Blender‘s PR people forwarded me a link to its latest stab at generating “controversy”—a list of overpraised albums. it doesn’t take a whole lot of ingenuity to craft such a list—just look at what appears on other publications’ “best of” lists and aim a few cheap shots at them. I’m a sucker for such contrarianism; I’ll admit I clicked through to the link despite my general rule not to ever click on any mail from a PR firm. (Why would I want to encourage them?) The list yields absolutely no surprises, and I can’t imagine anyone so insecure about their appreciation for, say, Pet Sounds or Astral Weeks to have doubts sown by these half-assed attempts at iconoclasm. And as reassuring as I may find it to see someone else question the eternal genius of Radiohead, I know I can’t really find any comfort there, because the criticism is shallow, and as is true in the PR realm generally, no publicity is bad publicity. To be singled out as overrated is just another way to be rated highly.
Lately I have been striving to stop worrying about what rating any music should have (one of the reasons I don’t do much record reviewing anymore). The reasons I have for this are about what you’d expect; the arbitrary ranking nullifies the contextual factors that give any listening experience its character, and the ranking reduces something indescribably complex to something fungible, a number, etc. The impulse to rank and rate seems a defense mechanism against actually having the elusive sensual experience itself, which may always prove to be evanescent, unrepeatable and thus a little depressing after the fact. Rank it, however, and it seems as though you have pinned the experience down and taken possession of it.