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UMG’s percentage of entries in the Pazz & Jop top 40 approaches the conglom’s marketshare.
ROCKCRITS HAIL "STANKONIA," SUCK UP TO UMG
OutKast Bests Favored Eminem, Uni Cleans Up
In Prestigious Pazz & Jop Poll
By Bud Scoppa

Not that anyone cares, but the critics have spoken, and the winner is…Universal Music Group. That's one way of looking at the just-released results of this year's Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll, which tallied the ballots of 586 rockcrits, including those of HITS hacks Roy Trakin, David Simutis and yours truly.

True, it was OutKast's "art-hop" extravaganza "Stankonia" that received the most votes—a mild surprise considering all the critical attention heaped upon Eminem's mega-controversial "The Marshall Mathers LP" (#4) and Radiohead's post-rock/anti-pop statement "Kid A." (#3). But what we couldn't help but notice (being trade-mag geeks) was (a) the intersection of critical acclaim and commercial success, a rarity in critics' polls of the last decade or two, and (b) the mindblowing fact that UMG's percentage of entries in the Pazz & Jop top 40 approaches the conglom's marketshare. Actually, this phenomenon was significant enough to catch the watchful eye of the perennially provocative Robert Christgau, who's been counting critics' votes and making pronouncements about the totals for the entire 27- (or 28-) year-history of the poll. And we thought our jobs were boring.

"A full half of our [top 40] major-label albums," writes Christgau in his essay, "came from the megacorp I call UniMoth—11 in all, four of the top seven, on Interscope, Island, MCA, Motown, Giant, DreamWorks. But breaking last year's record of 14, 18 of our finishers were on independent labels, be these well-capitalized ventures by renegade bizzers from the philanthropic Danny Goldberg to the profiteering Richard Branson or tiny outfits like Le Tigre's feminist Mr. Lady or renegade bizzer Aimee Mann's DIY SuperEgo."

Actually, Bob gave UMG just a bit too much credit—Giant, as our faithful readers know, is a Warner Music Group label. But jeez, the idea that one outfit can dominate the marketplace while also getting the most critical props has gotta be some kinda coup. It just doesn't seem fair that one group has the most cake and gets to eat it too.

More interesting facts:

  • We count 10 Platinum or better albums among the top 40: Outkast, Radiohead, Eminem, #6 D'Angelo, #7 U2, #9 Jill Scott, #15 Erykah Badu, #16 Madonna, #19 Steely Dan and #29 Dr. Dre.
  • Island had two top-fivers: PJ Harvey (#2) and Shelby Lynne (#5).
  • Poll-topper OutKast (LaFace/Arista) is one of just two BMG LPs in the top 40, the other being distributed-label V2's Grandaddy (#27). We figured (hoped) we'd see ATO/RCA's David Gray among the top vote-getters, but he came in at a modest #51.
  • The highest-ranking indie act is Matador's Yo La Tengo at #8, with Mann at #11 and E Squared/ Artemis critics' darling Steve Earle at #13. Artemis also had the wild, the innocent and the E Street shuffling Marah at #21. Hip Chi-town indie Bloodshot hit a double with ex-Whiskeytowner Ryan Adams (#26) and Neko Case & Her Boyfriends (#36).
  • Unlike Christgau, we list Big Five-distributed labels like Grand Royal (#22 At The Drive-In), the aforementioned V2, Nettwerk America (#30 Coldplay) and Rawkus (#40 Talib Kweli & Hi Tek) under their respective releasing label groups, which puts our indie-label tally at 14 to the Grand Poobah's 18.
  • For the record, and with the above criterion in mind, Sony (topped by Jill Scott) and EMI had five each, while WMG (led by Madonna) had four. 10+14+5+5+4+2=40
  • Our fave rockcrit comment comes from Laura Sinagra, who writes: "To serve you better, Vertical Horizon is now Verizon."
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