Adventures of a University Finalist

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Pyrrhic Victory of Listendom


Clem Snide - African Friend
Elvis Costello - Episode of Blonde
Roots Manuva - Sinny Sin Sins

It appears that this impromptu pseudo intellectual revolution of this PBB (petit bourgeois blog) continues. Today, it is the turn of that most evil form of music snobbery to do battle with my poison keyboard: the list.
Now "most evil form" may seem a rather strong term for a pastime that I myself have practiced in the past; see the aborted Top 10 Songs in Heaven (a poorly veiled excuse to place Tom Wait's as the piano player in Heaven's dive) and my praise for John Allison's Top 50 singles list. I believe that the most pertinent analogy to the music list is a loaded weapon; it is capable of both good and evil ends through the same simplistic means. Too much power has been placed in a general instrument of preference masquerading as an elite in an individualist's paradise. Music has long been a form in anti-conformity since Elvis wiggled his pelvis at the wrong group of Methodists.
Lists are a constant perpetuator of the media's cruellest myths. The same names are constantly recycled reflecting old prejudices and embedding new favourites. Not a month has gone past the Arctic Monkey's releasing their debut album and they are already featuring in "definitive" compendiums. The opinion of the majority is forced upon the rest of us so that it soon becomes easier to accept than innovate. This counters any argument that such exercises are productive due to their acting as a platform for discussion and debate as they can't be said to go beyond the infantile and trivial. Take for example the Guardian's current poll for their Film & Music supplement on Friday: The Top 10 Advice Songs". What in the name of Richard Gere is an "advice song"? Aren't all songs some form of advice: moral tales establishing personal values; constructive fables; protest songs that advice us against centralised forms of authority; and ultimately love songs. the ultimate purveyors of symptoms and consequences. As the area that these lists pertain to cover slowly increase from 10 to 50 to 100 and finally to 1001 they creep even further toward insignificance as scope slowly replaces expertise and logical expression.
The medium could be deemed worthwhile as a catalyst of curiosity but only when used sparingly and intelligently; something that is simply not possible within the consumerist realm that they have come to inhabit. They have even become represented in a purely market driven form (rather than critical) by the slew of sub standard compilations based around a loose theme flooding the music shops.
In regard to magazine polls, what is preferable? 25 pages of musicians embracing their childhood fantasies that they had long regressed in the form of the 100 Greatest Bruce Springsteen songs (surely a subject that needs any outright instruction) or nothing at all. Of course, we'd all have preferred something slightly more oblique and altogether more challenging: a treatise upon the correlation between the comparative rises of West Coast psychedelica and dub reggae called "Lee Perry's Strawberry Alarm Clock" but that's never going to happen when one considers the budget and time restrictions within which such publications must operate. Such page filling exercises can be tolerated but as the readers of Mojo have discovered there is a saturation point where it seems that the respective editors are operating on cruise control at the readership's expense. Surely in such cases a more personalised imprint such as that espoused by Word's "Word of Mouth" would be more appropriate as they encompass a far more varied and expressive set of tastes.
I'm certain that most would advocate 10 pages of solid journalism over an overstretched puff piece double the length. Perhaps this recent fascination with the linear design attempting to represent a glorious definity will fade to black. Hopefully, it won't come to complete negation and will instead opt for a technicolour transformation toward a multifaceted instrument that is legitimately pluralistic rather than the tyrannical rule of a self-appointed elite.
I reiterate that I myself have been prone to lapses in my stance with my mental creation of Top 5s and personal favourites but one must recognise the distinct dividing line between lists that wish to carry the tag of representative of the views of a wider demographic (where the world is black and white) and those that are just personal opinion.
In regard to the omnipresent annual music polls, as I've stated before, the criteria are just far too strict. More often than not, choices are decided by external pressures: Q must always represent the populist rock mainstream whereas Pitchfork cannot find the will to appreciate such acts veering toward the snobbish pretence of lo-fi/industrial chic. Such polls are merely mirrors of easily identifiable trends constantly signposted by all forms of the media juggernaut so why the need to wrap it all up in a pretty liitle box other than to satisfy the music buyer's customary character flaw: oneupmanship. Long was the time in my house when a cry would erupt proclaiming "I have 34 albums in the Mojo Top 100 Greatest Stratocaster albums. How many do you have?". This is a sport that has not cruel and unusual punishment upon me for some time but it still exists as your basic gauge to a person's musical cool index.
Then again all of this hyperbole may just be because I'm crap at writing the bastard things. Opinions changes. New music is created every minute. Why chain yourself to the ghosts of passion?

Buy - Clem Snide - Your Favourite Music
Buy - Elvis Costello - When I Was Cruel
Buy - Roots Manuva - Run Come Save Me