Sunday, April 15, 2007

On preferences, taste and criticism

I don't like U2. I don't hate U2, I just don't think they're very good. Certainly not as good as many people think. I think they are on a juggernaut that seems unlikely to stop anytime soon, but so is American Idol. I've been thinking about this post for some time, debating when and where to write it. I don't say this to be controversial, or provocative and I don't do it to antagonize my many friends who do like U2, really, really like U2.

Oh, I could give you lots of reasons why. That Bono seems to have a Messianic complex, that the Edge has been playing the same 3 cords since the beginning of their career (even on his soundtrack for The Batman--animated series {not to be confused with the vastly superior Batman, the Animated Series}). That somehow, because they were Irish and sang a few songs with a message, they were anointed by the British music press and could do no wrong. That they have consistently ripped off their sound from lesser known bands (well, in America) such as Echo & the Bunnymen (I realize that's debatable since the albums all came out around the same time. But this is not a post about what's wrong with U2.

I love Duran Duran. Again, I could give you lots of reasons why. They have consistently broken new ground in multi-media. They were among the first bands to mix their own work (Nick Rhodes is not the greatest keyboard player but he is an excellent, excellent mixer). That they had the bravery (but career stupidity) to break into Power Station and Arcadia at the height of their fame. That they made the first video using Macro media Flash. They were one of the first bands to schedule a concert in Second-Life. That each of their albums is unique and innovative. That they have continued to forge on, despite lack of support by the music press.

I am generally peeved (and have been for 20 years) that Duran Duran gets short shrift because they are quite good looking. HOWEVER, fans will follow the press anywhere. I remember in high school around the time of Joshua Tree when a friend who really liked U2 and had from the very first album was complaining about being at concert with girls who were screaming about how hot Bono was. Bono is NOT hot. Even if I decided tomorrow that he was eligible for sainthood, you still couldn't make me think he was hot. And if it's about music vs. music then the looks shouldn't be part of the discussion. Anything U2 does is seen as important. Part of the reason for this tirade is the fact that U2 is apparently releasing a concert DVD shot in part in 3-D and the press is SOOO excited. Um, Duran Duran did that two years ago!!??? The Wedding Album is full of meaningful songs (as are all of D2's albums in the 90's and 00's but the press never tells you that either.

But again, this is not a post about how awesome Duran Duran is. I am not a music critic. I don't play any instruments. I don't know that much about music. I read an article in today's Boston Globe by reviewer Ty Burr on what one must be to be a film reviewer (here). I've seen A LOT of films including genres I don't care for. I know some about film making. I feel as though I can make reasonably informed commentary on films--whether a film is well made for it's genre--as well as whether I liked it or not. Likewise with books and writing. I don't know much about music that I don't like. I couldn't comment on metal, country or Latin. That's why I don't really critique music here.

That said, the point of this post is that you could show me documents where Duran Duran said that they wiretapped Bono's house and stole all their ideas from him, or testimony that Bono really can cure lepers and it wouldn't matter. Likewise, I could show my U2 loving friends that Simon LeBon's voice had been shown to reduce blood pressure in mice and Bono admitted to having plagiarized New Year's Day from some guy in Galway and it wouldn't matter to them...
BECAUSE it is a question of taste. I like the whole package of Duran Duran. I'll admit that Bono has a wider range than Simon, but Simon has a very decent and controlled tenor and he uses it well. I like the way the instruments work together so that no one stands out as a guitar God or bass King, but that they solidly support each other. I love Nick's keyboard effects that run through everything even if he mainly pushes playback on stage. It is, like most of what is spouted on the Internet, all about the subjective and I am not going to convince anyone NOT to listen to U2 if you love them anymore than you will convince me that Duran Duran is not a musically gifted band.

What I might be able to do--and this would be my hope--is to convince you to listen to Duran Duran (or Kate Bush or David Sylvian or Barenaked Ladies) also. And you might, of your own volition, down the road make the decision that you preferred D2. Or not. Because I have listened to Duran Duarn A LOT (take that proper grammar!). I believe that many of their B-sides (like L'Arc~en~Ciel, interestingly) are their best songs. I know that Simon's lyrics are touching and beautiful:

We're lying in the palm of your hand
No land we see, no place to be
The salt of your tears, adds stain to our hearts
There's no long years can tear us apart
Our futures entwined with your past
Because when we lie awake
We'll be thinking of you
Grey lady blow your ships back home

or for Michael Hutchins before he died:

I came over your place today
In a roundabout sort of way
Nothing holding me
Just the company
Gentle giving in the afternoon
Don't ever try to be anymore
Michael, you've got a lot to answer for
You unlocked some of the doors
To my soul...

You've got me waking up wise
To the world...

Trust you to get caught up in somebody's war
You'll come out of it all intact, I'm sure
Just remember what friends were put here for
Michael, you've got a lot to answer for.
And I know that you're going to call me
If you need me
When you need me
If you need me.

Here's what I mean about my not really being qualified to be a music critic. I've never listened to a whole U2 album. I don't know if there are any magic B-sides out there or better songs than those released (just so you know, Vertigo, One and Beautiful Day all set my teeth on edge). And none of my good friends have ever been big enough U2 fans to try and offer any.

Now, the question becomes--would I ever devote the time to becoming a bigger U2 fan? When there are so many bands that I really like. I still don't own all of the Barenaked Ladies albums for instance. I've just discovered Carbon Leaf (and it really surprises people when I say I like them--but I like James as well). I don't have time to waste on a band I've already written off.

So what then is the point of fandom and the Internet? Will I convince someone to like what I like? Even more unlikely will I convince someone to not like something I consider inferior? Are people really using the Internet to find things to like, or just to jump up and down on their own bully pulpits? ESPECIALLY since even on pages where everyone ostensibly likes the same thing you always have wags coming on to tell people how they shouldn't like what they like. WHY? I certainly don't hunt down U2 fans and try to convert them. It's not a religion (the Utwocharist notwithstanding).

L'Arc is a good example. I love them. My husband DOES NOT LIKE HYDE'S VOICE. I've thrown everything at him--rock songs (Awake), experimental (Kasou), bouncy (New Universe), beautiful (Hitomi ni utsuru mono) to no avail. He has at long last admitted that Hyde's voice in the early days (Tierra) is less annoying than now, but he's NOT going to be listening for fun. So if I cannot even convince my husband, then what is the point?

(end of part I)

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