Speaking of the CelebCult virus …

… Madonna’s manager, Larry Rudolph, told USA Today this week that Britney’s latest round of pop fluff, Circus, released Tuesday, “is going to be the album that cements her legend status.”

Excuse me? Britney just turned 27. When has she done anything to suggest that she is now, or will ever be, viewed as a “legend”? Must have happened when I blinked.

But seriously, so as not to be guilty of being snarky and overly dismissive: aside from selling bucketfuls of CDs, and cranking out titillating videos, what has she accomplished musically? Has she broken any musical barriers? Has she concocted any significant new styles of music?

There is this: Richard Thompson turned in a surprisingly poignant version of Britney hit “Oops! I Did It Again,” in a segment aired once on NPR.

Roger Ebert: The Perils of the CelebCult Virus

Roger Ebert, in a Nov. 26 column, wrote, “The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it.”

He’s referring to the loss of film critics, and the death of film criticism, but the same lamentation applies to music critics and music criticism, particularly at daily newspapers (yes, there are exceptions to the rule, starting with the New York Times).

Classical critics, of course, are disappearing as fast as the unemployed ranks of former Clinton Administration staffers. That’s a sad enough story.

But at the moment, I’m talking about music whose beats typically include — or should include, in the name of diversity of coverage — rock, pop, rap and country, as well as jazz, blues, Americana, world music and other genres.

Pop music critics, thus far, aren’t being eliminated en masse, although the space given to music coverage has shrunk substantially.

But too many of them over-emphasize celeb-centric coverage and teenypop, writing endlessly about “American Idol” claptrap and the Jonas Brothers and Cyrus Miley; the latest “comebacks” of Madonna and Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey; the fates of various boy-band reunions; and whether Amy Winehouse, Scott Weiland, Axl Rose, etc., are still losing the war with their personal demons.

Who cares about that stuff? Yes, go ahead, label me a music snob. I’ve been called worse.

The guilty parties at some newspapers around the country tend to treat everything in a snarky, showbizzy fashion — think the “Hit List” in Entertainment Weekly — and give actual musical analysis, even the most basic analysis, the status of second-class citizen. For these writers, musical criticism is an afterthought, at best; irrelevant, at worst.

Call it another sign of the literate-culture Apocalypse.

Even worse for the financial health of music critics, they take the gossip-driven approach at the risk to their own livelihoods: the more that they and their newspapers emphasize celebrity news and de-emphasize information and analysis of substance, the less they appeal to the people who still care about reading newspapers in print.

So they’re trying to appeal to the folks who have already abandoned print newspapers for online sources of information, and simultaneously pissing off the newspaper loyalists.

News operations can, and probably do, attract millions of readers to newspaper-affiliated web sites. But so far, newspapers have yet to figure out how to fund a news operation solely on revenues made online.

So turning the whole thing into celeb/gossip central isn’t quite the smartest strategy, huh?

Winter Concert Picks: David Byrne, Derek Trucks/Susan Tedeschi, Galactic

Some folks around the Tampa Bay area are practically swooning in anticipation over several just-announced early 2009 shows by big pop and big hat acts.

Who’s coming?

  • Britney Spears, still cute, still annoying, still irrelevant (3/8, St. Pete Times forum);
  • Jessica Simpson, same as Britney (Florida Strawberry Festival);
  • Elton John/Billy Joel, once formidable pop/rock artists long off to other interests but back on the cash-grab trail (3/5, SPT Forum);
  • Fast-rising teen country star Taylor Swift (also Strawberry Fest).

Yawn. It’s all enough to make me elated that I’m no longer forced to consume standard-issue pop and rock for a living.

It’s a good bet that musical intrigue and non-rote performances will be in much greater supply at three under-publicized shows this month and next.

David Byrne, the former Talking Heads head, brings his “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno” tour to Tampa Theatre on Dec. 12. He’s touring in support of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first collaboration in nearly three decades with Brian Eno. Byrne’s work has remained vital and creative over the years, and his shows at Tampa Theatre have been among the area’s best concerts.

Reviews of the tour, which has Byrne and his four-piece band (keys, drums, bass, percussion) joined by three backup singers and three dancers, have been positive.

Jonathan Valaria, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, had this to say about a November show:

“David Byrne got his first of countless standing ovations Saturday night just five songs into his set at the Tower Theater, where he closed out the North American run of his ambitious tour in support of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his splendid second collaboration with Brian Eno.

Not surprisingly, the ovation was occasioned by the first Talking Heads song of the night – “Houses In Motion” from Remain in Light – but it was more than just a beloved old song that elicited such a response from the crowd, which, much like the 56-year-old Byrne, straddled the fulcrum of middle age.

No doubt drawing on lessons learned from his collaboration with choreographer extraordinaire Twyla Tharp, Byrne created a show that uses bodies in motion to advance the ambiguous narratives of his arty, multicultural rock music.

Byrne – looking fit, trim and sporting a magnificent shock of silver hair – sounded in fine voice and handled all guitar duties with surprising aplomb, expertly replicating the pneumatic wheeze of chords on “Home,” the angular funk-strum of “Crosseyed And Painless” and the molten leads of ‘I Feel My Stuff.’ ”

Also certain to be among the highlights of the winter concert season:

  • Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival (Dec. 29, Tampa Theatre), a bluesy, jammy, funky collaboration between the Allman Brothers’ slide-guitar wizard and his wife, an impressive blues guitarist and singer-songwriter in her own right.
  • New Orleans funk/jam stars Galactic, with the Lee Boys (Jan. 2, Jannus Landing). Galactic’s grooves are deep and funky, and they often inject experimental sounds and hip-hop rhythms into the mix. I’ve seen the band upteen times, in the Tampa Bay area and in New Orleans, and I’ve only been disappointed when they’ve let guest rappers or singers hog the show. Not sure yet what’s up for this tour.