Everett True (ed)
The problem with funny ideas in an age of crowd-funding is that they can become a reality when really they’re just the beginning of a pitch, a first draft at best. Such is the case here with 101 Albums You Should Die Before You Hear. A great title for a collection and not a whole lot more really…well, that’s slightly unfair. There are some good pieces here, some great takedowns of albums. But it runs out of steam. You imagine them panicking as the deadline looms, adding in clickbait-type titles and tossing out very quick “reviews” in order to make the count.
I hate lots of albums. I hate the “good” reviews that are written about albums that don’t deserve it – I agreed with some of what is in this book, the editor Everett True does a lot of the heavy lifting here. There are strong takedowns of the Eagles and Jeff Buckley and there are some good choices, albums that are overrated, that are fucking atrocious, etc. Even when I didn’t agree I enjoyed some of the writing and the aim behind the concept.
I also hate the idea that a review is any one thing: a particular piece of writing. The review is – actually – whatever the fuck the reviewer feels like turning in (and can get away with publishing). Some publications have standards. Not as many as used to be the case of course. And self-publishing and vanity publishing and web-writing allows writers to do (almost/nearly) as they please. So I like that some of these reviews are a five-page rant. And that others are just three or four lines. However, the haiku poems barely work and feel more phoned in than any of the music being (nearly/almost) discussed.
It’s sometimes a fun read though – which is the aim. Surely. Certainly there’s as much validity behind this, as a concept, as there is with the types of titles that have inspired this sort of reaction, and the role of the critic is to warn people away from shite, not merely to rave and recommend; is to stamp out an area and own it.
But even when I believe that some of these writers actually think these things, and support the concept of this type of thinking and/or non-thinking you’re taking the piss trying to actually talk down Beatles and Dylan albums. Well, certainly the ones chosen here. I mean by all means have a go at Down In The Groove, at some of Ringo’s solo records. At cash-in compilations. But the attempts to shit on Abbey Road and Sgt Pepper’s are laughable really. And I’m not even that much of a fan of Sgt. Pepper’s.
I appreciated the ire-raising comments around John Lennon; I’m firmly in the Paul-camp. And agree that Lennon’s lionisation just doesn’t line-up when you look at the second half of his Beatles career, some highlights sure, but a lot of fucking about and laurel-resting. But I’m not sure the biggest pieces about the alleged “best” bands here really hit their mark. If they did it’s target-practice with rubber-sucker arrows. You just know it’s going to slide right off…
I’m down with “Classic” albums being destroyed in reviews, or someone having a go – I’ve had a few goes myself (including many that are also in this volume)– but I didn’t quite believe some of these entries; they felt like they were chosen only to enrage, never to engage – as such.
But hey, that’s fine. Fill your boots. And these writers did. I tried to. But by the end – readable though it is – it felt every bit as throwaway as so many of the albums discussed apparently are. You can’t tell me that was the meta-aim here.