There are few musicians who can do no wrong when it comes to commercialization. Of course, you have living legends like Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones, who both critics and fans agree hit their respective peaks years ago, and anything from 1980 through the present doesn’t count against their legacy. Then you have your poor, struggling indie rockers like Of Montreal, who you can’t blame for wanting to make a little money by lending music to Outback Steakhouse, and who actually embarrass themselves more by arguing their Pitchfork album rating in public. Then, you have your select few with such unlimited credibility that they can do and say whatever they want and get away with it. Examples of this rare latter category include names like Steve Albini and, arguably, Jim O’Rourke.
Let’s take Albini first. Aside from appearing in Midwest hardcore legends Big Black and Chicago prog-rockers Shellac, Albini has engineered albums for bands like Nirvana, Pixies, the Breeders, PJ Harvey, Cheap Trick, the Stooges, Superchunk and Jawbreaker. Therefore, Albini has every right to famously write a letter to the Chicago Reader calling local alt-rock heroes the Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill and Liz Phair “three pandering sluts.” He’s Steve Albini, so he gets to call people commercial sellouts. This is the way the world works.
Meanwhile, we have fellow Chicagoan Jim O’Rourke, who’s actually worked with Albini before, allowing his song “Prelude To 110 Or 220/Women Of The World” to appear in the above ad for T-Mobile’s “Wal-Mart Family Mobile Plan.” Now does O’Rourke, whose work also includes production for legendary bands (Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Faust) and basically functioning as Wilco’s unofficial sixth member during the recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, get the same privileges that Albini does? I mean, “selling-out” isn’t really that big of a deal anymore, but this is Wal-Mart we’re talking about here.
For now, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.