Has everybody lost their critical faculties over the past year?

I sometimes wonder. It started with that Bob Dylan song, “Murder Most Foul”, which was released to much general wetting of pants early in what we are now nostalgically calling “the first lockdown”. Followed in short order by the unexpected release of the album Rough and Rowdy Ways.

As I’ve said before, I’ve got a lot of time for Dylan, but I’m fairly isolated among the fandom in my reluctance to engage with anything since his voice broke. I felt, during the 80s and early 90s too often bitten and too late shy, and I’m sorry but I feel phrases like, “His voice sounds great” to be utterly baffling, when to any objective measure his voice hasn’t sounded “great” since, what, 1983? I love ‘Brownsville Girl’, but that voice is not Dylan’s best voice. I love ‘Most of the Time’, but the Oh Mercy voice is already broken.

I can think of Rough and Rowdy Ways as a spoken word record, a more interesting example of the kind of thing Sinatra was doing when he performed, and I can’t believe I’m about to type the following, the poetry of Rod McKuen. But am I, a person living in the world, going to spend much time listening to spoken word records?

I am not. And so for all the lavish praise heaped upon Rough and Rowdy Ways and ‘Murder Most Foul’, I have to ask, have you lost your critical faculties? Anyway, I was fairly kind to it a year ago, but have I played it since? I have not. Have you?

I sometimes disagree with David Hepworth, and I’m not one to keep lists of overrated things, but he is right when he argues that “the new album” is always overrated.

Which brings me to Sunday night TV and The Pursuit of Love, Emily Mortimer’s serviceable adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s novel.

The TV critics (and others) have been all over this, hard on the heels of their obsession with the (at best) so-so Line of Duty. And for me this is a two-for-one example of losing your critical mind over something that is mediocre: television played with a straight bat. BBC One on a Sunday night. Right. Pursuit of Love is not that great, not that interesting, contains average luvvie performances, irritating cartoon-like characters, posh frocks in stately homes, and no detectable storyline. Furthermore, and I’m definitely out on a limb here, I fucking hated the soundtrack. Yeah, let’s just whack in a few anachronistic choices, it’ll seem edgy. Ugh. Or, to put it another way: we’re too cheap to pay a composer, so we’ll put in some pop, but nothing too well-known or it’ll be too expensive. And to see my Twitter timeline cheering these musical choices from the sidelines was just irritating. Bit of T-Rex was it? The same T-Rex you totally ignored in favour whatever was hip and trendy the first time around? Lieutenant Pigeon? Whatevs.

Mare of Easttown, already blogged about, continues to garner critical plaudits for some reason. Listen, it’s a bog-standard cop drama with absolutely bog-standard plot beats. Off the case, working the case when she shouldn’t, women locked up by a nasty man, protagonist being shouted at by her (black) line manager. It’s alright, but it’s nothing special. And where’s Guy Pearce? Are we supposed to forget this character played by a leading actor who appears in the first couple of episodes and then seems to vanish? Perhaps he’s the killer all along, do you think? Ugh, again.

I’m not saying these things are shit. I’m saying they’re okay, but they’re not the five-star, astonishing, amazing, superlative things they’ve been created by the critics. By all means, let’s celebrate 80-year-old rock stars while they are alive rather than pretending to care about them after they’ve gone. But let’s remember what it was they did that was actually good.

In this week that celebrated the 50th anniversary of Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram, I’m reminded that the same class of people (the critics) who lavishly praised The Pursuit of Love and Rough and Rowdy Ways also dismissed (as lightweight) Ram, and also Dylan’s New Morning, and so much more that turns out, in hindsight, to have been, ahem, pretty damn good. Never forget that Blade Runner was a flop, and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, released in 1970, didn’t even chart in the UK until 2011, ten years ago. It reached number 68. This is how wrong people can be. One wonders what was critically acclaimed and popular when Van Gogh couldn’t sell his paintings. 

It turns out that revisionism, a dirty word for some, is all we have.

So I’ve ended up contradicting myself, haven’t I? People haven’t lost their critical faculties. They never had them.


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