Monday, August 20, 2007

Pitchfork Disses Latest Album By The New Pornographers

During today’s read of Pitchfork I stumbled across a less-than-flattering review of The New Pornographers' new album Challengers. Written by Rob Mitchum, the review misses the mark on a couple crucial areas.

First, Mitchum spends the first paragraph and a half sort of dressing down the New Pornographers for their insistence on not being labeled a “supergroup”. (In prior interviews Carl Newman has tried to deflect the “supergroup” label). Mitchum accurately points out that “supergroup” is a much easier term to use than “band made up of people from other notable bands”. True, but why use either? This is the New Pornographers fourth album. They are a band well beyond some spontaneous collaboration stage. Mitchum disagrees, however, and says they will never be seen as a regular group, especially while the careers of Neko Case, Destroyer, and Carl Newman grow concurrent with the band. Concurrent? Really? I had never heard of a band being so plagued as victims of their own solo successes but I guess I’ll have to take Mitchum’s word for it. This review is particularly disappointing for the way it nefariously drones on about the dynamics of the group rather than the actual music on Challengers. The proper definition of “supergroup” is a side issue at best that would be more preferably seen near the bottom of the article—and certainly shouldn’t serve as the catalyst for the review. I think it's fair to say any music review that doesn’t touch upon the merits of an album’s actual music until well after the reader’s patience has been exhausted might inherently have some problems.

The review hits a low point when Mitchum stupidly writes that Challengers comes off more as a sequel to Newman’s solo album The Slow Wonder rather than a New Pornographers record. Given that Newman has typically always written a bulk of the material on all previous Pornographers’ records, I find it difficult to see what Mitchum is building at. I even listened to The Slow Wonder to perhaps try and understand this comment but no dice. If Challengers is any more of a Carl Newman solo album than Mass Romantic, Electric Version, or Twin Cinema apparently somewhere along the way I was fooled.

Finally, five paragraphs in, Mitchum begins to deconstruct the songs on the album. And although I guess he makes a point that Neko Case’s vocals could have been utilized more on the title track “Challengers”, I can’t find a single part of me that doesn’t love this song. I think the quietness of it all blends perfectly with the slowness of the music and Newman’s backing vocals. Don’t be surprised if this is one of the songs from the album that translates wonderfully in concert. And despite the range Case displays on her solo albums, I can’t imagine this sung any differently. Maybe Mitchum was actually hoping for was a Neko Case solo record rather than Carl Newman. He’s further off base when he calls “All the Old Showstoppers” teasingly flat. Simply wrong. And he’s only half-right when he calls Daniel Bejar’s contribution as “two forgettable c-sides”. “Entering White Cecilia” comes off rather dull both musically and lyrically but “The Spirit of Giving” is one of the gems of the record and appropriately sends off Challengers on a high note in classic New Pornographer fashion. What’s puzzling is that Mitchum seems to miss this since one of his main complaints is that none of the songs contain the originality and changing tempo of say Twin Cinema’s “The Bleeding Heart Show”. So you can add victims of their own unique style along with solo success and group dynamic that is preventing Mitchum from embracing this record. Not me though, “The Spirit of Giving” and “Mutiny, I Promise You", more than capture the bleeding heart style and carry the torch onward.

I don’t want this to come off as a predictable and mindless Pitchfork slam because for one, I don’t think there’s any room left for me on the bandwagon, and second, I am a big Pitchfork fan. But too often they incorporate innocuous subplots into their reviews for the sake of sounding well-crafted and schooled in the art of reviewing music. David Cross wrote a rather infamous and hilarious article for Pitchfork entitled "Albums to Listen to While Reading Overwrought Pitchfork Reviews". Part of the title probably stemmed from Cross’ bitterness at Pitchfork’s very critical reviews on his two previous comedy albums (reviews that were more than accurate btw, Cross’ albums are mysteriously and sadly not that funny) but he was also making a pretty good point. There is no need to over-think every aspect of an album when simply informing your readers on the merits of the music will more than suffice. Is it also too late to mention that Pitchfork gave the album a 6.0, which last I looked wasn't terrible, but spent 80% of the time trashing it? (Gotta love rather abstract number systems as a way to calculate music). But whatever, I personally think Challengers is very good, and in light of nothingquitelike’s album review system, I am ordering you to make a trip to your local record store tomorrow and pick it up.


Jim said...

Holy Cow, You got beef with everyone. Pearl Jam, ticketmaster, Rilo Kiley, Pitchfork. I bet you will be beefin to the max about George W. next. I agree with you on all counts. That album is the tits, no matter what anyone says. That album makes me wanna hold hands with boys and whisper into their ears, and I'm not even gay. That is a compliment. Not a weak album in the 4 that the NP have put out.

Alex said...

Yeah, and you better be careful or you might be next. I can think of numerous reasons to bring you down.

The Dong Machine said...

Pitchfork makes me angry...and, as Jim knows, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Alex said...

I still like Pitchfork and usually agree with their reviews. You can't really win when reviewing albums. It's only a matter of time before you piss off even your biggest fan, but still, that review was terrible.

Matt said...

Puck Fitchfork!

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