As Martin Mull might have said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Despite an overabundance of music criticism, music itself remains stubbornly impervious to prosaic interpretation--like nine-year-old-resisting-bedtime stubborn. One can read about literature or movies or plays and experience some semblance of the emotional response generated by the work under discussion. Many times I (and I suspect you, too) have read a plot summary or other critical report and thought, "Man, that sounds awesome! I need to read/see THAT!" But music? Descriptions of instrumentation and comparisons to other pieces of music get you only so far. Music has to be experienced in order to be. . .well, experienced.
Fear not, though, Sloppists. I have devised a handy-dandy ranking scale to help you when trying to decide whether a piece of music or a particular performer is worth your time and effort. No longer do you need to feel inadequate about your paltry knowledge of music theory, your limited musical vocabulary, your inability to distinguish a tenor sax from a set of bongos (although that last one is really pathetic and you should do something about it). Because to make your life easier, all you really need to do is place each piece of music into one of the following four categories:
THE INFALLIBLES. These are those whose every product is pure gold--or at least worth your lunch money. They come out with something new? You buy it. And you can feel fairly confident that you won't be disappointed. These are your Springsteens, your U2s, your Elvis Costellos. You love them! (Either that, or you're wrong. Sorry, that's just how it works.) Other personal Infallibles--if you're looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for your favorite blogger (just sayin')--include Radiohead, Aimee Mann, Bright Eyes. Go get 'em.
THE GREATEST HITS CLUB. You hear these folks on the radio all the time, and you like pretty much everything you hear, but you don't particularly feel like you need to hear more. In other words, get yourself a "Greatest Hits" collection or two, and you'll probably have about everything you need. A number of classic rock bands fall neatly into this category: The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who. (In case you're wondering, The Beatles are closer to Infallible.) Great bands all, to be sure, but does anyone really need to hear the B-side of "Honky-Tonk Women"? What? "You Can't Always Get What You Want"? Seriously?!? OK, bad example, but you get the point.
THE FREE CONCERT TICKET ARMY. OK, you don't really care one way or the other about these bands. They're fine. They play well, sound good. They probably even have one or two songs that you find yourself bopping along to on your morning drive. But while you're more than willing to download those one or two earworms to your iTunes, you wouldn't bother with a whole album. Still, if somebody came up to you and said, "Hey, Solipsist, I have an extra ticket to a ___________ concert, you wanna go?," you would--after explaining that you are NOT the Solipsist, no matter how great the resemblance--say, "Sure, why not. Beats organizing my sock drawer." These include a lot of current bands (who, admittedly, might graduate to the Greatest Hits Club over time): The Black Keys, for one, being a good example. I would put Los Lobos in this category, too, but God only knows what trouble that would get me into.
And then, finally, there are THE UNLISTENABLES. This category includes Tom Petty. That is all.