Daniel Levin Becker’s review of “Li(f)e” by Sage Francis

Safe Francis

Artist: Sage Francis

Album: Li(f)e

Critic: Daniel Levin Becker

Publication: Dusted, 2010

Writing Disorders: Infectious Punctuation, Purple Hemorrhage

Longest Sentence: 72 words

Clunkiest Phrase: “unabashedly big-scoped hodgepodge”




Daniel, I did the counting, and at least a quarter of your review is made up of asides.  That’s low-balling the tally because I wasn’t even sure where one ended and the next began in a certain 70-word sentence that had two. I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything in your life, Daniel, but two dashed-off asides in the same sentence isn’t normally seen. There’s reason for that, something called “readability.”


Even though readability isn’t high on your list of priorities, it’s never too late to change. I’ve only got space for one example, so let’s take this one:


“Subtlety isn’t his thing these days — which is a shame, in that he’s more than gifted enough as a lyricist to keep on making his heady, refined Anticon-era noodle-scratchers — but it’s a decision he made a few albums ago and it’s one worth respecting, because he’s been tackling unsubtle problems and doing it well.”


Well, if lacking subtlety is what’s at issue, I think the two of you would have plenty to discuss over lunch. After all, you could have split that single sentence into three, taken your adverb gun off the full-auto setting, or even just picked a metaphor more easily understood than “refined Anticon-era noodle-scratchers.” Brevity isn’t vice even if subtlety isn’t your thing these days.


Speaking of adverbs, I just got done berating Jesse Cataldo for his ridiculous abuse of them, and here you go threatening to one-up him:


“pretty legitimately”


“more than gifted enough”


“slightly stilted”


Here’s a teachable moment, Daniel. There are a couple of lines from the movie “Outbreak” that have served me well. The first, “With all due respect, General, fuck you…sir,” doesn’t really apply here, but you might profit from the other: “It’s an adverb, Sam. It’s a lazy tool of a weak mind.”


Daniel, improving as a writer can be as simple as asking what you can live without. So I want you to read this next bit and solve that riddle on your own. Don’t worry, I picked an easy one:


“Francis isn’t really angry this time out, as on, say, A Healthy Distrust, nor is he trying to outdo himself in quotability, as on, say, Hope.”


If you answered, “That sentence is perfect the way it is,” you fail. However…if you realized that you can do without those egregious comma constructions around the word “say,” then you’re a winner! Daniel, a music review isn’t something you can accompany with dramatic pauses and hand motions for pizzazz, so trying to punctuate an approximation of them looks really stupid. If the guy was angry on an album or heavy on “quotability”…just write that.


I’d like to say your only weakness is technique, but sometimes I just didn’t understand your points. Por ejemplo:


“See…the vintage Francis high-concept gross-out “I Was Zero” (“I heard God is coming, and she’s a screamer”)”


Icky…sex!? Seriously dude, if you’re going to provide us with lyrics to frame a “gross-out,” you might want to pick something that’s actually gross. The image of humble man meat delivering screaming pleasure to God is…hot. Hotter than hentai. Now if you wrote (“God ate a gnarly pupusa and took a dump on my face”), that’s a horse of a different color.  That’s gross.


Topping all this off is your creepy posture as a merciful authority holding naysayers at bay with your scepter of musical certainty:


“he’s earned both the authority and the indulgence.”


“he deserves the benefit of the doubt”


“One would be forgiven for balking at a title like Li(f)e, which is heavy-handed in both implication and rendering, but Sage Francis has come by it pretty legitimately.”


If only other musicians were so lucky. Well it’s good to know the guy granting clemency is the one who condones judging albums by their titles. Heavy-handed indeed. Work on your writing, Daniel.