Friday, December 9, 2011

The Best vs. My Favorite

Many years ago, Donnie and I had a discussion centered around whether or not you can think something is your favorite but not the best. This was before either of us had children and we were definitely drunk at the time and those things combined mean that neither of us will remember the details of the discussion (NOTE: This principle does NOT include the Andrew Hat Debate. Not only was it never in my pants, I am certain I never claimed it was. But that's not why you called, is it?)

The basic argument I was making was that it is possible to look at art and separate your objective and subjective views. I believe my example referred to literature (but it relates to all art, music, women, etc.) My favorite book of all-time is Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. I think it's the perfect combination of cerebral and visceral storytelling with wonderfully developed characters, heart to spare and a perfect ending. However, the best book I've ever read is unquestionably The Great Gatsby. Every single word in that book is exactly as it should be and I don't believe there is any way it could be improved upon. While I know that there are some people who would take issue with Robbins' language and tendencies to go so far off on tangents one forgets what book they are reading sometimes, it works for me. And while Gatsby didn't make me finish it while driving so as to not put it down for a single second (Jitterbug did,) I can appreciate it for the literary perfection that it is.

So why am I going on and on about this on a music blog? Because I've been struggling with this concept in some of the records (or Spotify tracks if we're being honest,) that I've been listening to recently. Specifically, I finally 'discovered' the Mumford and Sons record a month ago. I'd seen the performance on the Grammy's and because I work down the hall from the Rolling Stone folks, I'd been aware of their existence, but never dove in. However, on a recent flight to LA (thank you Delta for having free music as well as a decent free trivia game...SUCK IT guy in 24C, I OWNED YOU!) I was able to listen to the album straight through for the first time. And the second. And the sixth. After I got back home and had played it so many times in my office I considered buying a banjo, I realized I had a problem. But I couldn't shake the thought that I might not actually like it. I mean, it's definitely possible that it's really cheesy, right? I could see myself never listening to it again. But one thing that I knew for sure was that it was awesome. They are clearly good at what they do and I couldn't imagine the record possibly being better than it was. Objectively, I appreciate it. I'm still waiting to decide whether or not I subjectively like it.

Conversely, I am 100% convinced that I absolutely LOVE all of the John Linnell songs from They Might Be Giants. Yes, the early stuff is so horrific on a production level (bad drum machines, bad synths, etc.,) and his partner (the other John,) is so incredibly annoying and shitty that it takes away from my overall enjoyment. But when you get to the later albums where they're actually playing with a band (John Henry and Factory Showroom being my 2 favorites from the period,) the songs that Linnell writes and sings on are, in my view, incredible works of pop/rock songwriting. I love that shit. But it's also entirely possible that it sucks beyond belief. I've almost lost the ability to be objective about it I love it so much.

So I ask you, gentlemen (are there ladies on here?) What are your favorite band/albums that may not actually be good and what are the albums that you KNOW are fantastic but you may not like?


Aaron Poehler said...

I've always maintained the two are very different things: "favorite" can apply to music/film/whatever loved out of nostalgia, that reminds you of that one person you don't see anymore, that just makes you dance the right way. "Best", well, has to be really really REALLY good and can be appreciated in a more academic sense perhaps, but may not have the same emotional impact.

Sonny Sharrock is my favorite, but Derek Bailey's (probably) the best.

CS said...

An interesting question. It relates to the whole "guilty pleasures" concept: things you like, but know you shouldn't. I go back and forth on it. My example, music-wise, is Coldplay's song "Yellow." I hold this to be a masterpiece of a tune (I won't comment on the lyrics, haven't really listened to them). Most of us music elitests hate that band (and I'll say there are some good reasons for that). They have other "good" songs, particularly on that record, but nothing even approaching the pop-rock quality of "Yellow." Then, you have that side of Radiohead that is, frankly, difficult to like. I'm thinking of about half the songs on In Rainbows and King of Limbs. I know Radiohead is attempting more than Coldplay ever will. I respect that, but, I don't really like a lot of it.

A band that for me is a "favorite," but is likely not in anyone's "best" category is Los Campesenos. For whatever reason, they play me emotionally like a fiddle. But, I can see how they're formulaic and not striving as artists.

I like Aaron's example too, and I'll stay in that vein for another example: My favorite James Blood Ulmer record is Odyssey, but his best is probably Free Lancing.

rootless said...

I've somehow managed to hear Mumford & Sons in passing and was utterly repulsed, and I've never gotten They Might be Giants, but we all got shit like that. I liked Creed for like 15 minutes and I felt like a total tool, but that could be because it was related to a specific time and place and what happened (a beautiful red-head, San Francisco) when a song of theirs caught my ear. The Coldplay example is a good one, I sort of want to check out their new album, but yet I feel like I shouldn't.

rootless said...

Oh, and BTW, I feel you big time on Tom Robbins, in particular with Jitterbug Perfume. I think it gets the nod over Skinny Legs and All for his best (though the SL&A does a credible job of describing the meaning of life at the end of the book, if I recall). I remember being about to go on a road-trip when I was 18 and a I needed a book. A friend gave me Still Life with Woodpecker and I was sold when I read the back: "Still life with Woodpecker is a sort of love story that takes place inside a pack of camel cigarettes". I love what a critic once said of Robbins: He writes like Dolly Parton looks. I think his work has fallen off in recent years, but great example of someone who is not considered "the best" but is definitely a "favorite".

The Professor said...

I need to chew on that Dolly Parton reference a bit. I'm not sure what Dolly Parton really means to me. Big chest...but what else? Hmm...

Agreed on Robbins' work slipping. I couldn't get into him from Half Asleep in Frog's Pajamas onward. That book was told entirely in 2nd person. Too gimmicky for me, and I'm an admitted They Might Be Giants fan.

Funny thing about Mumford...I like the music the first few times on that plane ride. But when I went searching through youtube clips and saw that their live shows resembled Dave Matthews or worse, it changed my opinion. Unfair, perhaps, but I haven't listened since.

DC said...

Clark Starr, i feel you re: that Coldplay joint and that whole album.

I'd say "my favorite" i.e. guilty pleasure would be Monster Magnet "Spine of God"... just over the top rock rock with satan/drug/partying references and lots of "OOOH's" and "YEAH BABY's". Same thing with 60's psych jams that are so cheezy and bad but so on point at the same time. Skip Spence and Bob Smith and so forth.

As far "The Best", Nirvana's "Nevermind" got back in my rotation for a minute when I was reading that history of grunge book, and that shit is just solid gold, once in a lifetime album. All killer, no filler.

EJ said...

or you could just enjoy what you like listening to without categorizing and pigeonholing it.

DC said...

Way to bring everybody down, dude.

Misfits "Bullet" is sounding kind of like the perfect song right now. How does WWALT feel about the Misfits?

rootless said...

Misfits were never my thing.