Schlock, at its finest, is where bad taste becomes great art. Schlock is music that subjugates all other values to brute emotional impact; it aims to overwhelm, to body-slam the senses, to deliver catharsis like a linebacker delivers a clothesline tackle. The qualities traditionally prized by music critics and other listeners of discerning taste - sophistication, subtlety, wit, irony, originality, "experimentation" - have no place in schlock. Schlock is extravagant, grandiose, sentimental, with an unshakable faith in the crudest melodrama, the biggest statements, the most timeworn tropes and most overwrought gestures. Put another way: Schlock is Rodgers and Hammerstein, not Rodgers and Hart. It's "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," not "Manhattan" and "My Funny Valentine."
Schlock's supreme pop-music form is the power ballad, but it thrives in many genres, speaking in a range of musical accents, registers, tempos, and time signatures. What's consistent is the spirit in which schlock speaks: unself-consciously, with no embarrassment about its opulence, its pretensions, its vulgarity. Since at least the 1950s, popular-music culture has been gripped by a cult of cool. But schlock isn't cool. Schlock carries a torch, and the torch burns white hot. Schlock is Meat Loaf, sweating buckets, as he rears back to deliver the final chorus of "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." Schlock is the maudlin creak of Cat Stevens's singing voice and the rippling ostentation of Mariah Carey's. Schlock is Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now," an almost vulgarly pretty song, with a melody that billows and shimmers like a silk sheet settling down on a Louis XIV four-poster bed. Schlock is Jason Mraz, riding a burbling white-reggae groove, crooning about world peace, earnestly and nonsensically: "We're just one big family/And it's our God-forsaken right to be loved, loved, loved, loved, loved." Schlock is Usher trying to coax you into bed, and Rod Stewart pressing the point ("Don't say a word, my virgin child/Just let your inhibitions run wild") while a saxophone murmurs its agreement. Schlock has no shame, no limits; it is not bound by any sense of propriety or proportion. It is unchained melody.