Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and why every time you purchase one you are personally contributing ...

... to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards.

Sorry, apparently my title is a bit too long.

Anyway, what follows is the bastard result of the coupling of a too-long tweet ("Every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and every time you purchase one you are personally contributing to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards.") with the beginnings of what was meant to be a three- or four-line comment about the Dead's "Infrared Roses". Over the course of some hours, that offspring grew into a nearly 1500 word argument for the aforementioned tweet's thesis. It lacks cohesion, uniform voice or style, clarity of purpose, and just about anything else one might typically consider beneficial to supporting an argument. But it was fun to write (and re-read), and, most importantly, it is full of Truth. (And if you say it earlier, it had loads more errors, as well as a contest to see who could find the most of those errors, with the winner to receive a free copy "The Ultimate Best of Yanni". I am sorry to report though, that the contest is over, having been won by one Mr. Jones, and the majority of those errors have been corrected.)

But anyway, on with the show:

I want to preface by saying I am by no means a Grateful Dead fanatic, so perhaps I was not the target audience. Generally speaking though, I find their music, at worst, palatable; at best, out-of-this-world, mind-blowingly fantastic.

That being said, approximately two hours ago, I started listening to the Grateful Dead's 'Infrared Roses' (IR) for my first time. Mere minutes ago, I finished listening to it for my second time. You see, I had to be certain I was hearing it correctly. Having reached a similar conclusion upon my second listening, I feel fairly confident in stating that IR is one of the worst professionally produced albums I have ever heard! Not the individual tracks, mind you. Those, I loved, without exception. But the album as a whole? Absolute trash.

Now, I have downloaded dozens of their shows and have found that most of them tend to play closer to the 'out-of-this-world, mind-blowingly fantastic' end of the spectrum. To me, Drums/Space is often the highlight of a given show. Given that IR is a compilation of these improvisational sessions, it hardly seems right that I should find the album so terrible. The problem is, none of the tracks were ever meant to stand without the framework of a musical set to support it. As a composition, IR makes about as much sense as a song composed of nothing but the bridges of other songs, strung together with no rhyme or reason. Basically, what screws IR is that, no matter its interesting choice in material to draw from, it is nothing but a 'best-of' or 'greatest hits' album (BO/GH).

As a rule BO/GHs are produced on the basic principle that (Good Thing + other Good Thing)=Better Thing. People who believe this to be axiomatic, I like to politely refer to as "Fucking Idiots" (FI). As a courtesy to my more conservative readers, I will refrain from mentioning what I refer to them as in private. (I jest, of course; I am not that polite. I am, however that lazy. To type out even an abbreviated version would take the better half of a line.)(Now, where was I? Basic prin... Better Things... believe... Ah.) To those FIs wary of my assertion that the aforementioned axiom is false, I have no intention of asking you to rely on faith. Rather I ask that, before you read on, try a gravy and ketchup sundae. I believe the results of this experiment should be convincing enough.

But even losing integrity through combination with non-complimentary companion pieces, many Good Things will already have suffered by being removed from context of the Whole Thing, becoming merely Things, or even Bad Things. This is reflected, as I mentioned before, in the improvisational portions of Dead concerts. As a part of a full set-list, they are often my favorite part. But listened to without the rest of the show, many of them sound... pointless. (or to continue with the food analogies, ketchup as a condiment, divine. Ketchup as an entrée, not so much).

At this point, there are two possibilities. In one case, the BO/GH is to be a compilation of songs by an artist or group that took the care to compose albums, rather than just songs. Certainly, a good song should stand on its own merits, but a good album can take great songs to new heights. And when they are taken out of their context they lose some of that impact. A compilation of these disparate parts will be far, far less than the sum of its parts.

If, on the other hand, the artist whose oeuvre is to be drawn from is a single-grinder, churning out albums consisting of a handful of hits, buffered with so much filler, then their BO/GH will most likely be superior to any of their standard albums. This does not, however, change the fact that such music is soulless crap, and a compilation of such will still suck.

But how does you purchasing BO/GHs directly contribute to the downfall of society and the arrival of the Beast? Put simply, and in generalized terms, the same way applying your purchasing power toward any given product helps promote its continued development and that of like products.

More specifically, when you purchase a BO/GH, you send a very distinct message, or, rather, a few distinct messages, to a few distinct parties.

First, what you are saying to your average person:

Actually, I don't know that it says anything to the average person. Most people don't care about music. Yeah, yeah. Everybody has a bunch of songs they like listening to, but they don't care about music. They can listen to the radio without a pure and overwhelming malevolence toward society crystallizing in the core of their soul. When they hear something they recognize as soulless drivel, they just turn it off, the thought of taking a wrecking-ball to every transmitter responsible for propagating that radio signal never crossing their mind. And they certainly have never pondered which, of genocide or the willful debasement of a society's artistic and intellectual standards, is the worse crime. (Seriously, think about it. Which is more evil, murdering or ruining someone? If the Borg were coming, would you rather be killed in the fight, or assimilated? I don't have an answer.)

