Oct 6, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Re-rating the Grimes album that came out literally 17 months ago is the most hilarious part of this ill-advised exercise.

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As a GenX metalhead I've always hated Pitchfork and know exactly one Liz Phair song (Rock Me - it was DLC in Rock Band). Despite that, I really enjoyed this. Especially this part: "We have an entire industry of busy young writers coming up with ways to praise women artists and Black artists and queer artists for everything but the art they produce. That isn’t respect, but respect’s opposite.". I feel like I can't get an honest review for anything these days.

Also, after reading this and the comments, I'll have to check out Exile in Guyville. I probably won't like it but I've been surprised before. My tolerance for non aggressive music is much higher now than when that album originally came out.

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A few somewhat unconnected thoughts:

1) It's OK to like an album that no one else likes (not suggesting that FdB disagrees). I like the Dylan album Knocked Out Loaded, which is generally regarded as one of his worst. That doesn't mean I am right and the consensus is wrong; it's just the nature of taste. I confess I was a little alarmed to hear that Quentin Tarantino likes that album a lot.

2) Likewise, it's OK to be interested in an artist's wrong turn (which is a somewhat different thing). I wouldn't claim Musicology is a good album, but it was an interesting thing to have listened to because I am interested in Prince, and my life is not poorer for having heard it. To be sure, I wish it were a better album. Pitchfork's suggestion that people were not prepared for a great album by Prince has not been true at any point in the last 40 years.

3) I feel this way about the Liz Phair self-titled album -- it's an interesting wrong turn -- although I think there are a couple of good tracks that would make it on to a best-of album if those were still a thing. It's not a lost classic by any means, however.

4) FdB: "[G]ood music springs from authentic feeling, not market calculations." Hmm. I don't think this is true. (Do I wish it were true? I don't even know.) I think there are a surprising number of good tracks that are written just because the songwriter is messing around and says, "hmm, maybe that's something." McCartney famously went around singing a song he called "Scrambled Eggs" to people and asking if they recognized it; when he concluded that he must have written it, he wrote new lyrics and hey presto "Yesterday."

5) In writing about pop music, it is dangerous to rely on quoting a few lyrics and concluding either "God, that's genius" or "What shit." I don't mean to slag FdB for doing this because it's really hard to do written pop criticism any other way and everyone does it. It's more of a caution that we should all be careful about our reactions to that sort of thing.

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Honestly I was just amazed that they got through an entire piece without mentioning white supremacy

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I’m honestly kind of shocked how transparently these re-reviews are about the artist and not the music. Take this line from the Musicology re-score:

“ It’s cool to like Prince now, and this was arguably not the case in 2004. Which is a shame”

How do you read that and not come away thinking that either the old review or the new review was pure social signaling? How is it good for a reviewer to come out and SAY that reviews give scores based on how cool the artist is? Who thought this was a good idea?

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i'd love to hear what you think about stan culture and how these sieges of 14 year olds posting fancams push pitchfork/stereogum/whatever to publish favourable pieces about forgettable music. i wouldn't be surprised if any of these publications just let themselves get bullied into publishing puff pieces about dogshit music just because jiminluvr663 called them bigots for Not Stanning K-pop.

with rolling stone's new top 500 songs list, it's patently obvious that including stuff like bts is literally just done to placate angry 15 year olds, and they've given up on following any sort of real criteria on what makes art worth recognizing. like robyn makes fine music i guess but you need to make a STRONG case for dancing on my own being the 20th best song ever written. honestly that list as a whole would be fascinating to hear you opine on, it's absolutely brutal. i swear that list, and its associated non-criticism type of criticism is the late-stage capitalism equivalent of art analysis. total anomie. total loss of meaning. a complete cultural vacuum that invalidates itself and runs itself aground. jesus.

anyway thanks again freddie :)

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Pitchfork was a groundbreaking site that ushered in a generational shift that has come to dominate not just music, but almost all cultural criticism:

It is a music review site written by and for people who don't seem to actually like music.

I remember when I first encountered it thinking, this is different and strange.

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Does Pitchfork have any sort of tastemaker power anymore? I feel like the answer is no. Has there been an artist in the last decade that got big because of a Pitchfork review? I agree with everything you say here, but I think ragging on music criticism in 2021 is almost...distasteful? Or to use a term we all love, 'punching down'. This is a sad tragic shell of an industry, a barnacle on another sad tragic shell of an industry. I imagine the vast majority of Gen Z kids have never read a piece of music criticism in their lives.

While lauding Beyonce and Taylor Swift as the greatest artistic geniuses of their generation might have been politically and socially strategic decisions a decade ago, today it's just practical. Is Conde Nast really gonna run a business around Stephen Malkmus fans?

