Why Music Critics Suck

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By Kelly McClure

I once turned a music review in to an editor where I described the assigned album as sounding like a fart sandwich. When she sent it back to me, with a notation in red that said “this is funny, but it doesn’t tell us what the music sounds like”, to me that translated as “I poop my pants for a living and have no idea what I’m talking about, ever”. That’s because I’m (among other things) a music critic, and therefore, an asshole.

Have you ever watched one of those episodes of Oprah where she brings on a reformed burglar to teach people how to safeguard their homes against potential break-ins? Well, this is basically like that, only I’m protecting you from music reviews. I’ve been writing about music for, oh, I don’t know, forever (see how smug?) and I will be honest in letting you know that when I sit down to type out a 150-200 word review, my primary goal is to show the reader how funny, cool, and clever I am. If they also come away with a rough idea of what an album (that I’ve already had for four months before it became officially available for purchase) sounds like, then whatever, I guess that’s cool too.

Here’s an exercise, pick up any magazine or newspaper you have laying around your home and flip to the reviews section. I’ll do it with you. Take a few minutes to read it over. I’m using a review of Wounded Rhymes, the new Lykke Li album, that I found in the March issue of Mojo as my example. In the first sentence of this review the writer describes Li as a “mousy voiced singer gurgling girlishly”. My first reaction to this is that I sort of want to punch this reviewer in the face and make HIM gurgle girlishly, and my second is … confusion. I own this album and listen to it quite often. When I think of the word “gurgling” I think of someone choking on their phlegm in mid-sentence and then trying to clear their throat while gasping for breath at the same time; Lykke Li sounds nothing like this, therefore, this review sucks. Right? My eyes scanned the rest it, just to give the guy a fair shot, and I picked up the phrase “cavernous tribal drums” and had to close the magazine and slide it away from me. Get a grip.

Another thing I pick up on more and more when it comes to music reviews is that the person writing the review seems like they had a negative attitude about the music before they even heard it. I’m guilty of the same and can testify that when I push play on an unfamiliar album with the intent to review it, I’m very much coming from the standpoint that if I’m not completely THRILLED within the first 30 seconds, I’m not gonna have anything good to say about it. It may or may not be a well-known fact that, for the most part, magazines won’t run bad reviews, so if you’re in a band and you’re kicking yourself because you’ve sent out dozens of promos and haven’t landed a print review, be thankful that some assy critic chose to spare you by not writing about you at all.

It can be assumed, or I guess hoped for, that someone who writes music reviews got into doing so because of their love for music. It’s like if you carry around a book in your bag all the time, eventually someone will tell you something like, “You should be a librarian if you like books so much!” And if you spend all your money on CDs and shows, people will tell you, “You should be a music critic!” What unfortunately happens along the line is that time spent turning a critical ear towards music makes a person forget, or become jaded towards, what they enjoyed about it in the first place. Critics, because they’re afforded an outlet to do so, bleed their own baggage and emotional ties to music into the review, but you don’t really see this as often in other types of reviews like maybe book or movie reviews. Imagine reading a product review for a Dyson vacuum on Amazon where, after the first sentence, the writer goes into describing that they had just gone through a terrible divorce and decided to treat themselves with something flashy and expensive, yet practical, by buying the vacuum of their dreams, and how, for its maiden use, they sucked up their platinum wedding band from the shag carpet in their foyer. This would seem hilarious and wildly inappropriate for a review, much less a highly ineffective way of describing the actual functionality of the product itself. And yet if I started a CD review with, “Every time I hear this album I’m reminded of the first time I barfed malt liquor out of my nose” that would probably be fine.

I personally can barely find it within myself to care about the memories and feelings of my closest friends, yet alone some critic who lives god knows where and looks like god knows what.  Don’t tell me how an album makes you “feel”, you jerkstore, just tell me how much it costs and I’ll figure out the rest.

Oh, but if you read a review that I’ve written, you can totally trust my opinion because I’m an expert and have really good taste and stuff. I mean, I lived in New York for a few years so … you know.

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