Choire Sicha posted a guest column on Jason Kottke’s blog concerning his shifting evaluation of PJ Harvey’s most recent recording, White Chalk; “Back in September, Pitchfork gave White Chalk a 6.8, and I would have given it a worse score even as recently as December,” but now he regards it as her best.
If one needed empirical data to enrich this exercise, looking back at the yearly awards should provide more than enough. The short timeline for these awards, and the manipulative tactics that media corporations deploy to attract profit-making recognition becloud the deliberative judgment that ought to inform critical judgment. I wrote a burdensome-lyu-long essay on the year 1980 in music, comparing what was good with what got Grammys; I have another semi-post in a draft somewhere, looking at 1979, but it’s a lot of effort, and I’m not sure what it clarifies.
[What might be fun would be to open the comments (thank you, WordPress, for providing robust comment spam filtering!) for discussion of a particular year’s cultural production. I’d be inclined to highlight 1983 at first, since that was 25 years ago. We could give retrospective Grammys, Oscars, and other prizes with the benefit of having twenty-five years of criticism separating us from the hype.]
But to get back to at least one of the subjects at hand, I recently cued up my copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, and marvelled at it just as much as I used to back in olden times. That’s one extremely strong album. Wow, was that a great album! Much as I’ve dismissed the “record album” as an artificial construct for which contemporary artistic nostalgia is misplaced, Ziggy just plain works — even if “It Ain’t Easy” was a late addition, and “Suffragette City” belongs before (rather than after) “Ziggy Stardust.” If we get to a retrospective awards ceremony for 1972, it’ll take some strong lobbying to displace Ziggy from my ballot.

3 thoughts on “Recollection

  1. White Chalk was in my clear top 10 of the year. I thought it was a very nice instrument change for Polly Jean and was a nice riff on her typical minimalism. The music is minimally beautiful sounding with about as introspectively dark lyrics as she could come up with. I love the irony of the wedding dress as well. Lest at the altar? Maybe a friend’s wedding dress she will never wear for her own matrimony? Obsession? Again, it’s kind of a riff on her question “Is this desire?”

    It took a few listens for me to grab a hold of it as did Uh Huh Her. But by the third or fourth it got into my soul a bit more. I reviewed it a bit longer over on my home on the web along with the other top nine which you might find interesting (Ziggy Stardust totally holds up now too so I am with you there…).

    BTW, I was @ PTS from 1996-2000 and we have a mutual friend who is in Dickinson, PA and went to Eckerd! I never did have you for a class though which I find quite unfortunate now.


  2. Drew,

    You have good taste in friends as well as in music, and likewise in hypothetical choices for New Testament professors.

    I haven’t listened to White Chalk that much because of the Coates phenomenon (increasing amounts of digital music available combined with increasing storage capacity = (among other things) decreasing time to listen to any particular recordings). I’m certinaly piqued by Sicha’s recommendation and yours, however.

    As for Ziggy — I was honestly surprised, not because I thought I’d encounter lackluster spots here and there, but because it’s been so long since I’ve heard so many consecutive cohesive powerful performances.

    Another example is Who’s Next, which I listened to the other day. Even that, however, has some flatter spots than Ziggy, I think (“My Wife” and “Going Mobile” strike me as more slack than comparable tracks on Ziggy, although that still pegs them well up in the “excellent” range overall).

  3. White Chalk is depressing there’s no doubt. It’s only about 35 minutes long too so it is good on space. Since I am an audiophile I refuse to listen to anything at a bit rate less than 160 since that is acceptable. That still cuts out a lot of the ambient overtones – especially with classical music, you really need to buy the CD, but for rock and roll, funk and jazz I can dig it. I am at about 55.5 gigs gone on the iPod so I am soon gong to have to go through the “stuff I bought but stopped listening to” list and trim it down.

    Who’s Next is one of those perpetually fresh albums for me. But I have to say that from that general era Odessey & Oracle from the Zombies, Sticky Fingers and Pet Sounds – and of course Dark Side of the Moon get me in a state of bliss unlike anything other than perhaps Radiohead, Slowdive, and the Verve. Part of me thinks I was born in the wrong country and in the wrong era musically, but that’s fine by me 😉

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