October 25, 2006

On Music: Rolling Stone and Reviews

Dear Rolling Stone,

The bottom line is that I love you. I always have and always will. In high school, I used your covers to wallpaper my room. You were my source, before the Internet, of all things musical. In your oversized pages, I discovered grunge. You're where I first heard of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Where I first caught glimpses of the bloody-handed Pete Townshend and bellbottomed Jimmy Page. Where I first read about dream-inspiring shows, like U2 at Red Rocks and the Zeppelin reunion for Atlantic Records' 40th. But oh how you've let me down.

See, when I think of Rolling Stone, I think of music. Not movies or books or politics. Music. Plain and simple. Instead of music content, however, your pages seem dominated by left-wing politics worthy of mid-term senatorial campaign literature. The most recent issue, for example, highlighted the ten worst congressmen nine of whom were Republicans (the only Democrat is a guy who's actually been convicted of a crime - way to go out on a limb). You can't tell that the lone Democrat was the only bad Democrat you could find.

I'm an uber-liberal but I'm afraid for liberal-leaning journalism when, first, it takes place in a music magazine (which is hardly a music magazine anymore, as evidenced by the insightful analysis over the lack of success of NBC's Friday Night Lights and yet another promise of GnR's delivery of Chinese Democracy) and, second, there seems to be no objective viewpoint or balance whatsoever. You can't ask people to respect your opinions if you can't prove they're fair or balanced, taking even the most abhorrent views into consideration.

I'll still read you but I'll ignore the political shit. And I'll always dream of a return to the good old days when you reported about music.


And now for a little of the music content Rolling Stone withheld from you this month.

holdsteady.boys.jpgThe Hold Steady: Boys and Girls In America
Damn, I love this band. I'd go so far as to say they're one of the best, most important bands operating in the United States today. Why? It's simple - they stick to the tenants that define old-school, ball-busting rock and combine them with brilliantly smart, clever lyrics worthy of a collection of Raymond Carver stories. I'm not saying liking them is always easy. They actually take some getting used to. You pair music that would best accompany a bar brawl with a meditation on pop culture and Catholicism as they did with last year's Separation Sunday and mix in a healthy dose of Craig Finn's spoken (almost yelling) vocals and you've got an interesting sonic stew. And honestly it was the vocals that put me off initially. Finn talks (somewhat loudly) through most of his songs, not really attempting to sing. I usually prefer people who can carry a tune.

Boys and Girls In America is a mixed bag. A pretty damn fine mixed bag for sure, but a mixed bag nonetheless. Musically, the guys have never sounded finer. In fact, they add a few things to the mix here - piano, Hammond organ, backing vocalists - which are truly fantastic additions. Try to imagine what it would be like if AC/DC and Springsteen's E Street Band got together for a jam session. The vocals, though, were a bit of a let down. See, Finn tries to sing a little. Less prevalent are the spoken word vocals. And I can't believe I'm saying this but I miss them.

The Hold Steady are a fantastic band. And I'd argue, they're an important band. This might not be their most perfect album (see aforementioned Separation Sunday), but it's damn good. Worth running out and buying? Oh yes, most definitely.

mayer.continuum.jpgJohn Mayer: Continuum
Yeah, yeah...laugh if you want. I bought the new John Mayer album because, I'll admit, I kinda like the guy. As the eternal question rages on - is he a poser or is he for real - Mayer managed to put out a third album which deviated from pop and seemed to attempt an answer to that question. While he was relatively convincing as a pop icon and minor guitar god, he's much less convincing as a soulster. See, what Mayer tries to do here is lay down an album of R&B tinged white-boy soul while allowing for a few more guitar pyrotechnics than his previous two albums. There's quite a bit more guitar noodling and much of it is quite good, but that's about the only positive thing I can say about the album. Well, not quite. I can say, "it's nice." It is. It sounds good, it's got a gentle groove to it and it certainly is inoffensive. But it's not overly good. There's nothing on it that makes you say, "holy shit, this is a great album." It's just, well, an album. It exists, it sits on my shelf, taking up precious space. That's it. The bottom line - Mayer hasn't quite figured out who he is. Through his music, he reacts to the labels placed upon him. His most recent live album under the name The John Mayer Trio was one such reaction. This is another. It's not bad but it's not incredibly good. Or rather, it's not anything. It's just there.

