The Return of Rockism?

Pitch­fork may have done a good job of includ­ing dance music in their top 200 tracks of the 1990s, but a cer­tain some­one was con­spic­u­ous­ly absent. Have you ever heard of a record­ing artist named Garth Brooks? How about Sha­nia Twain? Must I even men­tion Brit­ney Spears?

I real­ly loved their picks, but they struck me as the return of rock­ism. I feel that the “r” word, like Volde­mort, has been whis­pered in cer­tain cir­cles in the past year or so about Pitch­fork. This list con­firmed that sus­pi­cion for me. Is it wrong to like pop­u­lar music again? Should we just pre­tend that we could always live in an indie bub­ble and nev­er be con­cerned with the likes of, say, Sug­ar Ray?

What I’d love to see Pitch­fork come back and do next week is reveal their staff lists, or give us a best of the rest. As I wrote last night, the ‘90s in ret­ro­spect were a won­der­ful­ly eclec­tic decade. Garth Brooks, gangs­ta rap, Guns N’ Ros­es, and grunge? Yes, please! I know it’s dif­fi­cult to be per­fect­ly inclu­sive, but you might think it’d be accept­able to at least gen­u­flect to some of the best-sell­ing artists of that decade.

As some­one who went to a junior high and high school dances in the ‘90s, it’s hard to imag­ine any­one omit­ting this gem.

Pitchfork’s Top Track of the 1990s

What? You were expect­ing “Sum­mer Babe?”

I spent the bet­ter part of the day talk­ing about how fun­ny it’d be if the top 20 of their list were just crammed with tracks like this. The mem­o­ries came flood­ing back. Remem­ber Dish­wal­la? Could “Tubthump­ing” make the top 20?

For my mon­ey, it’s a shame that they won’t. If noth­ing else, the ‘90s were a won­der­ful­ly eclec­tic decade musi­cal­ly. Sure, every­one remem­bers the boy band tyran­ny that book­end­ed the decade and the post-grunge void in between, but some real­ly nut­ty music cracked the main­stream. Would Crash Test Dum­mies even be pos­si­ble today?

Part of me wish­es this would top the list. The song was freakin’ inescapable! (I’m aware that that’s not a tes­ta­ment to its cul­tur­al val­ue, but it’s unde­ni­ably more a part of America’s cul­tur­al mem­o­ry than most of the songs on that list.)

Pitchfork’s Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s

I’d been wait­ing to write how awestruck I’ve been by this, but I can’t con­tain myself any longer. This list has been facemelt­ing­ly per­fect, at least from the per­spec­tive of any­one who’s been read­ing Pitch­fork since the days of dial-up. I can hard­ly be both­ered with the snooty critic’s picks, but what fas­ci­nates me are the entries for the cor­po­rate rock enti­ties that defined a gen­er­a­tion who thought they were rebelling against cor­po­rate enti­ties.

Favorites of the moment include the entry for Oasis’ “Live For­ev­er” and the Verve’s “Bit­ter­sweet Sym­pho­ny,” to say noth­ing of New Order’s “Regret,” the song that intro­duced me to their entire cat­a­logue. Those open­ing strains still stop me in my tracks.

Am I a lit­tle bummed no one has out and out shocked the read­er­ship by includ­ing the Verve Pipe? Am I amazed that nei­ther Live nor Dave Matthews Band have made an appear­ance? Which U2 song will make the list? I hope they pick some­thing from Zooropa. The ‘90s weren’t per­fect and nei­ther were we. I hope they acknowl­edge that some­how.

My Part in the Spiral Stairs Snafu

I had no idea that any­thing I’d ever writ­ten, least of all a review of a mid­dling album by Spi­ral Stairs, would ever gain this degree of infamy, but then this sto­ry broke this week. Turns out Spi­ral Stairs is upset at Pitch­fork for their appraisal of his body of work post-Pave­ment. That’s total­ly his pre­rog­a­tive, but wouldn’t it have helped if he didn’t insist on rewrit­ing “Coolin’ by Sound” and just giv­ing it new titles?

For the record, that review stands as one of the most puerile pieces of crit­i­cism I’ve ever writ­ten. Bear in mind that it was writ­ten at a time when peo­ple actu­al­ly wrote neg­a­tive reviews about music, and those reviews were often long than 140 char­ac­ters. Want to know a secret? The orig­i­nal was longer AND mean­er. Hard to believe, right?

For what it’s worth, I loved Pave­ment. I’m not a hope­less nos­tal­gic for the band, how­ev­er, and I’ve felt that both Kannberg and Malk­mus over­es­ti­mat­ed their tal­ents in their solo efforts. I lis­tened to Mon­soon hop­ing to hear some­thing dif­fer­ent from Kannberg. How do you root against the under­dog? The unfor­tu­nate thing was that I didn’t find any­thing to like and he’s been shock­ing­ly con­sis­tent in under­whelm­ing crit­ics and con­sumers. This may be why he was so frus­trat­ed in Pave­ment. Malk­mus was too shrewd an edi­tor to allow him to con­tribute mate­r­i­al like this.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the praise I lav­ished on Kannberg for real­ly work­ing to pre­serve Pavement’s lega­cy as one of the great acts of the ‘90s. I meant what I said about him under­tak­ing the thank­less task of unlock­ing gems from old tapes that he had to lit­er­al­ly cook before they could be pre­pared for remas­ter­ing. I think I can speak on behalf of Pave­ment fans every­where when I say that effort was appre­ci­at­ed.

It’s a shame he can’t get past these bad reviews and just move on. He shouldn’t be dis­cour­aged by a hand­ful of bad Pitch­fork reviews. At least someone’s lis­ten­ing to these albums and pro­mot­ing them at all. Will he ever play sold out tours across mid-sized venues as a solo artist? No. But he’d do him­self a favor by low­er­ing his expec­ta­tions and maybe enjoy the fans who do come out to see him per­form. Is that so much to ask?