOM NOTES, RANTS, AND PET PEEVES

1. Objectivity in Rock Criticism - As a rock critic, if you are biased against a particular form of music and cannot write about it objectively, do not review that style of music. For example, Robert Cristgau has no business ever reviewing heavy metal or progressive rock. Likewise, it would be ridiculous if I pretended to be an expert on hip-hop/rap music.

2. When an album completely overwhelms everything else a band/artist does. For example, Pink Floyd’s Darkside Of The Moon is great, but so are several of their other albums. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is also a classic, but don’t you think that some of their 20 or so other album are also worth investigating? Is Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted really any better than Crooked Rain Crooked Rain? Is Superfly really any better than Curtis? I don’t think so.

Note: For a feature article about this topic, click here.

3. Classic Rock Radio - would it kill some of you radio programmers so play something different for a change? Believe it or not, The Who had more than just 10 songs, and many of them were terrific. Not that anyone would ever know if they didn’t have their albums. And don’t even get me started on modern rock/pop radio, which is even worse, making listening to the radio a complete chore for me.

4. Why doesn’t the cream rise to the top any more? Rock n’ roll has always had its fluffy fabrications, but back in the day it seemed like the cream generally rose to the top. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin were not only the biggest bands in the world, they were also the best. These days we have the Smashing Pumpkins breaking up ‘cause they can’t keep up with Britney Spears, and Creed outselling Pearl Jam.

5. Punk vs. Metal - Where did the idea come about that you either like one or the other? Both styles of music rock hard, albeit in different ways, and most of the people I know who like The Clash also like Metallica. After all, bands like Motorhead and AC/DC are a bit of both.

6. “Selling Out” - Whenever a band becomes popular comes the inevitable charge that they “sold out.” First of all, anyone who starts a band wants their music to be heard - anyone who says otherwise is either lying or being a hypocrite. Secondly, if you believe in the music you’re making, then you are not a sellout, whether your music sells or not. Thirdly, when a band branches out and tries new things musically it is called “taking risks,” which is the antithesis of “selling out.”

7. The Sex Pistols vs. Rush - Let me get this straight: the Sex Pistols were great ‘cause they couldn’t play their instruments, but Rush are pretentious wankers ‘cause they’re virtuoso musicians? I’ve never been able to figure that one out.

8. Long Albums - Why does every artist these days feel the need to pad out 40-minute albums with 30 more minutes of garbage? Less is often more. Just ask Radiohead, the best band today who still understand the value of a 40+ minute, filler free album.

9. Chatter - This is a continuation of #8, but why do so many artists (particularly r&b artists like Lauryn Hill and Janet Jackson) feel the need to talk or add silly segues between their songs? More often than not it greatly detracts from the overall experience.

10. The Guitar Solo - One of the negatives of Nirvana was that it became uncool to show off your talent in a showy manner. Bring back the guitar solo! Not the excessive kind of pointless 10 minute, “look how great I am” guitar jams, but the kind that complements, and often caps off, a song. A little pretension can be a good thing. Even Kurt Cobain lent a great guitar solo to “Come As You Are.”

11. Woodstock ’94 and ’99 - Here is a slightly edited version of a letter my brother wrote to Howard Stern regarding his (and my) Woodstock ’94 Experience (note: Howard read it over the air):

