Sunday, 10 August 2008

Can one have an "objective" best-albums list??

In an e-mail I received today, one keen music observer was shocked to see a top-20 albums list without Nirvana's Nevermind at number one. I cannot deny that for many years Nevermind served to limit my musical exploration because

1) I detested it when I first heard it on the radio and still do, as the linked review will show
2) it made me assume that anything not classified as mainstream pop was basically extremely loud thrash like Silverchair

The alternative list provided claims to be an objective list of the greatest albums ever in terms of both critical and popular acclaim, using a precise system of scoring to judge albums.

However, as the cerebral critic Joe S. Harrington showed over half a decade ago, there are two problems with this list. One is that - and I know from my own experience listening - that music is extremely mood-oriented so that something that is objectively good may not be perceived as such. Second, that fact that if one digs deep one can see roots of so many modern artists in albums that are simply unknown to not only the immense majority of even devoted music listeners, but also to most critics. It is the ability to unearth so much that drew me to Harrington and keeps me recommending his list as essential reading for all music fans. The complete absence of Nevermind from this and many other best-albums lists I have read makes the claim noted at the beginning of that album's omniprescence false.

All in all, making objective judgments about what the best albums may be remotely possible, but the perspective required is so incredibly hard to achieve that there is no likelihood of it ever really occurring.

1 comment:

taylormcclish said...

Thanks for the link, JPB.

I appreciate the list links you posted and given my appetite for those types of things, I'm sure I'll delve into them later.

That throw-away comment about Nevermind was a sarcastic auto-response to working around alternative rock radio for too many years. (And watching one too many MTV/VH-1 countdowns in the last decade.) I know not everyone blindly worships Nirvana. It just feels that way some days.

I don't know that I think an objective list of best albums is possible; music is too personal and taste has to creep in, even if the way it creeps in is through the way the person is choosing to variables to measure it.

I was amused that the writer actually did try to make something empirical out of it. I certainly don't agree with all aspects of his list, either, but I liked that he tried.