Words: Jon Kean, Live Editor
As an impressionable teenager, I read an album review in a national music paper that asserted, “This album is so well-meaning, yet so irredeemably bad that to criticise it would be like criticising a one-legged man for saying he wants to hitch-hike round the Alps for charity.” Ouch. Now, hurling indiscriminate offence at anyone, merely for shits and giggles, is neither big nor clever, but this particular review was a) accurate and b) bloody funny. I heard the album on a listening post in a record shop. It was a complete car crash.
Reviewing has changed in the intervening decades. ‘Poor’ reviews are somewhat rare, sometimes phrased as fence-sitting 3/5 or 6/10 judgements. The majority of reviewers are now online and unpaid, doing it as a labour of love. They’re reliant on PR and label people supplying them with advance copies for review. Who’s going to send a reviewer stuff if they’re likely to lay into it? Because the reviewing world is populated by well-meaning hobbyists, writers seek to cover what they reckon they’re going to like. It’d be a masochistic reviewer who decided to occupy their leisure time with bad noise.
Might we have made our own echo chamber, if people who like a band already write about liking that band for people who already like that band? The whole process risks becoming toothless, especially if every new tune is reported as ‘a banger’. Logic dictates that if everything is a banger, then nothing’s really a banger.
We criticise crap telly. Poor films are rightly panned. We’re all over shonky politicians and whinging about substandard customer service is what Twitter was invented for. I don’t hanker for the return to complete hatchet-jobs (one thing that probably contributed to the demise of the NME) but reviews shouldn’t turn into overly-obliging hand-jobs either.
For one of the songs that inspired the review that ultimately inspired this article, click on the video below: