I've been reading Rolling Stone since high school. While my tastes have slowly moved away from the stuff they usually cover, I always think highly of their writing. I've always respected what they've said in their reviews, but as of late, I've been thinking about their grading scale for record reviews. I don't know how long they've used their "star" scale but here is the rundown: one star is "poor," two stars is "fair," three is "good," four is "excellent" and five is "classic." I don't know about you, but I think "classic" should be taken off the scale.
In my time of reading RS, only a handful of albums have received the prestigious five-star rating. Off the top of my head, albums like Automatic for the People by R.E.M., August & Everything After by Counting Crows, Sea Change by Beck, Elephant by The White Stripes, Goddess in the Doorway by Mick Jagger and Love & Theft by Bob Dylan have received such rating. Not to piss on the merits of the other albums, but I believe only Automatic for the People is a truly time-tested, classic album.
Whatever is or isn't considered a "classic," I have to call attention to something: aren't things considered "classic" after they've been around for a few years and have really held up? So, how can anyone claim that a new album is a classic upon its initial release? I don't mean to knock the knowledge of RS's writing staff (David Fricke is one of the finest music critics of our time), but come on, these records don't come with tarot cards.
Greg Kot said on last weekend's episode of Sound Opinions that Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not by Arctic Monkeys was recently voted by the NME as the #5 best album ever in UK music history, ahead of The Clash's London Calling and The Beatles' Revolver. What? Granted, there is a lot of sensational excitement right now around Arctic Monkeys, but the important thing to wonder is: is this excitement going to stick around for years to come? Probably not, but the true litmus test for all classic albums is time.
For me, I don't believe that a young band's debut album can come in and sit high with time-tested classics right away. In regards to records that have come out in the past six years, I believe a record like Is This It? by the Strokes will be continue to be highly-praised for years and years to come. The album was praised royally when it was originally released in '01, but it wasn't considered one of the best albums ever. After the flood of 'the' bands playing some form of stripped-down rock & roll for the masses, Is This It? will probably be thought of as highly as the Ramones' debut album. As for right now, it's a big crapshoot for Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not.
There is usually no point of reference or legacy with a new, young band. The excitement is in the now, but sustaining a classic status can only come with repeated listens over many years. I guess some people like jumping the gun. I guess these same people like eating their words too.