Tuesday, 19 April 2011
"If you can't say something nice..."
Accurate review of sub-par album by well-loved major band = Look Ma, Mo' Trolls.
Funnily enough, if you read any other of the more negative reviews listed on Metacritic, they all get trolled to fuck. While it would be slightly disingenious to suggest that the hand of The Man is at play here, there are many riotously strong opinions that don't actually challenge the criticism head on, and just go straight for the jugular of the reviewer. They speak and say 'UR OPINYON ISN'T VALID'. When I see fresh sign ups attempting to negate 'bad' reviews by jumping on the reviewer (on all review sites with talkbacks), a part of me does instantly think of it as damage limitation from a PR team. Bad reviews are forever. Why not slant their interpretation?
Now, people generally don't like it when you let them know that you think their favourite band is delivering very, very average work these days. And why should they, as effectively you've just told them their taste is rubbish and the faith they had in their musical heroes has been misplaced. You should wipe your cock on their curtains on your way out, just to make up the set. But what they generally fail to see through that thin red mist is that music criticism isn't aimed at their tastes, at what makes their cultural shape. Music criticism is exactly that, to think critically, to approach each album or musical event in the whole, in the context of history. Bands are judged by their previous works, the standards set by others in the field, and in the opinion of the writer, whether that music is good or bad.
If you don't like any given opinion, you'll always be able to find one which is more like your own, or in troll terms, correct. If you can, why not think why music critics write 'bad' reviews? There are thousands, and thousands of reviews placed everywhere, in newspapers, magazines, on the internet, fanzines, and each is a singular view. A positive review of any band sweetens the life of the writer a little. Let's call it the 'When you're smiling the whole world smiles with you' effect. Fans are pleased their acts are championed, PRs will remember the writers name more often, send them cds and tickets on spec, maybe even give them news tips, or access to the artist themselves. A negative review pleases no-one. It doesn't please readers expecting to have their views and choices validated, it doesn't make PR teams love you, and it almost certainly lowers your chances of access to information on, or to, the artist themselves.
So why write a 'bad' review? There are certainly fewer of them these days, and that stems from
A) Music PR has improved drastically in the last ten years. They target writers, write better blurbs, chase more and generally earn their money. If any independent act wants coverage, without a PR team on a release they may as well be submitting a demo to a dead address. Someone must fight your corner, and in a world of a million bands, word of mouth just doesn't cut it any more. In fact, it might well be said that the idea of word of mouth became a PR ruse in itself, but that's a whole different story.
B) Editors want access to information and artists to get more hits, more sales, more ad sales and revnue. As such postive reviews favour them on multiple levels.
C) 'Good' reviews lend themselves to positive appraisals of the writer, the site, and to PR itself. They feed the machine nice quotes, and show the world PR does its job.
But negative reviews have their place in criticism, because they need to be there to balance out the stream of glowing ones. I'm not talking about those vitriolic 'zero star' assaults on bands written only to salve the writing ego and to get website hits. I'm talking about reviews that give a honest opinion. As much as the industry likes to warm up writers and radio teams by calling them 'tastemakers', the more valid role of a critic is as 'gatekeeper' or 'sifter'. Let's not forget, most people have a limited amount of funds and time to spend on music, and music criticism helps channel those resources more effectively. And let's also remember where there is wheat, there is definitely chaff. The general public should get a balanced opinion on which is which.