Truth and lies
I was a bit disappointed when my Liars review in Slate seemed to disappear into a vacuum, so I'm glad that there are finally a few responses to it. One critic temporarily revoked my poetic license, but I'm happy to say that it's been handed back to me (and I didn't even have to buy any tickets to the annual poets' ball in order to get it back -- the defendant is relieved).
Andrew Beaujon, who wrote the review in Spin that was a partial jumping off point for my piece, also chimed in, back in April, though I've only just now seen the posting.
For what it's worth, and I hope this doesn't sound horribly waffly of me, Beaujon is pretty much on the mark with his comments, and I didn't intend to imply that he had an agenda in granting the album an "F."
I went into that review asking myself two questions -- why were critics so split over the record, and what did I hear in it that suggested exactly the opposite of what the negative critics heard? (I was especially curious since I'm not generally favorably disposed towards much of the shapeless noise-rock emerging at the moment.) But I also wanted to move beyond the minutiae of personal taste and attempt to divine what seemed like a kind of cultural pattern, to read the reception of the Liars' disc as a barometer of the current status of the retro-rock project itself.
Of course, reception is always tricky territory, and I had occasional doubts as to the validity of the approach. At one point I included something like a disclaimer on behalf of Beaujon and also Rolling Stone's reviewer, something to the effect that these are surely writers with record collections and historical knowledge as deep as (if not, as is likely, much deeper than) mine -- but of course that would have been silly, an even further attempt to psychologize their decisions.
(Although, at the same time, I'm not sure that characterizing Liars' new approach as indicating "contempt" for their audience doesn't make the same move down the slippery slope of authorial intention.)
I don't regret writing the piece, and I don't (exactly) regret my approach, but I also don't think I really nailed the argument as I was trying to make it -- and maybe that's because it wasn't there to be made. I'm still not sure. I do regret what Beaujon perceived as a snotty tone, which is something I try to reserve for people like, say, Nick Hornby (despite the apparently increasingly combative quality of my blog lately -- maybe it's time for me to switch anti-depressants?).