Friday, February 06, 2009

Artist Most in Need of an Editor/Sane Voice of Reason to Say "Ack! That's a Horrible, Bloated Idea" and "No, No, You Need to Pare It Way, Way Back"

The candidates are:

1) Ryan Adams
2) Robert Pollard
3) Bill Mallonee
4) Bruce Springsteen (kidding; but less so on the last time out)

And the winner/loser is ... Robert Pollard.

I have varying degrees of respect for all the candidates, and downright love and affection for the last three. Still, the former Guided By Voices frontman is the easy winner here, primarily because his three going concerns (Boston Spaceships, Circus Devils, and solo Bob) churn out new albums on the order of one per month, and because every one of them has a couple inspired moments surrounded by utterly mind-numbing, pointless lyrical and musical swill. Pollard's latest solo effort The Crawling Distance is typical. It's his umpteenth record of the past year (honestly, I've lost count). It's got the usual jangly guitar riffage inspired by the British Invasion. It's got songs with inscrutable titles ("The Butler Stands For All Of Us," "By Silence Be Destroyed"), and lyrics that split the difference between non-sequiturs and vagueness. It's got great hooks that meander off into plodding noodling. It's got occasional memorable lines that never hang together long enough to suggest a broader meaning and context. It's a mess.

I miss the guy who used to only put out two puzzling, infuriatingly inconsistent, and frequently great lo-fi albums per year.


Someone Said said...

I'd like to cast a write in vote for Joseph Arthur and nominate Todd Rundgren as needing an editor in emitirus.

Andy Whitman said...

Joseph Arthur, for sure. Todd Rundgren? Maybe. My knowledge of Todd's career is spotty, but the early- (Something/Anything, A Wizard, A True Star) and mid-period (Hermit of Mink Hollow) albums I have are sprawling but great.

Tom said...

It has always struck me as odd that John Updike (and every other contemporary literary giant) had to have his work read and commented on by an editor but Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Ryan Adams apparently don't.

Andy Whitman said...

Tom, it's tied to the lack of perceived seriousness of popular music. Historically, this is an "art form" that has rhymed "moon" and "June" and offered lightweight sentiments about love, lost and found. Of course, there are songwriters who aspire to much more than that. But until relatively recently (really since Dylan) the lyrics of popular songs were never taken seriously enough to warrant the need for an editor.

There are surely popular musicians who could benefit, though, both lyrically and musically.

Hiram said...

what about the other end of the spectrum - people who surround themselves with accountability and end up creating beautiful songs because of it? or does that not exist?

Anonymous said...

I've followed your blog for a bit, but this is the first time I read your "about me". You are a lover of Jesus... I didn't know this until reading it. I would love to hear more about Him in your writings. Maybe sometime you would do this?

Anonymous said...

Here is an argument, relating to this post:

1. Life sucks, much of the time.
2. Nevertheless, life frequently produces moments of staggering, bewildering beauty, joy and finesse.
3. Artists should be true to life.
4. Therefore, Ryan Adams et al, are by definition more true to life than any amount of Radioheads could ever be, and should be honoured accordingly.

Andy Whitman said...


5. But life sucks, for free. Why should I pay for someone's sucky art when I can experience the full gamut of suckosity merely by waking up in the morning, breathing, and going through my day?

Anonymous said...

That argument was weaker than I first thought.

I second the Joseph Arthur nomination, by the way. Plus, he's a stroppy so and so.