Okay, I’m not going to baby-sit you, I’m just going to lay this out quickly and move right into it. Last time, I reviewed a bunch of music magazines. This time, I’m reviewing a bunch more. Just shut up and take it.

The Source
One of the major hip-hop magazines; follows Rolling Stone’s lead by mixing in a fair amount of political essays along with music journalism.

Their Opinion of Themselves: The cover says “The Magazine of ______lture & Politics.” The blank space is where Mase’s head is covering up the letters. Upon further investigation, The Source is “The Magazine of Hip-Hop Music, Culture & Politics.” I suppose it’s ambiguous as to whether it’s the magazine of hip-hop music as well as culture and politics or it’s the magazine of music, culture and politics related to hip-hop. I’m going to guess it’s the latter, since I don’t see too many articles about general culture, like recipes for zesty Mediterranean salads or critiques of modern architecture.

Public Opinion of Them: You know, I can’t really say. I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of my readership consists of people who aren’t big fans of rap, judging by all the letters I get demanding that I officially condemn the whole institution of hip-hop, since apparently it’s not even real music and it’s all about bitches and hoes and the only good rap is made by some white kid who’s being ironic and rapping about Linux and dinosaurs.

Welcome Back, Mase

Cultural Importance: Well, to the lily-white nerds who read this site, probably not a lot. In terms of hip-hop understanding, the Something Awful forums are pretty hilariously bankrupt; every few months a thread comes along with a subject like “Why I Hate Rap,” in which some white-bread geek shares his valuable opinion on why Fabolous represents the moral decay of our society. After that, a few hundred nerd-rap fans jump in and explain that Fabolous is rap while the things they listen to are hip-hop, which is like rap except morally superior. Basically, this is an imaginary and arbitrary distinction between black pop music that they can condescend to directly and black pop music that they can condescend to indirectly. You see, nerdy white hip-hop (NOT RAP) fans hate the stuff being played on MTV, because it represents black Americans with money, a concept that terrifies them. Instead, they listen to “underground hip-hop,” which allows them to listen to black people rap about not being in it for the money. In fact, underground hip-hop tackles a wide variety of subjects; Jedi Mind Tricks, for example, rap about ancient history, Islam, and beating up gay people. But just ignore the parts about beating up gay people.

This Month’s Cover Story: Mase is back, after retiring for several years to be a pastor. I’m sure Jesus is watching this drama unfold with bated breath, since Mase apparently plans to use his spoils to build a “25-million dollar church” with “marble floors and a helicopter landing on the roof.” If there’s one thing that God loves, it’s humanity building lavish monuments in order to get closer to him. You know what else he loves? Shiny red jumpsuits.

Other Features of Note: Well hello, scantily-clad woman on page 163! “Esther was so stacked we had to bring her back. Bow down!” My job would be a lot easier this month if all the music magazines contained randomly disbursed T&A features.

Interesting Music News: There’s a feature about the fact that people are—get this— still talking about Tupac Shakur. Wow, you don’t say? If I were a cynical man, I’d say this was just a ploy to put the word “TUPAC” on the cover in big red letters. Wait a minute… I am a cynical man.

Review System: Incredibly dry and journalistic with absolutely no hint of personality. Plus, there are only four album reviews. Two of them get three stars, two get three and a half. If you’re worried that I’ve said absolutely nothing interesting about The Source’s reviews, maybe you can take comfort in the fact that it’s because there’s absolutely nothing interesting about them. I feel like I’m panning for gold in the kitchen sink.

Nadir: The writing. The article “Conventions Without a Cause,” dealing with high-profile hip-hop political conventions, reads like a high school essay. Example sentence: “The two main kinds of conventions that play a role in the larger political process are those of the national parties and those of important civic organizations.” Imagine an entire article composed of sentences that elegant and riveting. Now imagine an entire magazine composed of them. Hot damn.

How is it possible to craft such a dull and humorless magazine out of such a vibrant and vital music scene? Writing anything interesting about rock and roll is like squeezing blood from a stone, and I would imagine that writing such dull material about hip-hop, a music which often contains lyrics about crime, sex, money, and getting fucked up on cough syrup, must be like squeezing stone-juice out of a plump baby. One star.

A glossy British music magazine which often focuses on historical rock and roll reflection. Features a large and comprehensive review section. It also comes with a free CD, so hey, free CD.

Their Opinion of Themselves: Like every British music magazine, they are “The World’s Greatest Music Magazine.”

Public Opinion of Them: I can’t imagine Q being anyone’s favorite music magazine. It’s long, it’s bland, it’s professional, it’s obsessed with the past, and it often contains slightly more references to Pink Floyd than a serious musical publication should.

