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June 30, 2011


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Adam R.

It could be worse - you could be Armond White.

So, back when Transformers 2 was being hailed as the WORST MOVIE EVAH, Mr. Contrarian sniffed an opportunity:

"WHY WASTE SPLEEN on Michael Bay? He’s a real visionary—perhaps mindless in some ways (he’s never bothered filming a good script), but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is more proof he has a great eye for scale and a gift for visceral amazement. Bay’s ability to shoot spectacle makes the Ridley-Tony-Jake Scott family look like cavemen. "


But of course, people seem to be enjoying the new one, so it's time for Armond to pretend he didn't write the above words:

"Bay’s ongoing premise—good guy Autobots battle bad guy Decepticons—isn’t just boyhood army play writ large; it charts the distance our culture has traveled during the past decade. By avoiding contemplation about the emotional nature of its clanging, morphing, warring creatures—or even why the combat is never, ever decisive—Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg accommodate the insensitivity that characterizes post-9/11 culture."



Read the rest of his review which, I SHIT YOU NOT, includes quotes from the Futurist Manifesto, here:


Note: That last battle in Transformers Trois: Ummagumma sounds neat, and I'll be seeing all 2 1/2 hours of it this weekend, in keen anticipation of mindless thrills and nothing else. The above post is not intended in any spirit or chiding superiority.

Jeff McMahon

I remember a passage in Asimov's Foundation in which there was a way to analyze text down into its basic content. When fed the remarks of a diplomat/politician, the analysis came back with a null - nothing of any consequence actually existed within the words. That's what I think of lately when I read one of Armond's tortuously written garbles.

(Who gives a crap about Jake Scott?)

Grant L

Always liked that particular Christgau review, though it must be noted that he did end up saying a few nice things about them, too - a "populist sincerity that was always more than a hype," for example, and he gave their Hits album a B+. Ellen Willis (in that excellent new anthology) said some very similar things to the above to say...I don't know if she ever succumbed or not.


Haven't read all the comments, but did read your review/editorial on the latest Transformer movie. I loved, loved, loved the first one but hated, hated, hated the second one and will probably not see three. Why I hated the second one? Too much crashing, bashing scenes that i couldn't even make out what was happening. Also, they broke the golden Transformer rule, "transformers can NOT take human or animal form." They did both in the second movie. But the first one had more "character" and had more of a plot than two, and from all I've read, three.

Phil Freeman

Survival is not Grand Funk Railroad's greatest album. The self-titled one with the red cover, though - that's a goddamn masterpiece. When I was studying audio engineering, the guy who ran the studio where I did my hands-on work asked each of us in the group if we could name an album we'd take as a kind of Platonic ideal of recorded sound, and I picked that record. Three dudes in a room, every instrument crystal clear and occupying its own space in the mix, plus the songs are killers. Grand Funk had one of the best group sounds in rock history, right up there with ZZ Top on Tres Hombres.

Noam Sane

I'm guessing you're aiming this post at A.O. Scott. Right on.

It the R&RHOF was really that, rather than the Critical Consensus Hall of Fame, Grand Funk would be in on their first ballot.

Pinko Punko

I want to get that Willis anthology. Christgau's capsules always remind me of Kael's capsule reviews. Sometimes (many times) infuriating, but phrases that sound so good you think they must be true, even if you have a hard time explaining what they might actually mean.

Pinko Punko

You wonder how Christgau didn't go Christgau Elsewhere after having to go through this for decades:

Thick as a Brick [Reprise, 1972]
Ian Anderson is the type of guy who'll tell you on one album that a whole side is one theme and then tell you on the next that the whole album is one song. The usual shit--rock (getting heavier), folk (getting feyer), classical (getting schlockier), flute (getting better because it has no choice), words. C-

Glenn Kenny

That's funny, Pinko. The answer, or part of it, is that in his way Bob is really one of the most eminently sane individuals on the planet. Absolutely worship the man.

The Willis comp is 100 percent awesome. Even the largely fatuous Sasha Frere-Jones foreword has some value, as it is fortified with big quotes from the likes of Bob and Karen "The Durb" Durbin.

Pinko Punko

What I like best about him is that he won't write a band off even when he trashes them for their first two albums. Even when the tone of the trash sounds like it is the road of no return, he doesn't feel the need to continue in a posture. Check him on Deerhunter- Actually, rarely, but crucially not never, JW does this on films.

Frank McDevitt

Christgau showed great affection for Superchunk's latest album after 20 damn years of skepticism. He'll always give a band a fair shake on an album to album basis, and it's one of the reasons why he's among the greats of American arts criticism.


Guess I should've given that Grand Funk red album more of a chance. The first Christmas after my family got a stereo, I asked for three LPs -- Marvin Gaye "What's Going On," Neil Young "After the Gold Rush" and Grank Funk. The first two I wanted because I'd heard several songs from each and loved them. The last I wanted because the cover looked cool. While the first two went into immediate heavy rotation, I listened to side one of Grand Funk but never made it to side two. The only song I remember is "Please Don't Worry," which I guess I must have liked well enough to play a few times.

If I still have it somewhere, maybe I can give it another listen in light of Phil Freeman's ringing endorsement.

Sal C

Thanks to this thread I did some searching and found that Christgau is doing a new-version-of-sorts of the CG for MSN. Very cool to catch up on stuff with the Dean.


His stuff epitomizes the "I'm so much smarter than all this" school of music criticism circa 1974: "I'm listening to a tape copy of a nameless tape-woodwind-foil-drum ensemble from Brooklyn but I have to review the loud and shitty Zeppelin instead."

Fabian W.

