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but is it art?


music review::dean gray- american edit

i thought of posting this one earlier, like, say, when everyone including mtv was talking about this project, but i decided to wait, because i didn’t want to talk about it in order to build its hype, i wanted to actually review it as music (as opposed to a media event).

first of all, if you don’t know about dean gray go here before reading on.

as a listener, i’ve always considered mash-ups a technically charming art form, but not much else. the magic of the mash-up is twofold; 1. you feel clever when you’re able to name all the sound sources and 2. it is the epitome of pop music. think about it: the perfect pop song is one that makes you think you’ve heard it before. mash-ups are entirely made up of music you HAVE heard before and, as in this case, usually the most recognisable parts of it. (if you don’t believe me, ask madonna. her latest single is anchored on a repetitive sample of an abba song embedded in the popular conscious decades ago.)

as pop music, this is untouchable. even if your acquaintance with pop is incidental (as mine is), you can sing along with almost the whole album. it’s reader’s digest for music. it even has a pretty wide scope (as far as pop music goes), incorporating everything from aerosmith to dr. who to kanye west. which only underlines it’s uber-pop status- trying to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

like the catchiest (and, hence, most memorable) pop music, american edit is ebullient. it’s almost impossible not to bounce in time with it as it chortles along, bringing you all the music that got stuck in your head as you scanned the radio looking for something you actually liked.

unlike other pop music, though, the mash-up is all about the construction. if you don’t know this already, let me break something to you: all pop music is constructed. i don’t just mean that someone writes it, that’s a given. i mean that someone actually concentrates on making it accessible and catchy, so that you’ll remember it, even if it annoys the hell out of you. mash-ups call your attention to how they are constructed and to why the music in them sticks in your head. this could be intended to make the listener think about more carefully about the music they listen to. (more likely, i analyse things too much and it’s intended only to show off the producers’ considerable talents and, with luck, land them a contract, as a similar mash-up did for dj danger mouse.)

the problem with mash-ups is that they tend to lose your interest once the curiosity value wears off (two and a half listens for the average person). and in that respect, american edit, although a stellar example of the form, isn’t really any different. listening to an entire album of this is kind of like eating a bag of cotton candy. it’s kind of cool at first, but you overload pretty quickly. although as far as top forty goes, green day probably provide as good a backbone as you're going to find, a lot of the other source material grates on my nerves (if i go the rest of my life without hearing the eagles, i’ll be happy in hell). this limits my ability to listen to it repeatedly. in an ironic twist, by jumbling up the music of “mainstream” american idiot with a lot of other stuff, the “underground” producers gut the album of its political content (making it even more ideal as pop music).

you may notice that i’ve spent far more time in this review talking about the form of the music than the substance. there’s a reason for this: as music that will stand the test of time, this doesn’t have what it takes. which only goes to cement its position as the greatest pop album ever.

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