sasha frere-jones remixes the classic critical track, “i liked the early stuff better.”
Sometimes the best arts criticism takes a tired, standard-issue position and remakes it through sheer linguistic imagination. As in Sasha Frere-Jones “squint” at the new PJ Harvey album:
I call it “squinting”—you will have your own term. You’ve chosen a favorite musician, probably in your teen years, and the relationship grows through awkward phases—nautical dress, orchestral arrangements, dodgy collections of poems. Along the way, you find yourself squinting to keep seeing what made you fall in love; you will need to pretend that the accordion and the Balkan song cycles are something else. (Fans of Bob Dylan have unusually deep creases.) In pop music, which is a worse deal for the aging than painting and fiction are, there can be a fair amount of effort involved.
All he’s really saying in the review is, “the old stuff was better than the new stuff.” And he’s also saying, to some extent, “I really wanna like the new stuff.” The brilliance of the review is that he found a way to make a what amounts to a clichéd critical response fresh. He remixed it and, in the process, made an old point anew. Which is what, in her own way, Harvey herself is trying to do.