Earlier this week I met Robert Christgau, the "Dean of American Rock Critics." He could not have been friendlier. I did not expect the Pazz & Jop founder (and the guy who once wished death on Paul McCartney instead of John Lennon) to make time for me, but I learned that his demeanor is worthy of his talent.
Christgau's reviews were, for better and worse, a harbinger for Twitter. He specializes in short, sharp remarks that say more about how music feels than how it sounds. Any serious music writer has spent hours with his Consumer Guide books or web site, which are always entertaining and often infuriating. Whatever part of his brain made him one of America's top journalists did not help him at all when it came to appreciating metal.
"I admire metal's integrity, brutality, and obsessiveness, but I can't stand its delusions of grandeur," he wrote in one of his rare positive reviews, for Motörhead's Orgasmatron. He's come to terms somewhat, more recently telling Salon, "I don’t think metal’s as bad as I hear it as being." But for all his virtues, the Dean is not to be trusted when it comes to the headbanger's art. In some ways, he's metal's perfect foil--an artistic, intellectual type who prefers Sonic Youth in his haughty publications. In honor of Christgau's game-changing style and questionable taste, let's give his writing a taste of his own acerbic medicine.
They do take heavy to undreamt-of extremes, and I suppose I could enjoy
them as camp, like a horror movie--the title cut is definitely
screamworthy. After all, their audience can't take that Lucifer bit
seriously, right? Well, depends on what you mean by serious. Personally,
I've always suspected that horror movies catharsized stuff I was too
rational to care about in the first place.
Calling metal on its campiness is like making fun of your friends. If you're a proven comrade and appreciator, it's fine, but if it comes with a "C-" you're asking for a fight. In fairness, metal does have audience that's misguided enough to believe in Satan, and they're also into banning books.
For some reason Warners wants us to know that this is the biggest bar
band in the San Fernando Valley. This doesn't mean much--all new bands
are bar bands, unless they're Boston. The term becomes honorific when
the music belongs in a bar. This music belongs on an aircraft carrier.
On an aircraft carrier? What does that even mean? Christgau's prose is often brilliant, but here he's either too smart for me or has no idea what he's talking about.
"Shoot to Thrill," "Given [sic] the Dog a Bone," and "Let Me Put My Love
Into You" all concern the unimaginative sexual acts you'd imagine, and
"What Do You Do for Money Honey" has a more limited set of answers than
the average secretary would prefer. My sister's glad they don't write
fantasy and science fiction, and if you're female you're free to share
her relief. Brothers are more deeply implicated in these matters.
The number one pratfall of music critics is that they respond to lyrics more than music. Personally, I think Back in Black is full of gems ("She told me to come but I was already there,") but any appreciation of AC/DC starts with the riffs. What Brian Johnson sings
about doesn't matter as much as what you can sing along to.
revolutionary heroes I envisage aren't male chauvinists too
inexperienced to know better; they don't have hair like Samson and pecs
like Arnold Schwarzenegger. That's the image Metallica calls up, and I'm
no more likely to invoke their strength of my own free will than I am The 1812 Overture's.
Confirmation that everyone assumes that the music they detest is enjoyed by their enemies from high school.
Musically, Hieronymus Bosch as postindustrial atheist; lyrically, Transformers as kiddie porn.
Industrial Bosch actually sounds kind of great, though I have no idea where the second part came from. Maybe he meant to write "transformers, kids and porn," and turned it off before he got to "Hurt."