Apple finished naming what it — well, its “team of experts alongside a select group of artists […] songwriters, producers, and industry professionals” — believes are the hundred best albums of all time. Like pretty much every list of the type, it is overwhelmingly Anglocentric, there are obvious picks, surprise appearances good and bad, and snubs.

I am surprised the publication of this list has generated as much attention as it has. There is a whole Wall Street Journal article with more information about how it was put together, a Slate thinkpiece arguing this ranking “proves [Apple has] lost its way”, and a Variety article claiming it is more-or-less “rage bait”.

Frankly, none of this feels sincere. Not Apple’s list, and not the coverage treating it as meaningful art criticism. I am sure there are people who worked hard on it — Apple told the Journal “about 250” — and truly believe their rating carries weight. But it is fluff.

Make no mistake: this is a promotional exercise for Apple Music more than it is criticism. Sure, most lists of this type are also marketing for publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork and NME. Yet, for how tepid the opinions of each outlet often are, they have each given out bad reviews. We can therefore infer they have specific tastes and ideas about what separates great art from terrible art.

Apple has never said a record is bad. It has never made you question whether the artist is trying their best. It has never presented criticism so thorough it makes you wince on behalf of the people who created the album.

Perhaps the latter is a poor metric. After Steve Jobs’ death came a river of articles questioning the internal culture he fostered, with several calling him an “asshole”. But that is mixing up a mean streak and a critical eye — Jobs, apparently, had both. A fair critic can use their words to dismantle an entire project and explain why it works or, just as important, why it does not. The latter can hurt; ask any creative person who has been on the receiving end. Yet exploring why something is not good enough is an important skill to develop as both a critic and a listener.

Dan Brooks, Defector:

There has been a lot of discussion about what music criticism is for since streaming reduced the cost of listening to new songs to basically zero. The conceit is that before everything was free, the function of criticism was to tell listeners which albums to buy, but I don’t think that was ever it. The function of criticism is and has always been to complicate our sense of beauty. Good criticism of music we love — or, occasionally, really hate — increases the dimensions and therefore the volume of feeling. It exercises that part of ourselves which responds to art, making it stronger.

There are huge problems with the way music has historically been critiqued, most often along racial and cultural lines. There are still problems. We will always disagree about the fairness of music reviews and reviewers.

Apple’s list has nothing to do with any of that. It does not interrogate which albums are boring, expressionless, uncreative, derivative, inconsequential, inept, or artistically bankrupt. So why should we trust it to explain what is good? Apple’s ranking of albums lacks substance because it cannot say any of these things. Doing so would be a terrible idea for the company and for artists.

It is beyond my understanding why anyone seems to be under the impression this list is anything more than a business reminding you it operates a music streaming platform to which you can subscribe for eleven dollars per month.

Speaking of the app — some time after I complained there was no way in Apple Music to view the list, Apple added a full section, which I found via foursliced on Threads. It is actually not bad. There are stories about each album, all the reveal episodes from the radio show, and interviews.

You will note something missing, however: a way to play a given album. That is, one cannot visit this page in Apple Music, see an album on the list they are interested in, and simply tap to hear it. There are play buttons on the website and, if you are signed in with your Apple Music account, you can add them to your library. But I cannot find a way to do any of this from within the app.

Benjamin Mayo found a list, but I cannot through search or simply by browsing. Why is this not a more obvious feature? It makes me feel like a dummy.