WHY I HATE MUSIC REVIEWS: An annotated explanation.
I have a problem with album reviews.
It’s not that I don’t like what the author is saying (though, I can’t fully admit that this is true all the time), and it’s not that I don’t understand the point they are trying to get across – in fact, often the problem isn’t with the author at all. The problem that I have with album reviews is the reader.
To me, albums are like art. They are put on display for anyone to critique -whether it be one person, two people, 400,000 people – just waiting to hear what they have to say about it. Now, if we kept all of our opinions to ourselves, then music (art, in general) would never evolve, and we would still be stuck listening to chamber music at night clubs. So, while I do understand the importance of album reviews, it’s when the reader can’t dissociate their past experiences with the artist, the author, or the publication itself when we start hitting roadblocks. For this reason, combined with one-sided output and snobby juries, I hate reviews.
Take Kanye West for example. He’s crazy, egotistical, and maniacal at times, and I wouldn’t ever consider removing him from my top 5 favourite artists if my life depended on it. Though it is getting harder and harder to defend him as a person, I struggle when people discredit his musical genius because of how he acts over Twitter. I think it is safe to say that Kanye has one of the most intuitive and creative musical minds on the planet, and to dismiss his music solely based on his antics is a crime -or it should be at least. And yes, people say they “miss the old Kanye”; but if we still had the old Kanye, then we would never have been blessed with masterpieces like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (my mom even loves MBDTF… so that’s saying something). Sometimes, we need to let artists grow, and to snub them off because of a change in style or attitude would be doing their old work an injustice.
Also, I have a problem with the direct bashing that some authors like to hand out on the regular. I read a review once of An Awesome Wave by Alt-J (editors note: oldie but goodie – wait, is 2012 considered an oldie yet?), and they were absolutely skewered. At first, I was almost personally offended by the review, seeing how much I enjoyed the album. It made me feel like a peasant – not agreeing with an article published on the prestigious & provocative Pitchfork website (which I will get to in my next section). This author went on to talk about how Alt-J was a disgrace to the alternative music scene, because they were trying to “make as many people happy as possible”. Apparently, this was the wrong thing to do in the author’s opinion. The band was no longer niche enough, and to me it felt like the author’s mind was made up before they even gave An Awesome Wave an honest listen. No, I cannot discredit an authors opinion about an album, but I do see a problem with keeping the review very one sided. I don’t know if writers realize just how damaging a bad review can be to an up and coming artist’s career. Did this band do something to personally offend you? Did you go through a bad breakup while listening to them in the background? Whatever qualms you may have with the artist or album, be careful. Though you can (and should) touch upon the things you don’t like, don’t be afraid to admit to a few things you did like about it; there’s no rule stating that your opinion has to be black and white.
Finally, I want to touch upon the publisher and their devilish tendencies. Pitchfork (ironic), as mentioned earlier, is a highly reputable source for all your music needs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I respect them greatly and even often look to Pitchfork for new music and recommendations myself, but we need to remember the amount of power a publisher like this can hold. If Pitchfork decides to put out an article that slays your new album, you better watch out (a la Camp’s 1.6/10). Because sites like this are so highly touted, it can really mold how people perceive an artist and their music before they can listen to the album themselves. For example, Pitchfork loves Mac Demarco. Heck, I love Mac Demarco. I once caught him at a concert while he fell from the upper balcony, right after scaling the wall to give his mom a kiss on the cheek mid song. But some people I know refuse to listen to him because they find Pitchfork too “pompous”, and a co-sign from them creates a musical no-fly-zone. To each there own, but I find it unfair to judge an artist’s work based on their followers.
Maybe I’m too soft, but I think we need to ease up on the way we judge and interpret hard work. Not every review needs to be “loved it” or “hated it”, and not every review needs to hold true to its word. It’s easy to say that you can’t stand that new album by Justin Beiber because, well, it’s Justin Beiber. But it’s harder to admit that you discretely turn up the volume on the radio when “Sorry” comes on because it’s just so damn catchy. And adding that extra bit of two-way dimension in your review can actually make it a little more interesting and realistic.
So, I leave you with this: though it may sound corny, don’t judge a book by its cover – Or in this case, don’t judge an album only by what you’ve seen online. Give it a listen, it may just surprise you.
FOLLOW GUEST WRITER CARLY ON TWITTER AT @CARLYWEILER FOR MORE.