Criticism and the Cult - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #186

I try to keep my critical reflexes as sharp as possible. It can take time to come to terms with things you’re asked to review or comment on. There is a certain amount of digestion required around especially difficult properties before an equilibrium of opinion is reached, it’s important to exercise your opinion muscles as much as possible as a critic to minimise this turnaround time and quickly identify what your lasting opinion on something will be. I find my opinion on a video game can take many months to settle, while I can often judge a song from a single attentive listen. Of course things can change, records I hated five years ago I have revised my opinion on and vice versa, and controversial opinions upon revision have tended to cement themselves; but as a critic you have to keep these turnarounds to a minimum, and keep a reliable framework of opinion, so that people can follow you and judge against their own opinions how to judge a recommendation from you.

I have written long, and often, about the death of criticism, and critical culture. My biggest bugbear is the #songoftheday hashtag on twitter, featuring only the song title and band name, with no attempt to justify what it is about the day or about the song that earns it this place. There is space to be funny, insightful and complete in 140 characters. At the time of the sad death of Lou Reed (my opinion here and here) people would write “Lou Reed RIP” (exactly the reason Reed should RIP, or has been ripped, or will rip, is not known by this reporter. I’m lucky my laptop came with a period key as standard.) With no attempt to even slightly justify why Lou should ‘rest in peace’, or what effect he and his music had had. Everyone has an opinion, opinions form organically, you have to work hard to suppress them; but criticism is dying out. Nobody is a critic anymore. Nobody can justify their opinion, or feels the need to. The possession of an opinion is enough; it isn’t. Next time you recommend something to someone, or decide on your song of the day, lean back, and think why. What is it? Contextualise, do some research, back engineer your feelings; a little bit of understanding greatly increases enjoyment. Which makes the following two statements harder than ever to say. Firstly, my name is Steven, and despite so many attempts not to, I love the Cult. And second, I cannot explain why.
 

Everything they do is great. My obsession covers albums, live albums and even singles compilations. I’m addicted. A couple of weeks ago after a particularly long walk for nothin’ I found myself standing on the thoroughly horrible York station platform 10 (if memory serves) on a cold dark night intermittently catching a faceful of cold wind spray from a passing freight train and being asked the time by strangers who in half-light resembled aquatic life, wondering whether to catch the (delayed, natch) train home or just toss myself in front of the next express that shot through; and the thing that made it all better again was the Cult’s bizarre 2012 album Choice of Weapon. Big, simple riffs and Ian Astbury’s distinctive and derivative vocals. I’m certain the post-Doors mysticism doesn’t work with the post-punk-turned-stadium-rock bullshit message, and the spirituality is Rizla-thin, but it combines all these sub-par knock-off ingredients into the audio equivalent of the boxing day heat-up, and somehow it’s more immediately satisfying and lingering than a lot of the people they half-inched ideas from.

I’ve never believed in guilty pleasures, if something gives you pleasure, you should be proud of that, unless it’s strangulation. But I’ve also been quoted as saying that an opinion only has weight if you can justify it, and I can’t justify why I like the Cult, only that I do. So please, ignore me.

Written under duress by Steven.

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