NPR: Hipper than Thou?

I love this, and I’m not sure why: NPR’s ombudsman scolding NPR for producing and airing music commentary that’s too “hipper-than-thou.” The ombudsman (Jeffrey Dvorkin, whose last major public acts were to criticize those who got their information about NPR from blogs and to assert that NPR would continue to ask permission from people seeking to link to material on its website) intones:

For some listeners, the music sounds harsh and the journalism that attempts to explain it, sounds equally irritating (and impenetrable).

Here’s brief quotes from some of the reviews he thinks are impenetrable:

“Tweedy uses savage, wild lunges to punctuate the verses and sometimes to inject a little danger into otherwise lovely songs.” [June 21 review of Wilco’s new album A Ghost Is Born.]

“They’re disciplined little gems of composition, poison-pen letters set in the first person and caustic, coffee-shop observations propelled by not particularly heroic desires. The best of them tell about being deluded in love or not being able to let go of an old flame.” [June 9 review of Magnetic Fields’ new album i.]

“Morrissey has always seemed to be a walking paradox, both playful and morose, ambiguously asexual, political but hopelessly self-involved, which is why You Are the Quarry is still a classic Morrissey album.” [June 4 review of Morrissey’s new CD.]

Now, I can see where sometimes NPR’s CD reviews are a little on the patronizing side. But what’s so “inscrutable” about the quotes above? Would this column have been written, I wonder, about any of NPR’s jazz reviews? Or are jazz reviews supposed to be condescending?

No, it seems that the rock reviews are guilty of the horrible crime of “alienat[ing] mainstream NPR listeners,” according to Dvorkin. The ombudsman, in the midst of wanly complimenting another piece, this one on Timbaland, that “alienated” some “mainstream NPR listeners” because his “sound was jarring and very un-Morning Edition-like,” then completes the circle by writing, “Like some who wrote in, I initially confused Timbaland with a well known pop singer called Justin Timberlake.”

Dvorkin sounds a lot like the Newsweek reviewer who wrote of the Beatles in February 1964:

Visually they are a nightmare: tight, dandified Edwardian beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically, they are a near disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of yeah, yeah, yeah!) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.

At least that reviewer didn’t whine that the Beatles were “alienating” mainstream Newsweek readers.