This is me, yo, right here
ndrew Unterberger was born in 1986. He attends Harriton High School somewhere near Philadelphia and is a fellow Goon with Stylus writer Kareem Estefan, pioneering the dance style known simply as “dancing like a goon,” which will one day surely sweep the nation. He has no real dreams or aspirations for the future, but hopes to be either a game show junkie or a barber from the 1940’s. He contents himself with coming up with endless amounts of lists (having several piles of notebooks full of them that could reach the ceiling of your average living room when combined), ranking everything and anything, and coming up with as many bogus musical, cinematic and evolutionary theories as Steve Coogan playing Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People (the closest thing he has to a hero).
- Still True:
- Born in 1986
- No real dreams or aspirations for the future
- Still got them lists, though doing more spreadsheet-style at the moment
- Still come out with a whole bunch of bogus theories
- No Longer True (And Time Period for Which It Has Been False):
- Attends Harriton High School (’04-)
- Goon with fellow Stylus writer Kareem Estefan (’05-, The Goon Squad has, to my deep, deep dismay, largely disbanded, around the same time that Kareem quit Stylus for more ambitious and creative writing ventures)
- Hopes to either be a game show junkie or barber from the ’40s (’06-, the lack of GSN in my life since has been truly shameful)
- Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson no longer the closest thing to a hero (’05-, Michael Cera has since become the wind beneath my wings)
- Might Still Be True (Or Could Be True Again Some Day):
- Dancing Like a Goon inevitably sweeping the nation
I do slightly regret never updating my Stylus profile in the four and a half years since I was first added to their staff, but hey, as far as embarrassing High School relics go, I figure I could’ve done worse. There could be official record of my first ever review, a horrific sum-up of Radiohead’s Kid A for the Harriton newspaper, which I’m pretty sure never got published and which was the one casualty I was actually relieved about when my hard drive crashed my Freshman year of college. Plus, look at the ten albums I chose to represent my all-time top ten favorites:
All Time Top 10
The Clash- London Calling
The Smiths- Singles
Blur- \”Girls and Boys\”
The Velvet Underground- White Light/White Heat
New Order- Substance
Radiohead- OK Computer
The Beatles- The Beatles (The White Album)
Primal Scream- Screamadelica
Wire- Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154
Joy Division- Heart and Soul
Not too bad, right? Doing it today, I’d certainly excise the JD box (redundant choice with New Order already in the mix there anyway), the VU album, and certainly the Blur song, which I don’t even really enjoy listening to anymore. But the rest is pretty hard to argue with. Helps that I cheated on nearly half the entries, I guess. Clearly album reviews was never going to be my specialty.
It’s been a long strange journey for me at Stylus. I began writing about experimental rock albums I only sort of understood, and I ended writing about the video for U2’s “Discotheque” (which I really couldn’t be happier to leave as my accidental final Stylus testament). What happened in between, you may ask? Well, sit back and enjoy a roughly chronological ride through the best, the most important, and the most definitive articles from the first 55 months of Andrew Unterberger, Accredited Internet Scribe and Insightful Personne.
Angels of Light – Everything is Good Here / Please Come Home: The first review I ever wrote for Stylus. In retrospect, I have no idea why I chose to write about this album, or even to listen to it for that matter, since Pitchfork had yet to cover it, and back then I don’t think I listened to more than two non-Pitchfork-approved albums a year. I tried harder on this review than I did on barely any since–I actually had my mother proofread it, a move which would feel about as natural to me today as getting her to sign a failed midterm without my professor even asking for me to do so. Like most of my old reviews, it’s little more than a decent hook in search of a worthwhile body, but reading through it again–
“One of the greatest strengths of Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home is its ability to sound majestic without sounding epic–without all the cheesiness and pomposity that epic implies.“
That’s a pretty good line, I think.
