This week Mike and Greg and Aryn chat about the purpose of critics of art and media. Why do we need them? Why do they sometimes come off as angry? Read on as we review the reviewers…
Mike: Okay, so Aryn inspired me to try something for next week’s Hello.Column… I read this review and was amazed how bad of a review they gave it. It seems a general trend in rock critics is the ‘impress me now’ mentality…that is, they are always unimpressed and a bit cynical toward many a records, and oft they change their tone later on when its deemed a classic.
Now its all subjective, so why would someone take the time to write a bad review of a band they already know they dont like? Why do we write reviews in the first place? Its a very strange practice and who is it really serving? Our own tastes? Or the consumer? I find its much harder to write a good review than rant on and on about all the bad things we find. It’s easy to find negatives, but what are the positives.
First: look at the above review. What are your thoughts? Second: relisten to album. Third: what do you think? Here are some other tidbits and links of reviews.
Greg: Good call. A similar discussion was on Talk of the Nation a couple weeks ago concerning movie critics. It evolves into a general discussion on the purpose of criticism, check it out, really good.
Mike: Good call… I knew I had heard a discussion similar recently… So what do we think the point of criticism is, first of all…? Let’s start there.
Aryn: Good call.. (enter laugh track) Reviews are an interesting beast. Theoretically I believe that they exist to assist the consumer to whiddle down their infinite choices to something that they will enjoy. We all have reviews that we read, some we heed, some not so much. It doesnt even have to be a good review to grab someones interest. I do enjoy seeing/hearing something simply riding on the fact that it was regarded as trash by critics.
But it does seem a little self-defeating to review something with a heavy pre-bias, but Its possible that this cannot be avoided. You can take the “sophmore slump” phenomenon that seems to curse new bands. Their first record is heralded as the “saviours of rock” , and then they have to go back to the studio and do it all over again, but this time with a million more eyes/ears watching/listening. It is almost impossible to have an opinion on something without referencing the previous works of an artist, or just the previous things that you have listened to.
Greg: My first thought is that critics are exposed to a large volume of the particular form (movies, music, books, etc), which gives them the unique perspective to make knowledgeable judgements. So critics are an easy way to gain perspective.
Mike: Here is another example of negative reviewing by coming in w\ pre-meditative ideas and expectations.
I think its hard to go into a review or listening to a record or seeing a film or reading a book these days without having a preconception of what you want it to be like. Our opinions are now clouded and based on our past experiences and expectations of other music (or whatever media\art reviewed) but also we are inundated w\ other people’s opinions on the internet, television, radio, magazines and any other niche medium. We are also spoiled by others opinions before we even get to make our own judgements.
Are we willing to even try to give something a second chance? Do we ‘waffle’ when we realize that EVERYONE else likes it. I have often tried to force myself to like a piece of music that everyone is going nuts over when I just dont dig it. I wonder, like I did with the Artic Monkeys’ press orgy, if I am missing something.
So is a critic looking out for us, the consumer, who spends hard earned cash on this stuff? Or are they there to be the judge and jury on all things art for a greater good? It’s so subjective that there are people I trust and others I don’t. I know politically I will ALWAYS disagree w\ a Bill O’Reiley type, while with the Daily Show-mentality, I will seemingly always agree with. so are critics of art, the ones who get to set the bar of polar extremes…love it or hate it, but decide based on their review? It seems people lack perspective and have short term memory loss when it comes to reviewing particular things… ‘the GREATEST EVER’… ‘WORST EVER’… ‘weak’… ‘uninspired compared to the last GEM’ etc etc…
Aryn: That’s why I only listen to classical music out of my Parlophone coin-operated phonograph. Let those rock critic review this music. They can’t! Its already been deemed “classic”.
Mike: So if a certain album is considered a classic, how hard is it to approach listening to the followup without that tainting your expectations?
Aryn: I think its impossible.. but the good ones will shine through, regardless.
Mike: In the Flaming Lips case they are known for having a really great album followed by one that is not as good. Are people expecting too much for having every album blow them away? I thought the Soft Bulletin was good, but not as good as Yoshimi which is quite the opposite of many people’s opinions. In turn I equally like the new album but for different reasons.
As a consumer\critic I think we are looking to bands to recreate the exact thing we love about the band, but then when they do its lambasted as well. Its like saying ‘take a leap, but not too far or I will feel uneasy.’ Look at Kid A compared to OK Computer…to me its a great follow up and I think maybe even better than the former…but thats not what most think. The majority reaction said Kid A was a failure and too much of a departure. It made us feel uneasy because it wasnt like the others. But isn’t that what we want?
