When NPR’s “All Songs Considered” took on Sting and asserted that he jumped the shark with his “smooth jazz” 80s hit “Fragile,” was it an honest critique or hindsight colored by the sound of dated keyboards – keyboards that belonged to a decade of excess, a decade that is hard to see as cool?
In its day, Richard Harrington of The Washington Post said “Fragile” was “a beautiful homage….on which Sting plays acoustic guitar, has a shimmering, neo-Brazilian pulse in the manner of Jao Gilberto and Milton Nascimento, and his singing has that feel as well as the soft focus of Nick Drake.”
And yet in 2011 the NPR crew tore into the song. The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” was also scoffed at. In my mind, it’s one of the band’s more memorable songs.
Regardless of quality, the problem with the song that was mentioned was style. “Friday I’m in Love” was a happy, giddy song that deviated from the band’s Goth image.
Meanwhile, when Bob Boilen brought up Paul Simon, an artist who is considered to be in the rock gods pantheon, he gave him a free pass — or a Tom Waits style get-out-of-jail-free card, if you will. This was in spite of the fact that Simon’s work has been spotty over the last 20 years.
Boilen played a cut from Simon’s album “Songs from The Capeman.”
Here is what reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine said about that album on The All Music Blog: “The music is forced and labored – it often sounds like he has to push the melodies into unnatural paths – and it never has the graceful, joyously organic spirit of doo- wop and Puerto Rican music, which is what he needed to capture in order for The Capeman to succeed.”
Music journalists also need to be more in touch with their hearts. First, writers need to understand when they are being subjective, and second, they need to understand when it’s OK to be subjective.
Likes and dislikes are personal, and feelings are personal. In this way, interpreting art is personal. No journalism class can change this.
Otherwise, in the words of a co-worker, and fellow music writer, “It’s like looking at a painting and telling people they are stupid if they don’t get it.”