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Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Here is a good example of a bad Salon review, this one of Pete Yorn. It's just weird: there are so many complaints you could make about Pete Yorn, and the ones the review primarily makes are "he's pretty" (well, sorry) "he wants to be famous" (and somehow a lot of people know about him--weird, eh?) and "he is doing well after his second album and it took Lucinda Williams five albums." This is weirdly typical of Salon's reviewing technique--don't praise the merits or point out the faults, say "at least it's better than cultural product X, which is doing well" or "this is doing well when overlooked underground-ish cultural object Y is languishing in middlebrow semi-obscurity!" They did this with the book about id Software ("it's not as good as Looking Glass!") and I can't even begin to enumerate the movie reviews they do it with.

It's just such a weird technique. I don't know how it's supposed to work. Is it supposed to convey a moral weight such that people will stop buying Pete Yorn, thinking, "Well, I should wait another three albums, to be fair to Lucinda Williams"? Is it supposed to convince people that they actually don't like Pete Yorn? Is it supposed to help out Lucinda? What the hell? It's weird when critics don't just make a subjective judgment based on their own preferences, but instead try to extend it to some universal, organized societal wrong wherein the objectively good artists are only kinda famous whereas the objectively mediocre artists are kinda more famous. What the fuck?

The most confusing bit is at the beginning, where after saying that "Yorn is this year's Rock God in Waiting" that's a problem because he's not as good as "Brit hellraiser Ed Harcourt, Seattle's urban folkster Damien Jurado or Phil Elvrum of the weird and wonderful indie band the Microphones." Uh, what? Yeah, because Phil Elvrum would definitely like to be a Rock God. Nothing says "Rock God" like sticking with K Records and having the first song on your highly-anticipated new album be a 13-minute symbolist suite about the elements centered around a geographical landmark around where you grew up. Shit, why isn't that getting played on the radio?

Salon does some things well, but I do wish their reviewers would extract their heads from their rectums and try being less bitter about their grad-school degrees, know what I mean?