This notion of conventionality that Mr. Wells rehashes (I use the word rehash since, from his argument, it's clear that he didn’t read the Cupcake’s original post closely enough) is an oft heard complaint with all things New Order, no more so than in the reviews of Never Cry Another Tear – which, coincidentally, was one of his original points. It’s also a complete crock of shit, for conventionality is a simple, subjective term elitist-types like to throw around when evaluating works of art. Debating a work’s conventionality is a lot like debating something’s “quality” – what’s quality to one person isn’t necessarily for another (for more on that, see: Pirsig, Robert M. and his many discussions of the concept) (It also brings to mind Jules Winnfield’s take on sewer rat during the final scene of Pulp Fiction: “Hey, sewer rat might taste like Pumpkin Pie but I’d never know ‘cause I’d never eat the filthy mutherfucker.”).
The Cupcake thought it was evident that he wasn’t defending Never Cry Another Tear as a masterwork. Nor was The Cupcake vague by any stretch of the imagination that Sumner et al. have indeed become, to use Wells’ term, conventional over the years – that is if you want to use that term the way he apparently defines it. The Cupcake prefers to think of this as, say: maturing, experimenting with other directions, or, heaven forbid, getting older and simply not giving a fuck about changing the shape of modern music and settling comfortably into elderstatesmenship status. People like Mr. Wells that constantly complain about stuff like conventionality with New Order are missing the boat, especially when they make ridiculously egotistical statements like: conventional listeners “cannot (or prefer not to) identify the lack of substance in the work as many of the surface elements remain in place.” If I wanted to dumb the discussion down in this manner, I could just as easily say that elitist snobs aren’t listening hard enough (which, evidently, they aren’t) and would do well to invest in a good set of headphones, crack open a beer and spend the next 45 minutes in an uninterrupted Bad Lieutenant-induced listening session but that’s too easy.
I can only surmise that by the term conventional, Wells means that latter day New Order et al. have consistently mined the same song structures, pitch points and chords over and over, with repeated effect and success but, through a photocopy-like process, a noticeable disintegration of brilliance and luster has slowly emerged with each repeat of the process. I’m not really sure what to say to that. Am I supposed to, for example, hold it against the band that they’ve knocked out more tracks like “Jetstream” in the last 20 years instead of “Ultraviolence?” If Wells wants to take the time to explain why one track is more conventional than the other, I’m all ears. The Cupcake prefers to hear in a track like “Jetstream” the fundamental building blocks that “Ultraviolence” laid down, not hassle them for sounding conventional. It’s all still there, some people just choose to ignore it and bitch about things like conventionality like a little pig-tailed girl named Sally.
In case Wells hasn’t noticed, New Order have, since around the Brotherhood era, sounded, at least by his rather thin definition of the term, “conventional.” Logically, after three records on which they were trying to pin down their direction and the contain the various mutuations of the sound their Joy Division beginnings produced, by album #4 a repeatable yet unique sound had emerged. From that point forward, everything they’ve done has pretty much followed that blueprint with tweaks here and there. And, most importantly, every time any of them individually, or the band collectively, deviates from this blueprint, they’re accused of being things like conventional or boring or trying too hard to milk past success with limited results. I don’t get it. Take a track like “
Moving on (no pun intended)…
I’m not really sure what Wells' point is in saying “there’s nothing wrong with being a conventional pop listener.” It certainly sounds like he thinks there is. If he truly doesn’t look down his nose at conventional pop listeners, he likely wouldn’t have taken the time to introduce the conventionality angle, nor would he have taken the opportunity to make the veiled dig that The Cupcake’s original piece was produced because he felt “personally attacked” that discerning listeners (like, presumably, Mr. Wells) and reviewers pointed a bunch of shit out that The Cupcake didn’t agree with. As I flatly stated several times in “The Case for Bad Lieutenant,” my original gripes were about how, technically, the album was reviewed, not that the reviews were only saying the album was merely okay. If someone, anyone, had written a review that avoided each and every pitfall The Cupcake made note of in Part I (e.g., Barney’s less than stellar lyrical prowess, etc.), he would have been perfectly content to accept it from the “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion” school of reasoning. But they didn’t do that. They chose instead to write a series of trite, shallow and ill-formulated reviews, largely ignoring the actual record.
Never Cry Another Tear has not been given a fair shake in the music press. Its been on the receiving end of drive-by journalism from the beginning. The only personal attack The Cupcake suffered was one of multiple counts of exposure-to-shitty-journalism.