We Were Wrong

City Pages writers look back on 25 years of arts criticism, and the sentences that still make us cringe

We ranted. We raved. We rhapsodized. We ralphed. Then, on the eve of City Pages' 25th anniversary, we sorted through decades of our carefully penned arts criticism, and found we had done something else: We lied. What follows are excepts from reviews written by staffers and freelancers with brief explanations as to why they were horribly, shockingly, embarrassingly wrong. Of course, such lapses in judgment are rare at this paper. So

next week, when we issue 16 pages of ecstatic praise for Hillary Duff's forthcoming collection of erotic poetry for teens, remember to take our critical insights as gospel.

 

I love SFBay-area goths/garage rockers the Lies. That's why when critics say they suck, I know in my heart that what theyreally mean is that the Lies rock. TheAll Music Guide describes their latest albumResigned (Kill Rock Stars) as having "poorly mixed parts" (which, to me, means: "genius, amateur-production aesthetics") and "inharmonious group vocals" (read: "innovative, catatonic singing"). The online siteEar Pollution accuses the Lies of "wearing their [Joy Division] influences on their sleeves" (rock jargon for "intelligently re-interpreting Eighties post-punk nihilism"). I agree with the critics that the Lies are bad, but as Michael Jackson taught us, sometimes "bad" just means "good." (A-List, 4/4/2001)

If the music critic's pen is mightier than the sword, I should have stabbed myself in the ear with the sharpest calligraphy quill possible. Please forgive me. To all five of you who read this A-List and showed up to watch the Lies betroth themselves to goth, I owe you a coupon for $5 off your next Nosferatu cape at Hot Topic. Because the Lies were not just "bad." The Lies were quite possibly the worst band I have ever seen live in my life, and that's including the group of tone-deaf a capella singers I once saw perform a "rock opera" about bacon. Yes, sometimes (mostly when somebody's slang-starved mother tries to "get jiggy" with "her homies") "bad" can mean "dangerous" or maybe even "cool." But no matter whose hip-hop-to-white-girl translation dictionary I use, this review is just no good. --Melissa Maerz

 

Fans of "real" hip hop who've denigrated [Master] P's mic skills miss a crucial point. It doesn't matter that P can't rap; he's a good enough producer to make everything buzz and flow. (CD review of Master P's Ghetto D, 11/5/1997)

Okay, I admit it, he sucked as a producer as well. The title song ("D" stood for dope) contained the brilliant stroke of Master P updating Eric B. and Rakim's "Eric B. Is President" by replacing a sample of Rakim saying "make 'em clap to this" with a sample of some guy (C-Murder?) saying "make crack like this." The amoral novelty of this twist (hey, a commercial for drug dealing!) blinded me to its plain ineptness. But hey, Master P's movies still rule, don't they? --Peter S. Scholtes

 

White male criticsseem to admire [DJ Shadow's]Entroducing because it's a DJ/electronic album that makes rational sense; you could call it conceptual even. But why is rational meaning, a comfortably ordered noise, so attractive to those critics? And what if a music makes sense in ways less accessible to critical thinking? I find DJ Shadow overbearing, overwrought, and overdone, like an exegesis on doodling. And I think his current deification signifies nothing less than a communal ducking in the face of what dub- and dance-derived music has demanded of us: a new critical language that respects such vernaculars of as-yet indistinct meaning as the tongues of the body, the measurements of space, and the wisdom of tides. ("Listening in Tongues," 1/15/1997)

I haven't changed my mind about DJ Shadow. What this passage does, though, is assign "irrationality" to the electronic musicians I preferred, as if those DJs were not also consciously constructing, but were instead mainlining to some kind of primal gettin'-it-on. Which is silly. Also, given that I subsequently praised African American turntablist DJ Spooky as an avatar of the anti-Shadow school, it's racist--in the same way calling Michael Jordan a "natural" is racist. I read an interview with Spooky that made that point; I don't know if I would've ever realized as much myself. These days I could give a shit about DJ vs. DJ (jeezus, wasn't there a bigger issue to waste passion on?). But this ignorant rant still makes me blush. --Terri Sutton

 

I'm haunted by images from the movieTitanic... ("Depth Probe" 1/21/1998)

I'm not a haberdasher or a heart surgeon, and I'm certainly not a theater critic. It only took a year of writing theater reviews for me to figure this out. During my 1997 to 1998 tour of duty as City Pages' theater critic, I screwed up plenty--mostly in that I was too nice. However, I have always felt guilty about this one particular review.

