Pandora’s jukebox

The online player promises to match your music tastes, but once opened will it deliver?

Trial run: Click here to see how CN&R Arts Editor Mark Lore fared with Pandora.

Perhaps someday, after countless hours of analyzing money notes, chord changes and every harmony in thousands of songs, tech-savvy music mavens will create software that can generate hit singles. But Max Martin and the Matrix shouldn’t rush to find another career.

I say this after playing around on, home of the much-bandied-about online music player created by The Music Genome Project, “a group of musicians and music-loving technologists” who teamed up in 2000 “with the idea of creating the most comprehensive analysis of music ever.”

What they’ve come up with seems like a mentally challenged version of Yahoo!'s Launchcast.

Like Launchcast, Pandora plays you tunes based on bands you like. But unlike Launchcast, which allows you to rate multiple artists, albums and songs and customizes stations based on its vast user base, Pandora lets you pick only one band at a time and builds a station around that.

And while Launchcast is a perfect example of the wisdom of crowds—thousands of kids who love Weezer can point even the most die-hard Weezer fans to cool tracks they’d never find themselves—Pandora’s recommendations do nothing more than prove that some music geeks have wasted five years of their lives.

I typed in The Pixies, and Pandora came back with a station that played blink-182 and Def Leppard.

“Based on what you told us so far,” Pandora announced, “we’re playing this track because it features a subtle use of vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, extensive vamping, major key tonality and dirty electric guitar lifts.”

Somewhere, Frank Black just squeezed the jelly out of his doughnut.

Given the reverent buzz surrounding Pandora, I’m sure I’ll get flamed for my reductive analysis. And I’m certain that Pandora will get better; it will add customization features to enhance the all-important user experience.

But here’s my one-sentence reply to all that: These music lovers have spent five years analyzing songs, and they think fans of “Monkey Gone to Heaven” want to hear Sammy Hagar singing “I Can’t Drive 55”! Yes, Pandora played those two songs back to back. Given that The Pixies are only the most influential alt-rock band of their era, it’s pretty astounding The Music Genome Project didn’t at least get this one right before releasing Pandora’s jukebox.

According to, “It’s not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records—it’s about what each individual song sounds like.”

But the music-loving world we live in is one where “More Than a Feeling” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” share the same chord progression and little else, so who cares. How many people actually like the Strokes “Last Night” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl”?

But ultimately, what kills Pandora is that it doesn’t sound curated in any coherent manner. It’s the work of passionate people, but you don’t feel the fervor you get on great music blogs like Said the Gramophone or You Ain’t No Picasso. These sites make the case for every piece of music they suggest, and even when you disagree with the picks, you understand why they’re there.

Maybe a better version of Pandora wouldn’t be more useful because it’s pretty much impossible to predict what music any fan will adore. Many believe that “My Humps” is one of the worst songs ever recorded, but Internet downloaders couldn’t get enough and a smash was born.

Anyway, I just typed in Black Eyed Peas on and the first song I got was “Let’s Get Retarded.” The second was “Don’t Phunk With My Heart.” The third song was “What Is Life” by George Harrison. Now it’s playing “One by One” by Neil Diamond. And now I’m closing the browser and opening up iTunes, where playing my song library on random never felt as orderly as it does now.