Cultural Importance: You know how some CDs have little stickers on the front that have quotes from the press about how great the album is? Well, if you ever see one attributed to “Q,” it’s talking about this magazine, not the dude from Star Trek.

This Month’s Cover Story: Everybody knows that lists of the greatest-anything-ever are just excuses for magazines to put The Beatles on the cover and sell a lot of copies to baby boomers. This month, Q is featuring the greatest songwriters of all time. Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Brian Wilson, Bacharach and David, Morrissey and Marr, etc. Couldn’t they throw in some ridiculous ones just to fuck with us? Who would call them out on it? I would have loved it if I was flipping through the list of greatest songwriters and I ran across someone like Lenny Kravitz or the guy from Toad the Wet Sprocket. Yes, I probably would have been angry at first, but then I would have read the text of the piece and it would have said “Hey, you gullible prat, we were just messing around, Lenny Kravitz actually sucks a big giant dick.” I would have said “Oh, Q, you are incorrigible,” and chuckled a bit to myself. Instead, the list just annoyed and depressed me. There were two rappers on the list. Can you guess who they were? Nas and Biggie? Tupac and Jay-Z? Chuck D and Ice Cube? No. It was Eminem and that talentless flyweight British critical whore Mike Skinner, AKA The Streets. A couple of overrated white guys. For shame, Q.

Other Features of Note: There’s a look-back-in-time segment about September of 1995, reminding us how great Black Grape’s first record was. Remember Black Grape, the band formed by the drug-addled mongoloid from the Happy Mondays after his band imploded because of his crack addiction? No? Well, apparently you’re supposed to, because Q thinks they’re still a hot item.

Interesting Music News: Pete from the Libertines is on crack? No shit? Wow, and we thought he was such a nice boy.

Review System: Q takes the time to review every goddamn thing in the universe, even the new album by Russell Crowe’s vanity bar-band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. They give it one star, calling Crowe “surly.” There must be a more original thing to call Russell Crowe than “surly.” Then again, I don’t think any word has been more exquisitely tailored for a specific human being than “surly” is for Russell Crowe. So, basically, they’ve got the balls to give albums two stars, four stars, or even one star, unlike Rolling Stone.

Nadir: Calling Mike Skinner “spokesman for a generation.” I always thought people claimed to like The Streets as some sort of a joke, but it’s becoming disturbingly clear that people actually like The Streets. God help us.

Q gets 3 stars out of 5. At least they’re thorough, and they’re a good source of mundane music trivia (and keep in mind that I rely on mundane music trivia for my livelihood).

A glossy British music magazine which often focuses on historical rock and roll reflection. Features a large and comprehensive review section. It also comes with a free CD, so hey, free CD. Oh hey, déjà vu! It’s basically the exact same magazine as Q!

Their Opinion of Themselves: I can’t find any references to Uncut calling itself the world’s greatest music magazine, so I’m assuming that they find themselves inferior to NME and Q. Showing signs of weakness is no way to win a critical reputation, Uncut.

Public Opinion of Them: I have never in my life heard anyone say anything good or bad about Uncut. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that the public is totally ambivalent toward Uncut.

Cultural Importance: Well, I guess if Q ever went bankrupt, Uncut would be right there to take its place and not a single person in the world would notice. I should add that when I used to read Uncut some years ago, it had a section called “Sacred Cows” in which they would actually show some degree of balls: they would take a band that everyone loves (like Joy Division) and talk about all their flaws and weaknesses. As you can imagine, I enjoyed it. Too bad they don’t do that anymore. Or, wait, maybe that was in Q…

This Month’s Cover Story: A big huge feature on the life and times of The Clash that I’m pretty much just not going to read. Who in the world isn’t bored as fuck with the Clash, aside from fifteen-year-olds who are just hearing them for the first time? Sure, they changed rock and roll forever, etc, but that’s no excuse to still be listening to their records.

Other Features of Note: An interesting interview with Smokey Robinson. Bless your hearts, Uncut, it’s a good story. It’s interesting, it’s educational, it’s emotional, and it doesn’t dance around the fact that he’s less artistically relevant because of the fact that he found God instead of dying young. If you had any balls, Smokey would be on the cover instead of the goddamn Clash.

Interesting Music News: I scoured this thing, and there is not even one bit of news that is even remotely interesting.

Review System: Just like Q. One to five stars. Reviews of everything. Uncut is perhaps a little more generous with their reviews; they give out quite lot of four-star reviews, but they always seem to back it up well enough that it doesn’t seem like critical inflation.

