I threw together a Permanent Records entry on The Jam's All Mod Cons earlier this week–and as usual, adding a new record to The A.V. Club's Hall Of Fame (or whatever you want to call it) stirred up some static. Some commenters were peeved that such an "obscure" album was chosen. Paradoxically, others were bummed that such a relatively canonical record was being trotted out by the music press once again. (Doubters of The Jam's stature might want to pick up any random issue of Q or Mojo.) Of course, The Jam is one of those examples of a band that was (and is) absolutely massive in England while remaining a cult act in the States. A certain disconnect between the opinions of our commenters, then, is to be expected. But again, the question was brought up: What the heck are the criteria for The A.V. Club's Permanent Records? Why The Who's Quadrophenia one week and Lync's These Are Not Fall Colors the next? Why Hootenanny instead of a different Replacements album universally considered to be superior, such as Tim or Let It Be? And if we're just trying to be snootily obscure, why The Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen? Why not stick to nice, safe choices that everyone can agree on and pat each other on the back about, like Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation or Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures?
There, of course, is no answer to these questions. There doesn't really need to be one. There aren't any criteria guiding Perm Recs, really, except that each entry must mean something to the writer involved. I'll go out on a limb and say that sometimes it's tougher to write about canonical albums than relatively lesser-known ones. What the hell can one poor writer add to the collected body of acclaim for Unknown Pleasures or Daydream Nation? (Not that I'd ever rule out either of these becoming Perm Recs entries someday.) Yes, it does boil down to a certain benign selfishness on our parts, although I have a bit of a soft spot for the word "subjectivity." I'm not trying to be some kind of know-it-all by writing up a mostly forgotten, early-'90s indie band like Lync. Fall Colors has moved me in more ways and on more occasions than I can count, and I just wanted to share that with the world (or at least this tiny cubbyhole of it). It's also true that less ubiquitous pieces of music can foster a more intimate and personal connection with the listener–especially when it comes to records like All Mod Cons that are considered masterpieces by a certain population or subculture, but not trumpeted by society or the critical community at large.
A perfect example of such a record–and one (of many) I've wrestled with adding to the Permanent Records roster–is Energy by Operation Ivy. There's a purely technical reason why I'm tempted to leave it off. The original full-length has long been available on a self-titled CD–which is being reissued next week–that includes a slew of bonus tracks now considered inseparable from Energy itself. But the main reason I'm on the fence about Op Ivy is this: I can't decide if it's simply too selfish (ahem, subjective) of a choice for Permanent Records. In my mind, Energy is one of the best American punk albums ever made. Period. Recorded in 1989 by the guys who went on to form Rancid, the disc picks up where The Clash, The Specials, The Ruts, Stranglehold, and Stiff Little Fingers left off in the early '80s–and the level of songwriting and passion is, to this day, absolutely fucking stunning, regardless of whatever genre-centric ghetto it gets stuck in.
I've been listening to Energy on a regular basis since I was 18 years old. I'm 35 now. No matter what phase I happened to be going through over the years–Brit-pop, kraut rock, classic country, whatever–punk-bred bands like Operation Ivy, Jawbreaker, Neurosis, and Fugazi remained the spine of my taste and sensibility. Heck, even my identity, to a certain degree. Which leaves me in a weird position when considering groups like Op Ivy for Permanent Records. Do I inflict my skewed worldview on our readers? Do A.V. Club fans really want Permanent Records to be the exclusive domain of proven canonical mainstays? The word "irrelevant" was tossed off by the most vocal critic of my All Mod Cons choice this week–and while that just made me laugh, it brings up a point: Do music writers in general sweat stupid crap like "relevance" when forming their views? If they–like me– couldn't give a shit, should they? I shudder to imagine a world in which opinions are expected to be coddled, weighed against the norm, and clipped of flagrant subjectivity before they even leave a critic's head. Sometimes I fear, though, that I might already live in it.