Howard, you have been promoting Woodstock '99 like it's the greatest thing ever. I just wanted to share with you my Woodstock '94 experience. Here's the setup. Me and three friends (one flew in from Atlanta). With our tickets ($130) we were given parking passes. Our parking lot was like 30 miles from the concert. We get there at around 9pm Friday. The lot is full, we have to go to another lot around 20 miles away. We get there and that lot is full. We have to go to a parking lot in SUNY Albany. We get to SUNY Albany (where I graduated in '91 and never expected to be back). We get to that lot around 11 and there are thousands of other people. There we wait for a bus to take us 1/2 mile away where we will get another bus to take us to the concert. After waiting fruitlessly for a couple hours to get on the bus, we walk the 1/2 mile with our backpacks and bags to the next lot where we will get a bus to get to the concert. We get there and find thousands of other people. It's about 2am. At about 4am the worst monsoon I was ever outside for struck. 4 buses were coming about every 45 minutes. They felt like the buses that were taking us out of concentration camps. Finally, after fighting to the death, get on the bus at 6am, at the concert by 7am. All my stuff for the weekend soaking wet. Defeated. Exhausted. We pitch our tent about 1 mile from the stages, on a hill. Try sleeping for about an hour when Joe Cocker starts singing. Nightmare continues. Port a poties are overflowing, food unbearable, so sick can't even drink. Try to watch the music. Go back to our tent by like 2pm (it takes like 3 hours to get across the park because of the mass of people). Tent is under piles of mud. Everything ruined. Raining again. Had enough. On bus back to Albany by 3pm. Woodstock '94. A little more background: they were saying before the concert how strict they were going to be about alcohol. No alcohol or drugs. We stashed vodka and southern comfort in Scope and Shampoo bottles. We get there and people without tickets are walking in through the open gates with cases of beer on their head. I have to go back into therapy now after opening up these wounds again.

My two cents/memories: Fighting against a desperate mob to barely get on the bus with my friends. Exchanging money for Woodstock money, which was set up for the express purpose of ripping off every customer in the place. The toilets, which you could smell from a mile away. Worse yet, the smell stuck like glue to anyone who ventured anywhere near them. In short, Nine Inch Nails, Melissa Etheridge, and Green Day are probably the only acts who really benefited from this showcase, other than the despicable promoters and organizers of Woodstock ’94, all of whom should be ashamed of themselves. However, obviously devoid of anything resembling a conscience, John Scher and his incompetent band of buffons were at it again with Woodstock ’99. Predictably, it was another high profile disgrace, only much, much worse.

12. Stadium Concerts - quite simply, I’d rather see a medium tier band in a small venue than U2, Pearl Jam, or Radiohead (to cite a few of my favorite current bands) in a stadium. Overpriced and impersonal, it’s simply impossible to fully appreciate a band’s music at a venue where you need a monitor just to see them.

13. CD Burning - I’ve wrestled with the moral dilemma of burning cds. Then I go to Tower Records or HMV and see the latest albums “on sale” for $15.99 and my conscience is clear. That said, I will buy and support an album from a band I feel strongly about.

14. Don Henley - Isn’t it ironic that the man who helped usher in the age of the $100+ concert ticket is fighting for artist rights against big bad record companies? Gimme a break.

15. Van Morrison - Van, I love your albums, or at least your old albums. But would it kill you to crack a smile in concert, or act as if you’re not there just to cash a paycheck?

16. Behind The Music - A little early for that Creed episode, wouldn’t you say (2001)?

17. Mariah Carey - Let me get this straight: Virgin Records is paying her 28 million dollar not to record with them ever again?. And then she picks up another 20+ million dollars from her new record company? No wonder the economy is such a mess! Seriously, Glitter may have temporarily made Mariah Carey a laughingstock, but right now she’s laughing all the way to the bank.

18. The Grammy Awards - This is an easy target, but do they ever get it right? Who votes for these awards and what exactly are their qualifications? For example, the latest couple of Granny Awards had U2 winning a bunch of awards in 2001 for an album that was released in 2000, and Shelby Lynne winning "Best New Artist" (in 2000) after releasing what was then her sixth album! And don't even get me started on how Michael Bolton has more Grammy's than the Stones, Zeppelin, and The Who combined. How anyone takes these awards seriously is anyone's guess.

