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 Everett True

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I wrote a review of the new Washington album for The Vine. You can find it here.

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Washington
I Believe You Liar
(Universal Music)

Australia. You worry me sometimes.

I’ve seen this album hailed as 2010’s saviour of pop. (This is what happens when you allow fucking radio presenters to moonlight as music critics, incidentally: the bottom line is “will it sound good on drive time?” Critical judgment is thrown to the wind because it has no place on the airwaves.) OK. First point. Pop is doing perfectly well by itself, thank you very much – ask Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kelis, Katy Perry or the endless galaxy of moneyed, sexed-up stars. It’s desirable, pulsating, thriving… and often more musically adventurous than its dull stay-at-home brother, indie music. Second point: why do indie boys always equate pop music with bland?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve watched clips of Megan Washington – to all intents and purposes “Washington” herself – and she seems intriguing: lively, good-humoured, rocking the chic school librarian look, possessed of a fine if overly breathless voice, lyrics that doubtless tell of the trauma and enjoyment of growing up in Brisbane as a teen and of being in love and in lust with twenty-something irreverence. There’s an extraordinary performance on Spicks And Specks where she does the equivalent of singing the phone book, and reduces a fellow panellist to tears. And I like her choice of costumes when she does dress-up. But the saviour of pop…? Oh come on.

What Megan Washington is, far more obviously, is this year’s Katie Noonan, this year’s Sarah Blasko. This is music for the mainstream critics who love to harp on about musicianship and songwriting like either of these abilities matter in the production of pop music. Again, don’t get me wrong. I like all these artists, to greater or lesser degrees (Washington included): but the production on I Believe You Liar is aimed at alienating no one. It’s pure middle-of-the-road indie Shins territory. Megan plays piano. So the piano is brought to the fore. Megan writes slightly quirky lyrics. So the slightly quirky lyrics are brought to the fore. But behind them both is a filled-in, rounded-off production that serves to mask every last imperfection. (Surely part of Washington’s appeal?) It could be – and is – the background to a thousand other would-be chart singers.

Take ‘The Hardest Part’: jaunty, infectious beat and a rolling repetition between the piano and vocals. I bet it’s killer, live. The production (nods to the A&R man idea of what Elvis Costello sounds like, which doesn’t actually exist) absolutely kills it, digitalised and overblown to buggery. Take ‘I Believe You Liar’. Megan is aiming for Kate Bush or (shudder) Tori Amos territory but ends up sounding like Lily Allen acoustic – why are those strings there? WHY ARE THOSE STRINGS THERE? What do they add? Megan Washington has this slightly odd dynamic going on behind her public persona: awkward yet simultaneously confident, enthusiastic. Doesn’t she think this song strong enough to be heard without the ornamentation? It is. Again, I bet it’s great live.

Australia does worry me sometimes. I mean, everyone loves to think they’re mates with the stars and that if someone achieves success it’s all ‘good on ya mate for getting up there’. Why? Why is there such uniform acceptance of even the blandest of sounds? Sure, the strutting ‘1997’ wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Seventies AM radio. Is this really such a plus? Sure, ‘Cement’ has some cheeky lyrics (“You left your message on the cement”) and a fine hook. Sure, ‘Rich Kids’ is a nicely nasty putdown of Brisbane. But do the songs really have to be radio’d to fuck? I guess so. Without the production, Washington wouldn’t have received the radio play, and without the radio play Washington wouldn’t have received the adulation. It’s a vicious circle.

Nice album title, though.

Everett True

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There’s been commentary on this review in several places, notably on The Vine, Twitter and Mess And Noise. (Oddly, none of Facebook, usually so voluble in its support of my work: it couldn’t be because Washington originally hails from Brisbane and is thus considered ‘off limits’ to the folk here, could it?) Most of the commentary has been favourable: several folk agreeing with WinnieRay on The Vine when they write, “Love this review – everything i’d be too afraid to tell a fan of this girl… Its odd having someone marketed as ‘left of centre’ by making them as ‘close to the centre’ as possible.”

