THE FIRST COLLECTION OF CRITICISM BY A LIVING FEMALE ROCK CRITIC by Jessica Hopper (Featherproof/PGC), 200 pages, $24.95 paper. Rating: NNNNN
Don’t worry, Jessica Hopper acknowledges that hers isn’t really the first collection of essays by a female rock critic. But even if she hadn’t given a nod to her predecessors, including Lillian Roxon, Ellen Willis and a few others, this is the best rock music criticism I’ve ever read – by anyone.
A senior editor at Pitchfork and contributor to Spin, the Village Voice and others, Hopper has all the tools of a sharp critic. She is a phenomenal writer. In her vivid description, meticulous metaphors and elegant phrasing, her reviews of releases by M.I.A., Dinosaur Jr. and Frida Hyvönen, for instance, or shows at Coachella and Lollapalooza, you can hear every ambient sound, shredding guitar and wailing vocal. In those moments it doesn’t matter that she’s a woman. She breathes musical and literary cred.
Unlike the vast majority of music writers, who tend toward breathless appreciation while sucking at the industry teat, Hopper is a no-nonsense political thinker. She’s as adept at making sense of the economy, as in How Selling Out Saved Indie Rock, an excellent piece of investigative journalism about musicians making deals with advertisers, as she is at deconstructing Tyler the Creator’s infuriating use of the word “faggot.”
And, yes, just as often, in essays on Lady Gaga or Lana Del Rey, she taps the best feminist thought, contemplating the meaning of female desire and the male gaze – never in an earnest way, and sometimes in just a heart-stopping subordinate clause. We Can’t Stop: Our Year With Miley is a seriously smart assessment of why Miley Cyrus matters.
There’s only one Q&A, with journalist Jim Derogatis, who doggedly pursued sexual abuse allegations against R. Kelly while everyone else pretended not to notice the patterns in his behaviour. For the most part, Hopper’s interviews are the least successful pieces here, basically because she’s way more fascinating than the musicians she’s talking to, and you kinda want them to get out of the way.
You don’t have to know every band Hopper name-checks the vast majority of music lovers won’t. Just go with her flow and bliss out.
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