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Response from a Disgruntled Gotye fan

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Editor’s Note.

Scott Creney’s review of the #1 Australian album, Gotye’s Making Mirrors, attracted a fair amount of commentary. (One would think Australians had never encountered music criticism before.) After a particularly venomous comment, CB contributor Lucy Cage was moved to write the following response, ending her comment-turned-blog-entry with the challenge:

Come on, Adrian McGruther: bring it on. If you’re going to complain about the writing and the writers on this site you’re going to have to do a damn sight better than that. Or take up my challenge and write something about Gotye that’s going to make me play it at top volume non-stop for the next three days like I did with the last album I ADORED. I want THAT level of wondrousness or you and it can piss the hell off.

Fair play to Adrian. He responded. Just to clear up one point before we start: I asked four different CB writers (two from the UK, two from the US) if they fancied reviewing the Gotye album … I thought it’d be interesting to have a perspective from a different country on the #1 Australian album, especially one that had picked up a fair amount of support among Australian critics. (How great a part does context and familiarity and the notion of ‘he’s one of us’ play in critical appreciation?) Scott volunteered. I had no idea whether he was going to like it or not (I hadn’t heard it at that point) and neither did he. We both thought that the act of having an overseas critic review the #1 Australian album was interesting in itself.

I’m also a fraction confused by Adrian’s constant references to Collapse Board as a ‘blog’, but that’s OK. I’m happy for Collapse Board to be ranked as a blog if it means distancing ourselves from 99 per cent of other websites that feature commentary around music.

OK enough. I just want to note that Adrian’s original comment (among others) also inspired this wonderful article by Wallace Wylie.

Here’s Adrian’s response (which he posted last night on Collapse Board) alongside a whole raft of comments it’s already attracted, mostly from Collapse Board contributors. I’ve given it its own blog entry, with his permission, in the interests of parity.

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By Adrian McGruther

To start, I must say that this whole thing has got way out of hand. I’d normally have better things to do with my time than to defend an off-the-cuff rant that I made on an indie music blog. But because my hasty post has been unfairly and selectively dissected (and taken out of context on at least one occasion), I’m happy to ‘bring it on’.

I’d like to point out that I didn’t launch to Gotye’s defence because I was ‘hurt’ that he was being dissed. I didn’t set out to defend the album (though I do like it). I was directing my frustration at the absurdity of the review. I couldn’t give a rats what some world-weary writer (or anyone else, for that matter) thinks of the music that I happen to like. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. But to resort to unconstructive hyperbole and delving into prognoses of irrelevant aspects of the artist’s personal life, that aren’t backed up by any facts, is poor, self-indulgent, incredulous writing.

I’ll admit that on my first listen of Making Mirrors, I felt a slight disconnect with the album; partly as a result of the breadth of genres covered by it. Part of me also thought that some tracks would have been more apt on an album by Wally de Backer’s other project The Basics. But with each listen, the album developed more cohesion and more depth, as some of the underlying motifs became exposed. Which is great, as it suggests that it isn’t one-dimensional. But to me (and many others), what the album does, if nothing else, is showcase an eclectic group of songs that have been delicately and individually crafted. Each track stands up on its own and they all ‘do’ different things. When I listen to the album as a whole, I feel a sense of boundless freedom, which is probably a product of Gotye’s music-making philosophy. It’s refreshing to hear an artist who doesn’t feel constrained by the limits of a particular sound or genre. A common problem with artists that work within a narrow brief is that you’re left with albums that contain a handful of ‘filler’ tracks. Not always. But it happens to many acts, big and small.

Another important (and unique) aspect of Gotye’s work is that he has a particular approach to crafting his songs. The majority of his tracks stem from an obscure sample that he plucked from a long-forgotten work (or inspired by a sample of an interesting sound or instrument). Like many artists, popular or otherwise, part of the artist’s story helps shape the art. Take Banksy, for instance. In the abstract, a spray-painted stencil of a cat on a wall is shallow and meaningless. But having been told it’s a Banksy, the cat suddenly springs to life. We understand where it came from, its possible political meanings, its context within Banksy’s portfolio, its lifespan. I wouldn’t necessary say that having an appreciation for Gotye’s approach to his art is integral to being entertained by it, but helps inform it. It’s also part of the fun; when I listen to renowned Australian sampling artist Katalyst, I enjoy hearing the dust blown off records that have been buried deep in the crates. Throw in some interesting sounds and arrangements, and at the very least, I’m engaged.

In Scott’s review, he said, “There are a lot of different styles on Making Mirrors, but the musical variety doesn’t feel like an artist frantically trying out ideas, more like someone throwing a bunch of shit against the wall to see if anything sticks. Not eclectic, but desperate.” Nowhere in his review, once I negotiated my way around his excessive use of italics, did he say why the tracks come across as ‘desperate’. Perhaps not understanding Gotye’s songwriting approach led him to that conclusion. Or, perhaps Scott only gave the tunes a superficial glossing-over without any proper thought or truly open ears. Either way, I’m not going to take beef with him over it; it’s subjective, and I happen to disagree with him.

Scott also said that he could sing George Michael’s ‘Faith’ over ‘In Your Light’. That’s fine. I can also sing every U2 song over every other U2 song. That aside, ‘In Your Light’ actually uses a sample of a song by Atlas. I refer you to the liner notes on the album. I also refer you to the above paragraphs on Gotye’s approach to songwriting. Take up your issue with Atlas. In any case, it’s not an uncommon chord progression, and I enjoy Gotye’s recontextualisation of the traditional ‘sunshine-pop’ timbre and structure. Having said that, it’s not my favourite song on the album and I appreciate that it’s not for everyone. But if I were to attack the originality of a tune, I’d first make myself sure of its source. Be informed.

(continues overleaf)

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