From the Popmatters’ 4/10 review of Joanna Newsom’s new behemoth, in reference to the album’s length. Not having heard the album, it’s hard for me to comment on this. I’m of three minds on long album length.
Practical Me totally agrees with this statement above. Throwing everything you’ve got at an album has nothing to do with ambition, especially if you had three years to record it. It’s not ambition; it’s convincing your record label to do it, which usually ain’t hard because it’s a good press angle. As a PR guy, I got so sick of receiving (and often having to pitch) 14 song, 65 minute debut albums. They were always the work of an artist or band in need of an editor. It was clear that the “album” consideration wasn’t really taken into account, that they’d put everything they’d ever done at that point onto their CD, which graciously accommodated them. Ask yourself this: who wants another Mellon Collie?
Wait, maybe I DO want another Mellon Collie. Listener Me is more ambivalent about this statement. I adore many of the supposed bloated failures out there. Tusk is my favorite Fleetwood Mac album. Odessa is near the top of the BeeGees canon for me (though maybe Horizontal or Idea is my favorite?). I’m a big Sandanista defender. The first two Tindersticks albums really hit me hard because they were so deep and so heavy and so long (an 80 minute CD?!). I like it when artists let it all hang out, when they throw a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks, when they barf all over an electronic musical medium and say “HERE. Take it.” It’s exhilarating to pick through the wreckage, looking for misunderstood gems and good bad ideas.
Musician Me takes umbrage at the statement above. Do you know how hard it is to record lots of (good-sounding) material? Even in the computer age it’s not THAT easy. Some bands take years polishing ten songs. Lord knows, I speak from experience. Eighteen songs probably took a lot of time to write, record, mix, and master. Give her a break. That IS ambitious. And Newsom’s music (including the few songs I’ve heard of the new one) is not slapdash four chord strummy material. It’s carefully considered and arranged, built on a lot of details. Regardless of what you think about the end product, it’s not like Joanna Newsom went into the studio for a week and just pooped this stuff. And shouldn’t being prolific—if even in spurts—be celebrated? One of the reasons that the Beatles, James Brown, Dylan, etc. were all so prolific is that they treated musicianship as a job. Being a musician was what they did and society accepted this role of theirs. In this era of day jobs and bad economies and nobody buying music, this kind of artist is fairly rare. We should be encouraging the reemergence of the musical artist as a professional, not expecting them to edit!
But then I think about having to listen to 3 CDs’ worth of material, with my Ph.D. collapsing in on me, and there is just no way I have the time. Practical Me wins out again.
(Whispery: my cousin wrote this review. I think it’s a solid argument. Gotta admit I’m not super into J. News, tho’ I respect her steez.)