Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Repost of Our First Article from 2014. Absolute Magnitude

AM is Absolute Magnitude, a measure of brightness without regard to distance.  AM, the website, applies this concept to Music (and occasionally to film and the arts).  In this forum, hosts and readers alike critique the brightest as well as the darkest stars on an AM scale of 10.  There are indeed tens in AM; they’re just few and far between.  Sgt. Pepper is a ten.  So is Joni Mitchell’s Blue.   AM’s goal is to create an objective forum.  A rubric is in place as the AM litmus test and was designed specifically for the album format, though the same rubric is in place for singles as well:

Songwriting/Lyrics (2 points): This combined category is the most subjective of the five.  Here the critique analyzes both songwriting and/or lyricism.  Instrumentals, from King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongue In Aspic” to “Tubular Bells,” both max out in this category; so does “The Great Gig in the Sky,” despite not having any lyrics.  From Bernie Taupin’s lyricism to Hal Asher’s realism, lyrics may often provide the key to a 2.     

Musicality (2 points): Bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin have arguably the most talented line-ups in music.  If your drummer is someone people fight over (Moony/John Bonham), chances are the category’s worth 2.  Conversely, no one will deny the musicality on the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Nice.”  Notwithstanding the studio musicians’ overwhelming role in the single, “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” still gets a 2.

Production (2 points):  Without Brian Wilson’s impeccable production, no one would have listened to Pet Sounds.  Production is often the difference between a ten and a one.  Pet Sounds gets a 2, so does Dark Side of the MoonExile on Main Street’s muddy lyrics and monotone production values keep Exile from the ten it may have otherwise garnered.

Impact (2 points):  No one bought a Van Gogh before he died.  The album being critiqued may not have even made the radar when it was new, so impact is a hard call.  Nobody denies the influence of the yellow B-52s album – like it or not, the impact is undeniable.  Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush was a bust in 1970, but today it shines as one of the great folk-rock albums.  This is a category that may change with time – up or down.

Longevity (2 points):  Does the critiqued album have legs?  After the Goldrush, Sgt. Pepper, The Cure’s Disintegration – just as incredible today as ever.  Country Joe and the Fish – not so much.

Let’s put it into place:  Crosby, Stills & Nash by Crosby, Stills & Nash - AM10
Songwriting: “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”, Stephen Stills’ love paean to Judy Collins, is still fun 40 years on. The doo-wop coda is the coolest thing on radio takeaway “Bennie and the Jets.”  The album is chock full of folk rock sounds and harmonies, from Crosby's evocative “Guinevere” to Graham Nash's perky "Marrakesh Express" and Stills’ “49 Bye-Byes.”  “Wooden Ships,” is another stand-out, not to mention “Long Time Gone,” David Crosby's moving, if cynical, tribute to Robert Kennedy.  Every song here is class and quality.

Musicality/Production: With CSN performing all of the instrumentation and Dallas Taylor on drums, the album’s sound is rich and full, if simple.  Production and Post-Production work was CSN as well and the clarity and engineering is unsurpassed.

Impact: Didn’t hurt that these songs were well-represented at Woodstock; the film’s opening scenes with “Long Time Gone” still bring a chill.  That aside, this was a new step in truly American music capturing our sensibilities and our dissatisfactions.  This album was a stepping stone into the 70s.

Longevity:  And here it is the 80s, the 90s, the naughts, the teens; still just as good.

Reviews shouldn’t be this formulaic, and keep in mind that no matter the rubric, any critique remains subjective.  Comments to the contrary and alternate reviews are always welcome and help to firm up the scores we’re hoping to set in stone.