Sunday, September 28, 2008

Entertainment Weekly and the Cliché Cliché

Now that Entertainment Weekly’s got a few more issues with the new redesign under their belt, I figured it was worth revisiting. As I predicted, familiarity bred comfort and the new look doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it initially did. I like the way the graphics are popping and either the layout is less cluttered or I’ve acclimated because I find that I can focus a bit better on reading the charticles and listicles in the front-of-book. I do, however, stand by my initial gripe over splitting up the TV and movie DVD sections. The graphics department has been doing a really stellar job lately, with the drawn artwork and assorted accompanying graphics - they're really churning out some attractive stuff. And Diablo Cody's nostalgic-but-sharp column on Judy Blume made me fall in love with Diablo Cody all over again (hey, when is Jennifer's Body gonna be released, anyway?).

I’m also glad that EW is back to arriving on Fridays for me. For a while it was coming on Wednesdays, and since I use EW to plan my upcoming week-in-pop-culture, a five-day delay in arrival was crimping my style, but whatever was causing the delay seems to have been resolved because it's now landing on my doorstep on Fridays as usual, giving me ample time to set my Tivo.

I was happy to see the return of Stupid Questions in the September 19th issue with House on the cover. (I was also happy to see House on the cover!) Stupid Questions was always one of my fave features, because let’s face it – most celebrity interviews are choked with stupid questions (and I say this having occasionally been the one on the stupid-question-asking side of the tape recorder), let’s at least be honest about it. And Jerry O’Connell (of the first-cancellation-casualty of the TV season, Do Not Disturb) provided some hilarious answers.

So yeah, thumbs up on the new design. Either it's better than I initially thought or I've got Stockholm syndrome, but either way, it's working for me.

But all is not entirely well in my relationship with EW. No, unfortunately, I am feeling the sting of betrayal. You know how sometimes you have one really, really awesome friend who you love, and another really, really awesome friend who you love, and you assume that when they meet they'll love each other but when you introduce them at a party one shows utter, inexplicable disdain for the other and it just breaks your heart because you want these two awesome forces in your life to mesh and they don't?

Yeah, well, that's a long-winded and overly dramatic way of saying that I am beyond bummed that my favorite magazine panned the new album by my all-time favorite band.

As I flipped through the current issue, with Stewart and Colbert re-creating that infamous Obama New Yorker cover, I landed on the music section and the review for the new Jack’s Mannequin album, The Glass Passenger, due out this Tuesday. To my immense chagrin, I saw that the reviewer gave the album a C+.

My initial reaction was along the lines of, “Bring me the head of the reviewer on a pike!” But now that I’ve had some time to calm down and reflect, my reaction is more like, “Bring me the head of the reviewer on a silver platter! Throw me down some Salomé shit, hardcore!”

Okay, I know, maybe I’m being harsh – the album isn’t out yet, right? It could suck, right? Maybe the reviewer knows something I don’t? But this isn’t the knee-jerk reaction of a die-hard Jack’s Mannequin fan. Okay, this isn’t just the knee-jerk reaction of a die-hard Jack’s Mannequin fan. Between two EPs and one instant download with an album pre-order, they’ve released seven tracks. There’s also an additional song on their MySpace, clips of some others available early to Verizon phone users, and YouTube concert footage of new material. So when I say that the new album is fantastic, I’m not just making assumptions based on past love, I’m basing it on the substantial portions I’ve already heard.

Granted, EW’s reviews could sometimes be accused of being overly effusive so it’s always nice to see some actual con-crit, but in this case I feel like the reviewer was being way too harsh with some unfounded complaints. The biggest complaints seem to be that “frontman Andrew McMahon sticks to his formula of friendly piano and new-wave-influenced beats on his second album” and “he sounds a bit bored as he tries to force clichéd metaphors into power ballads” and “the ratio of cheese to sincerity is just too high” which, just, ouch. I know that reviews are largely just well-stated opinions and you can’t really argue with opinions, but I really don’t get where the reviewer is coming from. For one, from what I’ve heard, the new material sounds quite different from the songs of the first album, Everything in Transit, and McMahon’s work with Something Corporate. Okay, I’ll admit that The Glass Passenger’s “Miss California” sounds a lot like Everything in Transit’s “Miss Delaney”, but “Miss Delaney” is one of my favorite Andrew McMahon songs so I’m not gonna complain on that one. But “Bloodshot”, “Swim”, “Cell Phone”, and “Sleazy Wednesday” all sound quite different from the earlier songs. I also feel like this is an openly honest album – almost painfully so – exploring McMahon’s post-leukemia struggle to return to normalcy. With lyrics like “And the hill’s still left to climb/ It's just so high/ And I'm so tired/ Come on look me in my bloodshot eyes” from “Bloodshot” and “Swim for the music that saves you/ When you're not so sure you’ll survive” from “Swim” and “I have become increasingly/ Overwhelmed when I’m in public/ I’m not so patient when they stare/ There’s a fighter/ Somewhere underneath this skin and bones” from “Cell Phone” (which granted is a B-side that might not have factored into the EW review), I can’t fathom the sincerity not ringing out for any listener.

As for the accusation of clichés, well, the reviewer just happened to hit on one of my pet peeves. This is a term that critics love to bandy about and it gets misused so often I think it’s lost all meaning. I saw it a lot in writing workshops when I was in school, I’d get crits of my stories back and sometimes one of the critters would write “too many clichés” but, oddly, when pressed (and I would press them on this) they couldn’t point to any specific examples. So the complaint was that I had used words people had used before? Well, yes, there are a finite amount of words in the English language that I can use without inventing new ones or being accused of using large words for the sake of using large words. I won’t disagree that there are indeed clichés and they can be overused in writing, however, I feel like they have their purpose, when used sparingly. For example, if I was writing something and wanted the background detail of a mangy cat to set the scene, I might describe it as “skin and bones” (as seen in, say, “Cell Phone”) as a kind of shorthand. Sure, I could strain my brain thinking up some brand new metaphor to get across the cat’s skinniness (though when I have tried that, I’ve usually gotten comments like “that’s a weird way to describe that…” proving there is no winning either way), but when I’m writing I’ve usually got a lot to say and why waste time and divert the narrative when I can just use a familiar phrase to get your mental image of the setting snapped into place so I can move on with the actual story? And songwriters have even less space to work with – I’d say an average of 5 minutes and 200 words. If you really examine most song lyrics, most contain “clichés” – even Fall Out Boy’s labyrinthine swaths of wordage – simply rearranged in a way that’s fresh and melodically pleasing.

I dunno, maybe I’m just lazy or unimaginative. But honestly, I usually see the cliché criticism leveled by unimaginative critics who use it as a catch-all, so much so that it’s become a cliché itself – oh, irony.

At any rate (wait, is that a cliché, or just a transition?), I’ll be doing my own review of The Glass Passenger sometime this week. It (probably) won’t be just a gushing fangirl’s squeeage, and it definitely won’t include the word cliché.

1 comment:

Sex Mahoney for President said...

What does Entertainment Weekly now? They think the best episode of The Simpsons is "Last Exit to Springfield" and didn't even review Yahoo Serious's most recent film.

Sex Mahoney for President