Aryn: We want to be entertained. Which usually means that we want something familiar, but still unexpected. As musicians and artists age and get better and more used to what they are doing, their output will change and grow. In many ways I am glad that Kid A was a change from OK Computer, both being fantastic albums, but you can hear the shift in mentality between the two records, so that by the time their latest came out (Hail to the Thief) you can get a great mixture of the two sounds.
Mike: Aren’t you glad that Thom Yorke evolved from this… to this? I am. We have to allow for musicians to take a chance to reinvent and follow up. It bothers me when critics do not understand that not every effort attempts to be a classic. Sometimes that status is thrust upon it unfairly. Plus who is to say what is the aspect that makes a band so great. I guess this is where the critic comes in w\ some perspective of listening SO much.
But I have found that I often get to the point where I hear so much that i dont want to listen anymore…it gets watered down. I hear ever tiny influence and chord change and lyric and arrangement in such detail that its hard for me to understand why critics get so worked up about some groups good or bad.
Does having too much perspective allow us to lose our ability to just listen? I would love to go back and rewatch starwars or hear Abbey Road for the first time and see what I think.
Aryn: Does our perspective allow us to lose our ability to just listen? I say no. It enhances it. Without having a good ear for whatever it is you are listening to you lose a lot from the music. Having that perspective allows you to hear the little jokes, and subleties of the recording. I still can go back and listen to Abbey Road and enjoy the hell out of it because it IS one of those bad ass albums.
Or it could be changing the way that you listen to something freshens the response from it. I had always listened to it on CD form , and when I finally got a record player and played it on vinyl I finally understood the way that it was meant to be listened to. The build right before the end of the first side is fantastic, and the way that it forces you to stop and flip the record to hear the pleasant “morning after madness ” sound of side B… Truly amazing.
Greg: Come to think of it, I’ve never heard Abbey Road on vinyl. Usually I think people who praise the subtle superiority of vinyl are full of shit, but what you’re describing sounds cool… What song ends the first side?
I think in the end, critics are neither good nor bad. And perspective, too, is a double edged sword. I think just because a critic doesn’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad… When dealing with criticism it’s easy to confuse originality with quality. The two are totally seperate in my view. Quality is relative to each individual person. Originality is historical and can be analyzed. Pizza Hut’s meat lovers pan pizza is freaking delicious in my mind. But it’s unoriginal cuisine and a lot of people would find it disgusting. Like Aryn said, you sometimes make it a point to watch the movies that critics hate.
Aryn: Ooh you must listen to it.. It was originally made (as all of those old records were) to be released on vinyl, which added the extra time factor for each side’s length. The first side ends with ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ and the second side begins with ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ This little factor, which may sound trivial, is trully lost when it is all put together in one coninuous stream on a compact disc, but can be used beautifully if put into the right hands.
Mike: ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ ends side A of Abbey Road… it builds with that repeated guitar riff and it builds and builds and then suddenly cuts off. Flip side and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ plays… amazing. Vinyl is a great way for some of those records to hear great album programing… Some of my favourite albums have that break somewhere…even many of the albums that were never really released on vinyl originally have that sense of break…its like the common story arc of intro, climax, resolution …and on two sides you can have that twice. Listen to ok computer. Or Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot… its there.
Greg: I know I know. It’s easy to overdue the Radiohead transition music-intellect bullshit discussion. We’ve all had it a million times…. but for your viewing pleasure, more before and after: Before and After
Mike: Very true about overdoing Radiohead conversation. But I still love the song ‘Creep’… Here’s an anecdote: When I was in 6th or 7th grade I bought Pablo Honey for that song and just listened all the time. But then I forgot about that band, and sold that disc along with about seventy other 90s alt rock trash cds like Candlebox and Bush… I missed the Bends completely back then… until someone told me to listen to OK Computer(b\c I recomended Beck’s Mutations)… I was floored. This band got good all of a sudden. Really good. end flashback.
Greg: Where on OK Computer?
Mike: To me I hear the break occuring (at least in my own listening) after ‘Fitter Happier’… I know Aryn just bought it on vinyl and I assume its two records…so what is the last song on side B? That would be where the break would be i think.
Aryn: It is after side B on the two records. Last song is ‘Karma Police’ and side C starts with ‘Electioneering.’ Thats your classic story arc album sequencing.
Mike: I think my anger at bad reviewers has subsided.
So what did you think? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming up NEXT WEEK: Mike & Greg once again attempt to speculate about 2008 Presidential election and talk politik.