Even industry insider Clem Bastow, who’s been cynical of my approach to criticism before now, chipped in with the following: “I agree with absolutely everything here. There’s an insidious tendency in Australian criticism/radio to suggest certain artists – Blasko last year, Washington this year – are “reinventing” or “revolutionising” pop. No, they’re reheating radio-friendly adult-contemporary from the ’70s and ’80s. There’s nothing inventive nor revolutionary about this record, or Blasko’s, as pretty as they are.”

Some of Megan Washington’s defenders wrote back – including the editor of Mess And Noise, and her management (via email) – pointing out that I’d got hold of the wrong end of the stick, far as the production goes. The album was mixed in a shed in her parents’ garden by Megan and her drummer John Castle, it was sold to the label on that basis, and far from it being given a deliberate ‘sheen’ to make it more radio-friendly, this was the sound the band wanted. I am happy to print this correction. I still don’t like the production on I Believe You Liar – way, way too polite for me – but that’s fine. I accept that Washington didn’t have any hidden agenda behind it. Personal taste and everything.

Someone didn’t like the fact I had a go at “radio presenters moonlighting as music critics”, thinking that it was perhaps a personal jibe at one critic in particular. It wasn’t. I was just trying to point out that all critics are compromised by the situations they find ourselves in – e.g. if you live in Brisbane, you will not be able to slag anyone off who isn’t a close personal mate of a close personal mate: if you’re a radio DJ then it’s pretty damn unlikely you’re going to be writing anything that upsets your bosses or audience.

Some folk thought I had an agenda – to which I responded thus. “I’m a fucking music critic. Heaven forbid I should actually have some opinions about music.” Or, as one of my (English) friends on Facebook sarcastically put it, “You’re a music critic. Your job is to report objectively on each band you see or album you review: how many songs / members / who plays what / audience reaction / sales performance and whatever else appears in the press release.”

One critic thought that perhaps I shouldn’t be criticising Australian media (with the inference that, as a new citizen, that it’s ‘un-Australian’ of me to do so), that I should perhaps be focusing on criticising American or British media instead. To which I responded, “I’m an Australian citizen who lives in Australia, who’s writing about an Australian act for an Australian website, so I reference Australia. I’m not sure why this should seem so peculiar to you. Or perhaps you’re suggesting that every time I write about music, I should place it within the context of the entire world? Why stop at just the UK and America then? Or are they the only two countries that matter?” My critic wrote back stating that, “[The review] made specific reference to ‘Australian criticism/radio’ embracing bland music … Which is mostly true, but it’s not endemic to Australia. The vicious circle operates everywhere. It doesn’t need context, but everything outside of it does. It’s boring being told for the upteenth time that mediocrity prevails.”

To which I could only rejoinder, “… It’s lovely that you’re so enlightened but to judge from the feedback I’ve received for this review (here and elsewhere) it seems that others don’t appreciate the finer nuances of the way the Australian media – both mainstream and alternative – had a tendency to turn a blind eye to the mediocre.”

Finally, some folk thought that I should ditch my personal integrity and start liking Tori Amos or (shudder) The Shins.

Um. No.

27 Responses to more on Washington

  1. Tim Footman September 3, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Now you’re Australian, you have to become sexually aroused whenever you hear Cold Chisel. It’s the law.

  2. ed September 3, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Every time I open a review on Mess+Noise and see that it’s by “the radio presenter moonlighting as music critics” I assume you’re referring to, my blood really starts to boil.

    If you’re a reviewer and are busted reviewing the same band at the same time for two publications but with widely differing views, praising the band in one review, strongly criticising them in the other, your words, however pretty, and your opinion are suddenly meaningless. So every time I read one of this reviewer’s reviews I’m questioning why he’s still being employed to write reviews, and getting paid for it, when I don’t know if it’s his real opinion or it’s just what the publication he’s writing for (and it’s readership) wants and expects to see.

    I don’t ask much of reviewers but if you’re writing without much in the way of integrity you should be working in PR…

  3. Darragh September 3, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Ed – you’re spot on. It creates distrust. I find it disgusting.

