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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Critically Panned

I was perusing the MSNBC website when I came across one of those "Worst of" lists of songs for 2006. Now, this is the end of year staple of news outlets, where they routinely assign cheesy, inexperienced writers, hoping that they'll burn off a bit of excess vitriol, clichés, and pap writing. Also, it's very difficult to blow this kind of gig, as the entertainment world puts out crap faster than diarrheic cattle. Well, Helen A. S. Popkin managed to blow it splendedly, no pun intended.

I wasn't surprised to find narcissistic offal like Fergie's "Fergalicious" or Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack" on the list. These are easy calls, deserving of a critical review otherwise found in a Spinal Tap film. The titles alone beg to be splattered with verbal abuse. Rod McKuen would have been ashamed to pen them.

However, James Blunt? The Fray? Evanescence? Clearly Ms. Popkin is too busy listening to selections from her Ashley Simpson and Britney Spears collection to develop a sense of taste, that is when she's not busy cultivating the kind of inadequate, yet pompous style that only a writer with two names and two intials could manage. Either that or she wrote those selections as stoned as Blunt describes himself being in one of the songs in question.

Let's examine her "analysis" of a few of these songs. She refers to Blunt's song as "a creepy stalker’s serenade" which might give Sting a bit of comfort, given that is exactly the vibe he and the rest of The Police were gunning for with their classic "Every Breath You Take." Perhaps, Ms. Popkin hasn't heard of dramatic narrative in music? Perhaps she's not heard of The Police? Perhaps she's not also heard of the words "talent" or "ability" as she also unthinkingly describes Blunt's gritty but soaring voice as "scary." I'll bet she just swoons to Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan though. Oh, all right, I'll bet she swoons to Snoop Dogg and Tone Loc classics.

She seems to have a point of envy as far as the voices are concerned, because she goes on to spend almost the entire section on the Evanescence song "Call Me When You're Sober" criticising Amy Lee's remarkable voice. It makes you wonder whether Popkin has listened to an Evanescence record longer than it takes to drown out her wind in the loo. That's no less a charitable guess than Popkin makes in her comments though, describing Lee as "that one girl from school who was absolutely certain she could sing, but really the only thing going for her was a powerful set of pipes capable of blotting out all other sound on the choral risers?" What a clueless, musically-illiterate git. She must have had a miserable high school experience.

Finally, Popkin mirthlessly describes the title track from the Fray's How to Save a Life as "a stultifying combination of sappy piano melody and laughably serious lyrics jammed into a standard pop structure. This over-played tune is enough to make you wish you’d never been born." Funny that; replace the words "piano melody" with "verbal riff" and "lyrics" with "criticism" and I'd say the same thing about Popkin's description of the Fray's song, only I'd add the word "rubbish." Except I have more pride than that.

Oh, and don't get me started about the self-consciously hip review of the Worst Films of 2006 by Dave White on the same site. I almost spit up my Bass ale this evening whilst reading his line about making a "film geek joke" simply because he managed to name drop Bresson. (I myself was watching Jancso last night, The Red and the White if you must know. God bless the people at Netflix. Chytilová's Daisies is next, if I remember my queue correctly. How's that for film geekdom?)

At least White gets the films right, to his great credit, and I must admit I enjoyed his on-target bit on The DaVinci Code. That about evens it out in my opinion. I'm perfectly willing to overlook self-conscious, blisteringly mean, pop-writing if the details are all in order.


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