1/21/2004 Add a comment

As we march into the new year we must not forget our brothers of the establishment. We rarely hear their self-assured voices--except in protest--when it comes to art/music/creative enterprise. That’s why my favorite ‘Best of the Year’ list every year is the National Review Online’s Music Top Ten. It’s the only review that (negatively) evaluates music based on its tendency to “actively corrode bourgeois values…”

After thinking about why I like this review so much, I realized that it’s hard to be a conservative music critic. It requires two separate balancing acts:

A) As an admirer of ‘tradition’ it is sometimes difficult to pick the best of the new. Notice the tone of disappointment in this article. Another year of pop failure. Kids these days. Nothing is quite like it was when it was better (David Bowie makes the top ten). While the kids at Pitchfork Media rush head long into new musical expression that will ‘change the world’—implicitly a good thing because the world currently needs changing—the NRO can’t be so enthusiastic.

B) Free marketeers versus social conservatives. It’s the same internal debate you’ll find everywhere on the NRO. The market has chosen it’s winners and since the market is the most efficient expression of popular taste, the best selling albums of 2003 are the best. But the social conservatives know this isn’t true, and Karnick has to acknowledge this. See his championing of the tiny 'Be' by Salem Hill with the fervor of an indie rocker.

So where do these influences lead Karnick? He picks Prog-rock, with a Barenaked Ladies, Blink 182, Fountains of Wayne twist. Old, melodic, popular, inoffensive. A perfect fit.

The details of the review are also enjoyable, watch for this quote about hiphop: “Rap, once all but ubiquitous, seems to be waning, slowly but surely; the broader category if hip-hop, though, with its rather more positive social aura, is still going strong.” Hmm, I thought from my sources on the street that rap was an activity, hiphop was the culture; it still seems like the act of 'rapping' is pretty popular (check the grammy nominations). And is he thinking of ‘positive social aura’ of Eminem, 50 cent, or Ludacris? Maybe he just heard the Blackeyed Peas one too many times this year (like us all).

Addendum: Being conservative is cool, which is something the guys at the The Baffler have been saying since the mid-nineties, although they are more dumbfounded, asking how did supporting big business become anti-establishment? Ian