killers.sam.jpgThe Killers: Sam's Town
The Killers had a lot to live up to. Any way you look at it Hot Fuss was an unexpected and huge hit. I mean, this kind of situation is the reason the term sophomore slump was coined. Instead of directly confronting their past, they looked in a new direction. They changed their sound. Maybe changed isn't quite the right word. Tweaked is better. Consider what Coldplay did with their last album - it was still recognizably them but something shifted, sonically, just a little bit.

I read a scathing review in Rolling Stone so I was prepared for the worst. I shouldn't have been. Sam's Town finds the band pushing unapologetic rock. And it's very good. The sonic territory is more immediate, more straightforward. Gone are some (but not all) of the new wave influences which highlighted their debut but never before has the band sounded this strong, this focused. The lyrics are insanely well-written and instantly quotable. In short, this album might not be as adventurous as their first but it resonates much louder for much longer.

Posted by Chris at October 25, 2006 07:29 AM

See, this will show how little regard I have for music (as if my horrendous playlists weren't proof enough). All the things you dislike about RS are the very things that make me pick it up. Every once in a while they offer a $99 lifetime subscription and I always mean to take advantage of it but of course I never remember. Ah well. One of these days ...

Gee. Now that I've written that out, it so didn't seem worth the trouble of sending you the alert that comments weren't open. Blah. No need for a response. :D

Posted by: pea at October 25, 2006 08:54 AM

Wow - that's probably why I quit reading Rolling Stone quite a while ago. Glad I'm not the only one.

And thanks for the Killers review - I'll have to get it now definitely.

Posted by: Heather at October 25, 2006 08:55 AM

rolling stone's becoming a little like mtv, isn't it? (there's probably still more music in rolling stone, though)

Posted by: denise at October 25, 2006 08:58 AM

Never got into Rolling Stone. I've always been a (closet reading), People magazine kinda girl!

Posted by: Maribeth at October 25, 2006 09:01 AM

I, um, don't know anything about music, except to say that I'm a little bit in love with James Blunt and I'm a little ashamed of that.

I will say this, though, Reader's Digest just ain't what it used to be.

Posted by: Contrary at October 25, 2006 09:26 AM

ooooooh thanks for the music reviews, I've been under a rock and haven't heard of those albums - looking forward to giving the a listen!

Posted by: Betti at October 25, 2006 09:51 AM

I was never really a Rolling Stone reader. Too bad it's going downhill, though.

Thanks for the album recommendations. Our local radio stations have revamped themselves so that none of them play more than about 10% new music (unless I want the latest in hip-hop). I lost my main source for "oh, hey, I like that band" inspiration.

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at October 25, 2006 10:19 AM

I've always loved Rolling Stone too and I still have a subscription and I think I always will. I've enjoyed some of the political pieces but with time they went waaaaay to the left and have lacked a lot of objective content. I too am a liberal person but they seem to be heading in the direction of becoming a borderline puppet for ultra left-wing propaganda (yes, both sides have propaganda).

Posted by: Kyle I at October 25, 2006 10:25 AM

I like John Mayer. I always have. But Waiting on the World to Change will now be forever known as "the roofie song."

Posted by: statia at October 25, 2006 10:36 AM

Dude, if you you're into the Killers, you need to check out an Austin-based band that's about to take over the globe: Voxtrot. (http://myspace.com/voxtrot) They're a little lighter then the Killers, but they've got that same "we may be sensitive, but we still rock" vibe that's wholly vacant from anything Rolling Stone would trouble themselves to write about.

Posted by: Jonathon at October 25, 2006 10:47 AM

I bought something at Best Buy and ended up with a year's subscription free... I don't think I've read a single issue all the way through because the political stuff bugs me. In fact I don't think I've even cracked the last few open...

