Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snappy New York Times Reviews

So I have to admit that I like reviews -- of books, albums, shows, first dates, whatever -- that have a few snappy lines in them. (Before I let my Nation subscription lapse, I was always a fan of William Deresiewicz's reviews, which often brimmed over with snappiness, flowing slightly into the snarky subcategory.) And if one reads music reviews in Sing Out! or Dirty Linnen (or political science book reviews in Perspectives on Politics), it is extremely rare to see a negative review. In the interest of "supporting the industry," everybody loves to just dish out the praise, which is great for people like Ellen who need to slap some phrases into a press release but less helpful for those of us trying to make resource allocation decisions under a budget constraint. And that fact maybe makes the appearance of some negative reviews all the more enjoyable.

So in yesterday's paper, we first had Jon Caramanica serving it up to Van Morrison:

This return trip [to the 1968 album Astral Weeks] wasn’t quite a celebration, though. Nor was it a re-evaluation or much of a revision. Instead it often felt like obligation and, accordingly, Mr. Morrison treated the task perversely.


But too often he was mumbling, either in a race to get through his lyrics or in a struggle to remember their outlines. And communication with his band often seemed fraught, leaving the impression of a brusque taskmaster, not an organic leader. The musicians mostly stared at him, waiting to see when he would cut them short or when he would stop noodling on his harmonica so that everyone could get back to playing.

Youch! "[W]hen he would stop noodling on his harmonica so that everyone could get back to playing"? Wowsers.

And then Jon Pareles had some similar thoughts on David Byrne and Brian Eno:

Three decades ago Mr. Byrne, Mr. Eno and Mr. Byrne’s former band, Talking Heads, were thinking about mass media, African aesthetics, everyday surrealism, divinity and dance rhythms, among other things.

They came up with smart, strange songs that still echo through New York City avant-rock. Mr. Byrne’s career since the 1980s — Talking Heads officially broke up in 1991 — has dipped into enough cultures and collaborations to offer abundant new perspectives.

But something went badly wrong with “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno.” What once was startling became cute.


The spectacle that went with the music in the 1980s was whimsical and enigmatic, hinting at ritual as well as comedy. Mr. Byrne’s new troupe was closer to Broadway, with smiley, loose-limbed dancers skipping in and out of the band, often sharing moves with the musicians.

Gimmicky numbers with props — office chairs, electric guitars — were especially distracting.
Well, keep tearing down those idols, New York Times. (Just no reviews of Sunday morning bluegrass radio programs in New York City, please...)

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