My friend Annie Lowrey is going to the New York Times. Hooray! But that means Dahlia and Dave are now the only reasons to ever read anything in Slate, with the exception of Fred Kaplan, who doesn't write often enough.
Even if we put aside droll, hard-hitting journalism like this shocking expose of the Solo cup, Slate's mixture of cleverness at the expense of wisdom -- if we're to be generous with the definition of "clever" -- is distilled to a thick sauce of Slateness by Taylor Clark, who contends that the Strokes' Is This It is the "best album of the last decade." Clark compares Is This It favorably to Nevermind. If your friend made this argument to you at a bar, you would rub the bridge of your nose to stop yourself from calling a cherished friend a fucking idiot, reassuring yourself that he's trying to get a rise out of you and struggling not to give him the satisfaction. Slate pays people to provoke that kind of reaction.
Yes, yes: Is This It is a fine record, and an influential one. It's also neither as good nor as influential as any three Kanye West records of the last ten years, just to pick a competitor at random. But I'm just going to take the bait for one second, and it will involve me indulging Clark for just a moment. Take Is This It on its own merits. And then get a load of this from Clark:
Once Is This It finally landed in America (its release here had to be delayed so the band could replace the blistering—and not exactly flattering—“New York City Cops” after 9/11), the response was immediate and seismic.
No! You do not get to shovel an actual bit of insight into a parenthetical aside! (I'm squeezing the bridge of my nose, but it's not working.) "New York City Cops" is the best song on Is This It. By far. The Strokes excised the best song on its debut record because they were too chickenshit after 9/11 to risk interrupting of their rise to fame with something as trivial as the best song on its debut record. In the annals of rock and roll, there may be a few moments more craven, but it's hard to think of them, because the sheer audacity of cutting the best song on the record in a fit of careerism tends to concentrate the mind.
And yet this is all Clark has to say about the song! Look: if you take Is This It seriously, as either a work of art or a cultural artifact -- which, last I checked, is the entire point of the piece -- you have to say something about cutting "New York City Cops." I don't care what. Argue that it was an unimportant decision. Argue that the move was consistent with the style-over-substance posture that made the record great. Argue that the excision is ultimately trivial when viewed against the record's overall excellence.
But neglecting the removal of the best song the Strokes ever wrote and perhaps ever will write is pure laziness. And it's precisely that sense of laziness and self-satisfaction that defines the decline of Slate. A wag might say, It ain't too sma-haaaaaaart...
Actually, even better: