NEW YORK — Critics don't always agree.
That may be hard for some pop fans to believe, given the seemingly endless stream of favorable reviews for a group of artists--including Prince, Bruce Springsteen and U2--who are widely perceived to be "critical darlings."
But the results of the Village Voice's annual poll of 226 of the nation's pop critics suggests a far greater independence of judgment than is generally perceived.
The critics named Prince's "Sign 'O' the Times" the best album of 1987 in the poll, which appeared in the March 1 issue of the weekly tabloid.
The noteworthy thing isn't that the Voice poll results differed slightly from those of two other recent critics' polls: Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" finished first in a Rolling Stone magazine survey of its critics ("Sign" was third), while U2's "The Joshua Tree" captured a year-end Los Angeles Times poll of its pop writers ("Sign" came in sixth).
The most telling aspect of the Voice poll is that only 115 of the 226 critics--or little more than half--put the Prince album anywhere on their individual Top 10 lists.
"Tunnel of Love," runner-up in the Voice poll, was listed on only 81 ballots, or about 31% of the total submitted.
That means 69% of the nation's pop critics \o7 didn't \f7 include the Springsteen album in their Top 10--and we're talking here about perhaps the most critically admired American rocker since Bob Dylan.
Dropping to ninth place in the Voice poll, the survey results show only 28 writers--or about 12% of the writers polled--included XTC's "Skylarking" in their Top 10.
Here are the top 10 finishers in the Voice poll, with the number of points registered by each album and the number of writers who included it in their personal Top 10.
The point total is based on a formula that involves the critics dividing 100 points among their 10 favorite albums, giving no album more than 30 points or fewer than 5 points.
1. Prince's "Sign 'O' the Times" (1,491 points/115 ballots).
2. Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" (912/81).
3. The Replacements' "Pleased to Meet Me" (846/74).
4. U2's "The Joshua Tree" (698/56).
5. John Hiatt's "Bring the Family" (694/59).
6. Los Lobos' "By the Light of the Moon" (483/51).
7. John Cougar Mellencamp's "The Lonesome Jubilee" (462/44).
8. R.E.M.'s "Document" (420/45).
9. XTC's "Skylarking" (390/28).
10. Husker Du's "Warehouse: Songs and Stories" (350/32).
An even greater diversity surfaced when the poll switched from albums to singles. Prince again finished first, with the title track from his "Sign" album. But only 54 critics--about 23%--found room for it in their Top 10. In the singles category, the Voice staff simply tallies the number of times a single appears on Top 10 lists, rather than requiring the critics to apply a point formula to the singles.
The critics' Top 10 singles and number of writers who included the record in their individual Top 10:
1. Prince's "Sign 'O' the Times" (54 ballots).
2. Suzanne Vega's "Luka" (53).
3. Los Lobos' "La Bamba" (46).
4. Prince's "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" (32).
5. M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume" (30).
6. Tie between the Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey," R.E.M.'s "The One I Love" and Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise" (28).
9. Prince's "U Got the Look" (27).
10. Tie between Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" and X's "Fourth of July" (25).
If the Voice poll results demonstrate the diversity involved when critics are nominating their favorite records, the statistics also provide an interesting sidelight into the almost shocking lack of support among critics for many of the year's biggest-selling albums.
Because every album on the Voice list of the 40 most admired LPs of 1987 was cited on at least eight ballots, it means such collections as the "Dirty Dancing" sound track, Heart's "Bad Animals," Whitney Houston's "Whitney," Michael Jackson's "Bad" and Whitesnake's "Whitesnake" weren't considered strong enough artistically to make the Top 10 list of even eight of the 226 critics surveyed by the Voice.
GRAMMY POSTSCRIPT 1: Because U2's "The Joshua Tree" deserved to win best album honors at this week's Grammy Awards ceremony here, it's easy to overlook one striking statistic. This--arguably--was only the fifth strictly rock collection (as opposed to a more pop or folk-shaded work) to be declared best album in the 30-year history of the awards competition. The others: The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967), "The Concert for Bangladesh" (1972), Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" (1977) and John Lennon/Yoko Ono's "Double Fantasy" (1981).
GRAMMY POSTSCRIPT 2: New York did a good job of hosting the Grammys this year, but the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences' board of trustees ought to insist before allowing the awards ceremony to return here that the New York Grammy committee sign a pledge not to allow any more production numbers saluting New York City.
Have you ever seen a city so eager to engage in such sentimental self-aggrandizement as the Big Apple?