At some point I’ll change the name, and quite probably the appearance of this site. For the moment it’s likely to be a dumping ground for a lot of ideas I have about what, for want of a better descriptor, I’ll call popular culture. I think that may be too wide a brief, but we’ll see how we go.
My main contention is that the sheer amount of entertainment we have at our disposal is too broad and too voluminous for us to possibly assimilate; and that somewhere along the line it needs to be taken stock of. I don’t aim to do that, but I do aim to rehabilitate, if you like, some of the stuff that’s been left behind undeservedly. Too much good product falls by the wayside. The form it takes will be mostly lists of recommended albums, songs, movies, books or whatever takes my fancy – but where possible I’ll be avoiding anything the average consumer will already be familiar with.
With books, I doubt I’ll need to cull all that much. Maybe four or five works of fiction a year find a permanent place in our consciousness, and that’s a generous estimate. Once you get back beyond the eighties it’s probably more like five to ten per decade. And many of the classics are really just name-check books – people know them, know what they’re about, maybe even own them; but they don’t read them. I almost have free rein to recommend.
Movies present almost the opposite consideration. Everyone watches movies, and a hell of a lot of them are familiar to everyone. I’ll probably restrict myself to attempts to convince that old movies are still worth watching. Once you get beyond the ‘name’ movies of the forties and fifties, you’ll find a whole world of interesting and absorbing experiences.
My main area of interest, though, is music. By which I mean popular and independent music. This is the field which provides the greatest breadth and depth, and the widest array of examples of ‘new-experience’ material – quality works that many people may not even be aware of.
My strong belief is that the prime role of a critic ought to be to recommend; to direct people towards rewarding experiences. I fully understand and appreciate that working in a regular capacity as a reviewer might not allow for that. It’s far easier to watch the tape or listen to the CD and then tell everyone why you like it or hate it. It’s time-effective, as it saves the effort required to sift and sort until enough good product is accumulated to make recommendations. Deadlines tend to push the reviewers to simply pass judgement on what’s laid before them. But I still believe that, in terms of being helpful to the consumer, that form of reviewing is over-represented, and the “you really ought to know about this” type of reviewing is largely lacking. You can get a distillation of the best of what’s available right now, no problem. But nothing beyond that.
My other belief, born out of experience, is that nobody particularly cares what I think of, say, Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, or Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’, or Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’, or any of the other albums that have entered the universal consciousness. There are albums – and books, and films – that are ubiquitous. You’ll get into dozens of arguments if you don’t like some of them, and you’ll get purists sticking their nose up at you if you like others. Because everybody already has an opinion about them.
I did once try to compile a list of what I thought were the best albums of the nineties, numbered from 1-100. It’s an exercise in self-sabotage. Just one album too high up on the list can cause people to dismiss your judgement completely. Under-representation of a sub-genre can get you into the same trouble. And really, presuming to know the order of hierarchy is just asking for trouble.
That’s it. That, for better or worse, is my mission statement. Within a cultural field, I’m open-minded and willing to listen to or watch or read any genre or sub-genre. Where my knowledge is lacking, I’m willing to learn. But my attention span has its limits. I do want to be entertained by my popular culture, and any recommendations I make will keep that consideration to the forefront. If an album is difficult listening, I’ll make an effort to let you know why I think it’s worth persisting with. I think that’s fair.
I’m going to begin with my recommended nineties albums. What’s left after my aborted effort to compile the best-100. They’ll come in instalments, with a little paragraph to let you know why I included them. And probably a precis explaining and excusing a few things.