Mar. 14, 2017: An Impression That I Have
I'm not one to polemicize, partly because I'm timid and afraid to hurt people's feelings, and partly because I'm a gray-area kind of guy—against polarized absolutes (or rather, often against absolutes hehe...). What follows isn't a polemic, really, so much as some thoughts on a trend that I think is kinda dumb—the trend being "This Album, Which People Hate But Is Actually Good, Came Out 20 Years Ago" articles. Part of what bothers me is the trend's sheer persistence: These types of pieces have flooded music publications for several years at this point, so much so that they have become a legitimate, if oft-maligned, genre of music criticism.
Like many others, I wonder: what's the point? Just because this album came out 10, 20, X years ago, it isn't "more relevant than ever" or anything like that. Time can add meaning, yes, but it doesn't do so in neat increments of 5 or 10 years. Which is to say, you can write about old music, sure—and you should—but this doesn't seem to be the most effective or engaging way or reason to do it.
I was set off by an article like this about The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were a fun band, and one that I myself enjoyed from the ages of (roughly) 9 to 12. When I hear "The Impression That I Get," I get a little rush through my body made up of both nostalgia and genuine enthusiasm for the song, which—though perhaps not exceedingly good—is infectious. But I don't feel the need to publish a piece of "music criticism" about it explaining to my peers, 10 or 20 years down the line, that this stupid song is actually "great." The need that others feel to do this comes from, in my mind, a couple factors:
1. The need to produce and distribute content: This is obvious. Music writers want—need—to write a lot. And while there is plenty of great music, both new and old, to cover, writing about a well-known album from the past is easy because clickers who remember the album (fondly or angrily) will click, and also these albums have "stories" that don't require much research to find. If you want to learn a "story" about The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, you'll find something on Wikipedia or YouTube, because they were relatively famous and active long enough ago for their fans to have uploaded a bunch of shit about them. Plus, because "This Album Is Turning 20 This Week" is an accepted form of music criticism at this point, your pitches are basically writing themselves; all you need is a sleep-deprived editor to OK it.
2. Misguided nostalgia and self-aggrandizement: Besides being easy content to produce, articles like this serve their authors in a way that is, to me, dumb and pointless. So, you liked The Mighty Might Bosstones when you were 12, and you want to show everyone that—despite what your classmates said—this means that you weren't a lame ska fan when you were 12, but rather you were prescient, ahead-of-your-time. You heard something in The Mighty Mighty Bosstones that the "cool kids" didn't. And, now that you have a college degree and some bylines for widely-read media outlets, you can prove, argumentatively, that you were in fact a cool 12-year-old—or at least that you were "lame" in a "cool," "relatable" way.
This is not an argument against reappraisal: Reappraising (and reissuing) certain albums that were overlooked, underrated, or forgotten can reach new listeners and open up important new dialogues. Some albums from earlier eras are relevant in 2017 and deserve to be discussed. But it's not because they're "turning 20 this week"; rather, it's because... well, there are myriad reasons why this could be. Do some digging, find a reason, then write about that.
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