    ET – Though I completely disagree with you on the Shins, I think you’re spot on with Washington. She seems like a genuinely likable person, but what she is performing is not revolutionary. Still she is going to make a bucketload of money, selling shows out left, right and centre, which is all well and good. Doesn’t mean I have to like the snake oil.

  4. ed September 3, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve photographed her a couple times and she was ok

    http://www.notaphoto.com/big-sound-2009-wednesday
    http://www.notaphoto.com/washington-last-dinosaurs-the-troubadour

    I’m just getting irritated that I can’t open a newspaper/magazine, turn on the radio or the TV or go to a music festival without her being there; she’s omnipresent. She won’t know what to do with herself that Saturday in December where Homebake was meant to be.

  5. Darragh September 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    The hype is a bit overbearing – which might explain why people are getting pissed off, myself included.

  6. Andrew September 3, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Criticise the music, Everett. Don’t criticise the labels that have been attached by others. Don’t try and bring her down because, heaven forbid, she is successful.

  7. A.H. Cayley September 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    While I really like Washington and this album, I would not presume to tell a critic he or she is wrong in opinion. I can not, however, excuse this line:

    “… Megan Washington … is this year’s Katie Noonan, this year’s Sarah Blasko.”

    Really? What connects these very different artists? Oh, that’s right – vaginas. The three artists listed are really not musically similar, and to connect them as artists purely because they’re women is lazy, ignorant, and sexist.

    Regarding the “the radio presenter moonlighting as music critic” (let’s stop pretending it’s not painfully obvious who you’re talking about, particularly as you’ve previously taken an unexplained shot at him in your AMP coverage), Dom Alessio was writing for Mess+Noise long before working at JJJ, and was also an editor at the Brag in Sydney. I do not know which reviews ed is referring to regarding his alleged split opinions, but having known Dom for years, I find it very hard to believe.

  8. Everett True September 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Wow. You’re accusing ME of bias against female artists. Nice one. Done your research, haven’t you?

  9. Darragh Murray September 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    AH. Cayley, prepare to believe then. Two reviews of the same record by Dom, one positive, one negative. Which one is his actual opinion?

    http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/homeandhosed/blog/s2843277.htm

    http://www.messandnoise.com/releases/2000583

  10. Everett True September 3, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Oh crap. Look, I don’t want to be defending Dom here, especially as a) I don’t know the fellow and b) I’ve never read any of his music criticism beyond the Washington review, and these two reviews now… but, isn’t a critic allowed to change his or her mind? As long as he or she has integrity to their work, it shouldn’t matter. Having said that, he’s being pretty blatant in writing exactly what he thinks his editor wants to read in these two examples. Still. Fellow’s allowed a mistake or 500. I’m sure he’s learnt from it.

    I wish I’d never made that off-hand joke about Dom now. I’ve got nothing against him. (How could I? I barely know who he is, aside from being an occasional journeyman critic: but, in that, he’s hardly unique. We’ve all taken on that role at one stage in our lives or another. If you want to truly embarrass me, do a Google Search on the words “Boyzone”, “Everett True” and “amazon”. ) The line in the Washington review might just have easily read “press agents moonlighting as music critics” (which is far more prevalent, both here and back in the UK) or “managers moonlighting as music critics”, etc. It was a reference to the fact critics of all shapes are – of course – compromised by their other roles. It wasn’t a reference to one particular critic.

    This is the last time I state this. I’m getting really tired of repeating myself.

  11. Bianca September 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I was pleased to find out that I wasn’t the only one to think Washington was over-hyped. I can understand how people like her, but I just find her boring. People say she has an original sound, but I heard a song on the radio the other day that I could have sworn was by Tegan and Sarah but was actually by Washington (for the record, I don’t care for Tegan and Sarah either, I find their music bland as well). I can appreciate what she’s doing, but I think people are being too quick to praise.

  12. Everett True September 5, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Actually, reading back on it, Justin’s comment on Dom is fair. How else does a critic build authority except through the trust of their readership?

    Perhaps Mess And Noise can explain why they continue to employ a “critic” whose credibility has been so seriously undermined by their own actions? I would be genuinely interested to know the reasons. (I might even agree with some of them: who knows?)

