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Dumpster Bust Up in Your Ear: Between Under and Overrated

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Spin has a fun and oddly compelling article that lists the “10 Most Accurately Rated Artists in Rock History.” Noting that musical discussions invariably focus upon which bands are overrated (Sonic Youth) and underrated (Thin Lizzy), Chuck Klosterman took it upon himself to set the record straight and level on the most perfectly rated bands of all time.

Of note:

- The Black Crowes’ (#10) first album sold more than five million copies, which is “exactly the right number.”

Madness’ (#9) best single, “Our House,” “was a pretty great single, but it’s nobodies favorites song. No one seems to dispute that.”

- Matthew Sweet (#5) albums contain exactly one good song, the first one, and it’s “always utterly perfect… He sells enough albums to live comfortably, and that seems reasonable.” Sweet.

- The Beatles (#4) “are generally seen as the single most important rock band of all time, because they wrote all the best songs. Since both of these facts are true, the Beatles are rated properly.”

- Van Halen (#1) “should have been the biggest arena act of the early 1980s, and they were. They had the greatest guitar player of the 1980s, and everyone (except possibly Yngwie Malmsteen) seems to agree. They switched singers and became semi-crappy, and nobody aggressively disputes that fact. They also recorded the most average song in rock history: “And the Cradle Will Rock.” What this means is that any song better than “And the Cradle Will Rock” is good, and any song worse than “And the Cradle Will Rock” is bad. If we were to rank every rock song (in sequential order) from best to worst, “And the Cradle Will Rock” would be right in the fucking middle.”

All this talk about rating got me to thinking about the way that music fans, real music fans, think about music. There’s something great about owning a bunch of albums by an underrated or unknown band, a band you know in your heart of hearts is super-cool. (For the record: the bands that fall into this mode for me at present include Jurassic 5, Boss Hogg, The Von Bondies, and The Distillers.) These bands and the music they play define you in a way, give you a personal air of the exotic that no one else even knows about. But you know, and that’s what counts.

Occasionally, an underrated band will ascend to perfectly rated or even overrated glory. When The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones leapt to fleeting superstardom off the power of their ska-lounge album Let’s Face It (Dickie Barrett even intones on their superior live album “Live from the Middle East,” in reference to the smash single “The Impression That I Get”: “Who wants to hear this fucking song again?”), it was a little bit sad in a way, like seeing one of your children off into the world. You’re happy and elated that they found success, but you kind of miss that completely irrational sense of connection you felt with them, their music, their way of life. And if you ever see snotty 14-year-olds with baggy pants wearing a tee-shirt with that band’s name on it, you’ll walk straight into an elementary school and slowly scratch your fingernails slow and hard against the nearest blackboard until it’s all, all better.

That’s the cool thing about music, though: the pendulum constantly swings. Thanks to the Gods that’s so, as it makes for plenty to talk about, and plenty more to listen to.

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