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OPINION: Criticizing the music critic - The Trail Blazer: News

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OPINION: Criticizing the music critic

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Posted: Friday, February 24, 2017 2:51 pm

If I reach the end of an album review and still don't have even a vague idea of what the record sounds like, the reviewer has utterly failed their job.

Yet this trend plagues music journalism.

Many critics treat their tasks like half-baked high school creative writing assignments, inflating their mindless fluff pieces with meandering, pretentious metaphors and completely pointless, unrelated imagery that reads as if it was copied and pasted from a thesaurus.

"The butterscotch lamps along the walls of the tight city square bled upward into the cobalt sky, which seemed as strikingly artificial and perfect as a wizard's cap. The staccato piano chords ascended repeatedly. 'Black eyed angels swam at me,' Yorke sang like his dying words. 'There was nothing to fear, nothing to hide.' The trained critical part of me marked the similarity to Coltrane's 'Ole.' The human part of me wept in awe."

The human part of you wept in awe? What a load of egotistical, pseudo-intellectual garbage. How difficult it must be to reign in your astronomical intelligence and come back down to Earth with us mere humans!

That piece of gratuitous wankery is an excerpt from the 2000 Pitchfork review of Radiohead's "Kid A." Nowhere in that now infamous, 1,200-word wreck is any substantial critique of the album's production, instrumentation, songwriting or lyrics.

That isn't to say one can't get creative with a review. Have fun with it, express your love or hate in unique ways with unique words, but do it with some class.

"But maybe that's the modern dance: to mourn one's own psychic paralysis in prolonged simmering silence; to boil over, provoke and alienate; then finally to beg despairingly---not for forgiveness, but for a moment of distraction."

There's another gem lifted from the internet. You are not in a poetry class; you are talking about a punk record. Stop spouting nonsense about our "psychic paralysis" and tell me how the guitars sound. And no, they don't sound like "a distorted-tubed tv on the blink during long afternoons lying around in a bathroom-in-the-hall."

These examples are taken from positive reviews, but the negative ones are most infuriating. A musician or group of musicians put effort into creating a piece of art, and these so-called "critics" find it acceptable to write off that work with some lazy, cursory rambling.

I enjoy writing album reviews as a pastime, and I enjoy gushing about my favorite records and ranting about my least favorites. It is good to describe music in interesting and evocative ways.

Music critique should not be an attempt at totally objective analysis, but if you reach the end of your review without glancing at the music itself, do the industry a favor and rewrite.