    In fairness to Mathieson, who I thought was being a bit of a cantankerous old prick on the thread relating to this Washington review on Mess And Noise, he also lays into the original Angus and Julia Stone review by Dom… so at least he’s consistent in behaving like a cantankerous old prick.

    My line in the Washington review is still meant more as a metaphor than a direct referral.

  13. Everett True September 5, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    And I still think that Shaun Prescott is on dangerously ‘it’s un-Australian to criticise Australian artists’ ground when he attempts to shift the debate onto a wider scale in The Vine thread and claims that “It’s boring being told for the upteenth time that mediocrity prevails”.

    There. Right there, in that last sentence above (from one of Australia’s more enlightened critics, one hopes: as Shaun co-edits the The Wire-loving Cyclic Defrost magazine). There’s the reason such little fucking critical debate exists here. “It’s boring”.

    Ah, Bangs wept.

  14. madskillz September 6, 2010 at 7:16 am

    This is awesome mindblowing writing. Amazing. It makes me almost think that a grown man moaning about pop music isn’t tragic and ridiculous.

  15. Everett True September 6, 2010 at 7:17 am

    This sarcasm would be a lot more effective if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re a grown man commenting about another grown man commenting about pop music. (And also if you’d actually left it on the post itself, not the photograph.) May I direct you to this post?

  16. Shaun September 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

    There you go again – the ‘UnAustralian’ thing. You’re obsessed with it. It’s frightening.

    Good criticism is never boring, but general swipes at the state of criticism has most definitely become boring. It’s a topic you’ve warmed to over the past couple of years. Surely you’ve noticed? You nauseatingly repeat that you’re a critic, so why not get on with being one rather than self-diagnosing (over and over again)? The fact that Megan Washington’s album is garbage seems completely besides the point in your review.

    More frustratingly, is that any attempt to engage in dialogue with you and you get defensive: “but I’m a critic!” etc. We know.

  17. Everett True September 6, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Shaun, your line was, “It’s boring being told for the upteenth time that mediocrity prevails”. If this isn’t a reference to the prevalent music climate in Australia then perhaps you should have been clearer about what it was referring to the first time round.

    And I repeat what I said on the Mess And Noise message board; I took a hell of a battering a couple of years back for some innocuous remarks I made about the Australian media, most of which was along the lines of I should go straight the fuck back to where I came from if I didn’t appreciate how great Australia is. (Not just in the mainstream media, but also from many people on Mess And Noise – I would imagine yourself included, if you find attempts to engage in dialogue about criticism so “boring”). I’m surprised you don’t understand why there might be some cause for my paranoia.

    Incidentally, Shaun, you are also the person whose immediate reaction upon seeing this review of Washington was to go on Twitter and write, “Someone fucking stop commissioning Everett True to write reviews”. Ah. So that’s your considered response, is it? Try and take away the line of support to anyone who doesn’t agree that what you think is right? Wow. That’s really encouraging debate.

    You exist in a very exclusive realm at Cyclic Defrost and Mess And Noise. It’s worth remembering that not everyone else does.

  18. Shaun September 6, 2010 at 10:10 am

    For starters, the Twitter quote is incorrect. Someone directed that comment *towards* me when I commented that I didn’t like the review (a comment you probably couldn’t see, as you don’t follow me).

    The dialogue about criticism was fascinating and timely two years ago, not so much now. To be honest the vast majority of your writing I enjoy, but this is just tedious.

    And I don’t care what other people say about you, to be honest. It’s not my problem.

  19. EdG September 6, 2010 at 11:19 am

    In the end who’s opinion is more important, the opinion of a handful of wanky critics or the opinion of the triple j establishment and the greater Australian music industry. It’s a choice that every artist is faced with and there is no right or wrong answer, just what suits the artists wishes the best.

    Personally the idea of bogan Australia stopping me on the streets for a picture for facebook makes me vomit in my mouth a bit so I am constantly trying to alienate new audiences, much to the pleasure of the majority of critics in Australia.

  20. Everett True September 6, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Shaun, it might not be your problem what others say about me, but being aware of it might help your understanding about why I reacted the way I did towards what you clearly felt was fair comment on your part.

