Variety Disses Springsteen, MP3s, Technology—Kittens, Rainbows, Electricity Up Next

Under the headline "Community losing its role in music?" Variety's Phil Gallo inveighs against Bruce Springsteen's new album, "Working on a Dream," blaming what he sees as the songs' weakness on The Boss's desire to cater to "the MP3 world that digests music one song at a time" rather than constructing a cohesive album.

It's a muddled piece of writing that finds Gallo going off on airy tangents about how music is "a communicative art" that becomes "flat or uninspiring" when artists don't try "out songs in live settings and then adjust them in the studio." And while rhapsodizing about "primal communion" and how the creation of music "for centuries" has "relied on the communication between creator and audience," he manages to ignore the fact that he's actually dead wrong: The kind of creative audience-artist interaction that Gallo yearns for didn't exist in the mainstream even 40 years ago, and it's certainly not integral to the creation of great music.

To pick two obvious examples, "Pet Sounds" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" were recorded by musicians who didn't take the time to focus-group or audience-test the material before laying down tracks. Maybe Bruce or Neil Young have typically tried out songs on their fans and then fine-tuned them before recording, but it's certainly not the only way the process can work, nor is it necessarily the best way.

Gallo tries to leave himself an out by adding that the audience he means "can be as small as the musicians and technicians around [the artist]." But if that's the case, why is he complaining that Springsteen "has chosen a path of isolation" that is "hurting his art" by working with a producer and a gaggle of studio musicians?

Gallo really goes off the rails about halfway through his piece:

"Technology stopped being music's friend the moment it started making the creation of music easier and cheaper. When Beck sang about 'two turntables and microphone' in the middle of the 1990s he was having fun; Kid Rock proved last year that's all one needs to have a hit song."

This is not only unclear, it's flat-out insane. Even assuming that Gallo is referring to technology that simplified performance and recording, a la Kid Rock's turntables, and not specific advances involved in the nebulous process of "creation" (which, unless I'm mistaken, typically requires only an artist and an instrument, whether that instrument is a guitar, a synthesizer or a laptop), it doesn't hold up. The introduction of ProTools, the 8-track and, hell, even magnetic tape all made recording easier and cheaper, but Gallo never makes any sort of case for how they've hurt music. And artists have been performing great music with only turntables and mikes for at least three decades—it's called hip-hop.

So why again is that a problem? Kid Rock may not be another Neil Young, or another Radiohead, or another Bruce Springsteen (in fact, let's just say it: he's not), but he wouldn't be any better if he were playing an acoustic guitar (he has and does) and backed by a full band (he has been).

Ultimately, Gallo seems to be bemoaning the death of the album, which is fair enough—it's hard to argue with the claim that the iPod-ization of music may nudge artists away from crafting a batch of songs that play well in sequence or cohere thematically, and that the disappearance of The Album would be a real loss. But Gallo doesn't criticize "Working on a Dream" as a whole, as an Album. His musical critique amounts to complaining vaguely that a few songs should have "been discarded" or are "disorganized" (aside: what does that even mean, really?). He assumes that Springsteen tried to package/market/sell each track individually and then discounts the songs for exactly that reason. And that's hardly insightful criticism.