- Ethan Wenberg
Like most rockers, most rock critics drink -- sometimes to excess. Maybe it's the pain of being misunderstood, of championing real music to uncaring masses. Or maybe they're just lushes who like the easy hours of rock writing. Either way, beneath a lot of black-rimmed glasses lie bloodshot eyes, and under vintage T-shirts you'll find some battle-scarred livers.
But while many scribes get dopey at night with the tonsil polish, during the day, they get smashed on hype. Though most want you to think that they stand alone, spurning the words of others and forging their own musical tastes in the fires of their very soul, the evidence says otherwise. And hype, like hooch, has the unfortunate tendency to make you fall in love -- at least for a little while --with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with. Sauced, they might hop into the sack with Scarlett Johansson, only to wake up with Darth Sidious. With a pair of buzz goggles, they fall for a "playful, post-modern pastiche," only to learn in the morning that they got double-teamed by the Darkness and Har Mar Superstar. When their senses clear, critics strike out at their former loves with a passion. You can call it backlash, but it's really a hype hangover.
Who are we going to be ashamed of in '06? Who will be our Streets, our Hives? Let's try to sober up and figure it out. With shaky hands and some black coffee, let's take a look at five of the hype bands of the moment, take off the buzz blinders, and see the musicians for what they are. Oh -- and don't forget to drink lots of water.
With the hype goggles on: "The one key definite about M.I.A.'s Arular is that it's the best kind of pop album imaginable. It can be enjoyed on a purely physical level, and it also carries the potential to adjust your worldview." -- Allmusic.com
How to tell you're buzzed: No matter what they are, an artist's politics do not make music better.
In the morning: Like the formerly overhyped Streets, M.I.A.'s worldly roots (Sri Lankan descent, London address) mask a far more average talent than critics give her credit for. While mildly enjoyable when not actively irritating, Arular is unlikely to leave a lasting impression on dance music, much less world politics. Nothing to be ashamed of, but probably not the marrying kind.
Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Album: LCD Soundsystem
With the hype goggles on: "'Never as Tired as When I'm Waking Up' is a near-brilliant pastiche of both White Album Beatles and Dark Side Floyd, with only its telegraphed George Harrison lead-guitar riff at the end and chord progression ripped from 'Dear Prudence' keeping it from making as grand an emotional impact as it might." -- PitchforkMedia.com
How to tell you're buzzed: Sober critics do not make Beatles references lightly, even if a band is ripping them off.
In the morning: LCD Soundsystem's dance-punk-meets-Daft Punk style may keep your Saturday nights grooving for now, but chances are these beats will age like warm milk.
Artist: System of a Down
With the hype goggles on: "At its reckless best, which is a lot, Mezmerize is a thrilling confrontation, a graphic reflection of a nation tearing itself apart in anger, rage and guilt." -- Rolling Stone
How to tell you're buzzed: Any characterization of an album that could also be used to describe a Michael Moore film doesn't have anything to do with how good an album it is.
In the morning: Left-wing lyrics in rock are just about as common as guitars in rock. That leaves SOAD's off-kilter metal to set it apart, and it's really pretty middle-of-the-road.
Artist: The Fiery Furnaces
Album: Blueberry Boat & EP
With the hype goggles on: "If you don't like Blueberry Boat, I don't like you. It's no longer a matter of taste, other than the fact that I have good taste, whereas you, Fiery Furnaces-hater, do not. Don't have time to take in the full sweeping grandeur of Blueberry Boat's 80 minutes? I have no respect for your calendar priorities." -- PitchforkMedia.com
How to tell you're buzzed: Well, come on, you read that. When Pitchfork gets snarky, it's time to move on.
In the morning: Too ambitious for their own good at this point, the Fiery Furnaces have the goods, but need to catch their breath and write a few more songs. If liking your music makes people think that they're smart, it's a problem.
Artist: The Arcade Fire
With the hype goggles on: "They are broken, beaten and ferociously romantic, reveling in the brutal beauty of their surroundings like a heathen Adam & Eve . . . 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)' [is] the first of four metaphorical forays into the geography of the soul . . . These are songs that pump blood back into the heart as fast and furiously as it's draining from the sleeve on which it beats . . . Funeral's singular thread is finally revealed; love does conquer all, especially love for the cathartic power of music." -- Allmusic.com
How to tell you're buzzed: When a critic mistakes a rock record for the salvation of mankind.
In the morning: The album rocks. It's pretty in parts, maybe even gorgeous. But it's just some arty dance stuff, old Talking Heads parts with a new coat of paint. It will not redeem your soul.