Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top Five Tuesday:
Rating: WTF???

Pitchfork Media is a great resource for album reviews. Usually. Granted, not everyone is going to agree with every review they publish, good and bad, but there are some albums more than others that have struck a negative chord with a seemingly large populous of Pitchfork readers for (or the more vocal ones at the very least), many of which I happen to agree with. For this Top 5, here are the most WTF? inducing low scores. Perhaps I'll save the most WTF inducing high scores for a later date.

5). Wilco - A Ghost is Born (6.6)
Definitely not the masterpiece that was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I'll be the first to admit or agree to this point, but is it really that much worse than Summerteeth, which the 'Fork scored a 9.4? In my personal opinion, the answer is a resounding no. I know there are plenty of you that will disagree with me, Pitchfork obviously has, but those of you that do are probably fans of the more alt/countryish tracks, the ones that I find to beless-than-stellar and stick out like a sore thumbs amongst the gorgeous, lush pop/rock gems. That, or you've forgiven Tweedy & co. for knowing that you got a fair exchange of said gorgeous, lush pop/rock gems. I would definitely consider myself among the latter, in fact. It's also the same excuse I use for A Ghost is Born, as I've forgiven them for the tippy-toe movements into generic AOR because there's a fair amount of excellent gorgeous, lush pop/rock gems on this album too. I guess what I'm trying to say is either both albums are really, really good, or neither of them are.

4). Belle & Sebastian - The Boy With the Arab Strap (0.8)
It must be a disappointing follow-up thing. As with Wilco's Ghost, Arab Strap is not in the same league as it's predecessor, but seriously, this album deserved at least a one! Jason Josephes opened his brief "review" by stating, "Mediocrity is not a punishable crime, but if it was, Belle & Sebastian would be enjoying their last meal right about now." As if scoring Arab Strap this low wasn't puzzling enough, their next album, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant - an album even Belle & Sebastian fans have trouble defending - received a 6.7.

3). Beck - Sea Change (6.9)
This one isn't as surprising as some others I've come across, the album received its share of mixed reviews following its release, mostly because reviewers were split as to whether or not they felt Beck's singing voice could carry an entire album, a fair criticism considering most Beck fans were unaccustomed to it. I think the most WTF inducing factor is that it made the year-end list despite its low score. I can't think of another album that scored below a 7 to make a Pitchfork best-of list, can you? Anyway, its also WTF inducing because I happen to love the shit out of this record, but that could just be me.

2). Beach Boys - Pet Sounds [Remastered] (7.5)
While most bands would probably be satisfied with a 7.5 rating, the Beach Boys aren't most bands. This is fucking Pet Sounds we're talking about, and you would have thought that Pitchfork head-honcho Ryan Schreiber would know better. Now, granted, personal taste is personal taste, and I commend him for sticking to his guns and being honest about the fact that he isn't fanatical over it, but to write that, "If this were not the Beach Boys, but some indie pop outfit on Parasol Records, it might make a few critics' Top 10 lists, if it didn't just vanish into obscurity," is just absurd. Ryan obviously wasn't taking into account the fact that Pet Sounds probably influenced every artist on Parasol Records, not to mention three plus decades worth (at the time of his review) of other pop bands. Thankfully, someone else at Pitchfork, Dominque Leone to be exact, gave the album (the 40th anniversary edition, to be exact) a higher score and a much better review in 2006.

1). The Flaming Lips - Zaireeka (0.0)
Oh great, here's Jason Josephes being a douchebag once again. Zaireeka got the infamous double goose-egg score because he didn't have enough CD players to play the album properly, and instead of getting together with friends or Ryan Schreiber for a Zaireeka listening party (like your esteemed Range Life staff does on at least a quarterly basis...no, I'm totally serious), he tried listening to each disc singularly. No shit it didn't sound great, Jason. Geez man, that's like saying the Soft Bulletin sounded a bit off because you left a speaker unplugged.

Got any favorite WTF inducing reviews, Pitchfork or otherwise? We'd love to hear about them.


