As a music lover and a fan of good writing, I read a good number of CD reviews from a number of sources. These sources include music and national magazines, major metropolitan dailies and alternative newspapers as well as a number of web sites. I imagine that creative critical review is an art that one never masters, and perhaps that is why I find that they are always substandard. They are based on opinion as much as any skill or knowledge that the writer may possess. This is true for reviewers of books, art or movies, as well as music.
Perhaps that is why there are none that are particularly adept at this “chosen” trade. I put chosen in quotation marks, because does anyone choose to be a critic? I guess some people must. Some are better than others. In the realm of film review Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times is better than the dim-witted sorority bunny of the moment that works for Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, or any of those
That is the handle, I guess, with reviewing other people’s artist expressions. Many reviewers are guilty of the heinous crime of passing there beliefs off as fact. Since that guy with his bachelors degree in modern Uzbek literature thinks the movie is crap, obviously who are we to disagree with him?
Perhaps this raises another point. Many reviewers of music are failed or disgruntled musicians. I am a failed musician in the sense that I failed to learn to play an instrument or I failed to own one thousand CDs by my thirtieth birthday (I got pretty damn close though!). Often music critics pick on a musician by saying that they are soft, saccharine, not complicated, simple, unchallenging, etc. They think everyone has to be Bob Dylan, R.E.M. or Ludwig van Beethoven and if they aren’t they are somehow less, well, less. The three I mention are bloody brilliant by any measuring stick. Are we supposed to believe that there is some mercantilist market of trade for brilliance and since they and others are brilliant there simply is no more room?
I don’t buy it!
The critics that are failed musicians are easy to spot. They are the ones who point how not brilliant “so and so” is. They believe that there is some master blueprint for good song writer. You know what I think? I think a good song writer, like a poet should see themselves as a conduit for words to pass through inviting the listener to find their own meaning. To me, that is what Neil Young, Bono, Kurt Cobain, Sting and many other do.
Have you ever noticed how really good song writers don’t often talk about what a song means or what story a particular song tells. That is because they know that in doing so they will ruin the special meaning, which we, ourselves, have found for them. These special meanings mesh with the everday events and happenings in our lives. They would never dream of intruding on that special area we have created for ourselves.
For instance, I am convinced that Chris Martin's lyrics for Fix You from X&Y is aboout self-improvement and he is singing to himself. Perhaps that is because it motivates me to make myself a better, or reminds me that there are real challenges in my life that need to be addressed!
So I guess the only solution to this dilemma is for me to start writing my own reviews and forcing my opinions on you my humble readers. Well, I promise you this. If I ever endorse a CD to you, it will be because I think it is the bee’s knees not because I think you will think so. You can either trust me, or well don't. Some of the worst cons were started with the words 'trust me'. So, chose for yourself. And that is perfectly OK.