Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Like a Stumbling Boulder

A review of a Rolling Stone issue (also, here's a link to a much more worthwhile publication in terms of music reviews Pitchfork can be monumentally pedantic and self-involved (David Cross' "review" satirizes Pitchfork here but generally does well to review interesting, and upcoming artists):
If Rolling Stone were an ice cream, it’d be Chocolate - more unique than Vanilla (and proud of itself for being so) but not nearly as unusual as Rocky Road or Cherry Garcia. Nowhere is this more evident than in the August 10, 2006 edition.
The cover is a picture of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant from an era long gone looking cool as ever. It proclaims Zeppelin to be the “Heaviest Band of All Time,” which is a fair attempt at a bold title, and while it’s not exactly timely it is nice to see RS featuring musicians rather than Angelina Jolie or Avril Lavigne.
The table of contents declares that it is “All the News that Fits,” which I imagine was at some point edgy and counter-culturey, but now sounds like a joke my 9th grade math teacher might have made.
The front of the book is well designed with interesting music industry information, obits of famous musicians and general pop culture matters. There does seem to be a strong emphasis on the bottom line with nearly every news item mentioning sales if not actual dollar amounts. While money is obviously the engine of the music industry, that which drives the car is the music, and it seems Rolling Stone sometimes forgets that concept.
The feature story on Zeppelin is Rolling Stone doing what Rolling Stone does best. It’s a lengthy (eight page) look at the band and is interesting to both casual fans and Zeppelin aficionados. The pictures are an impressive collection that do well to highlight the essence of the article (there is also a picture of Page swigging Jack Daniels that is flat out inspiring). The article gets behind the scenes (and takes the reader there with it) at all the big moments of Zep’s career and provides insider info about a band that was always hard to understand.
The ending informs the reader that Mikal Gilmore, the articles author, has been writing for RS since 1976. This is why Rolling Stone can remain relevant despite it’s inability to fully grasp today’s music scene – it has unparalleled access to pop culture history, and in this article, it shows.
The problem with Rolling Stone is evident in two sections. First, in Target Iran, the magazine’s national affairs story, they discuss how the Pentagon and the Bush administration are once again plotting to start a war. At this point Rolling Stone would be far more controversial and edgy if they were to support something the Bush administration did. I'm certain that I could outline the political views of the editorial staff of RS, when a layman can do such a thing (or at least thinks he can), the magazine has lost it's ability to captivate an audience.
The other matter is more musical in its fault. The CD review section features eight separate reviews of new records. Six of the reviews receive three stars with two receiving three and a half. This is not compelling material. Frankly, if a music magazine cannot find a single record worth panning or extolling then it shouldn't be put out. There are too many records released each week to not be able to find something that isn't, well, vanilla. And this is where Rolling Stone has become irrelevant. The magazine is no longer willing to, or able to, decipher musical trends, or find the bands that are creating them. Very few music junkies turn to RS to find the next big thing, because RS is too busy churning out three star music reviews of records put out by the big five production companies.
Rolling Stone was an important magazine. It was chocolate when vanilla was all there was. However, the internet is Ben and Jerry and Rolling Stone has yet to add any flavor to its recipe.

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