So, if everybody's a critic these days, we might as well populate the cottage industry that is critiquing the other critics. Pitchfork's list of the 100 Top Songs is just lame. And bad for relationship harmony, as it will necessarily cause long fights that ultimately resolve in "Oh, I guess I just didn't like that song as much as you did. Sorry."
Anyhow, in the interests of greater harmony and better snobbery, Beloved Fiance and I are now presenting the First Annual Inaugural "Holy Shit, I'm So Happy They Put That on the Radio in the Last Five Years" Awards. Now, you know where to put the pitchforks, people.
"Stan" -- Eminem
When I first heard this song, I literally had to get off my treadmill. The real kind of treadmill that you run on. Because I was so freaked out at the juxtapositions -- wispy British vocals, suicidal protagonist, and the unbearably post-modern worldview posited: "My rapping character is a creation of symbols. Whither reality?" Eminem was being fought by a lot of different people when this album came out. With this single, he not only defeated his critics, he shamed them. Derrida's heir, dude, Derrida's heir.
YOU SAID THE D WORD.
The amazing thing is not just that the Stan character is more fucked up than Slim Shady (saying alot after the previous track "oh god now he's talking about raping his own mother, snorting coke, abusing whores, and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?"). Stan's is also really human, which makes this song still really scary. And remember when Eminem performed the song on stage at the Grammys with Elton John? Dude went a long way in a few months, and sadly I don't know when he's coming back. "Lose Yourself" is killer, but everything since has been meh, though he's still good at the confessional/realism thing (like the new Toy Soldiers song--bad production, amazingly vulnerable words).
"H.O.V.A." -- Jay Z.
Can't really say what about it. Maybe the introduction. "...You could be anywhere in the world..." I should be smarter if I'm going to write about it. The whole tune is in the pocket. And was a revelation to me--I didn't know acting totally gansta would get sold so well. But damn does this song sell it. Best moments with this tune: played over halftime at a international soccer match in Gillette Stadium. Ticos from Nueva York and literal soccermoms from Duxbury, heads bobbin' everywhere.
"Gossip Folks" -- Missy Elliot
With her rapping on this song, Missy proved that she could get away with anything.
"Cry Me a River" -- Justin T. et al
Alex Ross did it first and did it better, so I'm left with a world of ditto, but suffice it to say that when the pretty-boy frontman of an Orlando pop band suddenly shows up with a soaring string section, a vindictive chorus, and sludgy-yet-hummable production by Timbaland, well I consider it worldview-shattering. Add the backstory about Britney and that man-slut Wade the Choreographer, and get even more zeitgeist splinters.
I like this song, I'm sure, but I kind of get bogged down when I think about what to "say" about lil JT. This entry can represent my favorite things about JT in the past 2 years: the fact that he personally pulled off Janet Jackson's boob-cover and yet seems to not be remembered in that incident (but when will we hear "Rock Your Body" on the national scene again?), and his amazing impersonation of the beardless 1/3 of the Bee Gees.
"Chop Suey" -- System of a Down
How freaking weird is System of a Down? How did anyone put them in the same camp as Limp Bizkit?
One day they will fulfill the promise of the "Jesus Christ SuperSatan" midsection of this piece and perform a full-length rock opera about the Armenian Genocide. Until then, we can only sit back and do what our tapeworms tell us to do. Pull the tapeworm out of your ass! Hey!
"Travelin' Soldier" -- the Dixie Chicks
Most of the time, when I hear a song on the local country station that involves soldiers, I turn off the radio and bang my head soundlessly into the steering wheel. But this song actually dares to tell a story, and tell a sad one. Granted, it was written before we went back to war, and it takes place during Vietnam, but it can put a boot in Toby Keith's ass any day of the week and twice on Sundays. It's a sad, sweet love song about a girl and her soldier, but the most haunting image is also the most shocking. In the final verse, the heroine finds out the boy is dead with the line "and one name read and nobody really cared." After all, this is a boy who writes to this girl, not because they're dating but because, as he put it, "I got no one to send a letter to." So, there's the fiddle break and the delicate harmonies we come to expect from the Dixie Chicks, but buried in there is a message way more threatening than "I'm ashamed to be from Texas": when you're killed in a war, maybe no one will care.
Wow. I never have heard that song. It sounds really good and sad. PS--don't tell MediaUnbound, Inc. that I never have listened to that song.
"All Falls Down" -- Kanye West
Why oh Why do would most critics rather talk about Slow Jamz? Yes, that song was funny, but this song is about something. I think it's the flagship song on the album. No gimmicks, not even the Jesus gimmick. Dorothy's going to be better at this than I am. Buckle down, because I'm sure it's going to be... uh... thorough...
Communism's dead. Socialism's flagging. And those skinny weirdos who put up the LaRouche signs aren't accomplishing much of anything. But somehow, under everybody's noses all at once, a Chicago producer released the most lucid and bracing critique of contemporary consumerist society and in particular tied it to three centuries of racism and the legacy of slavery. THIS IS TOP FORTY RADIO, PEOPLE! Nobody, and I mean nobody, has made these points (linking the desire for flashy consumer goods to a lack of sense of self than comes from being historically 3/5 of a person) more trenchantly. Not scholars, not newspaper columnists, not Al Sharpton, and not Spike Lee. Oh yeah, and the song's three minutes long. And it's funny. And it rhymes. Switching from a fictional female character (who "couldn't afford a car, so she named her daughted Alexis," for those of you not quite as obsessed with this song as I am) to the collective "we" (who are "trying to buy back our forty acres") and then back, self-depricatingly to himself ("we're all self-conscious, I'm just the first to admit it"), Kanye West exposes and explores purchasing as a necessary form of ersatz self-esteem. And people were singing along to it in clubs for months solid. Larry Summers fired Cornel West for releasing a rap album. If he had any brains in that puffy head of his, he'd hire Kanye West for the same offense.
Other entries not yet discussed include "Why" (Jadakiss) and "Ms. Jackson" (OutKast).
Perhaps more will come later.