Welcome to another installment of Ask A Music Critic, in which I invite readers to pose inquiries so simple and monosyllabic even a music critic can understand them. If you have questions, I have answers! Hit me up at email@example.com.
Let’s begin with a profound ethical question involving Billy Corgan … as if there is any other kind of profound ethical question.
Given Billy Corgan’s treatment of D’arcy and the fact that he has appeared on InfoWars (and allegorically seems to be a Trump guy), does it seem like a moral oversight to see the Smashing Pumpkins on their reunion tour? — Tanner, Los Angeles
It did not seem like a moral oversight until you posed the question. Now… I’m not so sure. Let’s start with the most extreme example of what you’re talking about — Ted Nugent obviously is a P.O.S. and I would never pay to see him live even through “Stranglehold” bangs. Billy Corgan is on the same spectrum as the Nuge, but I don’t think anyone would argue he’s as bad.
But is Billy bad enough? That is the question. For me, honestly, I would still pull the trigger on a Smashing Pumpkins ticket, even with that troublesome InfoWars stuff and the fallout from Textgate. Anyone who is still on board with Smashing Pumpkins has to accept Billy’s obnoxiousness as part of the package — maybe even part of the appeal, if you can still laugh at him. In my view, Billy Corgan is a genius songwriter who’s never been admirable on a personal level. Appreciating Billy Corgan’s talent and goofing on his megalomania is 85 percent of being a Smashing Pumpkins fan.
I just listened to the new Beach House single, and I feel very meh about it coupled with how meh I felt about their B-sides compilation (granted they’re B-sides for a reason). They’re one band that I feel like has been successful using relatively the same formula on every album. Assuage my intense fears that their sound is getting stale and repetitive. — Grant, Toledo, Ohio
Beach House to me has always been a “one song per album” band. Every record they put out, there’s usually one track — like “Gila” from 2008’s Devotion or “Silver Soul” from 2010’s Teen Dream — that I absolutely adore and will listen to over and over. As for the rest of the album, I’ll play it a few times before losing interest. It’s not that I dislike their albums — I just find that their sexy, ethereal, and monotonous music works better in small doses. Over the course of a full album, I can only take so many chiming keyboards, smoky choruses, and molasses-speed BPM.
Will “Lemon Glow” be that one song for me from the forthcoming album? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you once I’m confronted with ten to twelve other new Beach House songs. The single certainly sounds like.. a Beach House song, doesn’t it?
After your recent The King of Limbs spat with Radiohead fans on Twitter (The King of Limbs is either their worst or second-worst album, I do not need a good speaker to know that), which fanbase came after you the hardest for a bad review you wrote? — Tyler, Seattle
First off, I would not describe this Twitter interaction in which I (rightly!) classified The King Of Limbs as Radiohead’s worst album as a spat. Twas merely a minor skirmish. I’ve often told the story about a true spat with a band’s fanbase, which occurred back in 2002 when I was working for my hometown newspaper and reviewed a concert by Korn unfavorably. I won’t recount the story in full, though the curious can check out this piece I wrote about the experience in 2010. However, I just want to point out that the people who complain about Twitter mobs probably have never had to deal with pissed-off nu-metal partisan phoning them directly and making death threats. Who phones anymore to say nice things, much less “you f*cking suck”? Back in the early ’00s, angry vitriol felt more personal.
More recently, the angriest fanbase I’ve dealt with has to be Arcade Fire stans. I panned Everything Now, and also took repeated potshots on Twitter at the bombastic Canadians around the album’s release, because I can never resist the allure of an easy joke. In response, Arcade Fire fans bombarded me for weeks with complaints, insults, and general jeers. Even now, someone will occasionally bring up my Arcade Fire opinions in order to impeach some other opinion I have, like it’s a character flaw.
To those people, I can only say this: I’m sorry… that you can’t accept that I am right about this.
I really enjoyed your interview with Brian Fallon about the 10th Anniversary of The ’59 Sound. That’s one of my favorite albums, I love all eleven songs. Even though, technically, there’s actually 12 songs on the album. But for nine years and eleven months, I’ve always, every time, skipped the song “The Patient Ferris Wheel.” I don’t even remember how the song goes, but I don’t even want to revisit it now — I find the album perfect at eleven tracks.
What would you call this kind of album-editing? And do you have a favorite album where you always skip the same song (or multiple songs)? — Brian, Richmond, Va.
Let’s call it “amateur A&R.” The example that comes immediately to mind is Blonde On Blonde — I always skip “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and start the record instead at “Pledging My Time.” My 13-track version of Bob Dylan’s 1966 masterpiece excises the best-known song, but I think it’s infinitely better without that hokey novelty tune.
I suspect a more common example of this phenomenon is listeners mentally improving Wilco’s brilliant 2004 LP A Ghost Is Born by skipping the interminable 15-minute endurance test “Less Than You Think.” Take that one out, and A Ghost Is Born is a perfect record.
More advanced “amateur A&R” listeners will go so far as to replace songs on the album with outtakes. During my recent Celebration Rock podcast on Bruce Springsteen’s The River with Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus, we both bemoaned the inclusion of the B-level rocker “Crush On You” on the record at the expense of the explosive bootleg favorite “Roulette.” Thanks to the modern convenience of playlists, playing “amateur A&R” is easier than ever.
If you could establish a national holiday based on an event/person/group in popular music history, what would it be, and how would it be celebrated? — Steve, New York City
I’ve thought long and hard about this question. I think the purpose of a national holiday should be to recognize something amazing that might otherwise be forgotten. So while I have lots of ideas for notable events — Prince’s birthday, Jerry Garcia’s final concert, Jack White beating up that guy from the Von Bondies — I feel like they’re all pretty unforgettable already.
Then it occurred to me: Oct. 16, 2010. The date of the greatest tweet in history.
From now on Oct. 16 will be Kanye West Water Bottle Tweet Day. Let’s make it happen!