The Roulette Wheel of Music Journalism
I have heard many complaints recently about Spin’s Top 100 greatest guitarists of all time. I know that I was personally disappointed with Spin’s best of 2011 list. Music journalism is like a roulette wheel, where professional music listeners gamble on trends, often hedging their bets with a few surface level picks on an assortment of flavor of the moment bands.
If you were scour the pages of Spin, NME, or Rolling Stone would you find anything new of value? Perhaps, but more often than not these publication’s choices for best new music are quite puzzling. The problem is there are too many people these magazines need to please, too many different kind of rock and roll fans to service. So you end up with a kind of musical journalism for everyone, where no one in particular wins. Much like an election, these magazines produce the same mediocre results, year after year, for structural reasons that they cannot be expected to overcome.
For example, Spin awarded Against Me! album of the year in 2007 for their album “New Wave”. This came five years after their legitimate achievement “Reinventing Axl Rose”, which went unreviewed and unnoticed by Spin. That’s not to say that Spin’s evaluations have no value, “New Wave” gave way to Against Me!’s first radio singles, and it is certainly an album of substance. But “New Wave” was no one’s best album of 2007, the punks had already moved on, and the radio crowd probably liked Fergie better. But Spin couldn’t give the award to Fergie or to whatever the underground was listening to at the time (Gaslight Anthem was on the rise then, I suspect they will one day win Spin’s album of the year). The point is that Spin couldn’t give a “best of” list that corresponded to anyone in the population, but had to produce some sort of compromise.
NME gave 2011’s best album award to this, which they called a “masterpiece”:
Ian Svenonius said of these publications: “the thirty-something industry ad-rags have dropped some of their classic rock format and begun to pander shamelessly to ‘underground’ acts in an attempt not only to appear hip to more easily duped youths, but in order to co-opt the subjects of this attention with the language of their race, a language better suited to a museum than to a community of creators, a language which renders its subjects bankrupt with their inclusion.” Harsh words, but they hit the nail on the head. We always hear people wishing they were around to hear a band like Nation of Ulysses play, but truth be told much of this band’s influence hit after they broke up. You won’t find a legendary band or scene advertised by any of these publications until long after the moment has passed.
This is why good music always comes from small places where no one is looking, in being ignored they can find a way to be themselves in relation to nothing. Spin, Rolling Stone, NME can be seen as graveyards for music, a place where they are passionlessly consumed and disposed by a tasteless audience unconcerned with any kind of community or belonging to the music. I would humbly suggest you pass on these publications and focus more on what small labels are doing and what is happening in your scene locally.