An Inner Flight to Kill Light: Primal Scream’s Screamedelica and XTRMNTR: The first front-page article I ever wrote for Stylus, a joint effort with fellow Styluser Sam Bloch. Sam was my first friend on Stylus, and my first real internet friend in general–a full year younger than even I was, he was the enfant terrible of Stylus at the time, and we clicked instantly. We co-wrote this humongous treatise on our respective favorite Primal Scream albums, and I probably worked harder on it than I have at any paper, creative or academic, since, reading countless Primal Scream interviews from the early 90s, downloading everything from the period that I could possibly find, spending hours and hours poring over Sam and my articles, editing and re-editing them for hours at a time. I was extremely proud of the end product at the time, though who knows what I think of it today, and I’m certainly far too terrified to see for myself, so if you’re in the mood for reading 300,000 words on Primal Scream, do let me know how it turns out.
Meanwhile, my internet friendship with Sam got to the point where I did something that I’ve never really done with an internet friend since: I actually met him in real life. He flew in from Chicago over the summer of 2003, and spent a weekend with me and my friends. It was a good time, certainly, but our internet relationship was never quite the same afterwards, especially since shortly thereafter, he discovered sex, drugs and narcisissm, and the two of us were no longer on the same sort of level. Ultimately, we stopped talking together, either because he decided he was too cool for me or because I decided he was too cool for me, I can’t really remember.
Either way, my good memories with Sam far outnumber my bad ones, and I couldn’t really go through my Stylus experience without giving him his propers.
New Order – Movement (Playing God): The first column I actually invented for Stylus was Playing God, a column which took albums with promise, but a whole lot of issues, and edited their tracklisting, switching the ordering, removing deadweight and adding superior non-album tracks from the time period until the album no longer sucked at all. My first choice was what I still believe to be the ideal choice for such a column: New Order’s deathly debut album Movement, which shunned pretty much all of the insanely catchy and creative songs New Order wrote around this time in exchange for a bunch of funeral marches. Boooooo.
The Playing God column remains one of my better achievements at Stylus, and the column ran fairly regularly for a number of years, until a lack of interest from other writers and my inability (read: laziness) to fill in the missing entries myself got it pulled from the site’s regular rotation. Nonetheless, contributions to it were still welcome, and the two last PG columns I wrote–mixes combining The Police’s Synchronicity and Ghost in the Machine and U2’s Zooropa and Pop–ended up being the last things I ever wrote for the site.
Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic: “Wow. Maybe the worst, most cynical record review I’ve ever read.”-Yancy Blaylock
“Wow, reading that review nearly made me want to vomit, I know I rip into Dr. Bill a lot but it’s all just talk, playfulness, etc, but that was just seriously the most awful bile I’ve ever seen” -Dan Butler
And this is what my friends (well, internet friends) had to say about my review of Guitar Romantic. Needless to say this was one of the more controversial reviews of my early years at Stylus, and it’s sort of hard to blame the haters on this one–my review does come from the perspective of a hateful, heartless asshole, and hardly the Guitar Romantic of the title. But what can I say? Sometimes, I’m a hateful, heartless asshole. I’d venture to say that most rock critics are hateful, heartless assholes as much, if not more of the time than I am. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed some moments of callous superiority every now and then.
Besides, I kind of like this review. I like that I had the balls to actually go with my gut and really rip into the album–something I’m not quite sure I’d be up for doing if I was to review it today. And I maintain that a good deal of that record is total bullshit, even if it does contain a couple semi-classic power-pop youth anthems or some such. It’s just lucky that I got the review in when I did (which was still a good four months or so after the ‘Fork and everyone else), since a few months later, most of the band perished in a tragic car accident, after which my article might’ve been in um, even poorer taste.
