zappa phaze two
Essential Zappa: Phaze Two
ween comp
Understanding Boognish:
The Best of Ween
drag comp
Drag: A Witch House
Essential Zappa: Phaze One
Radiohead Album Series
It Took the Night to Believe
Killing in Style
Cadillac Casanovas
A Night in the Box
Brasil, Para Sempre!
Same As It Ever Was:
The Best of Talking Heads
Universe Dirt
The Best of
American Music Club
The New Dance
Cut the Kids in Half
Machines of Canterbury
Archimedes Said It Best
The Early Rock of
West Germany
Music from
the Republic of Iceland
Take Me Back:
The Best of M. Ward
The Best of...
Of Montreal
Dust & Diamonds
The Best of
Sigur Ros
The Hall of Mirrors

Just Not Talented Enough to Suck

"Sometimes, man, you gotta rethink things..."
                                      -Homeless drunk hippie outside Barnes and Noble

I'm a big fan of the writing of Chuck Klosterman, a man who has wrote more hilarious books on music and pop culture than would seem possible. If you're even the least bit interested in either (which, if you're here, I assume you are--unless you're just doing me a favor or something) you should check his books out. Start with Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Cocoa Puffs. Anyway, that's not the point.

Klosterman's book IV is a compilation of interesting, personal, and hilarious articles he's written for Spin, Esquire, and other editorials, and features a very important article titled Real Genius: An Introduction to the Highly Advanced Theory of Advancement. This article introduces us the inside-out world of art (specifically music) critique where geniuses are always geniuses. In this world Lou Reed and Paul McCartney didn't lose their ability to create incredible works of art as they got older, we just lost our ability to appreciate their constantly Advancing genius.

Jason Hartley, the co-creator of Advanced Theory, explains in this summation:
"Before Advancement came into my life, I thought nothing of saying that Bob Dylan had not only lost the ability to make good records somewhere around 1978 but that he had lost the ability to judge whether his own records were good. Yet like most people I never thought to turn inward and question my ability to judge him. If it's possible for Bob Dylan to lose his way, it's also possible that I could lose mine. When you stack our accomplishments side by side, it seems likely that I'm the one who doesn't really know what he's talking about.
Really, if you compare what he's done with people who are more accomplished than I, he still seems like the one to bet on when it comes to being able to judge what's good and what's not. You don't have to play an instrument to have an opinion about music, but Bob Dylan has an opinion and happens to be one of the greatest songwriters of the last two hundred years. He's got a bit of an edge there."
That quote, and Advanced Theory in general, is quite the show stopper for the critically inclined; those with an opinion who like to write about it. It challenges how we as a culture have viewed the creative individual for the last century or so: an artist is great, has his/her time, and goes back to a meager life of mediocrity; and we view it and judge it as if we have an objective measurement. But we never know the mind of the creator; only our own. Yes, Advanced Theory a much more optimistic view of art, but it can be hard to swallow.

There are a few stereotypical ways a band/artist can progress in perceived quality throughout their career. They can a. Start out with little to no experience or talent and work their way up to an incredible group of musicians over time. There are others that b. released their first album after perfecting an established style over years of touring and playing live, and just lose grasp from there. There's also c. what I call the David Bowie scenario, an artist/band who changes styles so much through the years they cannot possibly hold a consistent quality. Then we get to d. The Advanced artist scenario. We see that there was quite a few years of unmitigated genius level of quality, and then suddenly the flood gates seem to suddenly closed.

There has to be a point when things change, though, for every band in every scenario. Most times it is for the worse. But why? Years into a career an artist has more experience than when they began, they probably have more money, and with more money they have more time to dedicate to just being a musician. Wouldn't that constitute an increase in quality?

Klosterman's words on Advanced Theory and the way we look at the quality of a band/artist's output brought me back to a thought I've contemplated for years. Just like with Advanced Theory, we may be asking ourselves the wrong question of subjective evaluation. What most people don't think to question is whether or not your subjective measurement of decreased quality is actually the sound of your favorite band's success, a sound they were always working toward. The band was just not good enough to suck yet. "Weezer's later albums are vastly inferior to Pinkerton and The Blue Album" you say. "They started sucking once they fell into the pit of simple pedestrian commercial jingle pop songs." Well It's possible that Weezer were always a pedestrian commercial jingle band who just didn't have the money to get the slick production and top notch instruments, or the experience and talent to write the truly insipid pop arrangements that got them their own clothing line.

The moral here is unclear, and it has to do more with your own pride in what you listen to, and if that even matters. Does the following revelation, if it is indeed true, make their early stuff any less good or important? Just like Advanced Theory, this theory forces us to view our favorite, or least favorite, artists's work in a much more positive output. Not really in the realm of quality--but of success. Their art makes them happy, and don't we ALL want to be happy? We've made a logical fallacy and assumed that the artist/band should have, and was striving to sound in a way that we consider good, when they may have been way more successful in their own endeavors that just did not line up with our own as fans. Honestly, I think our subjective opinions should be taken in an objective window. It probably shouldn't matter--just listen to the albums you like, and don't listen to the ones you don't.

It can be really hard to not judge though, can't it?

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