The first is that Jon Caramanica has written a very interesting and well-considered piece about the mainstream US* rock scene in 2011. I’ve had quibbles with some of his pet projects over the years, but here he hits a home run. It really is difficult to overstate the malaise in US mainstream rock this year. A worthwhile read.
The second interesting thing about this article on the web is the SEO and page title tuning which the NYT has used for this piece. The article is called “The Year When Rock Just Spun Its Wheels” and it lists a bunch of groups who have, in Caramanica’s opinion, failed to set the US mainstream rock scene alight with their new albums, performances or even their entire careers to date.
But if you look at the page title (the bit at the very top of your browser window, above the address bar) it reads Rock in 2011 – Hot Chelle Rae, Foster the People, Chevelle. That’s the phrase which will appear when I paste in the address below this post. It’s also the page title which Google and other web services will use to help understand what the article is about. But is that actually what the piece is about? Sure, the article mentions those bands, but actually the newspaper headline writer had it correct, the article is about the year when rock spun its wheels.
I assume that NYT is hoping that by changing the title of the page away from the title of the article, fans of those bands who are looking for information about them will come to this page. That’s a mis-calculation which should backfire. For instance, I should imagine that a Foster the People fan would be annoyed with this:
… Foster the People, whose album, “Torches” (StarTime/Columbia), was one of the most lauded rock albums of the year by an emerging band, even though it did little to add to the soul-infused lite-rock of the 1980s.
Or how about this gem:
Nickelback on “Here And Now” (Roadrunner), Chevelle on “Hats Off to the Bull” (Epic), Disturbed on the B-sides collection “The Lost Children” (Reprise) — all released big albums this year that work the post-grunge rock spectrum, to varying degrees of success but with equal amounts of innovation, which is to say little. The burly guitars are the same, as are the melancholy choruses, the assertive but not affirming drumming and the sense that this has all been done before, and better (in some cases by Nickelback itself, several years ago).
I cannot imagine that there are too many Chevelle fans wandering around the web hoping to encounter stuff like that.
Choosing the title of a web page carefully is important. But it should be done to best indicate what the article is about, not to drive traffic in a misleading way. This is an interesting article about how mainstream US rock stood still this year, why not tell us, and the search engines, that.
* I’ve inserted “US” into my description of the article’s subject. It’s a way to clarify that he is definitely not writing about any place else.