I Love 1996: Sometime around the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004, I got the idea for what would eventually become the most ambitious project I probably would ever undertake in my entire life. At this point, VH1 had done three of their trademark I Love the ___s clip shows–80s, 70s, and then a second 80s. I loved each of them desperately–still do, for the most part–but I felt it was about time that the decade to house most of my formative years, the 90s, was about due for the treatment. Consequently, I pitched the idea to my editor to do Stylus’s very own I Love the 90s column series–once a month from March to December, I organized a series of writers (I think the average tally per month was somewhere between 15 and 25) to write me snappy comments about a list of pop culture items (and a couple indier ones–this was still Stylus, after all) they were assigned to wax nostalgic about, from which I edited their copy into what I thought best resembled the pacing, editing and talking heads quotiness of VH1’s show.
Needless to say, the project wasn’t always successful. A good deal of the writers I commissioned for the project either didn’t know or didn’t care to write in anything other than essay format, creating gorgeous, flowing prose that was nonetheless entirely incompatible with the format I was going for. Others apparently had no pop culture memories whatsoever to drawn on, and just wrote “I have no idea what this is, but it probably sucked, next” type entries for most of the stuff. Others just came to the conclusion that the project probably wasn’t worth there time altogether. (By the way, to ‘Fork writer Amanda Petrusich, should she by any miracle be reading this:
I’m sorry I spelt your name wrong each time it appeared in I Love 1990, and if that’s why you stopped responding to the e-mails, I guess I can’t blame you. You wrote some great shit, though.)
However, there were at least a handful of writers attached to the project–Zach Smola, Ken Munson, Brad Shoup, Joe “Undo” Niemczyk, Gabe Gloden, Adrien Begrand, Christina Adkinson–for whom this shit couldn’t possibly have come more naturally. With their writing at the core of I Love the 90s, I paddded it with some of the more tolerable stuff written by the other writers, and I personally filled in whatever other necessary stuff was missing (note to future VH1-apers: No one actually enjoys recounting the plots of movies and TV shows for which everyone already knows the plots) until the final product, if hardly seamless, was often inspired, and its best, an entirely worthy tribute to the real thing.
Speaking of the real thing–VH1 made an announcement sometime in April or May that over the summer, they would be premiering their own version of I Love the 90s. My mom telling me when I was about six that my Uncle Michael had died, and Anna Tsykolova confessing to me in my Freshman year of High School that she had secretly been seeing my best friend for the last month, probably rank as the two most devestating moments in my life. This, however, was a semi-close #3–you really can not imagine the amount of time, energy and emotion I put into these articles, and VH1 essentially making the last (and next) few months of my life entirely irrelevant with a single sentence took its toll me fer goddamn sure. I mean, part of me knew it was inevitable–no one knows how to exhaust a good thing like VH1–but I thought at least maybe they’d get a 70s part two out of the way first, and I could at least get the series finished up before VH1 premiered their version. Alas, no such luck.
I can’t remember who talked me down from my panic and depression at this announcement, but much thanks to them, because I eventually was able to pull myself together enough to stay enthusiastic and finish the last half of the series. And really, the second half of the series probably ended up much better than the first–thinning submissions from my guest-writer recruits and waning interest from inside the Stylus camp led me to hold open calls for new talking heads, which brought out many of the names I listed above. The one I have posted here, I Love 1996, is probably one of the better entries in the series–though, once again, I need a few more years before I can relive some of these memories, so you’ll have to judge for yourself.
Ultimately, the legacy of I Love the 90s for Stylus and for me is a strange one. I started out thinking it would be a smash hit, and indeed, it posted high numbers hit-wise, but it never quite took off beyond the site the way I hoped it would–a fact which I suppose is counter-balanced by the fact that it ended as well, or at least as gracefully, as it did. Regardless, three years later and no one really talks about it anymore, including myself. In the end, it probably ranks somewhere in between being my Deer Hunter and being my Heaven’s Gate, and I guess that’s OK with me. I just wish I had forced Todd to give me some sort of editor’s credit on it at the time so I could syndicate that shit or something.
Stay tuned tomorrow for even more nostalgic critcism goodness!