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Rolling Stone and cronyism in music criticism: IS THE FIX IN?


In the letter from the editor for the Kings Of Leon Rolling Stone cover story, the editor Will Dana brags how writer Austin Scaggs is long time drinking buddies with the band. Eh? Friend Scaggs writes about his good buddies: well, sure no conflict here boys.
Er, actually the story was pretty damn good but that notwithstanding, cmon guys. You wanna be friends with these folks? Why? In my days the line between performer and writer was clear cut: we wanted to be free to be as rude and aggressive as we chose to. I fought with everybody. I told Paul Simonen the Clash were over rated and should check their ego. I called Bananarama over rated groupies. I fought with X and the Individuals, The Bongos and Pheobe Legere. From the largest to the smallest all I ever wanted to do was say what I think about music. Friends? Friends???
I guess I would never get past the PR lady nowadays.
But the Stone and certainly Wenner have crossed and recrossed the line between author and subject and they have done it as well as anybody and they are still the best rock mag in the biz and it’s all good.
Except when they go too far.
The Stone gave Dirty Projectors brilliant new album a “3 Star” (good) review. OK, I think it’s better but people of good faith can disagree. They gave Springsteen’s career low point “Working On A Dream” a 5 star review. 5 Stars? really? So if “Dream” is a 5 star album what is “Born To Run”? These cats are pros and while enjoying a certain artists music might effect your judgement, how can it nullify it? Springsteen is a two star album if
ever there was one and that’s being kind.
They also gave U2’s abysmal “No Line On The Horizon” a 5 star review. I don’t get it. What kind of fix is this? Are they deaf? Who approved this? Millions of music lovers trust the Stone and this is what they want to tell us? The only excuse for a bloated piece of work like “Horizon” is a coupla of dynamite singles so U2 could sell 5 million copies the way “Elevation” and “Stuck In the Moment” carried “All You Can’t leave behind” nine years ago. “Horizon” doesn’t have one great song and has floated into the ether where the vastly superior “Pop” lives a strange half life. “Where is your God now?” as somebody else once put it.
It is not hindsight I am using here. Everybody knews those two albums were terrible the moment they heard em. Maybe, you want an exclusive with U2 or something so you give it a 3 1/2, maybe I can understand that, but MASTERPIECE??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME. If “Horizon” is the best of the best, where does that leave, I dunno, “Electric Ladyland”? Can you have 50 more than 5 stars, is 5 stars absolutely nothing?
Dylan’s “Modern times” wasn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, it was a solid 3 1/2 star. The Stone? 5 stars.
Everything you need to know about Mellencamp’s tedious “Life Death Love and Freedom” you can learn by the title. The Stone? 4 stars. They gave DMB’s newbie 4 stars. Maybe 4 stars is Stone speak for “hey you’re popular and I saw you at Obama’s coronation”.
“A Bigger Bang” was a predictably iffy Stone album, maybe a bit more than that. It came, it went, big brave Jagger insulted the president, two or three songs were rolled out live before being put to sleep forever. You know, “Steel Wheels” 2006. The Stone gave it 4 1/2 stars. It hasn’t been published yet but if Costello’s dire (I’m sick of writing its long stupid title) new album gets less than 3 1/2 stars I’ll be shocked.
This isn’t rock criticism it’s fellatio. These guys are so deep in bed together they’re all deaf to anything but their own moaning. The Rolling Stone is the definition of home field advantage. They don’t give every call to the home team but when the games on the line you bet they do. It is a little embarrassing. Blender is gone, Spin is OK but bland, all the rest are too specialized, the Stone (and NYTs music coverage) are the last man standing and the Stone are NOT trustworthy.
There is no snotty kids like Creem or NME in the late 70s or elder statesmen above the fray like VV under Christgau getting it if not right (i get it wrong so often I write correction blogs called “Writes reversed”) HONEST, truthful…
I realize many people think music criticism is just personal opinion but it isn’t really. You might think Dan Brown is as good a novelist as Charles Dickens and you might scream it till you’re blue in the face but you will ALWAYS BE WRONG: some things are better than others. Dickens will always always always be better than Dan brown. We are not discussing opinion here. It isn’t open to debate.
“Modern Times” will never be the album even “Time Out Of Mind” was . “Dream” is not in the same league as “Born In the USA”. “Bang” is no “Some Girls”. This isn’t a matter of opinion, it simply is.
Rolling Stone are dissembling in order to help their friends when they imply otherwise.
PS. I just checked on line. the Stone gave Costello 4 stars.

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