@christian: Which is why he gave "Houses of the Holy" 1973 an A-? Because they're so shitty and loud?

I love Christgau's capsule reviews, but I *really* love his longer writing, like his pieces on the Public Enemy scandal and "Death Certificate".

Glenn Kenny

Sure, whatever you say, Christian. One actually doesn't need to know Christgau personally, or have some inkling of his private listening habits (such as they are) to glean how hilariously off-base your supposition is (in fact, the off-baseness of it is pretty much ALL that makes it hilarious), but it certainly adds a small bit to the fun. Yeesh. BTW, The lowest letter grade he gave a Zep record was a C+ for "The Song Remains The Same," which he largely objected to on consumer-ripoff grounds.

Also: "[I]f you don't like the Stones, why are you reading this book?"—Christgau's Record Guide, The '70s


I said he "epitomizes" the smug above-it-all of hipster rock criticism - using Zep was a bad example. I shoulda brought in Rush who he slags in a style suited to his smug. Sorry. Then again, I find music critics insufferable in general -- is there anything more subjective than sound?

Jonathan W.

Christian: you could just as easily say, "What are more subjective than colors?" Or, "What is more subjective than my life?"

Glenn Kenny

That's one of the most fun things about being a critic, of anything, really: a) being told by people that they find critics insufferable; b) hearing them make completely inaccurate and asinine suppositions in support of this finding, and c) then when you counter that by demonstrating that their inaccurate and asinine suppositions are both inaccurate and asinine, seeing them rear back and get all defensive and say "Oh, SORRY. It was a bad example, but my larger point holds, and you still suck."

Whatevs, as some would put it.


I've been reading Christgau slag some of my favorite bands/music for years. I guess it's just as asinine to write off somebody's hard work with a pithy quote. So Rush is still around and so is Christagu. Bully.

Glenn Kenny

Not only that Christian, but Christgau's lived in the same apartment for almost 40 years, whereas Rush got to cameo in "I Love You, Man." (The Rush t-shirt I am wearing as I input this is one of the more amusing bits of publicity swag generated thereof.) By the way, do you mean "Bully" as in "bully for them both" or as in "Bob Christgau is oppressing Rush?" Because if the latter, rolling on the floor, etc.

Also, way to FOLD. For a minute I actually thought you might have been complaining from a position of actual principle. Instead, you're just pissed that Christgau doesn't like Rush. Lame, yet CLASSIC. And again, he has a good answer for you: [Mine] is obviously a very personal approach, and you'd probably be well-advised to adjust my grades according to our differences of taste. [...] [I]f you find yourself valuing many of my C-plusses and rejecting a lot of my As, maybe we'd better not have lunch."

Noam Sane

An old bass-player buddy of mine once summed up Christgau as "mean, but fair." Best description I ever heard, until I read Pinko Punko up there.

Also, "Shinin' On" is one of the weirdest singles ever, isn't it? What the hell happened there?


My favorite part of the Frere-Jones intro to the Willis book (which is amazing) is when he admits that when he took the job at the New Yorker he didn't know Willis had worked at the New Yorker and been their first pop music critic. He's 44 and been writing about music for 15 years. What a git.


Also, who reads critics just for their opinions? I mean, I care about what Glenn thinks of a new movie, or Christgau thinks of a record, but I don't need them to tell *me* what to feel about it. I read them because they are smart, knowledgeable, graceful writers whose styles cause me to notice things in an album or film that I might not otherwise see or hear. And because sometimes they infuriate me even as they enlighten me. And because they're both funny, which counts for a lot. Criticism is about ideas and perceptions and the shape of responses, not just "you should/shouldn't like this," right?


Who invalidates criticism because it's subjective? And where can I get my hands on some objective criticism?

All I know is, thanks to Christgau (and any number of other music critics) I've taken a chance on many artists I might have otherwise overlooked. To say nothing of artists I'd never heard of before. Sure, I got burned a few times (in the pre-Internet era when you couldn't necessarily sample before buying), but that's the way it works. You take in opinions, you try to gauge how simpatico the critic (or fan, or colleague, or friend) is with your own taste, and you plunk down your money, or not.


jbryant, I wasn't sure if your comment was in response to mine or not, but I wanted to clarify I'm not at all against subjective criticism, and agree with you that the idea of it seems silly. I think "I like/I don't like" is actually an important critical position to either start from or move through at some point in a review or piece (and like I said, I'm really interested in what Glenn, Christgau or others have to say about a given album, film, show or whatever). I just think it's HOW they talk about that stuff-- the way they move through their thoughts-- that makes them interesting to me, as much as "do I agree with this person" or not.


Brian, I agreed with your post. Mine was riffing off of christian's comment, which seemed to suggest that the subjective nature of sound somehow made music criticism an invalid pursuit. Or something like that.

Sal C

I never would have paid much mind to those first four Rod Stewart solo albums if not for Christgau and I now consider them some of the best r'n'r ever recorded (especially Never a Dull Moment). And I was quite content to keep Steely Dan waaaaay off my radar until I read his review of Pretzel Logic (again, now an all-time favorite).

Dan Coyle

I wholeheartedly agree with Frank Zappa's maxim "Most rock journalism is people who can't write writing for people who can't read," but Christgau is the exception that proves that rule.


There are few things I find as strange as the idea -- implicit in so much "critic" bashing -- that the ideal critic is one who agrees with you about your bottom line judgments of everything. And, specifically, I find it very odd that anybody could be insecure enough in their own judgments to feel "bullied" by a critic. Oddly, I've been reading Christgau for two decades and have yet to delete In the Court of the Crimson King from my iTunes...

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