In one corner we have Frank Ocean's new album, Channel Orange, which received a lofty 9.5 from Pitchfork hot on the heels of a confessional-style note from the man himself, detailing nothing more or less than an intense love affair with another man. Lots of people throwing their hands up about the Pitchfork review, which pontificates at length about the issues surrounding the confession and what it all means, rather than, I suppose, strictly addressing the music on the record; lots of people also wondering whether the score was bumped up because of the high-profile nature of the release, or whether it's just a great album regardless.
We've also had Mere_Pseud_Bag_Head's attempt at reviewing the 100 Best Tracks of NME's Lifetime list, which has attracted a variety of criticisms, but particularly towards cases of a seemingly pathological inability to distinguish between *the song* and its wider and subsequent applications - from God Only Knows being used on a car advert (and also on someone from Biffy Clyro's chest apparently), Chris Martin liking Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Like a Prayer being played in terrible nightclubs, right through to the pandemic spread of the riff from Seven Nation Army to the European Championships.
Both threads seem to be repeatedly kicking the same hornet's nest: the problem when songs go out into the world and take on new meanings, new interpretations, and new associations that may be foreign or anathema to artist or listener.
Is it not impossible to watch Frank Ocean's Fallon performance of Bad Religion, to listen to the words and *not* think about the declaration of love? Doesn't the reaction, however you feel about it, freshly inflect on the musical experience, as much as the music itself is forged through experience?
I'm aware this isn't remotely new territory, but I found the reactions in both threads quite interesting, not least because the vast majority seemed hostile towards the idea that a song should change over time and through associations, that the text should almost take on an agency of its own. I found myself intermittently on both sides.
Does context matter?