February 13, 2008

Two of These Things Don't Belong

Odelay is an absolutely loveable album. Sure, there are some funny, goofy lyrics that might be about weird or dark things or emotions but on the whole it's adult contemporary radio-ready. Would my mom like it? Not as much as she likes Lauryn Hill's Miseducation or Joni Mitchell or Linda Ronstadt but yeah. At the same time Odelay is lo-o-o-o-ved by your hipster friends, the pitchforkerati. The in-the-know kids love it, hell they made music videos for Odelay's hits ushering in a new era of quirky as cool.

All that got me to wondering: how many classic album rank low on the edginess factor a/k/a the would-my-mom-like-it factor but simultaneously rank high on the hipsterness factor a/k/a the do-the-cool-kids-like it factor. If you smell a chart coming then you're nose is keen.

So on the chart above are all the albums we've listened to so far. The hipsterness quotient was decided by where the album appeared in pitchforkmedia.com's best albums of their respective decade while the edginess was more subjective. For the edginess rating I played songs from the album for my mom and decided on the rating by her facial expression of comfort (not edgy) or disgust (edgy).

For the most part, there is a direct corollary between hipsterness and edginess as the general upward moving diagonal shows. In fact there are no albums, so far, other than Odelay which fit in the lower right quadrant! Similarly, only The Battle of Los Angeles appears in the upper left quadrant.

Despite our small sample selection it seems that the key to making a classic canonical album is to balance the factors of hipsterness and edginess. Or something like that.

But where does this leave our two outsiders? Why are they such anomalies? In the case of The Battle of Los Angeles I think that its aggressive politics both offended and alienated the moderate pragmatists who, at the time of the album's release, were doing pretty well financially and socially. Who needs the system torn down when internet speculation is making us all rich? Who needs anger when we've had four years of peace and prosperity?

Odelay, I postulated was both a harbinger and product of this peace and prosperity. It was also an accurate depiction of exterior world. Unlike OK Computer whose unprecedented millennial angst seems ridiculous in historical perspective. Nevertheless that album is the one that is remembered as the best of the 90's. It follows the above chart's pattern of canonization perfectly.

I disliked Odelay and The Battle of Los Angeles greatly when they were released, albeit for widely disparate reasons. But on my contemporary re-listens they've been the two albums that have surprised me the most and the ones that have, oddly enough, made me the happiest.


polchic said...

Did you really say pitchforkerati? Can you trademark that?

Love the chart - will more albums be added as we listen?

LenBarker said...

Good work, man. As a proud music geek who is often repelled by hipsterness (especially when it relates to the scenes that the "pitchforkerati" tend to embrace), it's hard to argue with any ratings on that chart.

Eurowags said...

Funny and interesting chart, especially considering part of your methodology, i.e. mother's initial reaction. It's hard to argue with the results, though.

I also found your comments about your second impressions on the Beck and Rage Against the Machine albums particularly interesting. I, too, have found said albums to be better or more interesting the second time around. I still have to write my Rage album commentary, but it will basically convey my contrition for not having paid enough attention the first time.