Question of the Week: What are some critics’ darlings and sacred cows?


October 13, 2008 by A.C. Rhodes

And to what extent do they post a challenge to critical objectivity and your opinion of them?

11 thoughts on “Question of the Week: What are some critics’ darlings and sacred cows?

  1. Alex V. Cook says:

    I have less sacred cows than I do sacrificial lambs. Even the bands I love I can find the flaws in, but there are bands that I have invested a lot of distatse for that, and those are the ones worth looking at.

    For instance, I thought everybody hated Steely Dan as much as I did until they came up in conversation and a friend looked at me in astonishment that I didn’t absolutely love them. I soon found that most of there people in my circle loved a band I thought represented an endgame in pop music and I took that as a challenge to investigate them again, look at what I hated (or thought I hated) about them and what, in examination, I find to like about them. I started writing this up for a book, and may jump back into it as some other projects give way.

    I haven’t read Carl Wilson’s book about Celine Dion yet but I understand addresses this subject rather well

  2. Richard Riegel says:

    Alex’s “sacrificial lambs” reversal of this question is quite tempting, maybe even deserving of its own forum, but I’ll stick with the stated premise for now.

    I think I was already angling for this question when A.C.’s incidental comment back in the “worst cover songs” topic gave me the chance to unload my accumulated diss against Creedence Clearwater Revival. I respect them as such, but I’ve long been put off by the widespread free passes they seem to get from both (male) critics and (male) oldies-radio programmers. Creedence has always had a creepy “No girls aloud!” vibe that dials out their sound for me.

    But I came here to fry bigger fis . . . er, sacred cows, though. Anybody who follows this site knows that Lester Bangs was my idol & mentor when I broke into this racket, and that I’ll defend to the def his Lesternal Flame. However, Les old pal, if you’re reading this somehow now, I gotta tell you that I’ve long since decided that I really prefer the Animals and/or the Kinks to your Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan to your Lou Reed.

    I like plenty of individual cuts etc. (e.g., “Get Off My Cloud”) the Stones have done, but the IDEA of the Rolling Stones — this Microsoft-like monolith that crushes everything in its path — has always been disgusting to me. Mick Jagger didn’t study at the London School of Economics for nothing, and terminal businessmen like Jann Wenner don’t love him for nothing. The Animals, in their brief life, had more Anglo-Afro SOUL than the Stones, and the Kinks have always had more interesting, outsider-art songs. Sez me.

    Same for Lou Reed. Thanks to Lester’s obsession with Reed, I accumulated many of his solo LPs (especially when I was on the Arista mailing list), but I never found them as compelling as Lester’s exhaustive writings about Unca Lou. As with the Stones, I dig many of Reed’s individual songs (e.g, “Pale Blue Eyes”), but Dylan’s catalogue (at least in its ’60s edition) sends me lots more of my essentials, mainly a sense of humor and nonstop surrealist wordplay. Or does it just seem that way because Zimmie’s my “fellow” Midwesterner at heart? (Heh, heh.)

    In any case, another great thing about Lester Bangs as a critic is that his own sacred cows never quite had permanent gigs in his pantheon — he was forever ready to put his favorite heifers up on the spit to roast & render their artistic essence for the ages — cf. his voluminous writings on Reed, the Stones, and his other faves Van Morrison and Miles Davis. Lester went back and forth on his idols continually, and the important thing wasn’t his final conclusions, but that you learned so much about these artists in general as Lester struggled with their meaning for him. Thanks again, Man . . .

  3. Bill C. says:

    I can think of individual albums, even by artists I love and admire, that I have never been able to get my arms or ears totally around like many critics seem to: Astral Weeks, Abbey Road, Workingman’s Dead, Colossal Youth, Hotel California, We’re Only In It For The Money, The Chronic, Appetite For Destruction, Hoboken Saturday Night, The Joshua Tree, like that.

  4. Chuck Eddy says:

    >Hoboken Saturday Night<

    Wait, the Insect Trust are part of the canon now??? (I bet almost no critics under the age of 55 have even heard of the band, and didn’t they only have a couple supporters among the *over* 55s? Wow, you learn something new every day….) (I’d mention Young Marble Giants, too, but I think they topped critics’ reissue polls a couple years back, with a three disc set that was at least three times as boring as their actual album, which is saying quite a bit!)

    Otherwise, I still don’t understand this question. (There are *hundreds* of sacred cows. Isn’t that obvious? And neither critics who like them nor critics who don’t are being “objective.” Which would be impossible.)

  5. Critic, under 55, heard of the Insect Trust.

    Wait, do I have to sign something…

  6. Chuck Eddy says:

    I’m under 55 too! (I just think there’s not *that* many of us. Though I could be wrong.)

  7. Bill C. says:

    I guess i was thinking about one of my favorite rock writers, Robert Christgau, and his love of the Insect Trust album. I’m well under 55 and have learned much from his reviews over the years that it’s surprising when one of his grade A’s doesn’t float my boat at all. Maybe I should go back and give Hoboken some more listens. I do feel safe, however, in calling him on the carpet for In A Special Way and that god awful Brian Wilson solo album of a few years back. And thank him for letting me see Steely Dan and Ghostface Killah in a new light. And also thank Mr. Eddy for his Rolling Stone record Guide talks. My blue copy has been thumbed through countless times since I bought it in high school.

  8. Chuck Eddy says:

    Ha ha, I should thank Bob for letting me see DEBARGE (who were awesome) in a new way. But everybody’s ears are different, of course…

  9. Neil says:

    Radiohead, blaaahhh.

  10. Todd Everett says:

    Hell, I remember (and even own) Insect Trust’s Capitol album. Declaration of Independence should have been a hit — well, it is in my house!

  11. A.C. Rhodes says:

    I, too, remember IT. And I believe that I’m younger than all of you. Not to be a meanie. (wink)

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