Let's be honest, says Tom Sinclair -- critics can't really be objective about 35,000 new releases
Do top 10 lists really name the ”best” albums?
Every year around this time, rock critics begin compiling their lists of the year’s best albums. For me, the notion of ”best” has always seemed… well, incorrect, at best. ”Favorite” is the word I’d opt for; it seems more honest. Folks who devote their lives to the study of pop music tend to be highly opinionated and extremely subjective, and these days, arriving at a consensus is more difficult than ever, thanks largely to the absurd amount of music flooding the marketplace.
Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed Dean of American Rock Criticism (and head Poobah of the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop Critic’s Poll), has estimated that there are now something like 35,000 CDs released in any given year. Do the math (let’s see — can I really stand to listen to 95.9 new CDs a day?) and you’ll realize it’s well-nigh impossible for a critic to give a fair and balanced listen to even a tenth of those. Granted, many of these discs are marginal releases on hopelessly obscure labels. But even if a critic simply monitors the major label product, it’s foolish to think he or she can really keep on top of everything out there.
Some critics confine themselves to sifting through only the most popular releases — those that can be found on Billboard’s Top 200 pop chart. That approach seems myopic (there’s a lot of great music outside the charts). Still others confine themselves to the genre they feel the most affinity for — rock or rap or pop or country. That, too, seems unnecessarily narrow-minded. Yet, somehow, media outlets (EW included) continue to perpetrate the notion of the omniscient ”generalist” critic who can assess the entire spectrum of pop music. It’s as wrong-headed and unfair as the Grammys often seem to be.
In considering my personal favorites, I can think of only three critically ballyhooed albums that will wind up my list this year: Bob Dylan’s ”Love and Theft,” Ryan Adams’ ”Gold,” and the Strokes’ ”Is This It.” Beyond that, my choices are strictly personal, reflecting records that few folks are likely to have heard but which have provided me with hours of soul-sustaining listening pleasure. There’s the self-titled album by Cincinnatti garage rockers the Greenhornes; the fey orchestral pop of Mercury Rev’s ”All is Dream”; the rocked-up soul covers to be found on the Dirtbombs’ ”Ultraglide in Black”; and the two-fisted, hook-filled punk of the Dictators’ ”D.F.F.D.”
Though I stand behind all these choices, I still can’t help but be aware that I may be the only critic voting for some of these discs. Certainly, I’ll send along my top 10 list to the Pazz and Jop folks, as I’ve been doing for the past decade or so. But I don’t have any illusions that I’m doing anything other than solipsistically trumpeting my personal faves.
What I really wanna know is, What are your most-loved records of 2001?