Monday, June 15, 2015

Taste vs. Judgment

An online discussion with an online friend has me mulling the eternal question of taste vs. judgment yet again. Here is my proposition: That, at the extreme ends, at least, it is possible (and desirable) to make aesthetic judgments about a work of art's overall quality.

Here is one example. If I prefer The Godfather Part III to The Godfather, that is just fine. Taste is personal and I can enjoy any single work of art over any single work of art and if you tell me I am wrong you are just being a dick.

BUT - if I claim Godfather Part III is a better movie, well, then, now I am being a dick. Because if thousands and thousands of smart people have assessed both films (as they have) and decided that one is clearly a better work of art than the other (as they have), then for me to come along and tell them they are wrong is a bit narcissistic and silly. Again (and this is important), I don't have to like it better. I just have to acknowledge that it is objectively better.

Also, it is important to say that this is not scientific. So am I pretending there is some objective way to decide whether Part I or Part II is the better film? No. I could convincingly argue that I is better, or II.  But I could not convincingly argue that III is better. That's kind of my point.

My online friend thought I was wrong here, and I'm certain many of you will too - so, please! Debate me!

Until Whenever

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The U2 Ranking - Songs of Innocence Edition

It's been a long nine or so months since U2's surprise album release, of which the unusual circumstances surrounding its sharing I will say nothing. And now, at long last, it is time to assess where the new U2 songs stand in my prior ranking of U2 songs. Huzzah!

A brief recap:
  • For quick reference, the complete list of (pre-Songs of Innocence) songs and ranking is here.
  • A look at the ranking sorted by album (again, pre-Songs of Innocence) is here
  • Links to the posts about each song are here
And now, we can unveil, from the bottom-up, where in the new ranking the Songs of Innocence songs fall:

#146 - "California (There Is No End To Love)" (placed in between "Stateless" at #147 and "Summer Rain" at #145

There is something too-facile, too easy-breezy about this song, which fell flat for me on the first listen and hasn't since improved. I don't doubt that U2 (or at least Bono) has an affinity for California, but that affinity doesn't really come across here--this feels more like something you would produce if your only exposure to the state was through the movies. The music is pretty generic U2 for me, pleasant enough but without a hook or edge to really grab onto. Too smooth for my taste.

#110 - "Every Breaking Wave" (placed in between "Indian Summer Sky" at #111 and "Stories for Boys" at #109)

This is a weird one, as it is the album version I am of course ranking. That version is very similar to "California" for me - too smooth, too easy, too airbrushed. And the blatant retread of the "With or Without You" bass line just sticks out. But the live version is a gorgeous ballad--a little treacly, sure, but as I've said many times in this project, I am not averse to a little treacle. But rules are rules and I must rank the more anodyne album version, so here we are.

And the far superior live version:

#96 - "Lucifer's Hands" (placed in between "FAst Cars" at #97 and "Staring at the Sun" at #95

A slightly sinister track who's pretty safe and by-the-numbers verses are saved by a nicely aching chorus. This is that kind of U2 track that benefits from the band not trying too hard.

#81 - "Crystal Ballroom" (placed in between "Cedars of Lebanon" at #82 and "The Hands That Built America" at #80

This dance track features, simply put, a great groove.A really nice swagger and confidence on display here, as the band revisits its dance-influenced Pop past. Nothing earth-shattering, but just a nice example of how many areas this band can play in when it wants to.

#75 - "Raised By Wolves" (placed in between "Get On Your Boots" at #76 and "Angel of Harlem" at #74)

I quite like this as a harder-edged rock track from the band, even if its evocation of violence in Ireland feels a little half-baked and repetitive from older U2 tracks. The piano really works well here as well, which sounds odd given that it is its "rock"  sound that I like.

#71 - "Iris (Hold Me Close)" (placed in between "Even Better Than the Real Thing" at #72 and "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now" at #70)

I get how personal this song is for Bono, but unlike the superior "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," which is about Bono's father, this song about his deceased mother doesn't hit quite as hard. It's a rousing, passionate U2 song, and I like it just fine, but some of the rapturous claims made about it really struck me as overblown.

#70 - "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now"(placed between "Iris (Hold Me Close)" at #71 and
"Elevation" at #69

I love the "Gimme Shelter" homage and the bit of a different feel for U2 this song carries with it. Unlike "California" and "Every Breaking Wave," this song feels like U2 trying something new and not trying to recapture an existing sound or old flavor. It's certainly not revolutionary, but the sense and feel of the song is different. I love the warbly, Theremin-sounding figure and the bit of funk added to Edge's guitar lines. A very solid song.

#62 - "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" (placed between "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" at #63 and "Song for Someone" at #61

I like that little faded sing along at the beginning. But even more, I like the clickety-clack of Larry's sticks that serves as its accompaniment. And then that big, meaty riff? Is it a little self-aware in its bigness and meatiness? Maybe. But it works just the same. I love this song and love it as a first single so much more than "Get On Your Boots." Add to the mix a great, sincere, and catchy as hell chorus and I am sold. I loved this song from listen one.

#61 - "Song for Someone" (placed between "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" at #62 and "In God's Country" at #60

A delicate, sweet, wistful, and simple ballad. This is another example of what I have called attention to before as U2's ability to function as more-pure songwriters - unlike many U2 songs, this song could easily be envisioned as being covered by, say, Adele. The soaring chorus does exactly what it is supposed to do. A great ballad.

#59 - "Cedarwood Road" (placed in between "In God's Country" at #60 and "White As Snow" at #58)
A great intro, with a chiming Edge guitar line that then gives way to a much harder riff, as hard in its way as anything the band has ever recorded. I love the loping, relaxed quality in the verses, in the melody and accompaniment, and the yearning, plaintive quality in the chorus. A great U2 rock song.

#43 - "The Troubles" (placed in between "Vertigo" at #44 and "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" at #42

Another great closing song--this band is really good at these. This one has the melancholy (maybe not as deep a melancholy, but melancholy all the same) as "Love Is Blindness" but adds a more resigned, peaceful quality. And the addition of a female vocalist (Lykke Li) adds a TON to the impact of the song. There's an almost tribal feel to her melody, and the sinuous groove and guitar line pairs with it beautifully. A wonderful song.

#36 - "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight" (placed between "Running to Stand Still" at #37 and "Mysterious Ways" at #35

That opening bass/synth line is like a shock to the system. This could be on Pop. And it doesn't relent through the first verse. The opening is relentless in its spareness. Then, with the chorus, we get this restless piano figure and this gorgeously sad melody. Only then do we get some Edge guitar, in some big, rough, and emphatic chords. This is my favorite song on the album, and that the band is not closing with it on tour makes me very sad (it feels like such a natural).

Until Whenever