Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Curse of the Fourth Album Pt. 1

I'll admit to focusing my bile on some easy targets, but I did not expect this kind of behavior from Steven Thomas Erlewine. I'm not looking to chom this guy on a regular basis, but when he does a horrible job reviewing the album I'm writing a piece on, well, them's the ropes as they say.

For the first installment of this series, we'll focus on a post-punk underdog called Magazine and their fourth doomed album Magic, Murder and the Weather. Formed when founder Howard Devoto split from the Buzzcocks, the band laid low for most of 1977 before they debuted their brand of arty post-punk. After the relative success of Real Life, the band released a murky, keyboard heavy sophomore question mark named Secondhand Daylight. While not terrible, it left many wondering if the band had any magic left.

Enter Martin Hannett, everyone's favorite Joy Division producing junkie maniac who helped create their third record, the wonderfully titled The Correct Use of Soap. Such a collaboration makes pale, skinny, averted to cool people like me boil over with nerdiness. And for good reason, as the record delivers on its promise of strange sounds and icy precision. In fact, the man responsible for both of Joy Division's LP's, the original Spiral Scratch EP that jump-started the British punk explosion, an EP by ESG that spawned the most sampled piece of music in history (UFO), claimed that The Correct Use of Soap was the greatest album he had worked on in his career.

One can then expect a downturn, and indeed this is the big one. The band followed up with Magic, Murder and the Weather which was indeed the band's final record. The curse strikes again!! However, the record wasn't as bad as the critic's words read. There's nothing like the critic's 300 pound gorilla, otherwise known as expectations. You hear a band's album and are blown away. You begin to wonder what their next release may sound like, and...Boom!

Imagine that this building embodies your expectations. They're toast, son.

You are setting yourself up for disappointment. Critics especially seem to believe they know how good a band COULD be. They cook up a vision in their criticBrains with the loftiest of expectations. Meanwhile, the unassuming band doesn't give a shit about the critic. They are going to make the kind of music they want to make. Critics get it wrong because they believe that they know MORE about the direction the band should be going than the band themselves!


Alright already, I'm making myself crazy here. Let's read this wonderful review of the album from Allmusicguide.com.

Magazine's final studio album, Magic, Murder and the Weather, finds Dave Formula's washes of cold, brittle keyboards dominating the bitter and cynical music.

Alright, we already find the reviewer has an issue with the keyboards. He doesn't want those keyboards, not one bit. Maybe I'm putting words into his mouth...

Howard Devoto's weary lyrics surface through the icy mix, but it's clear that Devoto and Magazine have both had better days.

Maybe I'm confused, but I'm pretty sure Devoto's lyrics have always been weary. A sample of Devoto's lyrics from the 3 previous albums:

"A frightening world is an interesting world to be in."

"You think I'm a lame duck, I don't give a blue luck, I don't give two hoots..."
"Clarity has reared, its ugly head again, so this is real life"
"Then I got tired of counting all of these blessings, and then I just got tired"

If these lyrics aren't weary or bleak, I will hit myself in the face with a baseball bat.

It's not a graceful way to bow out, but the album has enough strong moments to prevent it from being an embarrassment as well.

What!?! That's it? As far as I can discern, the album contains icy keyboards and weary lyrics. Give me a break. This is a terrible review. He cites the band's signature sounds and lyrics as weird stylistic choices specific to this album. Even stranger is the complete lack of musical criticism. Completely brutalizing. Also, notice the critical about-face at the end of the review. Let's enter Steven Thomas Erlewine's criticBrain:

"Hmm...I only wrote two sentences in this review. Maybe I should listen to the album so I can be a responsible critic and inform the public about the content of the record. Or, I could just cop out with a final sentence that will leave everyone confused and turned off."

Thanks for nothing, S.T. Erlewine.

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