Rob Sheffield’s Bizarre Review of The Strokes New Album

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Rob Sheffield (also known as the wanksta of Rock Journalism)
Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone Magazine

Good Day Mr. Sheffield,

I’ve read your infamous two paragraphs review of The Strokes’ album ‘Comedown Machine,’  published by Rolling Stone on March 18, 2013.   Here are just a few tips on how to avoid writing  a Curmudgeonly Review, and having your name added to category #3  (your name already appears in category #4 for Hack Reviews)  of the Rolling Stone’s 500 Worst Reviews of All Time (work in progress)

If you want critics worth their salt to take you seriously, then you can’t rely on the ad hominem tropes to justify your frustration over something being successful that you don’t like. I love vitriol, and when it is practiced by folks like The Onion, it can elevate our discourse. But you are quite literally denigrating a beloved American rock band based on fallacious claims.

You ask:  “It’s not totally clear why the Strokes make albums, is it?” and surmise that  ” They don’t seem to enjoy it much, and they aren’t exactly bursting with innovative musical ideas that demand to be let loose”  although you do not know for certain.  You use offensive claims to validate your specious critique of the band’s album in two shameful paragraphs.

If you had done your homework, Mr. Sheffield, you would know that the band’s melodic garage rock sound of their first album Is This It “received universal acclaim from both mainstream and independent publications, including 4 stars from Rolling Stone, and a 9.1 from Pitchfork Media; it made many critics’ top 10 lists, and was named the best album of the year by Entertainment Weekly and TIME.  In 2009, NME named Is This It the greatest album of the decade (2000s).  The album placed second on a similar list compiled by Rolling Stone. The same issue featured a list of the ‘100 Best Songs of the 00’s’, in which songs “Hard to Explain” and “Last Nite” charted at No. 59 and No. 16, respectively.  In January 2011, Rolling Stone conducted a survey among their Facebook fans to determine the top ten debut albums of all time. Is This It came in at number ten and was also the most recent behind Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut.    Nice, huh?

The Strokes burst onto the scene in 2001 with an effortlessly distinct sound: Julian Casablancas’ audible distant scowl, Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.’s clashing double-guitar attack and an air-tight rhythm section. The band’s first two albums, 2001′s Is This It and 2003′s Room on Fire, “wrapped the youthful decadence and dive-bar realism of lower Manhattan life into contagious hooks recalling the Velvet Underground. The combination was monumental enough to open doors for a generation of rock & roll bands – including Kings of Leon, the Black Keys and many more.”

Their second album Room on Fire (October 2003) received praise from critics but was less commercially successful, although it still went Gold.

The third album, First Impressions of Earth, was released January 2006 to mixed reviews and debuted at number four in the US and number one in the UK, a first for the band. In Japan it went Gold within the first week of release. It was also the most downloaded album for two weeks on iTunes.

The fourth album Angles was due to be released in late 2009, but disagreements about the songs’ readiness forced The Strokes to scale back this date. Not long after recording began, however, the band became frustrated with Joe Chiccarelli‘s reserved production style. The Strokes decided to experiment with various production techniques, and recorded the rest of the album’s material at Albert Hammond, Jr.’s home studio in upstate New York with award-winning engineer Gus Oberg.

Media response to Angles (March 2011) was generally favorable; aggregating website Metacritic reports a normalized rating of 71%, based on 41 reviews.

In his four-star review,  David Fricke of Rolling Stone explained that the record was “worth the wait”, and summed it up as “the first step away from the sound of their instant-classic debut. Instead of the rigid purity of ‘Is This It,’ the new album nods to the more expansive sound of The Velvet Underground’s 1970 record, Loaded.”

Other critics praised Angles as a welcome reinvention for the band, with NME noting that it “lives up to its name by coming at you from some very obtuse places.” Claire Suddath, of TIME called the album “a 10 song exercise in rock precision,” and Mikael Wood of SPIN magazine proclaimed that it “reminds you why they were so irresistible in the first place”.  Amanda Petrusich of Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B-, describing it as “accordingly fractured and often inscrutable, but (with) returns to form.”