    Apologies for misinterpreting the Twitter comment. I did actually feel it was out of character for you, and was shocked to see it. Glad to have the erroneous impression corrected.

  21. ed September 6, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    “The dialogue about criticism was fascinating and timely two years ago, not so much now”.

    Why do you think this Shaun? Maybe it’s just the smaller scene in Brisbane but I’m still seeing reviewers reviewing their housemate’s CDs, still seeing friends reviewing friends’ gigs. There’s people with too many fingers in too many pies, what seems to be a lack of integrity and people abusing their positions within the industry. And yet you talk to anyone about it the response is a shrug of the shoulders and “Well, it’s Brisbane isn’t it?”.

  22. Suzy Chapstick September 8, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    I do not live in Australia, have never been there.

    I live in the rest of the Western world, the part called NOT AUSTRALIA

    Everett you need to come back to this part of the world, man. At least for a vacation and get some context back, some perspective. You used to have a voice that while always divisive, spanned nations. London. Seattle. Olympia. Brighton. Well known in the music communities of New York, Chicago, Boston, D.C. Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Vancouver, the entire UK even Wales and most of Europe AND most of Australia and I’d suppose, New Zealand, and maybe Japan too. You were relevant!

    Now you’re getting in petty bickering about the state of the Brisbane music scene? No offense to Brisbane, or Australia, but they are just one small scene amongst many on an international scale. They deserve recognition, but obsessive over-analyzing? It’s quite boring for the rest of your many readers from the U.K., USA, and elsewhere.

    Please, get off that continent for a bit, clear your head, put into perspective this scene whose bands the rest of the world has never heard about and will never see live and whose albums aren’t available except online. Go global, not just local, before even your hardcore fans and detractors around the world permanently place your name in the “whatever became of?” category. Reclaim your dignity – right now from what I gather from asking people ’round the world on Facebook, you still matter to a certain subset of people worldwide, but our interest in understandably dwindling everyday.

  23. Suzy Chapstick September 8, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    p.s. I know this is an Australian website – and perhaps my comments should have been placed on a more international forum like Facebook. I just happened to follow your FB post to here.

    Also, if getting OUT of the international underground music scene was your intent in moving to Australia in the first place, and you WANTED to be a big fish in a small pond, as it were; than more power to you. It just seems that given the internet and Facebook, you could continue to be a critic of bands the world wide – at least their recordings, if not live performances (does Brisbane get a lot of bands from the States and Europe and UK coming through, enough to review gigs of bands other than Australian?

  24. Everett True September 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    So you haven’t bothered checking out my regular Song Of The Day blog then, Suzy?

  25. Suzy Chapstick September 13, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    I do indeed often check out your Song of the Day blog. I used to do so daily, I’d check all your blogs and anywhere else you might be writing, like the Village Voice or BUST or the Guardian newspaper. I simply enjoy youra writing and and probably secondarily to that, enjoy what you have to say about the music itself.

    As time has gone on, and you’ve faded away from the “scene” as it were (not that I can particularly blame you, as the scene itself was undergoing enormous change that everywhere one looked did not seem to favor a strong role for music criticism) I began to check in less. And less. And less.

    Sort of how after a break-up you check you former lover’s Facebook often soon after breaking up page seven times a day, then three times then once a day and once a week and such…because that person is replaced by a new discovery, a new kiss, a new lover, and he becomes of this time and place, the ex of another. Sure once in a while you say hi, but without getting the best of him, there seems no point for five minute messages.

    I miss the substantive stuff that really got all the glorious and gnarly parts of your personality out in the open, weekly or more.

  26. Everett True September 14, 2010 at 7:32 am

    ….the meatier stuff is on Something Awful every couple of weeks. If you know of anyone else suitable, tell them to use me!

  27. Redneck September 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    “…does Brisbane get a lot of bands from the States and Europe and UK coming through, enough to review gigs of bands other than Australian?”

    We had one come through once but we didn’t like them because we didn’t know them so we glassed them and ran them out of town… For fuck’s sake…

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