19. Rolling Stone Album Guide (1992 version) - This is really a point about reviewers in general, but also this book in particular. If you have not listened to an album, don't pretend that you have and review it in vague terms based on what you've heard about it. The RSAG was a massive book with reviews from only 4 people. In some cases it was painfully obvious that the reviewers hadn't actually listened to the album's that they were lending their "expert opinions" on. Maybe on the next volume they won't bite off more than they can chew. Note: Unforunately, that didn't turn out to be the case. To read more about it, click here.

20. Robert Cristgau’s Consumer Guide: Albums Of The ‘90s - Here’s my review of his book:

This is the third (and by far the worst) volume I've bought from Cristgau, 'cause when he writes about things he likes (which is rare) he can be right on the money. A line such as "irony - an excuse for anything and a reason for nothing" is a good example. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book, and for several reasons.

First of all, he doesn't like any hard rock or heavy metal, so why he even bothers reviewing these genres is beyond me (see rant #1) because he has no understanding of them. Truth is, every time he dismisses a band like Alice In Chains, Metallica, or Kyuss, sometimes without so much as an explanation (more on that later), I feel like sending him to a corner and throwing a dunce cap on his head.

He also continues to wildly overrate 90% of all hip-hop and African albums, as well as any Ramones-influenced punk bands and hard rocking female bands (he's nothing if not politically correct). This also holds true for his beloved "Amerindie" artists, as well as for literate (but sometimes boring) singer songwriters such as John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman, and Lucinda Williams. Meanwhile, "pretentious" artists who actually try to do something new and different (such as Radiohead, Bjork, U2, and The Flaming Lips, for example) are obnoxiously dismissed.

I could go on about other albums I feel he's dead wrong about (Pearl Jam's "Vs.," Emmylou Harris' "Wrecking Ball," etc.) but I'd run out of space. I've also given up trying to figure out why he loves Marshall Crenshaw but doesn't like Crowded House (they seem comparable to me, and I for one prefer Crowded House), especially since he won't tell me. This is because of his awful new rating system, on which simple letter grades are often confusingly replaced by turkey and bomb symbols, or by record symbols along with a list of a few songs. This flawed new system allows Cristgau to be way too lazy. For example, important '90s artists such as Smashing Pumpkins, Blur, Oasis, The Verve (what's he got against Britpop, anyway?), Tori Amos, and Elliott Smith are barely given a mention. Their albums are listed, but with very little or no commentary.

In short, his '70s and '80s album guides were much better - even though he thought Lou Reed's '80s albums were better than Led Zeppelin's '70 albums.

P.S. What's up with the personal attacks, like the ones on Jeff Buckley and Tom Petty?

21. Chuck Eddy’s “Stairway To Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums In The Universe”: Here’s my brief review of his book:

Let me see: Poison is better than Metallica, Bryan Adams and Prince are heavy metal, and Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Rainbow, Dio, The Scorpions, Judas Priest, and Megadeth (for starters) have no albums worthy of inclusion within the 500 greatest of all-time? Though his Lester Bangs wannabe style is mildly interesting (if often obnoxious), as a guide to picking heavy metal music this book is a bad joke. Buy Martin Popoff's "Collectors Guide To Heavy Metal" series instead. Note: This book inspired my “career” in music criticism, figuring that if a book this bad could actually get published, then anyone (i.e. I) could do it.

2007 Update: A friend of mine decided to do some research about this book. He determined that this book's 500 albums were divided among 307 artists. He then determined 4 categories as follows:

1) Heavy Metal - Clearly defined, undoubtedly "metal" acts
2) Hard Rock - These are bands like Deep Purple, Van Halen, or AC/DC
3) Alternative - We know it when we see it
4) Other - Runs the gamut from Neil Young to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Miles Davis. Not heavy metal, not definitively hard rock, or alternative

The results of classifying the 307 artists:
1) Other = 134 (43.7%)
2) Alternative = 82 (26.7)
3) Hard Rock = 78 (25.4)
4) Heavy Metal = 13 (4.2)

For edification, here are the MERE 13 heavy metal acts found in the book:
Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Voivod, Celtic Frost, Metallica, Accept, Venom, Slayer, Anthrax, Prong, Death Angel, Diamond Head, and Manowar.