Is it clear to you now, Mr. Sheffield, why the Strokes make albums?

The Strokes’ shows, in 2006, had the band playing 18 sold-out shows during their UK tour. In March, the band returned to the US with their longest tour yet.

During the summer of 2006, The Strokes played several festival dates in Europe, including the Hultsfred Festival in Sweden, Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the Oxegen Festival in Ireland, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the FIB (Festival Internacional de Benicàssim), Fuji Rock Festival and headlined the Pentaport Rock Festival in South Korea.

They then toured Australia and Mexico in late August and early September, followed by the second leg of the United States tour. While in the US, The Strokes opened for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for five shows during their Highway Companion tour.

The Strokes went on to complete another US tour. During this final tour Casablancas stated to fans that the band would be taking an extensive break after it finished. An e-mail was sent out soon afterwards by Strokes manager Ryan Gentles, confirming that “much needed break”.

Comedown Machine  is the fifth studio album by the band, scheduled to be released on March 26, 2013 in the U.S., and on March 25 in the UK. This will be the final release in fulfilling the band’s contract agreement with long time label RCA.

Discussing the recording process with Zane Lowe, bassist Nikolai Fraiture said: “We got off tour and we had these songs, some left over and some new. We rehearsed in Electric Lady and it was working so we went with it. It was touch-and-go for a while but we…hashed it out all together like the good old days. It’s a legendary studio and it is not far away from us all, apart from Nick who lives in Los Angeles, but he made the trip out to record.”

Julian Casablancas recorded his parts together with the rest of the band, a change from his deliberate self-removal during recording sessions for Angles.

Fraiture recently told Pitchfork: “It’s kind of funny that new music doesn’t feel as natural as it used to but for us, posting it when it is done feels like that is the way it should be done. When you make music you go up down, sometimes you feel strong and sometimes you feel scared. Right now, we just finished the album and I feel good about it and the atmosphere in the band. Hopefully it continues.”

Media response to Comedown Machine is mixed; aggregating website Metacritic reports a normalized rating of 68%, based on 15 reviews.”Whether you’re in an Is This It vortex or not, this is The Strokes and they’ve returned with their most thought-provoking, strange and sexiest record yet,” said Kieran Mayall of Clash Magazine.  James Skinner of BBC Music added, “Although plenty of the group’s signature sounds are present and correct, they form the backdrop to an unexpectedly wide range of styles and approaches.” In  contrast, you Mr. Sheffield, questioned why the album was “an official Strokes album instead of another Casablancas solo album.

Here’s the thing you don’t understand: there are plenty of valid and salient ways to criticize The Strokes or any other band.  But I fail to see how someone who claims to enjoy music would want to communicate about music with all the substance of Snooki.

If you want me and other critics as well as Rolling Stone’s readers (you have plenty of them complaining about your latest piece) to take anything you have to say about music seriously, then first and foremost take a class in logic, and then do your homework before you review an album. Not everything we say or do has to be logical, but if you are going to shit on something then you can’t rely on fallacious arguments. Second, read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Third: read this and this. Fourth: grow up. Part of being an adult is understanding the difference between you and others. Others are different from you, and they don’t like the same shit as you do.

And that right there, Mr. Sheffield, is what bothers you so much about The Strokes. The band became wildly successful, and received six awards from 16 nominations, and you don’t like them. But instead of dealing with the fact, you whine like a toddler who has dropped his ice cream. Instead of getting on with your life, you broadcast your personal frustrations by insulting people you don’t know. Surely, you’re joking. Surely, you are trolling for hits. You can’t expect us to take you seriously, can you sir?

Comedown Machine is The Strokes charged, adventurous and with their heads on straight. They have returned with a romantic, fun and above all honest album.

Sources: Alternative media, Wikipedia, Time, NME, Spin, Rolling Stone

Galley photos: Google

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