The Onion A.V. Club is out with another one of its entertaining lists, this one a bit more "pox on all you critics' houses" than usual.
Year-end best-of lists are as much about looking forward to the years ahead as back on the year that was. What from a given year will rank up there with classics past? What albums showed the way for future artists? But history has a way of forgetting the lauded albums that proved to be dead-ends or false starts.
Cue 11 "Oh, yeah! That!" moments, mementos of briefly-hot albums of the 1990s and 2000s that are, in all likelihood, gathering lint underneath your couch right now. Travis, Jill Scott, Urge Overkill—it's a bloodbath.
The A.V. writers have good explanations for why the hot albums (and artists) never lived up to their initial promise. They don't explore the more interesting question of why certain albums and artists live on forever in "best of" lists, or why some of them experience mini-resurgences in the lists at seemingly random moments. I think the reasons owe more to markets than to critical tastes. One factor: Labels do a lot of legwork when reissuing albums, and can stoke a revival by sending a new version of an album to a critic's desk every five or so years. Include greatest hits and box sets in that calculation and you've got critics writing new appraisals of the work of the Velvet Underground or the Rolling Stones or Elvis Costello every few years.
Another factor: Song placement in movies and TV shows has more to do with the longevity of songs and artists than I think critics are willing to admit. Usage in any movie (it doesn't necessarily have to be a good one) elevates the song, keeps the label interested in promoting the artist, and moves copies of the album it appeared on.