Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brief: When were the most critically praised albums released?

To follow up on a previous post about when the best songs were released (according to Rolling Stone), here are some data from the website Best Ever Albums. They've taken 500 albums that appear on numerous lists of "best albums ever," which is better than using one source alone. If an album appears on 30 separate such lists, that indicates pretty widespread agreement. Here is how these top-ranking albums are distributed across time:

Music critics clearly prefer the more counter-cultural albums of the late '60s and early '70s, as well as those of the mid-'90s, although they do give credit to the more mainstream hard rock albums of the late '70s. It's not surprising that the 1980s don't do as well -- the nadir coincides with New Wave music -- since their appeal was too popular and upbeat -- and we all know that great art must be angry or cynical or weird. That may be somewhat true for high art, but when it comes to popular art like rock music or movies, I think the critics inappropriately imitate critics of high art. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is not high art -- sorry.

Within the bounds of what pop music can hope to accomplish, I think the late '70s through the early '90s -- and to a lesser degree, the early-mid 1960s -- did the best. The later Beatles, Nirvana, etc., to me seem too self-conscious to count as the greater and deeper art forms that they were aspiring to.

Still, whether or not the critics are on the right path, these data show a remarkable consensus on their part -- otherwise, one person's list would hardly overlap with another's. I would say that appreciation of art forms is not arbitrary, just that -- in this case -- they reach agreement in the wrong direction!

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