Nadir: Calling Lou Reed’s sub-mediocre Sally Can’t Dance an “All-Time Classic.” What? Seriously, what the fuck? Yeah, we know he’s Lou Reed, but I have that record, and it’s about as much of an “All-Time Classic” as Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

I’ll give Uncut four stars: sure, it’s a little too much like Q, but certain things about it make it quite a bit more endearing somehow. I think what gives it the edge is not having a “Greatest ____ of All Time” cover story.

Alternative Press

ArrrrgghghhghhhOh my God, what complete and utter fucking garbage this is. I’m not even going to bother doing a little rundown of this magazine’s features like I’ve done with the others, because this magazine is just fucking beneath it. Imagine going into the mall, lying down in Hot Topic, and letting all the fucking mall-punks, emo kids, retarded scenesters, and semi-goths just piss all over your face. That’s what trying to wade through AP is like. For one thing, it’s just fucking aesthetically offensive. It looks awful, like the Geocities homepage of some adolescent angstaholic girl. The colors are sickening, the fonts are all skewed for maximum extremeness, and the layout somehow produces a sort of nauseating nervous tension. It’s riddled with errors, such as crediting Michel Gondry (they spell it “Gondy”) and Charlie Kaufman with directing and writing “Saved.” The features are all about shitty scenesters emo-pop-punk bands who all look and sound exactly the same and should probably just be fucking burnt for fuel before they turn any more of America’s youth into slutty little sad-sack LiveJournal cretins. I made it through all the other magazines. I made it through the fucking death metal magazine. Not Alternative Press, though. Alternative Press is whack. It’s filled with pathetic, ugly, self-destructive desperation, like a fourteen-year-old girl with a crush on the thirty-year-old hipster who works at the record store. I’m a bastard. I’m cynical, and I expect the worst from everything. But I honestly had no idea that music magazines could be this bad.

A highbrow American indie magazine, with the motto “Good Music Will Prevail.” I admire their optimism. In fact, I admire everything that’s not Alternative Press right about now.

Their Opinion of Themselves: Well, clearly, they presume to know what’s good.

Public Opinion of Them: Sort of like pitchforkmedia.com, but it costs money.

Cultural Importance: Nobody else is going to bother finding out whatever happened to Howard Devoto or Thomas Dolby, so if you’re a big fan of either of them you might consider picking up the fall issue of Filter. Then again, if you’re a big fan of Thomas Dolby, you probably already know what happened to him, because you’re probably his mother.

This Month’s Cover Story: Interpol! Hey, look, it’s Interpol, and they’re dressed in suits and not smiling. Fancy that. You know, I’m not much of an Interpol fan, but I can’t help just staring in a rapturous trance at the cover photo of them. You see, I just read Alternative Press, which was filled with hideous photos of scenesters in Cursive t-shirts and guys with awful hair and girl pants and white belts. Seeing men in suits, whoever they are, is refreshing.

Other Features of Note: Wow, this magazine is really pretty to look at. It feels very smooth, but not glossy. The layout is really nice, and the photography is generally very good. You know what? I still haven’t gotten over the fact that this magazine isn’t Alternative Press. I don’t think you’re going to get a fair review of this thing out of me, because after Alternative Press this is like eating a hot, delicious turkey dinner after years of being fed thin stew in a P.O.W. camp.

Interesting Music News: The Faint still exists, which is entirely unforgivable. In case you hadn’t heard, they’re from Nebraska and they make extremely unpleasant music. Please go away, The Faint, you are ruining my enjoyment of this smooth and aesthetically pleasing magazine.

Review System: They give records a percentage score, which is a little bit too bold, I think. It must be hard enough to rate an album on a scale of one to ten; who can really tell a six from a seven? Making it a percentage requires even more hubris: how can these people claim to be able to tell a 72% from a 73%? Giving out percentage scores on something as subjective as music seems a little preposterous; it seems to make a claim of accuracy and authority that can’t possibly be backed up.

Nadir: Writing a feature about The Faint is bad enough, but listen to these opening sentences: “It all started with fire. Fire was totally the new stone. Or was stone the new fire? Oh wait, no—that’s waaay too late in the history of cool shit. The Big Bang was sooooooo the new Nothing.” Yeah, like I said, it’s like pitchforkmedia.com but it costs money.

I give Filter a 71.00052%. If you think I’m coming up with that number out of nowhere, you’re dead wrong.

Oh God, remind me never to do that again. If you have any questions or comments or just want to congratulate me for having the fortitude to go through with such a ridiculous project, you can e-mail me at davidthorpe@somethingawful.com. If you’re from Alternative Press and would like to refund me my $4, please e-mail me and we’ll work it out.

– Dr. David Thorpe (@Arr)

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