Thirteen. 'Nuff said.

22. Axl Rose - I’m sorry, but calling his new band Guns n’ Roses is about as accurate (and as honest) as Ringo Starr calling his all star band The Beatles.

23. Steroids in baseball - I know that this isn't music related, but is it too late to add an asterisk to Mark McGwire's homerun record? Oh, I forgot, his record was broken last year by the hugely bulked up Barry Bonds. Which brings me to...

24. Major League Baseball Players Association - it's time for steroid testing. This is their chance to finally do the right thing and prove that they're about more than merely grabbing for your every last buck. Note: I'm not holding my breath.

25. Elaborate stage shows - Let's get back to the music, shall we? Personally, I'd rather get less flash and more substance. These expensive stage sets remind me of those obnoxious NBA fireworks displays and halftime shows that nobody but David Stern ever gave a sh** about. And don't even get me started on him...

26. Bono - Yes, he's a rich and powerful rock star who at times seems to have a bit of a God complex. But considering that he uses his pull to try to make the world a better place, I'm not sure why some people resent him so much.

27. Boy Bands - You're 15 minutes are (thankfully) just about up. Take a seat next to the Spice Girls and Ricky Martin, please.

28. Years Between Albums - How come The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were able to churn out at least one great album per year (sometimes more), but today's artists almost all take 2-3 years (or more) between releases? It seems to me that too many of these bands/artists are following the wrong marketing model.

29. David Lynch - Last night I saw Mulholland Drive. Can anyone tell me what the hell this movie is about? Actually, while we're at it, can someone tell me what Lost Highway is about as well? If this guy is really as brilliant as most critics seem to think he is, why can't he make a strangely provocative movie that also manages to tell a coherent story? Sorry, but I can't consider a movie good (let alone brilliant) if it makes no sense whatsoever. Maybe he's too smart for me...

30. Remix Albums - I just don't get the popularity of these albums, which are almost always inferior to the originals they reconfigure. Of course, the lemming-like record buying public still goes out and buys these albums in droves, keeping P. Diddy and J. Lo (marginal talents both) rolling in it for the forseeable future.

31. Wacko Jacko keeps getting weirder - This time Wacko blames the failure of his latest album on Tommy Mottola. Earth to Michael, stop ranting and raving like a lunatic. Tommy Mottola isn’t that powerful, and if your songs were as good as the ones on Thriller then people would still be buying your albums. Recommendation: write some good songs and shut up.

32. Greatest Hits albums - Why are these albums so often poorly done, seemingly pieced together by some boardroom boho rather than someone who is actually familiar with the band? Then again, ill-conceived (The Best Of Van Halen Volume I), skimpy (Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Greatest Hits), and unnecessary (The Best Of Led Zeppelin) greatest hits collections are easy enough to ignore, and when they’re done right (Lenny Kravitz’s Greatest Hits) they can be a consumer’s best friend.

33. Box sets - Granted, these sets are geared toward hardcore fans, but why are so few of them actually listenable from start to finish?

34. Progressive rock - I get a kick out of how the Web reviewing community loves this genre while most mainstream rock critics hate it. What can’t be denied is that both sides feel passionately that they’re on the right side of this argument. (P.S. I think they both have a point).

35. Grunge - revisionist history suggests that grunge was a bad thing, what with lame copycat bands like Creed all over the place diluting what was once a fresh sound. Let’s not forget that for awhile there it was the best thing to happen to rock in years, and that the movement spawned some of the best bands of the ‘90s.

36. Kate Bush - has anyone noticed that she’s been silent since 1993’s The Red Shoes, or since right about the same time that everyone started noticing Tori Amos? Strange. P.S. Come back, Kate.

37. Barney - My son just turned one year old (8/1/02). Man, I hate that purple dinosaur. My son loves him, though.

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