So I was just looking for a CD to soundtrack me washing up, and thought ‘ah I’ve not listened to that for a while, let’s give it a go’. The CD in question is ‘I Can See Your House From Here’ by Pat Metheny and John Scofield, a CD that I distinctly remember thinking ‘file under not really very good’ when I got it. Was deeply disappointed with it.
It’s great. Very good indeed.
What lead me to not get it first time round? Expectation, I think. I knew what I thought a Metheny Scofield album should sound like, and this wasn’t it. I wanted it to be the album I’d half imagined in my head, and when it wasn’t, instead of deferring to the wisdom of the artist, I decided it was lame.
So what does this do to the critical process? We still have to formulate opinions on things, and something’s appear to be total rubbish, or at least disappointingly fall short of the potential that a group/collaboration/artist shows.
The problem seem to be with second guessing what a project was intended as. If there’s a stated aim, it’s sometimes easier to tell whether a particular artistic endeavour has fallen short of that. If there isn’t, it’s pretty tricky to work out whether it’s a successful rendering of the concept. Whether you dig it or not is another thing altogether, but whether it’s an objectively poor record is quite something else.
There was a discussion recently on the Jonatha Brooke discussion forum about the cover tunes on her new CD – she’s recorded ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Fire And Rain’ and ‘Eye In The Sky’ by the Alan Parsons Project. The first two are so well known they don’t even need crediting to their respective performers.
The discussion seemed to be arguing whether or not it was even valid to attempt new versions of these tunes, and involved the projection of an entire methodology onto Jonatha, implying that as a creative songwriter, she must’ve been running out of ideas or something… Whether or not people liked the covers is not something I’m too bothered by, but I found the questioning of whether or not recording them was an artistically valid thing to do a really weird leap of logic. Jonatha has, as far as I know, made no statement as to her reasoning behind doing the tunes, or her relationship to the whole original/interpretative approach to performing songs, so the whole argument seemed to hinge on the various poster’s own feelings about the importance of those songs, and jonatha’s role as a singer/songwriter/performer.
Most of it was bollocks, but it did get me thinking. Criticism can be a really good thing – sometimes bad reviews and negative comments can be helpful in that they let you know where the writer is at in relationship to your work, and occasionally – very occasionally – the reasoning of the writer is such that you see flaws in your own creative process that you weren’t aware of. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but when it happens, it’s pretty useful.
But for the most part, people tend to objectify their subjective feelings about a song or a gig or a performance – I liked it, therefor it was ‘good’. I didn’t like it, therefor it was ‘invalid’/’not good’/’a waste of time’/’the wrong thing to do’. That’s the kind of crap that as a performer you can get into debates with people about, or you can just ignore, and move on, realising that the writer has no idea what you were trying to do anyway. Even better, you can reinterpret it, extract from it their perception of what you do, and find new ways of explaining what you do that help those people get a handle on it.
Of course, in the long run lots of people still won’t get it, and lots more will think you’re a bit rubbish, but that’s all part of the fun.
Soundtrack – Pat Metheny & John Scofield, ‘I Can See Your House From Here'; Horace Silver, ‘Jazz Masters'; Jonas Hellborg, ‘Octave Of The Holy Innocents'; Jill Sobule, ‘Pink Pearl’.by