Friday, April 3, 2009

Slagging on Sasha

Another inane review from The New Yorker's worst critic, Sasha-Frere Jones.  This one's of No Line On The Horizon, the newest effort (sort of) from U2.  Among the many idiocies contained therein:

"The band has done relatively few cover versions, a tacit acknowledgment that its gift is peculiar and limited...."

"Bono’s voice can sound strained fairly quickly and isn’t in the same league of instruments as that of Michael Stipe or Robert Plant...."

"In a U.K. poll conducted several years ago, the band’s slower, spiritual song “One,” which is so basic it sounds almost like a traditional ballad, was voted the greatest song ever recorded. It isn’t, but it’s a model of simplicity and unfussy positivity...."

"“No Line” works precisely because it doesn’t try too hard to add to the band’s pile of epic moments. This album is a long dinner with old friends, all of whom love each other, most of whom are born talkers, and some of whom hold the floor for too long. Not every anecdote holds up, and some of the food belongs, untouched, on the edge of your plate. But it would be small-minded to leave before the whole warm, rambling night is over."

Where to start? Has the band done few covers because of its "limited" gift or because they happen to be able to write pretty damn good songs by themselves?  (I don't recall the Rolling Stones doing too many covers, or even the Beatles once they'd broken through).  Is "One" (which, for my money, is absolutely their greatest song) a model of "unfussy positivity?" I guess since it's not "fussy," exactly, it could accurately be described as "unfussy"--but in no universe is that the first, or even the fiftieth, most apposite adjective.  As far as its putative "positivity"....maybe we're listening to different songs, Sasha.  The "One" I know is about despair and desolation--about what it's like to want more anything in the world just to give up.  No, the speaker does not give up; hope does endure (mostly).  But the song is not 'positive', and it's certainly not positive when considered within the general context of their music.

What about Bono's voice?  SFS thinks it's worse than Stipe's.  Uhm, really?  I'm not trying to hate on Stipe, who can sing (although a lot of his lyrics are spoken more than sung).  But even if we're talking about the Bono of 2009, I'd say he's still got the better set of pipes.  Go back to, say, 1990, and I'd say he could hold his own against Plant as well.  They have radically different styles, of course, but as anyone who's tried to do a karaoke of "With or Without You" or "Where The Streets Have No Name" can attest, the Bono-man can wail.  (And, as anyone who's heard ME do those songs will also attest, I cannot.)

Finally, there's his assessment of No Line on the Horizon.  It "works" because it doesn't "try too hard" to add to the "pile" of "epic moments." (Note the slight but quintessential New Yorker scorn: neither "pile" nor "epic", as they're used here, are terms of praise.) Well then, Sash, why does it work?  Here we go--because it's 'warm' and 'rambling?'  Really?  Are those qualities we want, or expect, from U2? Is it qualities they deliver? (One out of two's not bad.) The best reason he can give us to listen is to suggest that those who don't are "small-minded." want to convince people to appreciate something by insulting those who don't? Count me persuaded!

Why do they publish this guy?  Somebody?  Anyone?  Off the top of my head, I can think of five friends of mine who could write better pieces.  And let me assure you all: my friends are not that bright.

1 comment:

JMW said...

I haven't even read this piece. Now I won't.

As you know, I'm quite a big REM fan (butterfly pancake hurrah), but that voice line is strange. Stipe's voice perhaps has a more distinct tone than Bono's, and I prefer it on record for that reason, but I don't think there's any question that Bono is a better singer in any technical sense of the word.

Also, "Magnificent" sucks.