The show in question was an interpretation of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea by 15 Head, an upstart troupe at the time. Unfortunately for them, I was so burnt out on theater that I essentially opted out of doing my job that week, instead turning the review into a lengthy analysis of the movie Titanic. I suspect my editors were equally weary at the time: They let the review run without any actual acknowledgment of the production I had just seen--no actors, no set, no dialogue. Nothing. Just a whole lotta Titanic. And it wasn't even fun movie-talk--just self-serious grasping at mental cobwebs. It was so bad. And I quote: I'm haunted by images from the movieTitanic. They bob inexorably to the surface as I wash dishes and shovel snow... (Ever notice how no one ever actually says the word inexorably? They just use it to write fancy.) ... Like the exploding space shuttle, this ship's destruction shakes viewers to the core; it makes us cringe and quiver... (Note use of the hinky "we" construction. Who the fuck is "we"?) ...It's a profoundly Freudian film, and--silly as this may sound--reminds me of two water-obsessed Freudian feminists, Henrik Ibsen and Virginia Woolf... Um, yeah. That's good for a quiver or two. --Kate Sullivan

 

At press time,Sixteen-Oh-Sixty hadn't yet been acquired for distribution, although it's only a matter of time before industry bigwigs start hailing [Vinicius] Mainardi as the next Tarantino.("Reeling in the Apple," 10/18/1995)

When a film critic gives up alcohol, nicotine, and orgasms in the same six-month period, he or she might faint during movies, prefer Persuasion to Kicking and Screaming, and predict Pulp Fiction-size success for a caustic comedy about the class struggle in São Paulo--a picture whose Brazilian Marxist director has barely been noticed in a decade. Still, hailing Paul Verhoeven's 1995 sex-bomb as "less a lap dance than a mind fuck," I was absolutely right about Showgirls. --Rob Nelson

 

[Pat Travers] deserves to be remembered for more than simply "Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)." (Night & Day, 3/29/1995)

If it takes a big man to admit he's wrong, then I'm a wee music critic staring into the kneecaps of Jiminy Cricket. I've written a boatload of opinions that remain more dubious than ever in the face of subsequent conventional wisdom--and I continue to believe almost every one. I'll still take Ice-T over Ice Cube (as rapper, lyricist, or actor); think Sonny Rollins is a more enthralling saxophonist than Bird or Coltrane; regard Beck as an emperor with no clothes; claim Amy Grant has more sex appeal than Foxy Brown or Lil' Kim; and maintain that among hip-hop releases from 1993, Salt-n-Pepa's Very Necessary is a superior disc to both Dre's Chronic and De La Soul's Buhloone Mindstate.

But in the A-List section of this particular City Pages issue (then known as Night & Day), obviously coping with some severe life crisis or monster hangover, I scribbled something that not even I can pretend to defend. Though it shames me to repeat it, I did indeed write that Pat Travers, now perhaps most charitably described as a Bob Seger wannabe during the late '70s, "deserves to be remembered for more than simply 'Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights).'" There's not enough space to explain the 73 ways these words are stupid, so let me just say that "Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)" is by any measure--rational or irrational--an indelible blotch on anyone's résumé, and case-closed reason enough for its creator to be permanently forgotten. If championing "Boom" wasn't bad enough, I also thought that the likes of "Rock N Roll Susie," "Heat in the Street," and "Snortin' Whiskey" offered further cause for Travers to lay claim on a few of your brain cells. Obviously, I was in error. If Pat Travers ever resurrects his sorry career to the point where he's third on the bill at one of the local casinos, he owes me a beer. --Britt Robson

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