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I was in college when Exile in Guyville came out. It was a revelation, particularly to a guy like me whose album collection was stuck firmly in the 60s and 70s (kids, listen to whatever you want, but if you think you're being cool by listening only to music from decades ago, I promise you you don't come off like that and you're missing a lot).

I loved it; still do, one of my favorite albums ever. I was a big Stones fan, so I dug the vibe immediately. But that wasn't the meat - I had never in my life heard such personal songwriting. Dylan was always armored with irony and politics and poetry, layers of stuff that kept the listener far away from the man himself. And since he was my blueprint for great songwriting, finding someone who did exactly the opposite was like discovering a new color. It really was something, and Juvenilia was great too and Whitechocolatespaceegg had its moments. We saw her play a bunch and she's charming live and had fun fans. Really one of my favorites. The Girly Sounds recordings is the only music I've ever downloaded illegally. That's a tribute of sorts, right? I did it on NAPSTER. Get off my lawn!

And yeah, the self-titled album is unlistenable. It's a shame when a voice as unique and compelling as hers gets lost in an attempt at selling out, but my feeling has always been that miraculous output over decades just isn't really a thing. Most people don't have that much in them. Maybe she'll pull another great album out someday - who knows? In the meantime I'll listen to the old stuff.

And Pitchfork is just preening. That it's (woke, I guess?) preening now instead of cooler-than-thou preening ("what do you mean you don't "get" Interpol?-lol... how can you say that In the Aeroplane Under the Sea isn't the most important album ever released when you only listened to it once?") feels like a lateral move.

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Anthony Fantano gets roasted from time to time for giving My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy a 6/10 when it came out, and to his credit, he did a re-review sometime last year and once again gave it a 6/10

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I remember the early days of Pitchfork when the preening reviewers came up with their absurd rating system of giving a review of 6.7 or 4.2 or whatever snobbishly opaque rating they came up with was to prove that if you thought a particular album was great or rubbish, they would slap your face with some hipster truth. Pitchfork is literally the embodiment of this mocking video by the Annoying Hipster Douchebag doing his interviews of fans at the Siren Festival 15 years ago. It's still valid today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kn8DYjNjEoQ

I pretty much avoid all album reviews so Pitchfork's retroactive virtue review revisions don't piss me off like they do Freddie but that's ok. I enjoy all types and styles of music. I readily admit I have a fondness for a wide array of musical styles and I still own some embarrassing bad albums & CDs that I won't get rid of because it doesn't matter to me what others think. I mean, if I want to jam out to mid-career Pet Shop Boys followed by some John Prine or The Coup, I do so because I like what I like. Adam Ant's 'Goody Two-Shoes' on repeat? Hell yes. I'll share my musical recommendations with friends based on what I know they may like. I once got into a discussion w/ a DJ friend of mine why I thought Daft Punk's last album RAM was derivative crap but I still enjoy listening to it. I also troll my brother-in-law with Bono memes because he hates U2.

Pitchfork is just the worst of the music media landscape and if they blew up in a DNS attack I could care less except to post this reply to Freddie.

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The self-titled album tries so hard to mimic the style of mid-00s girl pop that was everywhere for a few years (Avril Lavigne, Ashlee Simpson, Michelle Branch, Hilary Duff, soundtracks to teen rom coms). But you can tell that Phair’s heart wasn’t in it, and that’s why it’s weak even by the standards of that era. I’d never seen the video; she looks dead inside.

Out of curiosity, I checked out how it’s doing on Spotify. “Why Can’t I” is Liz Phair’s most popular song by far with 24.3 million plays, followed by “Fuck and Run” with 5.2 million. But the rest of the self-titled album has very low numbers. So it seems like her biggest commercial success for whatever reason.

However, “Why Can’t I” is not doing well by the standards of similar singles from that era. Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me” (the one she lip-synced on SNL) has 45.5 million plays for example. There is some justice because Michelle Branch is twice as popular (“Everywhere” = 90 million plays).

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Reading this was a trip - I'm continually impressed at how much Freddie is capable of paying attention to. I had to toggle over to Spotify to remind myself of who Liz Phair was/is. Of course I remember the eminently forgettable "Why Can't I," and I have to admit I have next to no knowledge of her earlier, apparently much-higher-quality stuff.

If there's one thing I can credit Pitchfork with, it's teaching me to trust my own taste - or at least in an aspirational way. After getting to college, meeting much hipper people, and reading some Pitchfork reviews, I realized I would never have "good taste" in music, and so I just resigned myself to listening to stuff that I liked, and that challenged me, and that nobody else seemed to get very excited about.

