riting a negative record review is one of the most uncomfortable and unnatural exercises I put myself through. When you love an album, you’re allowed to say whatever you want, no matter how ridiculous, and nobody complains. The people who agree with you appreciate someone hailing an album they also enjoy, the label who puts the record out is happy and even the people who disagree with you have little to bitch about because in a positive record review, you more often than not outline every little aspect of the album that makes you love it, thereby making a strong, legitimate claim for your new current fave. Negative reviews, on the other hand, have to be critical, they have to be constructive, they have to make sense, and that’s total bullshit. When I talk to my friends about music I hate, I don’t give thought one to how my opinions will affect them. But here, or at any other music site, you have to make sure that you don’t tarnish the site’s credibility, with its readers and/or its potential sponsors/promo suppliers.
For example, some friends and I went out to see Broken Social Scene last Thursday. They were pretty boring, but the band that opened up for them, Stars, were so shitty that they almost ruined music for me. We had a fantastic time bashing them, laughing our asses off as we tried to describe them -- Velocity Girl meets B-52s, Belle and Sebastian meets Tragically Hip, R.E.M. meets Tears for Fears -- because that’s what usually happens with bad music: it brings people together as much as great music does. So why does that fun -- that honesty -- so often get excised from music reviews? If an album sucks, is totally worthless, then why should I or any other reviewer be expected to give an even handed assessment when in actuality we probably couldn’t even sit through the album enough times to give it a critique?
Such is the case with Sam Shalabi’s new aberration, Osama, not only the worst album Shalabi’s recorded, but perhaps the worst album Alien8 has released. Shalabi’s middle eastern roots have often led to hypnotic, ethnic undertones in his music, and in the current political climate, the ideas of middle eastern artists should be a bracing, ultra-real alternative to those of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle (those fucks). Unfortunately, Osama is a complete piece of shit, a lazy, messy disaster whose musical and political ideas aren’t just unfinished, but unchallenging, uninteresting and unlistenable. Shalabi comes off as an opportunistic asshole exploiting his ethinicity and his ties to a respected label to give this clumsy muck an air of legitimacy. His middle eastern perspective and Alien8 packaging might be enough to make people listen once, but any subsequent listening will be purely accidental.
Once you’re past the vague psychedelic noise of “The Wherewithall” -- a transition marked by Gene Simmons-esque “ooh yeah”’s, Osama becomes one toilet splash after another. Badly recorded, generic Stooges jams pop up all over the album. Spoken word pieces comprised of tedious stories, lifeless, fake conversations and tired activist rhetoric I can hear every Saturday at peace rallies down by the South Saskatchewan River dominate three of the five songs, with most of the dialogue being backed up with lazy, dissonant strings and DI guitar noise. There is joyless folk and raga-rock that sounds like Cornershop covering Ace Frehley. There’s tone deaf Mercury Rev and 15 minutes of rattling, percussive noise. Osama is not avant; it’s fucking garbage.
Where are the good qualities that I should also make mention of, the “It’s not all bad, though”’s? There aren’t any. No record I’ve reviewed thus far for Stylus has made me want to cry out “FUCK YOU” as much as Osama. (That could be due to the fact that I’ve never received a promo disc, thereby forcing me to review nothing but albums I’ve already purchased.) I’m not necessarily saying it to Sam Shalabi -- even though he deserves to hear it from somebody -- but to bad music and the notion that bad music deserves the same respectful, journalistic treatment that good music often receives. It doesn’t, and what’s more, it never has.
Reviewed by: Clay Jarvis
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01