Posted by: Judy at October 25, 2006 10:48 AM

I hardly ever read Rolling Stone... A few years ago a magazine called Tracks tried to break into the market as a "music magazine for the rest of us", appealing to the 30+ somethings who actually knew a little something about music, but it "went on hiatus" because it couldn't get circulation fast enough to be profitable. I only got my hands on one issue and I loved it. It's a real shame it didn't go anywhere.

Here was a posting about it:

Posted by: Rendered at October 25, 2006 10:50 AM

I don't think I've ever so much as glanced at an issue of Rolling Stone.

But I'm going to pick up that John Mayer album at the store this evening...

Posted by: Alissa at October 25, 2006 10:53 AM

love the killers. love.

Posted by: ali at October 25, 2006 10:54 AM

I adore the Killers, but I've not had a chance to pick up the new album, which I'll HAVE to do now.

Regarding John Mayer, I loved the first album, and I really liked the rest of his stuff, but again, I've not set foot (or typed a URL) anywhere to buy music in forever.

Posted by: amber at October 25, 2006 12:17 PM

Glad I came across your site!

Rolling Stone has gone to shit, eh? Not what it used to be. Way too much crap. I am very disappointed. I don't want the crap.. I want the news and reviews.

As for your music list... THANK YOU. I'm going to check out those bands. I'm a huge rock-head, and have a hard time finding good music on the radio or from friends. I've just been listening to the mainstream rock like Audioslave, Rob Zombie, Green Day and Velvet Revolver. I need options.

I have taken a liking to a Jazz group called the Andrew Scott Quarter / Clayton Scott group. Normally I would not give this stuff a second sniff, but have really found it compliments my musical tastes. Plus, he is Canadian - from Toronto actually - more specifically, around the corner from where I live. Nice guy. Great music.

Posted by: UrbanDaddy at October 25, 2006 12:52 PM

You're an uber-liberal?!

WHAT?! This isn't Ann Coulter's blog?

Posted by: s@bd at October 25, 2006 01:14 PM

Huh, Rolling Stone stopped being relevant years ago for me. I don't get the Killers and while I agree with their review of Continuum I just can't abide by a magazine that has devolved that much in the past twenty years.

Posted by: Bridget at October 25, 2006 01:19 PM

If you don't want the John Mayor to cluster your shelf, send it to me. Yes. I'm a sucker for white-boy soul. :) I do like his voice and his style. Just can't look at the kid. Something about his face makes me want to punch it.

As for the Killers, I didn't think they could top Hot Fuss, but now you got me curious. I may actually buy this one.

Now that Tower Records is gone, which lucky music store is now your new haunt? :)

Posted by: Oakley at October 25, 2006 01:36 PM

I just picked up Sam's Town last week... and the new Justin Timberlake. Laugh if you will, but at least JT isn't going around talking shit about every other band like *some* people. coughBrandonFlowerscough

Posted by: Vaguely Urban at October 25, 2006 01:36 PM

i was definitely curious about sam's town, having enjoyed hot fuss so much, but not with a confidence that had me running out to buy the 2nd one. good to get an expert opinion..

Posted by: jodi at October 25, 2006 03:09 PM

I love John Mayer, and enjoy listening to this album. I don't know enough about the technical stuff, but I think he's cute, and he can sing. :o)

Posted by: Milly at October 25, 2006 07:40 PM

John Mayer? Oh my - I can't listen to the guy since a friend told me about what happened to her friend after she hooked up with him after a concert. A story I won't repeat here as it will totally ruin your enjoyment of the man and also it might be considered somewhat libellous. But, I can't think of the man or his music without feeling icky now...

Posted by: suze at October 25, 2006 07:45 PM

Wow, both you and RSM are all musical today. :-) I'm definitely getting a new playlist for the iPod.

