The Village Voice has released its annual Pazz & Jop Critics Poll – which, despite the absence from the magazine of Robert Christgau, remains the authoritative source for identifying what, for better or worse, represents the zeitgeist in popular music. This year, 577 critics participated – a hell of a lot more than did so during the time I was buying 100 or so albums per year (late 1970s, mid 1980s).
Back then, I have to admit, I used Pazz & Jop as a barometer of how hip my tastes in music were – if I didn’t own at least half of the Top 40, I was disappointed and would immediately drive out to the nearest Tower Records to remedy the situation. That resulted in my owning a lot of albums that I didn’t really like that much (there’s a lesson there, and I’m sure you can figure out what it is), but overall my tastes were pretty much in sync with the critical estimation of that era.
No longer. The winner of this year’s album poll is (excuse me for a moment while I look it up again on the Voice’s Web site) Sound of Silver, by LCD Soundsystem. Now, don’t get me wrong – this could very well be a wonderful album, one that will still strike a chord with listeners ten, twenty, even thirty years from now. Right now I wouldn’t know, because to be completely honest, I wouldn’t know an LCD Soundsystem song if it jumped up and bit me in the nose. And that’s OK – I may try to find a used copy somewhere, or download a song or two, to see what I think. But I won’t be running over to the nearest Dimples (R.I.P., Tower), because I tried that with My Chemical Romance and The Flaming Lips, much to my chagrin - $28 that I’ll never see again, for two albums I’ve long since sold back to the store for less than half that much.
I’m too lazy to go back and check (all of the old Pazz & Jop polls are available on Christgau’s site), but I’m pretty sure there was one year in the mid 1980s that I owned 32 of the Top 40 when the poll was released. This year it’s only nine, but not a bad representation:
Kala, M.I.A. (#3)
Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (#4)
Neon Bible, Arcade Fire (#5)
Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (#8)
Magic, Bruce Springsteen (#9)
Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (#12)
Icky Thump, The White Stripes (#14)
White Chalk, PJ Harvey (#26)
Under The Blacklight, Rilo Kiley (#32)
I was also amused to see that two albums I had tied at #7 in my personal Top 10 finished in a virtual tie in Pazz & Jop, each being named by 19 critics:
West, Lucinda Williams (#48)
Children Running Through, Patty Griffin (#49)
Two others from my Top 10 were bubbling under, as well:
Challengers, New Pornographers (#57)
Revival, John Fogerty (#58)
…Leaving only Bryan Ferry’s Dylanesque off the list entirely (I scrolled down to #600, and gave up – if I missed it, sorry Bryan).
So now the trick is trying to find those jewels in the Top 40 (and beyond) that I’d like, of which I’m sure there are several, and adding those to the collection. Wish me luck.