Ranking albums is a coward’s method of engaging with music.
I’m taking this as a provocative and/or slightly facetious statement (the man has made some awesome singles lists). But jumping off the face of it, here’s how I disagree:
I believe we all recognize how fundamentally silly it is to sort creative works in anything other than chronological order. Preambles to lists often contain a self-conscious justification for the activity, or maybe just a straight acknowledgement of its pointlessness. Why take part in the exercise (besides avoiding the thought of death)?
The main reason I see is the global view that results. A list of top albums is an impressionistic document (unless the creator has implemented a scoring system, perhaps an average of ratings given to individual tracks; if this is the case: BOO), with a sort of shading of affection, from the cool violets to the arresting reds.
The individual list is something not to be nitpicked, but to be viewed from a few steps back. The unfamiliar and well-known settle into a unique, personal logic. The mind accepts familiar and far-flung experiences. Perhaps there is an album by Helium.
The staff list is an exercise in cancellation and representation. It is great for pageviews, but gives me none of the insights into personhood that I crave.
Or I could just paraphrase: “Practical jokes are a coward’s way of engaging with friends.” There are many ways to engage with something, and I derive a lot of enjoyment from claiming as many as possible. Maybe I’ll spend 20 hours on a mix for my upcoming 30th birthday party (so much for avoiding the thought of death). Maybe I’ll two-step to a friend’s Western swing band. Maybe I’ll take a cheap shot, or relate a history, or dig for a non-boring personal anecdote, or write about a concert for a website, or have a conversation with a record-store employee, or fuss over a list of my favorite CDs released in the last sixteen years because some website I wouldn’t mind writing for one day invited The People to.
But if I just endlessly make lists, yeah, that’s a waste.