I Miss Lester Bangs

Hell, I even miss Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau; and that’s saying something.

Whatever happened to credible music criticism? How is it that so many bands that sound so damned similar (and equally monotonous, repetitive, derivative and absolutely non-unique or memorable) are all apparently critical favorites, alternative darlings and award-winners? Other than a few fringe elements, no one out there dares suggest the emperor’s clothing is a bit transparent. Hell, in the old days, even the “gods” of music got shitty reviews. In fact, there used to be a balance of reviews In most “music” magazines: reviews that lauded some and derided others. Where has all the discouragement of asinine, simplistic, rushed, underdeveloped and/or just plain ill-advised and bad music gone? With the record companies (who used to at least serve as a filter ensuring that music released was at a certain level) slowly receding into the background, and radio likewise losing its editorial voice and power of selection, the selection of available music is so large that no one has the time to weed through each week’s hundreds of new releases to find out if any of it is any good – and certainly, relying on the number of downloads, views and/or shares is DEFINITELY not an indication of quality or even listenability, because those numbers are driven by hype, novelty, audacity and/or shock value first, and then only distantly biased by musicality.

I’ve subscribed to a number of music industry publications over the years (Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin, Creem, Guitar Player, Bass Player, Keyboard, Fretboard and Paste, to name but a few), and over time I’ve seen the number of even nominally negative reviews shrink. I suppose with reduction of print pages combined with the massive increase in releases contributes to this phenomenon – there’s simply just not enough time or space to cover BOTH the good and the bad. But certainly, magazines pretending to be the arbiters of modern taste should be providing some sort of balance, guiding their ever-revolving audience of neophyte listeners (and honestly, who but an neophyte listener needs someone else to tell them what’s cool?) away from what just plain sucks, as well as toward that which they tout as miraculous and ground-breaking.

Of course, that idea presupposes that there is, among the tons of dreck out there that as I said above sounds disappointingly alike (and as I’ve posited elsewhere about the Billboard Top 100, owes much of its song structure, dynamics and general vibe to Gordon Sumner’s late 1970’s pop-reggae hit “So Lonely”) a small percentage of stuff that is really, absolutely great. Otherwise, ALL the reviews would be negative, and could in fact be very short: SUCKS AGAIN. SAME AS BEFORE. NOTHING NEW, REALLY. TRY AGAIN.

But then again, even as recent as the early 1990s, music reviewers at least pretended to be literary, to know the history of music into which their latest discovery fit, or at least the published biography of the artist releasing. As the quality of journalism overall has deteriorated far below any heretofore acceptable (or accepted) level of professionalism, it is only fair to expect that rock and roll journalism (a dangerously quasi-gonzo genre to begin with) should likewise suffer.

But really? To foist upon a trusting and needing to know public as honest, unbiased advice a set of reviews that instead of spurring improvement, blows sunshine?

Where is Lester Bangs, when you need him?

6 AUG 2014

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