Monday, June 06, 2005

News Flash: Jon Pareles Actually Has An Opinion


Nothing like the imminent release of a blockbuster CD to get a rock critic's blood boiling. For the new Coldplay album "X and Y" will sell millions of copies no matter what any critic says about it, good or bad.
That must get the goat of New York Times chief rock critic Jon Pareles, who trashed the CD in yesterday's paper.
What's more remarkable, though, about Pareles' review isn't his assessment -- which I don't agree with -- but the fact that he was as strident with his opinion as he was.
Pareles has too often been afflicted with Show-Off Syndrome in his reviews, preening in his copy to show readers how much he knows about music theory and composition, every variation of world beats -- Bhutanese throat music, anyone? -- and his know-it-all attitude about rock history, that he often forgets to tell you how he actually felt about a concert or record. Witness this passage on a Kraftwerk concert, which just came out on June 3.

Just as video games have evolved from Pong to "Grand Theft Auto," Kraftwerk's music has also gained dimensions. Its timbres have thickened and deepened; its harmonies have moved beyond major and minor chords; its rhythms have evolved from steady-ticking eighth notes to dance-floor syncopations, drawing on the ideas of the disco, house and techno producers who were inspired by Kraftwerk in the first place. The contrast between songs from the 70's and more recent material was still there, but in both old and new pieces, Kraftwerk had pop reflexes, making its hooks clear and its choruses distinct. As a band that has always loved repetition, Kraftwerk is still in sync with dance tracks that layer patterns above a sparse beat.

But did you like it?
Readers never found out, and Pareles' editors apparently didn't care either way. It's a review, Jon, not a dissertation.

Perhaps the newer culture domos at the Times, first Jonathan Landman, now Sam Sifton, finally put a cattle prod to Pareles to remind him about a crucial ingredient of a review, namely an opinion. For there's no shortage of one when it comes to Coldplay, whom he labels the "most insufferable band in a decade."

Coldplay has verged on self-parody. When he moans his verses, Mr. Martin can sound so sorry for himself that there's hardly room to sympathize for him, and when he's not mixing metaphors, he fearlessly slings clich├ęs.

And on it went. The Times thought enough of Pareles' prose to put it above the fold in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section.
Maybe Pareles is feeling the heat of colleague Kalefeh Sanneh, who will never be mistaken for a shrinking violet. Maybe he's been numbed by all the mediocrity that passes for popular music nowadays. Whatever it takes to make sure Pareles gets on his soapbox and stays there.

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