Books

Chuck Eddy's 'Terminated for Reasons of Taste' Reads Like an Eclectic Spotify Mix on Shuffle

Reading Eddy's latest is like listening to a good record store clerk: no judgment, no arrogance, just a pure love of music and some honest opinion.


Terminated for Reasons of Taste: Other Ways to Hear Essential and Inessential Music

Publisher: Duke University Press
Length: 344 pages
Author: Chuck Eddy
Price: $26.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2016-09
Amazon

Chuck Eddy's music criticism moves comfortably through musical genres and eras with ease. He might be most renowned for his bible of heavy metal, 1991’s Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, but Terminated for Reasons of Taste further cements Eddy’s reputation as one of the most versatile music critics working today. This is Eddy’s second anthology of previously published essays to be published by Duke University Press (after 2011’s Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism) and collects previously uncollected short essays, reviews, and interviews from the '80s to the present.

The original sources for these pieces include publications as varied as Spin, L.A. Weekly, Rhapsody.com, Complex, Creem, Idolator, and Film Comment. Conspicuous in their absence are Eddy’s pieces for Rolling Stone, but many of his articles and reviews for Village Voice are collected here. Eddy’s tenure with the Village Voice serves as the source of the title of the book; he was famously fired from his job as Music Editor at that magazine for “reasons of taste” after a 2006 merger with another company.

The book is organized chronologically, based on the subjects of the articles and reviews themselves, and not on the actual dates of publication. For example, his evaluation of forgotten '80s R&B bands was published by Spin.com in 2013 as part of an ongoing column called “Sonic Taxonomy”, but appears in the chapter covering the '80s. The five chapters cover the “B.C. era” (everything before the '80s), the '80s, '90s (an era that Eddy has particular issues with), '00s, and the '10s. The content of these essays is extremely broad-ranging; Eddy moves deftly from heavy metal to rap, contemporary country to indie rock, new wave to pop.

Like any music critic, he can sometimes be a little off-kilter in his judgments (for example, he stunningly pans Onyx’s “Slam” in favor of House of Pain’s inferior “Put On Your Shit Kickers”), but his assertiveness and clever diction is always interesting to read, even when the reader finds his assessments to be contrary to their own. His predictions are generally fairly accurate: his evaluation of Ke$ha and Taylor Swift highlights the potential that would lead the latter to become the biggest pop star of the '10s and the former to be one of the most promising pop songwriters of the decade before an ugly 2014 lawsuit paralyzed her career. He might have been off the mark about Lady Gaga, writing in 2008 that she was “probably still no worse than thousands of other privileged ladies of questionable talent turned quasi-decadent divas,” but this seems to be an outlier in his handicapping of popular music trends.

In many places, his clever turns of phrase and ability to craft a musical quip in a nutshell shine through; for example, in a 1994 review of John Mellencamp’s Dance Naked, he notes that “John Cougar did 10 of the 18 best punk songs to come out of Southern Indiana between 1979 and 1982” and, upon reflection, he’s not wrong. The fact that he can speak as knowledgeably about late '80s Indiana punk artists like the Gizmos, the Panics, and the Jetsons as he can about Ke$ha or Fates Warning speaks to the ethos of the collection. Not every reader will care about all of the artists covered in this book, but Eddy’s ability to wring every drop of pathos out of the career of journeymen Quebecois prog-metal band Voivod, or to provide a solidly reflective essay on the 30th anniversary of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, should draw in even non-metal fans.

Terminated for Reasons of Taste reads like an eclectic Spotify mix on shuffle, with most of the essays and reviews taking up less than a page, although the longer pieces, including a great interview with Lemmy from a 1997 issue of L.A. Weekly, an exploration of contemporary country music’s recent immersion in Mexican culture, and a hater-baiting defense of Billy Joel, show that Eddy can entertain in longer form essays just as well as he can in the quick-hit reviews, e.g.:

Which points out another neat tidbit about Billy: he's not the type of guy to shy away from influences some dork back on the block told him were 'non-rock'. (page 137)

If the alone-at-the-piano coda "And So It Goes" comes off a little too heart-wrenchingly "sincere," that only puts Bill in a class with Paul Westerberg and Tracy Chapman and Bob Mould, none of whom can boast as commendable a sense of backbeat or commendable an '89 album. (page 137)

The longest essays are actually his own introductions to each section, where he tries to paint the decade in question in broad strokes before letting his previously published works fill in the gaps. His introduction to the ‘10s ponders the relevance of the music critic in the Age of Social Media, while also being skeptical about what he calls “The Golden Era of Pop Music Think Pieces”, e.g.:

Usually this staking of high ground follows fast on the heels of an inescapably viral-shared weekend essay by some serious striver defending bands-with-real-musicians turf while pretending drab-as-dirt National-style indie rock middlebrows' hard-earned domination of year-end critics' polls is somehow in jeopardy from Katy Perry, which it never was-by now, such tall tales counts as rock-writings's answer to the War on Christmas. (244-245)

And then there's the Poptimism Debate That Just Won't Die, wherein self-proclaimed converts to said denomination pat themselves on the back for belatedly opening their ears to music that most critics worth paying attention to had already acknowledged as valid, and were often dismissed as perverse for doing so, well over a quarter-century before. (244)

Indeed, Eddy’s knowledgeable and clever writing makes even his most exploratory essays feel less like indulgent ‘Think Pieces’ and more like listening to a clerk at a store that sells records to a very diverse customer base: no judgment, no arrogance, just a pure love of music and some honest opinion.

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