It is my opinion that music criticism is a dead art. Or at least several bits of it are. Note I refer to ‘criticism’ rather than ‘journalism’ there, as it is the practice of judging the artistic credentials of albums, gigs and so forth that has become redundant, not actual reportage or story-telling. The editor of one publication I contribute to recently said to me “I just want a good story, that’s all” and another has eschewed completely that ultimate obsolete form, the live review, preferring to only write up an account of a gig if, again, there is a ‘story’ to tell from it, rather than the directionless fripperies and cliches of some half-baked critic.
The live review and to a lesser extent the album review are on the way out as the medium comes full circle and concentrates on facts and narratives rather than opinions. This is a good thing, because otherwise you end up with such annoying things as the unseemly and petty kafuffle below this, and an astonishingly awful live review I recently wrote that I had to rescind, retract and generally undergo a chastening soul-search to discover what the hell I was thinking when I invoked subjective nonsense and irrelevant anecdote. Even I’m not interested in my own opinions anymore. Hopefully it was just a full moon on the night I wrote it.
Music writing is most interesting these days when analysis of music is supporting some other wider social theme. Kind of like using music as a lens to observe something else, to the extent that it is almost a peripheral presence. For example, this excellent article came up during research for a recent feature. Obviously not being a music magazine, The Believer doesn’t fall into horrible and hackneyed music critic tropes, because its priority is not to describe or exhort, but to take an issue in the proper world and assess how it is treated in the realm of pop (by someone with expertise in that alternative field), which despite everything, remains articulate and profound in the right places.
In short, the article is looking in at music from outside it, and therefore has enough perspective for it not to be nauseatingly descriptive or a vanity-induced failed attempt at charismatic, personality-heavy nonsense. The best thing Judy Berman can do is not to even contemplate writing about music ever again, lest she be ensnared in its miserable, passé clutches (guilty).
When music is written about without the music itself being the point of departure is when music writing is most relevant I think is what I’m so clumsily pointing out. Andrew Mueller’s book is kind of along these lines. I look forward to National Geographic’s next spread on the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
But don’t get me started on travel writing. The unbelievable vapidness of what appears here, a paper I read daily, is sad.
The Wallabies arrive in Europe this week for a Grand Slam tour. They do, of course, have no chance and they will most likely crumble like little girls at Twickenham this weekend. It wasn’t so long ago we could at least get close to the All Blacks, but a 4-0 series whitewash in 2009 is a new low. It is painful to admit, but it simply looks like the Wallabies don’t care. In fact, complacency has been a theme of Australian sport recently, what with the ridiculous Ashes loss and sloppy performances from the rugby league team that go back to the miserable World Cup final last October.
The last Grand Slam tour, in 1984, sowed the seeds for Australian rugby’s first modern renaissance in the early nineties, which was really the last time international rugby was satisfactory. To mark the fact here is the best Wallabies team from over the years that I have been following their plight, that is, since that golden era. Bias aside, there are three players here that are genuinely the best in their position who have ever taken to the paddock.
15. Chris Latham - Impossible to ignore Matt Burke, but Latham always had the task of inspiring a lesser team than World Cup-winning Burke. A responsibility Latham stepped up to.
14. Joe Roff – One of the great wingers of the nineties and a blueprint for the modern professional player.
13. Stirling Mortlock – Best centre of 2003 World Cup, another who carried a relatively limited team.
12. Tim Horan – The best centre three-quarter ever. No doubt.
11. David Campese – The best winger ever. No doubt.
10. Michael Lynagh – Dead heat with Stephen Larkham, but while Larkham was the superior runner and passer, Lynagh was once the world’s record point scorer in tests and, also, wasn’t injured every five minutes.
9. George Gregan – Faded in his later career, but in the 1998-2001 period, his quickdraw distribution fired the Australian backline in a way that can only be dreamed of nowadays.
8. Toutai Kefu – Tricky, because Tim Gavin had a good innings too. But Toutai Kefu was a hugely dynamic ball carrier. Also, unlike Gavin, he has a Wikipedia entry, so he must be more important.
7. David Wilson – The foundation of the brilliant 1998-2001 teams. A true Wallaby great.
6. George Smith – It seems sacrilege to name current players, because they are mostly a shocking team. But George Smith would probably walk into any other international team of the past decade.
5. Nathan Sharpe – Not a strong position for Australia over the years (apart from the obvious, at No.4), Sharpe edges it over David Giffin and Rod McCall.
4. John Eales – The best second-rower ever. No doubt.
3. Ewen Mackenzie – Australia have never really had a world-beating front row. So it’s the best of a mediocre bunch.
2. Phil Kearns – Won two World Cups, supreme all-round forward.
1. Richard Harry – Perfectly functional prop. Benn Robinson may be in his place in a year or two though.
Reserves: Matt Giteau, Matt Burke, Tim Gavin, Michael Foley, Andrew Blades
Three songs: ‘Seer’ by Witch, ‘Cold Rain’ by MV & EE and ‘Light Of Day’ by Daniel Johnstone (surprisingly excellent).