Rock Critics Are Going to Hell
If you know me at all, you know that I abhor rock critics. In fact, I don't have much use for anyone who considers "criticism" to be an honorable vocation, but there is no species more vile, more unctuous, more pretentious or more useless than the rock critic. There isn't a lower form of dialogue than rock criticism. Rock criticism is contemptuous, lazy, venomous, uninformed and destructive. Not to mention bad writing.
Critics are unqualified, bitter, sexually frustrated, gutless, tragically insecure cretins who undoubtedly tried actually playing music at some point in their lives and realized that it was way too hard. It was much easier, they realized, to sit in comfortable anonymity behind a word processor taking cheapshots at the people who are actually making music than to try to make music themselves.
They were right, of course. Criticizing is so easy, anyone can do it!
Now, look at me, I have succumbed to hyperbole. I sound like Chuck Eddy waxing smug n' pompous on the latest Metallica record. Of course, I'm exaggerating a bit. There are a few people out there who are writing some insightful, impassioned and informative stuff about rock music. There are some people who write about music because they really care about it.
Tris McCall is an example (http://www.trismccall.net/). Tris is not only an eloquent, enthusiastic and extremely well-informed writer, but he is a musician. A good one. He actually knows something about music. He is a major, major fan -- and his writing is fair, spirited and carefully considered. Plus, he said really nice stuff about my band.
Another place where you can find some good rock writing is the All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com). In fact, you're gonna freak when you hear me say this but I wrote for AMG for a couple years. Yeah, me -- the big critic hater. Contributed about 300 reviews (and some bios) to that site. You're probably shouting "hypocrite!" by now, but stay with me for a minute. AMG is, first and foremost, a resource -- and the writing is, above all else, informative. The website is a consumer guide, not a place for critic types to spew vitriol (believe me, they actually have rules about this). Which, of course, is why I love the site.
I was a fan of AMG for some time before I thought about working for them. As a contributor, I was thrilled to write about many of my favorite artists -- from a fan's point of view. I picked all the albums I wrote about. I did not review any music that I didn't personally like or respect. This is an important point, so I'll repeat it: I did not review any music that I didn't personally like or respect.
And there are other places, of course, where you can read some fair, sincere and helpful rock writing. My very good friend David Adler (www.adlermusic.com) writes enthusiastic and insightful music reviews for the New Republic Online, the New York Times and the aforementioned AMG, and never prints a word that's not carefully chosen. He's not out to damage people or throw careless negativity around.
But I'm not talking about people like Dave here. The stuff that raises my ire -- and the reason for this post -- is the jaded, mean-spirited, too-cool-for-you crap you will find between the covers of Spin Magazine, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone or Time Out New York. And unfortunately, these are the outlets that reach the most people.
Remember in 1996 when Rolling Stone declared Weezer's "Pinkerton" to be the "Worst Album of the Year"? That's right, of all the bands on the planet Earth who made albums in the calendar year 1996, Weezer -- you know, the guys who wrote "Buddy Holly" and "Hash Pipe" -- had apparently made the very worst one of all. This, according to the geniuses as Rolling Stone.
Not surprisingly, "Pinkerton" stopped selling after that particular issue of RS hit the stands. Alot of people read Rolling Stone, and the editors know it -- they know how much power they weild. And when those assholes don't like you, they don't just insult your work -- they try to make you go away.
Which, luckily didn't work, in Weezer's case. Years after its release and initial dismissal by the press, "Pinkerton" was rediscovered by up-and-coming pop-punkers. It has since become nothing short of the Holy Grail for the emo set. It is a much-loved and respected album. See, somehow, somebody went back and listened to the Weezer record even after Rolling Stone slammed it. Some people made up their own minds about the music instead of letting some malicious, shadowy writer do it for them. Kudos to you, emo rockers everywhere! Now, stop whining please!
Speaking of malicious. Where do I even start with the Village Voice and Time Out NY? The hacks employed by these local rags are responsible for some of the most cynical, contemptuous writing you will find anywhere. The tone of their reviews runs the gamut from A (smirking dismissal) to B (flat-out hostility).
Being a person who is occasionally interested in what's going on in NYC musically, I have found myself consulting these publications from time to time. You know, to see what's going on. Then I accidentally read a blurb. Then I get mad.
One of the Voice guys wrote this goodie in late 2002 about respected electronic music maven John Digweed:
"I hate to admit it, but I like John Digweed. I mean, like many serious electronic enthusiasts, I usually steer clear of any DJ who has appeared in a movie or on television, more than once..."
