The End (and Beginning) of Music Reviews

Reading a music review has become such a bummer. I remember being younger and begging my mom to buy me a Rolling Stone or Spin at the grocery store to see what’s going on in the music world. It didn’t even matter who was on the cover, every month I was dying to find out about the latest music news and more importantly, the review section.

Not anymore. Spin and Rolling Stone both landed at my door and I met them with a resounding, “Meh.” I don’t know if they’ve always been like this or I’m just starting to notice as I grow up, but music reviews are terrible. In this month’s issue of Rolling Stone there are 16 albums reviewed. On a 1-5 star scale, 15 out of those 16 albums are given 3 or 3 and a half stars. Leonard Cohen is the only exception at 4 and a half stars, and aside from his new record every other one-paragraph review has a snarky comment and a positive one.

I can understand why music reviews are done so often. They’re easy to do and offer the mandate of a publication on a release. Readers know whether or not they’ll want to listen to a certain piece of music based on the reviewer’s opinion. Which leads to one of my biggest questions, who cares what reviewers think? Music is more available to the public than its ever been and I really doubt whether most people are paying attention to and following the career of a certain critic. Wouldn’t someone trust his or her friend’s opinion on an album more than someone from Spin? I wonder how Lester Bangs would have fared in today’s world. It’s not a matter of skill, but one of taste. There’s no barometer that measures whether one individual’s opinion matters more than someone else’s.

They’re all over the place and often use the same clunky phrases. These days I just try to use music reviews as suggestions. Often too long, the most helpful ones I’ve seen generally compare the album being discussed to an artist I’m already familiar with and a few adjectives about what makes the two artists different. But many reviews are posted online and feature a song from the album being discussed. If I wanted, I could just listen for myself.

But I’m late to the party. Spin has recently announced that they’re going to start reviewing most albums via twitter. Which is an incredible idea. It’s very easy for me to sit here and bash a review system that’s been in place for years, but much tougher to suggest a new way of things. Well, hats off to whomever it was at Spin that suggested reviewing things on twitter. They should get a big fat raise. @SPINreviews is the manifestation of the idea that people are now deciding for themselves what they want to hear.

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