Why I Still Review Albums


The music critic should not use first person pronouns.

The music critic should always describe the music accurately.

The music critic should keep it brief and entertaining and informative and fair.

The critic should arbitrate taste, be bold.

The music critic should always know they’re being indulged by his/her reader and thus should be referential, respectful.

These are the consensus opinions, no matter how contradictory.

This is the truth: there shouldn’t even be music critics any more so all those rules are wrong.

It was supposed to stop.

To me, it’s not enough to doubt or debate the meaning of music criticism in 2012. Questioning it is just wistful and naive; the ridiculous hypothetical that technology will reverse itself, that tides will turn, that the whole world will be sucked inside out again. It’s all garbage logic. Delusional. The music writer needs to understand that a ‘good’ critical review – that follows all the rules – is now nothing more than the Lorem Ipsum sitting between the album cover and the track/album stream in a well-tooled advertisement. In terms of its older traditional functions, music criticism is dead, dead, dead.

At present, critical music writing is seldom any better than the copy that came with the Tame Impala’s one sheet:

Be Above It applies a cleansing pressure hose to the brain, and Endors Toi plunges you into a deep sleep of ripping guitar riff dreams. Music To Walk Home By is as it says on the tin, announcing its arrival at the front gate with the kind of ceremonious, shredding guitar riff that makes home seem like a good place to be. Keep On Lying intentionally drifts in and out as if in the middle of a wandering jam at the end of the earth, Feels Like We Only Go Backwards is as close as Tame Impala will ever come to a top down cruising anthem, albeit one from a cracked reality and soaked in a deep, solo melancholy. Elephant doesn’t hide it’s rollicking, outerspace glam strut, while Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control arguably boils the essence of Lonerism into a dense, ecstatic brew of utopian proportions.”

It’s a shitty paragraph, sure, but it works. Listen to Elephant if you like:

‘Outerspace glam strut,’ is a more than serviceable description of this.

You can trust the rest too, in my semi-professional opinion. There’s some omission but that’s just the cost of business.

Does it recall things one would never mention in a press release?

A: Yes

(The Beatles, mixer Dave Fridmann’s band, Deerhunter.)

Details. Trivia.

Of course, you don’t need any of it.

Find that leak. Draw your own conclusions.

So why do I still write music criticism?

(A) Money: Not much money and not enough to justify the hours I put into it but it’s a hobby. The fact that it makes any money at all is a bonus. Yet I have gotten a little accustomed to this bonus. I have a seperate account for these bonus dollars and I occasionally look at it and think: ‘I’m gonna buy myself something nice with that one day.’ Maybe life coaching?

(B) Refined Cynicism: No matter how tired, ineffectual and dull music criticism is, for a good record it’s better than nothing. We live in an accelerated culture where people’s attention is a prized commodity. That means even a bad review is better than no review. Are people influenced by my work? No, probably not. But they’re definitely reminded by my work. The albums I review are more visible. They take up visual real estate on web pages. It’s undeniable fact. You need one undeniable fact every now and then if you’re reviewing music.

(C) Freedom: When no one is reading and the pay is lousy, I’m encouraged to try things. The stone cold truth is: I’ve never been more free as a music writer. Nor as inspired to write differently. It’s virtually demanded of me. Novelty is one of the last gimmicks music criticism has left. This should be a golden age.

(D) Romance: I must be a romantic because the alternative still seems worse. I mean, my editors could automate the process and pipe the press materials directly into their websites. People like me could be paid $30 / album to copy-edit and polish. It’d be easy, fast work. I’d do it, until I found something else. And then everyone everywhere would be happy, yes?

The bands will never get a hurtful opinion.

The readers will never have their own opinions intruded on by some glorified blogger.

The industry would be streamlined.

It might even slide by completely unnoticed. The structure wouldn’t change. The face of the pages won’t change. Productivity, efficiency, cost/benefit, customer satisfaction, advertising spend, all go up as formalised music criticism dries up and dies.

The End. 

(Somewhere in regional Victoria, Garreth Liddiard hears the news of criticism’s passing. He smirks a little. Uni students, the lot of them.)

But till that day…

I’m having a nice time and there’s an invoice attached.


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