Most rock critics, like most rockers, drink. Sometimes to excess. Maybe it's the pain of being misunderstood, of championing real music to uncaring masses. Or maybe they're just lushes who like the easy hours of rock-writin'. Either way, beneath a lot of black-rimmed glasses lie bloodshot eyes, and under vintage T-shirts you'll find some battle-scarred livers. But Jesus juice isn't the only thing that can befuddle the senses of Lester Bangs wannabes. They might get dopey at night with the tonsil polish, but during the day, critics get smashed on hype. While most scribes want you to think that they stand alone, spurning the words of others and forging their own musical tastes in the fires of their very soul, the evidence says otherwise. Like a fellow who takes a flask of vodka into the office with him, critics like to hide their imbibing (and, let it be said: This critic is no better than the rest). Like prisoners with orange peel-fueled pruno under their cot, critics make their own hype.
And hype, like hooch, has the unfortunate tendency to make you fall in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with, at least for a little while. Sauced, you might hop into the sack with Scarlett Johansson only to wake up with Darth Sidious. But with a pair of buzz-goggles you fall for a "playful, post-modern pastiche" and learn in the morning that you got double-teamed by the Darkness and Har Mar Superstar. When their senses clear, critics strike out at their former beaus with a passion. You can call it backlash, but it's really a hype hangover.
Who are we going to be ashamed of in '06? Who will be our Streets, our Hives? Let's try to sober up and figure it out. With shaky hands and some black coffee, let's take a look at six of the hype bands of the moment, take off the buzz blinders and see the musicians for what they are. Don't forget to drink lots of water.
With the hype goggles on: "The one key definite about M.I.A.'s Arular is that it's the best kind of pop album imaginable. It can be enjoyed on a purely physical level, and it also carries the potential to adjust your worldview." -- Allmusic.com
How to tell you're buzzed: No matter what they are, an artist's politics do not make music better.
In the morning: Like the formerly overhyped Streets, M.I.A.'s worldly roots (Sri Lankan descent, London address) mask a far more normal talent than critics give her credit for. While mildly enjoyable when not actively irritating, Arular is unlikely to leave a lasting impression on dance music, much less world politics. Nothing to be ashamed of, but probably not the marrying type.
Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Album: LCD Soundsystem
With the hype goggles on: "'Never As Tired As When I'm Waking Up' is a near-brilliant pastiche of both White Album Beatles and Dark Side Floyd, with only its telegraphed George Harrison lead-guitar riff at the end and chord progression ripped from 'Dear Prudence' keeping it from making as grand an emotional impact as it might." -- PitchforkMedia.com
How to tell you're buzzed: Sober critics do not make Beatles references lightly, even if a band is ripping them off.
In the morning: The dance punk-meets-Daft Punk style keeps your Saturday nights grooving for now, but chances are these beats will age like warm milk.
Artist: Bloc Party
Album: Silent Alarm
With the hype goggles on: "The Clash. Joy Division. The Smiths. Talking Heads. Rock bands all that just happened to infuse their respective music with elements of disco and funk. Fab British foursome Bloc Party has the same rhythmic sensibility." -- Billboard
How to tell you're buzzed: Using four kings of underground rock (and a needless Beatles reference!) to make a point about "rhythmic sensibility" is the worst type of hype-mongering.
In the morning: When Bloc Party isn't able to stand under the weight of these monstrous expectations, a totally undeserved backlash will come, leaving another good band splayed by hype.
Artist: System of a Down
With the hype goggles on: "But at its reckless best, which is a lot, Mezmerize is a thrilling confrontation, a graphic reflection of a nation tearing itself apart in anger, rage and guilt." -- Rolling Stone
How to tell you're buzzed: Any description of an album that could also be used to describe a Michael Moore film doesn't have anything to do with how good an album is.
In the morning: Left-wing lyrics in rock are just about as common as guitars in rock. That leaves SOAD's off-kilter metal to set them apart, and it's really pretty middle-of-the-road.
Artist: The Fiery Furnaces
Album: Blueberry Boat & EP
With the hype goggles on: "If you don't like Blueberry Boat, I don't like you. It's no longer a matter of taste, other than the fact that I have good taste, whereas you, Fiery Furnaces-hater, do not. Don't have time to take in the full sweeping grandeur of Blueberry Boat's 80 minutes? I have no respect for your calendar priorities." -- PitchforkMedia.com
How to tell you're buzzed: Well, come on, you read that. When Pitchfork gets snarky, its time to move on.
In the morning: Too ambitious by half, the Fiery Furnaces have the goods but need to catch their breath and write a few more songs. If liking your music makes people think that they're smart, it's a problem.
Artist: The Arcade Fire
With the hype goggles on: "They are broken, beaten and ferociously romantic, reveling in the brutal beauty of their surroundings like a heathen Adam & Eve.... 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)' [is] the first of four metaphorical forays into the geography of the soul.... These are songs that pump blood back into the heart as fast and furiously as it's draining from the sleeve on which it beats.... Funeral's singular thread is finally revealed; love does conquer all, especially love for the cathartic power of music." -- Allmusic.com
How to tell you're buzzed: When a critic mistakes a rock record for the salvation of mankind.
In the morning: The album rocks. It's pretty in parts, maybe even gorgeous. But it's just some arty dance stuff, old Talking Heads parts with a new coat of paint. It will not redeem your soul.
BONUS: Hype Hangover Poison Pens!
When you laud a band too much, eventually it's going to disappoint you. That's when critics slip on the anti-hype goggles.
Album: Make Believe
With anti-hype goggles on: "Rating: 0.4.... So does Make Believe completely ruin not just present-day Weezer, but retroactively, any enjoyment to be had from their earlier work? I don't know -- I'm too scared to re-listen to those first two albums" -- PitchforkMedia.com
How to tell you're un-buzzed: Bitchfork (that was a typo that might have been sent from God) is the thirteen-year-old girl of rock criticism: snotty, cliquey, insulated from the real world and hopelessly melodramatic. Take their bad reviews as seriously as sis' proclamations of the world ending when she doesn't get asked to the prom.
In the morning: It's just another Weezer record. They weren't Brian Wilson-esque pop geniuses back then, and they aren't the New Monkees now.