Posted by: Heather at October 25, 2006 07:54 PM

I'm ashamed to say, I've never opened a Rolling Stone magazine. I enjoy the covers, though! I actually bought the first John Mayer CD, and I think my boss stole it from me. I haven't gotten around to getting the new CD. But, he's so overplayed on the radio, I don't feel I need to. Not into the Killers at all.

Posted by: Haley-O at October 25, 2006 08:06 PM

I remember when the Pete Townshend picture came out. A classic!

Posted by: sire of sam at October 25, 2006 09:28 PM

I like it that you still say "album" instead of "cd" sometimes. I agree about the politics vs. music in RS. Isn't there enough going on in the music scene to fill up the magazine without making every Republican's assertions come true?

Posted by: wordgirl at October 25, 2006 10:14 PM

I'm glad that you didn't hate the new John Mayer. I just don't understand why so many people are hesistant to call it a good album. Out of his three, it's definitely his best, and I really love it. But I've never been a John Mayer hater, as it seems so many people are. I saw him play live a few weeks ago, and as usual, he didn't disappoint. So again, glad you it takes up space in your collection, if that's all it's good for. Better than taking up space in your garbage!

Posted by: Jen at October 25, 2006 11:26 PM

uber liberals unite! we need a better party name. the whig party had a good name, we need something like that.

Posted by: kimblahg at October 26, 2006 11:35 AM

Peter Frampton has a new CD coming out! Its an instrumental - I love and enjoy Frampton's music especially the artists who are on his new CD. Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Pearl Jam, The Rolling Stones, The Shadows, the Grateful Dead, etc. The Black Hole Sun track is gonna be wicked!

anyway, check the ecard to listen to the new album


by the way, you can win his Les Paul Guitar here:



Posted by: Peter Frampton at October 26, 2006 04:18 PM

Thank You!

Posted by: Dee at October 26, 2006 07:31 PM

In an age when mainstream media is so pistolwhipped by this administration, we should applaud those who speak out. I love Rolling Stone (my parents always had a subscription and so do I). While this cover may be a tad over the top (even so, I learned a few things) RS is one of the only mainstream mags that has the balls to drag the nastiness of a group of thieves and bullies into the light of day with the very real possibility that they will lose advertisers and invite boycotts. The right wing media spews distortion and vitriol day in and day out. Watching my fellow liberals flinch when our side fires back reminds me why I am no longer a Democrat.

Posted by: kata at October 26, 2006 09:19 PM

I am not sure how big of a Peter Framptom fan you are or you may have already known this, but I was amazed and thought I should share on another one of your music days... The Frampton Comes Alive album is actually not recorded live (gasp)! It was recorded in a studio and then "live" sounds were added on top of it all.

Just though I might share. Have a great weekend!

Posted by: Angela at October 27, 2006 01:13 AM

Sadly, the only thing I ever read Rolling Stone Magazine for is the liberal politics. Yes, I realize it is way over the top to the left, but I just view it as a print opposite to the Faux News Channel, thus bringing the balance that Faux forgot in their "fair and balanced" claims.

As for the article you mentioned. You know, it was only a Top 10, and while you may wish to pick on the fact that there was only one liberal on that list, please allow me to (in my not so humble opinion) explain "why". First of course is the fact that the GOP has shut the door on the Democrats so tightly over the past 12 years, that they didn't have the sheer number of opportunities to get corrupted as the GOP did. Remember, part of playing on "K Street" requires that bribers and money launders not pander to the Dems as well. Second, well it is just that the GOP currently (not always, but definitely currently) not only has those names mentioned on the list, but some seriously strong contenders that could have even been argued belonged on this list. (Stevens - AK, Kolbe - AZ just to name two).

Posted by: Latte Man at October 27, 2006 09:20 AM

I know its easy to dump on Rolling Stone for their left-leaning reporting, but when we have such a derth of valid reporting, pieces like this which show how completely broken our government is, how much of a joke Congress is, I am willing to cut them some slack. The US is fat and bloated, lazy and dying from within.

Posted by: Chris at October 27, 2006 12:40 PM