Anyway, this is what you are saying to people who care about music:
"I am metaphor for everything that is wrong with society. I am the bastard of populism and capitalism. I have no concept of what constitutes good music. Yet, because there are more of me than there are of you, my contemptible lack of taste is what record companies are going to consider when engineering music's future. Loath me."

Next, what you are saying to the record companies:
"Keep producing artists that record throw-away albums of radio-friendly swill. My purchasing power will always be behind the lowest common denominator. Provided you remember to tell me to like them."

And finally, what you are saying to the artist:
"I don't really like you. At worst, I hate your stuff, but for some reason, maybe to appear cultured or something, want your name on my CD rack, and this achieves that goal with the least amount of investment. Or maybe it's just that you churn out 'albums', not a one worth owning on its own merits because each one is nothing more than a few singles padded with crap. Most likely though, I have absolutely taste in music and, thus, no interest in listening to any cuts that didn't get major rotation, even though every fan and serious critic agrees that those are your worst songs and you had no intention of releasing them until some soul-sucking record exec forced you to put them on the album to in an effort to boost sales to spineless cretins like me.

At this point you may be wondering what to do if you want to listen to that handful of listenable songs by some artist that never made a listenable album; you want the songs, but you don't want to feed the beast. Your best bet in that case is theft. Shoplifting a BO/GH is an option, if you have the balls/lack of anything to lose for that, but personally, I'd recommend illegally downloading the songs you want. While you're at it, download every Metallica album you can find, just out of spite, then delete them all because they are a terrible band. (Incidentally, this is a fun and effective way to relieve stress.) The other alternative is to not listen to shitty music.

Anyway, I hope that you now understand why every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and why every time you purchase one you are personally contributing to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards.

If you don't, that's okay, too. I am well aware realize that these are not the most well-developed or cohesive arguments I have ever presented and admit that there are certain points where it's not even clear exactly what the purpose of my argument is. It was not my original intention to explain or argue anything at all. In fact, my original intent was merely to tweet "Every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and every time you purchase one you are personally contributing to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards." Since that exceeded Twitter's character limits, it was to become a facebook wall-post, but I was already partway into writing one of those regarding my first two listens or Infrared Roses. The two ideas seemed complimentary, so I decided to merge them... And I guess you just read the result. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I think I'm done though. Like, completely. As in, besides spell-check, I'm skipping the proof-read. We'll make it a game. Whoever finds the most errors gets a free copy "The Ultimate Best of Yanni".

1 comment:

  1. This is the comment thread left on my facebook wall. I'm copying them here, hoping that the discussion will move here as well. This way, their comments can stick around as long as the piece they're commenting on, rather than being buried the the facebook notice. I am dropping their last names though, as this is a more public site; it's up to them what level of web-anonymity they want to keep.


    Rory ~ 0645
    This sounds intriguing. I also feel it erodes at musical standards. Have you seen (arguably the worst culprit of all) Now That's Music volume numbers lately? They're on 80 according to Wikipedia. Not that they haven't always been and forever will remain garbage, but even if their quality radar was accurate, I know there hasn't been that much great music out there that they can't sit on their previous assembly of complete bullshit for more than 3 months at a time.


    Rory ~ 0650
    Very enjoyable. I would submit a list of grammatical corrections, however I don't want to, in any way, chance qualifying for the winning prize.


    Me ~ 0700
    Yeah, after re-reading, I'm thinking I might have to fix some things and add an "okay, i lied, but i did my editing at 7am at night after noticing some very distracting errors" to the end


    Daniel ~ 1545
    I say, right on! I have NEVER liked BO/GHs. Heck, aside from the points you make, BO/GHs tend to *butcher the songs themselves*.

    What are we, in some sort of hurry? Respect the art! Full versions and full albums forever!


    Rory ~ 1545
    Reading something late at night, that was written late at night, is an interesting place to be. It wasn't hard to follow, but I might have had to work for it a little more.


    Travis ~ 1715
    Charlie, you ever read those 33&1/3 books? They are books written about "important" or "influential" albums. Some are good reads. Many are super-pretentious. Anyway, one of the books in this series is about ABBA's greatest hits album: ABBA GOLD. It is not a very good read (because it isn't about the group during a single time. it jumps all over), but it brings up an interesting counter to your thesis. The reason this album is "important" is because it completely changed how the world viewed ABBA. For all intents and purposes ABBA were a single-machine, and many people viewed them as silly or trivial in addition to that. When ABBA GOLD came out, the world was given many great songs in a package they'd never had before, and it brought ABBA (who were DONE when it was released) into a position where people could take them seriously. It also allowed for people to view their other (filler?) work as something more serious and beautiful than they had in the first place. I guess it made them treat the band more fairly? I have not articulated this well, but that book might be worth checking out.


    Travis ~ 1715
    All of that being said, I'm against best of albums. BUT I think it is interesting when they can completely change how a band is viewed I guess.


    Travis ~ 1715
    OH and for those 33&1/3 books, you should definitely check out My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. It's fucking nuts what they went through to make that album.


    Me ~ 1745
    Wow! This is drumming up much more response than I expected! Thanks! This is great, but I'm gonna copy all of these into a comment on the blog site and ask that any additional comments go there as well. Then, once I finish up this calc homework, I'll get to responding to them.