Holy hell, what in sweet, sweet Satan’s name is this? Who gave Michael Nelson posting rights on the Stereogum site? Who gave Michael Nelson access to their Adderall prescription? How has Michael Nelson slipped through the cracks of the mental health system for so long? Does Michael Nelson have a family that cares about him? Have they read his “review” of the new Julian Casablancas song platter? If they have, then hopefully they read this for what it is: a desperate howl for help. Hopefully they are taking the necessary steps to get this man the help he so clearly needs. Hopefully the authorities are moving down the steps of Michael Nelson’s mother’s basement as we speak, ready to bust through the barricaded door and pull the man away from his multiple Strokes shrines, packing him away to a home where he can be observed and adequately cared for.
As someone who forced myself, as a professional, to spend the several hours needed to get through this tangled mass of deranged side tangents that comes marketed as a review, I can honestly state that I’m worried about Michael Nelson.
Very, very worried.
This meltdown is purported to be a review of the new Voidz record, Virtue, out today on Cult Records. A high-profile release, Virtue has already churned up thousands of words a due to its first batch of incredibly weird and wild tracks filtered in from the Casablancas Empire somewhere beyond the stars. Anything the enigmatic Strokes frontman puts out there is going to be hotly anticipated, covered, reviewed, debated, think-pieced, op-eded, trashed, and revered in the music press vacuum for weeks or months, and here we have what is, to my knowledge, the very first Virtue review. Did Stereogum accept and rush post this rambling disaster just to get those first-in-the-mix clicks?
I haven’t yet heard Virtue, which made me genuinely, ahem, QYURRYUS to check out a review of the advance copy. After winding my way through the 10,825 words in this “review” I still have no clear idea what Michael Nelson thinks about this record. I do now know a lot about Michael Nelson’s childhood, upbringing, college years, job history, self-doubts, and personal traumas. I also now know a hell of a lot about the film Almost Famous. But I know nothing I didn’t know before about the album being reviewed. In many ways I know even less than I knew before. This “review” is like a massive suction that drains you of any knowledge you had when you began reading, leaving you wrung out and deeply alienated from a release you once anticipated. I now most likely will never listen to Virtue because I won’t ever be able to disassociate it from Michael Nelson’s disconnected thought tangents.
How do we even review this “review”? Where is the “in”? Well, as Jay Z once said, numbers don’t lie. So let’s take a look at those.
We already mentioned that there are 10,825 words in this weighty rant. These are enough words to qualify as a novella in 2018. It takes Michael Nelson 9,328 words just to get to the record. 9,328 words. So what is Michael Nelson up to during this epic 9,328 word lead-in? Let’s see, 3,016 of those words are spent musing on Almost Famous for reasons only Michael Nelson knows. He seems to have an unnatural fascination with Rolling Stone Writer Ben Fong Torres, who is somehow connected to Almost Famous (Nelson never actually clarifies this connection), spending much of those 3,016 words on him. Ben Fong Torres’ connection to Julian Casablancas and the saga of the Strokes also remains murky. 3,509 words are spent exploring the history and disturbing internal thought patterns of Michael Nelson himself, even after dude specifically stated, near the 4,000 word mark, that he doesn’t want to make all of this about him. But sure enough, just several hundred words later and we get “it might help to know a few things about me” and we’re off and running on several thousand words of Strokes-obsessive gibber jabber. Did you know that Michael Nelson has never actually spoken to a Stroke? Did you know that he knew people who knew them and would hang out in the same bars though? Did you know that Michael Nelson would sit alone in his apartment and obsess over Casablancas lyrics, often hallucinating that Julez was speaking directly to him? Did you know that Michael Nelson has a theory that Julian can predict the future and knew that he would one day find himself putting out this album and that this means on the early Strokes records he was actually singing to his future self? Did you know that Michael Nelson couldn’t get into a good MFA program? Did you know that he used to toil in a West Village record shop? Once in a review of Michael Greenfield’s book on The Stones, S.T.P., the reviewer wrote, “I learned more about Robert Greenfield than I ever wanted to know when reading this book.” I’ll just leave this quote right here.
1,109 words are spent riffing unimaginatively on rock clichés and the dynamics of popular bands. Anybody who’s read Hammer Of The Gods or seen, well, Almost Famous or pays any attention whatsoever to popular music already knows everything Nelson is speaking about at such lengths here. Did you know that some bands keep going only because of the money?? No way!! How about that they sometimes fight for songwriting credits? Crazy, right? It’s like listening to a 7th grader who just discovered…well…The Strokes. “Why don’t they put out music anymore?” The 7th graders start to piece this together. Their conversation would sound a lot like Nelson’s musings here, only perhaps a little more interesting.
1,694 words are spent discussing a good portion of the Strokes catalog (not the album at hand). In the beginning of his screed, around the 700 word mark, Nelson does make an interesting promise about the last Strokes EP, Future Present Past, and claims that he is going to, at some point in the piece, tie it in with Virtue but never quite gets around to it. Or maybe he does and I missed it because my head was spinning from this house-of-mirrors horror display of dropped themes and hyperlinks to further madness.
He also spends an inordinate amount of time slandering Rick Ruben.
He also makes up no less than five imaginary Julian Casablancas quotes.
He also, I think at one point (seriously sorry I’m so exhausted trying to understand this piece), makes up an entire article about the Strokes circa 2006.
He also calls himself a “dick” three times.
This leaves us with 1,497 words, less than 1/5th of the article, focusing on Virtue itself. Of the 15 tracks on the album, he specifically mentions only eight of them, and many of those just in passing. Nelson claims that nine songs from this record would make his ultimate Julian Casablancas playlist (you get the feeling this guy has many, many, many Julian Casablancas playlists and alternate lists fighting in his head at all times) but doesn’t say what the nine songs are. A lot of words are spent on “Wink” which he claims is a “banger” so we can assume that one, but even though he ruminates long and excessive on “QYURRYUS” and “Pyramid Of Bones”, quoting lyrics and even making up his own, it’s tough to get a sense if dude actually likes them or not. Nelson is quite obviously obsessed with these tracks, but his satisfaction level with them is tough to determine. And he STILL manages to sneak in a round of Almost Famous quotes in here somehow.
Sigh. So this brings us to the crushing question. What is Michael Nelson’s verdict on Virtue? After so many thousands and thousands and thousands of words, after this twisted maze of obsession and abstract thought patterns, when we finally see the glimmer of day beyond Nelson’s myopic ramblings, what are we left with?
“So if you like Julian … yeah, you’ll like Virtue.”
Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me. For three hours I’ve been trying to get through this dense rabbit hole and this is what I get on the other end? If I like Julian I’ll like this record?
If this laptop was anywhere near within warranty range, I would throw it straight out the window right now.
Which is what Stereogum should have done with Michael Nelson when he presented this “review” to them. But hey, clicks are clicks right Stereogum?
How does one even crash-land a review such as this? I think it would be best to sign off in the words of Michael Nelson himself:
“I know this reads like … I mean it reads like bad writing”