Years later, I'm still discovering all kinds of music, and often rediscovering Pop that for one reason or another I didn't get at the time. I only just discovered that I like REM, and that stuff played all the time on the radio growing up.

Pop music always seemed to me the hardest thing to write criticism about. As dumb and as cynical as this Pitchfork re-assessment project is, I don't think it's impossible for there to be a smart, good-faith version. Tastes change, both individually and collectively, and music's spooky emotional power is so personal, discussing it seems especially fraught. For instance: I had a parents with very good musical taste. There's a lot that I heard at home that it took time and distance to really appreciate on my own. I heard and liked Prince as a teen. Now, sometimes when I listen to Prince I almost can't believe how good it is. Time and circumstance changed a lot.

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The re-reviews based on evolving coolness really are extremely silly. Pitchfork has always been silly. A few years ago they decided to write serious reviews of every Steely Dan album. I was excited when I heard. Apparently one of my lifelong favorite bands was suddenly très chic. (I do mean “lifelong”, as my parents used to put The Royal Scam on the record player in 1980 to enjoy my diapered dancing while they smoked tea and guzzled jug wine like Gatorade.) Those reviews were gratifying at first, but the whole affair was undermined by their effusive praise for ALL their albums, 100% not one excluded. I guess because the elusive deity of cool had tapped the band with its scepter, giving millennials the benison to enjoy dad rock…or pretend to at parties. That’s not criticism, it’s just very, very late blooming fandom. Pitchfork is a band t-shirt hedge fund.

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I agree with half of what you are saying and I THINK I disagree with the other half. The half with which I agree is obviously that revising reviews on the basis of the way the artist fits in with current social-political culture rather than on the basis of the music itself is nothing more than useless and cynical signaling. The best example of this on that list is undoubtedly the Grimes down-rating (after a mere year and a half of an aesthetically displeasing marriage) - but never fear, Grimes fans, she’s sure to be upgraded on the next revision now that she dumped the bastard.

The half I might disagree with (and I could be wrong because you didn’t state this explicitly) is that revising reviews to re-examine the music itself under a new cultural context can’t be valuable. Perhaps that’s not a charitable reading of what you wrote but it’s bolstered in the comments section by your derision of the revised Rolling Stones top 100 songs, a list which I thoroughly enjoyed disagreeing with yesterday morning, and which I think was well worth making.

The revised Liz Phair review sucks because the review is wrong and didn’t engage with her music in its own merits, but it’s not wrong to say that maybe the individual that wrote the review in the early 00s, an absolute wreck of a time for women in the media’s crosshairs, isn’t the end all be all of Liz Phair judgment. I welcome revision of past musical consensus as a concept because some past reviews were utter garbage and some well accepted opinions actually WERE colored by the racism, sexism and classism of our society. Why should the opinions of a certain group of editors and writers (who really WERE disproportionately white guys) in the 90s and 00s constitute a canonical truth that should stand in perpetuity? I mean yeah, the boomers made some bomb (to use a Gen X word my kids mock me for) rock music but there’s other shit out there, and re-examining the canon to include music that was the emotional context of millions of people’s lives that hasn’t been taken as seriously before now, or even re-examining it through the eyes of a new generation’s weird ass ideas is good and healthy actually. Maybe I’m letting your comment about the “woke”

Rolling Stone top 100 color my reaction too much because the Pitchfork thing you linked is much more cynical in my opinion (although I endorse upgrading Spektor’s Begin to Hope in any increment) than the RS top 100 list which has genuine masterpieces in its top 10, even if you disagree with the actual order. Another list I have really enjoyed over the past 5 years (and used the miracle of unlimited access to streamed music to explore) is the NPR 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women list, which again, is often wrong in my eminently correct opinion, but is full of gems that have been overlooked in traditional music rankings.


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I've been reading Pitchfork since 1999. I continue to read it because they a) pump out four reviews a day (a day!) on new and reissued music. Nobody else does that at that volume. b) their reviews themselves are well written and well informed for the most part. I can actually learn about the records that they are reviewing and then make decisions as to if I'm going to invest my time and/or money into something based on these descriptions of the music itself: the comparisons they make, and the context they provide. So as, I find Pitchfork to be quite useful. Which is why I started reading it in the first place. I read other journalism on music, I have conversations, I listen to albums that I'm curious about without reading about them, but I also read pitchfork because it's a fairly reliable and consistent source of information. Is there an element of cool kid elitism in Pitchfork? For sure. But it has other virtues.

BTW, Frank Ocean's Channel Orange and Blonde are wonderful albums, IMO. Blonde especially.

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