Music reviews aren’t about music anymore

The way the internet has changed music goes beyond the obviously plummeting record sales. Everything is now available. Anyone can record something in their bedroom and post it for the whole world to listen to that same day. With that availability comes opinion after opinion after opinion. Everyone has become a critic, which partly explains why most music writing now has nothing to do with the actual music it’s trying to explain.

Jack White’s been giving interviews all over in the internet while he promotes his new solo album, Blunderbuss. One thing he’s expressed frustration about more than once is the fixation many reviewers seem to have with White himself, rather than his music. They insert their knowledge of White’s previous projects into their listening, and consequently their reviews, of Blunderbuss. In all fairness, Jack White is a guy who simultaneously very busy and very weird so he’s kind of irresistible when it comes to trying to figure him out. Still, in most cases when someone is a performer the amount of their true selves the public knows probably tops out at around 5%, unless were talking about the Kardashians (that was too easy, sorry).

In a recent interview White said this:

I think it’s very funny that people nowadays still think if you use the word “I” or “she” you are talking about yourself or your girlfriend at the time! I mean, what year is it? Didn’t they get rid of that prison in the ’60s? If I say, “I want to kill that man that came to my door” in a song today, by that logic a detective should be calling my house. Oddly enough, since I moved from Detroit I don’t get too many calls from the cops from my old friends filing a report. Good thing, too, ’cause I’ve got a lot of work to do. I guess they didn’t.”

Just from that quote it should be obvious that this is not a simple man. Journalists and critics should be able to get past the preconceived notion that angry songs on Blunderbuss that refer to “her” or “she” are probably not about his former drummer, Meg White. In his autobiography Life, Keith Richards writes more than once that he was always surprised when reviewers would try to guess what each song was about. He said more often than not, romantic songs were about more than one specific woman. There’s no way we as an audience could possibly know.

There are great reviews of Blunderbuss. Allmusic is a one-stop shop for reading about music without pretention and actually getting a feel for how the record might sound. Other reviews barely discuss White’s solo record, delving into paragraph after paragraph of context (The Raconteurs, divorces, The Dead Weather, blah blah blah) and it’s hard to not just try to write your own, which is where the wall of opinion is coming from.

If you were to break down and really read music reviews, a lot of them make zero sense. Here’s a snippet of the Blunderbuss review on Consequence of Sound:

It’s a White Stripes track, but it’s not, and that’s sort of the lesson learned here. It’s also a tad forced…He’s a little scatterbrained on Blunderbuss, as if he’s still shaking up his past to move forward into the future, and as a result, Jack White represents everything Jack White has already accomplished. Not too shabby of a handle, but there’s just something slightly irritating about it, like there’s a secret that was lost, or just never there altogether. Does that really matter, though?

What does that even mean? It’s a pretentious, unnecessary, and stuffy review. SPIN magazine has a new model that breaks reviews down into their bare bones by tweeting what other artists the review subject sounds like and adding an adjective or two for personalization. That’s all a music review should be. Instead of wasting their readers’ time by waxing on about Blunderbuss a critic could just write “21st Century hard rock and blues with touches of country and gospel. Thumbs up.”

As the amount of reviews increase, the credibility of each one decreases. There are so many blogs and websites that there aren’t anymore distinct critics for listeners to compare their own tastes to. Lester Bangs would never make it online, he’d just be another blogger. Who cares what this person thinks about Jack White?

Music fans no longer need to rely on the opinions of critics to guide their music purchases. It’s easy to jump on Grooveshark or Spotify to sample the music and actually have an original opinion about it rather than reading overlong, smug backgrounds about the artist.

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1 Response to Music reviews aren’t about music anymore

  1. Great commentary. Though now I’m afraid to go back and see how I’ve written some of my reviews.

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