Hah?! Did I just read that?!
Oh yes, what a SERIOUS music enthusiast this is, who uses such careful criteria to decide whether something is valuable or not. I mean, can you imagine? Listening to a DJ who's been on tv more than once, what's the point? It's hardly cool anymore, is it? The music is no longer worth anything, because too many people have heard it, and what would your small-minded, cred-obsessed friends say if they knew you were listening to such mainstream, sellout product?
I'm sure Mr. Digweed is tremendously grateful to have earned the grudging ("I hate to admit it but...") approval of this small, small person who sits at a desk all day.
Another Voice dweeb wrote a beauty about Brazilian thrash metal veterans Sepultura a few years ago. I am paraphrasing, but the gist of it was this:
"Death metal sounds like guys throwing up. But Sepultura are considered 'innovators' in the genre because they incorporate Brazilian percussion and rhythms into their music -- so they sound like guys throwing up to Brazilian rhythms."
Aren't those Voice writers just the living end? Aren't they something else?
Not only does this "writer" know nothing about the band he's talking about (barring whatever references he cribbed from their press release), but he clearly has no respect for the entire genre. So why did he write the review? Was he the really best guy for the job? More importantly, why is this man allowed to draw oxygen?
Another favorite of mine comes from the fine folks at Time Out New York. When it comes to pure spite and laziness, you can't beat the scribes of TONY. My friends in the fine band 2 Skinnee J's had an upcoming show in NYC and TONY "previewed" it thusly:
"2 Skinnee J's?...please, no."
I know, you're probably saying -- "That's not even a full sentence! Where's the rest of the review?!" Nutty, huh? But that's the whole review right there. I guess they're not getting paid by the word over at TONY. Or perhaps they are just champions of brevity. Either way, you have to admire the way the author really gives you a sense of what the band is all about, just in case, you know, you were curious. If I didn't know anything about the J's before reading that, I'd sure feel alot more informed afterward.
The Skinnee Js were a great band and they worked their asses off for years, touring and making records. And this piece of shit Macintosh jockey couldn't find the time to give them more than two words.
Which brings me to a crucial point -- the problem about so much rock writing is simply this: it's not about the music, it's about the author. The rock review is a way for the frustrated music critic to air his neuroses, insecurities, and, most of all, his bitterness. What does the reader get out of it? Mainly, a headache.
Occasionally, however, you will read a review that kinda seems positive, but, you can't really tell if the guy's being for real or not. This is because, in the world of rock critics, nothing can be praised in earnest. Being sincere doesn't go along with the above-it-all detachment that you're supposed to display when you're a critic. Therefore, any and all critical praise must come wrapped in impenetrable layers of irony, so there's no real way of knowing if the guy really digs what he's writing about or whether he's just having a laugh. You see? That way, he's covered either way -- since he is so utterly paralyzed by the fickle notions of "cred" and "hipness," the ironic ambiguity gives him a way out, should there be a shift in tastes among his blase downtown friends.
I teach guitar lessons for a living. Once, I had a student who was a Voice critic (I decided to take her on anyway). I was not surprised to find that she knew absolutely nothing about music. Which is fine -- that's why she wanted to take lessons, right? Still, the fact remained: she did not know squat about music. And she was a professional critic.
Sometimes, at the end of our lessons, she would tell me what records she was reviewing that week. She would smirkingly mention, for example, that she had written a "very unflattering review" of the latest David Bowie album. Isn't that something? That a person who has no musical qualifications whatsoever would be given the authority (not to mention, have the gall) to criticize David Bowie, one of the greatest artists of our time?! And to be paid for it?!?
Anyway, she didn't last long as a student. After a few lessons, she stopped coming. I guess she realized how much work it really was to learn music.
Critics are the kind of people who, from the safety of the bleacher seats, jeer and throw trash at the bullfighter because they hate themselves for being the kind of cowards who would never get into the ring themselves.
Henry Rollins put it best: "critics are nothing more than professional ants at the picnic." Well spoken, Hank.
Andee's Top 5 Artists Who Were Dismissed by Critics:
1. Led Zeppelin
4. The Cure
Andee's Top 5 Critics Who Are Going to Hell:
1. Chuck Eddy
2. Robert Christgau
3. Nick Kent
4. Ethan Brown
5. that jerk from Spin who's always on VH-1