Hackworth Artifex said...

Zaireeka got a 0.0? Seriously?

I would think the only way to not get at least 0.1 would be to release an album filled with 13 tracks of silence.

Gossip♥Grrl said...

I'm shocked about Beck's Sea Change! Love that album so much.

And that's pretty crazy about Zaireeka as well.

Femme Fatale said...

We must be sharing the same brain or something. I was just listening to "The Boy With the Arab Strap" this weekend and thinking, this is one of my favorite B&S albums. How could P4K have given this album such a ridiculously low score?

I thought about doing a Top Five on this very same topic -- and also putting "Zaireeka" at the top spot. I think this is an instance where someone didn't like the format and completely blew it off because of it (something akin to, say, my refusing to grade a student's paper because they didn't use one-inch margins or 12-pt Times).

As for B&S, I think this is a case where the reviewer obviously loved "If You're Feeling Sinister" so much that he closed his mind off to anything new from the band.

I agree with you about "Fold Your Hands..." Even more disconcerting is that they opened their "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" review with this line, "One of the most beloved, bewitching, misunderstood, and eventually disappointing bands in recent history," and proceeded to give the album a 7.5!

"The Boy With the Arab Strap" blows "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" out of the water as far as I'm concerned.

(Incidentally, it's very difficult to find the TBWTAS review on P4K. I actually had to Google it. Might someone be trying to hide it?)

As for the other albums listed here, I agree that 6.6 is far too low for "A Ghost is Born." While not one of my faves, I would have at least given it something in the mid-to-high 70s.

Beck's "Sea Change" was punished, I think, for being too one-note. Beck's a chameleon of a musician, and I think people weren't ready to see him do all slow songs like this (or, frankly, to see the guy all bummed out). Incidentally, I think this is also the reason for YLT's "Summer Sun" receiving a 6.0 (something that would have been on my list). Both of these albums definitely evoke a certain mood, and while they may not be the bands' strongest, they have their place.

P.S. Does anyone know what an arab strap is? According to the god-like Wikipedia, it's "a sexual device, usually made of leather and a metal ring, that is placed around the penis and testicles. This device is usually included in the group of cock rings and cock harnesses usually to play the role of a bondage-type sex toy."

That album, and the band that bears the name, just got a whole hell of a lot cooler.

Femme Fatale said...

OK, I am a nerd. But I thought y'all might be interested to read the original review of "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," which received a 8.7 before time and reason and a European release made them write a new 10.0 review:

Neutral Milk Hotel
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Rating: 8.7

As good indie pop acts grow fewer and further between, the
driving force of the underground is growing decidedly noisy and abstract. But while fab acts like Gastr Del Sol, Flying Saucer Attack and Tortoise continue to pulverize traditional song structure, there's one psych- rock band making music that's just as catchy as it is frightening.

From the opening "King of Carrot Flowers," In The Aeroplane Over The Sea shifts from acoustic folkiness to loud, fast punk rock with little or no warning. It features a noisy horn section and a dreamy singin' saw, all rolled into a package that does a credible job of blending Sgt. Pepper with early '90s lo-fi.

Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Magnum writes songs that read like bad dreams. He inherits a world of cannibalism, elastic sexuality and freaks of nature. We can only assume he
likes it there.

-M. Christian McDermott

SonicRyan said...

I had actually read that NMH review before, but couldn't find it recently even with google, so I thank you for it. The score isn't what bothers me, its just that the review is lacking a little substance. Then again, from what I understand this album wasn't critically praised initially. Rolling Stone even said Mangum's voice was "unaffecting."

I'm am almost 100% positive someone is hiding those reviews. Granted, some are probably lost due to the numerous server changes and what not, but most are findable with a simple google search. Just out of curiosity I searched a plethora of artists/albums that I had never seen a P4K review for. You can tell that in the older days they were clearly not as professional, and if a band hadn't already established themselves, they tended to get the quick 3 paragraph review like NMH.