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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Why rock records are like cakes

The rush to pronounce on the new Bruce Springsteen album reminds me of all the frantic spinning that goes on immediately after a Budget. The New York Times even unleashed *two* of its pop critics on it. Their debate was like an argument over the merits of different candidates running in the Presidential primaries. Everybody seems obsessed with what he had to say about the recession and just who he was siding with. It reminds me of the crowd pursuing Graham Chapman in The Life Of Brian, begging for a sign.

There was a similar clutching at straws among those who confined themselves to discussions of the music. They ticked off the musical characteristics - choruses, types of guitars, production techniques - as if from a shopping list. I honestly can’t see the point.

Here’s the thing about rock records. Even to the trained ear they all sound the same the first four or five times through. At that stage those people who are predisposed to like them will convince themselves the record is great. Those predisposed to think the record's poor will convince themselves of the opposite. Those with 1,000 words to write will form an opinion that they don’t yet have. None of them know.

They don't know because the things that mark out the tiny handful of great records from the thousands of fair to middling ones only emerge over time and they do so when you’re not concentrating. Great records creep up on you like friendship. The things that make them great records are often not obvious on first acquaintance. Most cakes have the same ingredients. Only the good ones rise. And any baker will tell you that you'll get nowhere opening the oven door to check.