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Thursday, Sep 29, 2011
An album is not an insulated document, but rather something that breathes and grows within an artist's discography. I challenge music fans to not simply find songs or albums that they like (though certainly that has a completely worthwhile place), but to find entire discographies (from acknowledged classics to forgotten albums) to grow with over time.

Several weeks ago, my article “Paul McCartney: An Auteur” caused quite a stir. In that piece, I attempt to position Paul McCartney as an artist of the highest standard, one whose entire body of work must be taken seriously. Many of the comments I received criticized my lack of reasoning and found fault in positioning McCartney as a man who can do no wrong. I also received some feedback asserting that the Auteur Theory can only be applied to film due to the director’s position within a system of producers, screenwriters, actors, etc. The reasoning behind rejecting auteurism in music: it is laudatory that a director working within a Hollywood studio system would be able to consistently leave a personal stamp on each of his films, but what is so impressive about a musician placing a personal stamp on his/her solo albums? This logic is sound; however, I wish to apply another aspect of the theory to music. Instead of using auteurism in the sense of a distinct creative vision persevering through studio interference, I believe it can apply to music in the way it forces an audience to evaluate an artist’s entire output.


Without this theory in place, I may not have been aware of many “lesser” films by great filmmakers. I recently viewed Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York. Based on its disappointing box office returns and lukewarm reviews, one would think this was a poorly received, self-indulgent, and anachronistic musical not worth watching. Rather than approaching it as a stand-alone film, auteurism forces us to perceive it as part of something greater: an important step in the development of a filmic genius. Placed in its proper context as the coked-out, artificially retro experiment between Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, New York, New York becomes a must-see.


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Tuesday, Aug 9, 2011
I could list several dozen songs that would be greatly lessened, if not unthinkable, without their saxophonic embellishment; so could you. In the interest of time and clarity, let's take three and call it a day.

A writer whom I respect recently made an offhand observation that I’d like to challenge—not because his opinion isn’t valid but rather because it seems representative of a casual and, I’d argue, uninformed impression shared by entirely too many folks.


Let’s name names: in his otherwise thoroughly enjoyable deconstruction of the monster hit “Frankenstein” by everyone’s favorite albino, Edgar Winters, Chuck Klosterman shares his feelings about the saxophone solo. He doesn’t dig it. In fact, he doesn’t dig the saxophone in rock songs. More, he doesn’t particularly dig the saxophone, period. Klosterman states, “I guess I’m just anti-saxophone; I feel like there were better options available. Certain extraneous instruments add more to rock songs than others, most notably the cello and the bagpipes.”


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Friday, Jul 29, 2011
Though the troubled UK singer seems to fit the bill for rock 'n' roll's fabled 27 Club, Amy Winehouse will almost surely face some resistance.

Music journalists, rock critics, and casual music historians like to tell stories. They like to frame narratives, paint parallels, and place our heroes into the framework they’ve invented. And though this is very much a part of the rock ‘n’ roll tradition, it’s foolish to assume the rock stars are knowingly playing along. The “27 club” is one such narrative, involving a curiously high number of rock ‘n’ roll legends whose mercurial brushes with glory crashed and burned at that early age. Through dozens of names from here and there have been tossed in, the club holds a select few “core members”: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and original Rolling Stone Brian Jones.


But why 27? Perhaps there’s something inherently dangerous and sexy about an artist, particularly a rock star, going out on top. Twenty-seven is a crooked number, with the artist old enough to have pumped out a classic, but young enough to have avoided the myriad trappings of the inevitable aging process. The club’s lineage can be loosely traced to pioneering bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 of a mysterious strychnine poisoning. Once Buddy Holly died less than two years into his rapid rise to fame (albeit not at 27), music fans, too, were introduced to the tragedy and legend of the dead rock star.


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Thursday, Jul 14, 2011
Didn't Kurt Cobain perform as a teenage girl? If Nirvana did inspire an entire generation, then we really should be receiving Miley Cyrus' cover performances in a much more educated fashion than we are.

I will readily admit that I do not tend to keep up on much of anything that Miley Cyrus does. Her Twitter dis was too much for me to bear. Therefore, I was a bit surprised at myself for clicking on Stereogum‘s brief piece on her recent cover of “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz. (Hey, it was listed as one of the site’s “most commented” articles when I made that particular trip around the Internets. Whatevs.) In any case, while I was reading the article, I took the bait and searched out the apparently now-sort-of-(in)famous clip of Cyrus covering Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Dig the DIY footage below:




As should be expected, this performance elicited all kinds of caterwauling from the Nirvana faithful. The outcry is perhaps best captured in the comments to the TMZ post about Cyrus’s cover of the sacrosanct grunge anthem.


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Friday, Jun 17, 2011
Paul McCartney's effortless musical mastery (with no suffering artist gimmick) robs him of the serious consideration he deserves. But like literature and film's greatest auteurs, he will eventually undergo the Hitchcock / Shakespeare transformation from popular entertainer to century-defining artist.

In the year 2300, alien inhabitants will revere Paul McCartney in the same way Mozart and Beethoven are today. Paul McCartney is an artist of the first rank. The notion that he is talented yet slight (particularly in regards to his solo years) simply doesn’t exist except through the lens of Rolling Stone‘s post-Beatles breakup John Lennon worship. McCartney’s effortless mastery (with no suffering artist gimmick) robs him of the serious consideration he deserves.


Paul McCartney just isn’t hip. This week’s reviews of McCartney and McCartney II by Pitchfork are steeped in irony. The site gives the album that molded the entire sound of Pitchfork-branded indie of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s a 7.9; while a record that eclipses the presently hyped synthpop-chillwave fare received a 7.2. McCartney doesn’t get much love from the Rolling Stone old boys club either. An album like Ram is far better than the likes of the usual “top 10 album” mainstays like OK Computer and London Calling. Furthermore, Ram is the only solo Beatles album that maintains the impeccable standard of the ‘65-‘69 Beatles albums, a run that was largely orchestrated by McCartney. Argue whether Lennon or McCartney wrote better songs during this period if you must, but make no mistake: McCartney was the visionary behind every Beatles album starting with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.


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