Yesterday Drowned In Sound, who I wrote for a few times in 2008 after Stylus had ceased publication, published what Sean Adams claimed was possibly their “first ever 0/10”, a review of reformed Britpop Scousers Cast’s new album.
Now, aside from the fact that I think ratings for records are useless, reductive tropes, which are good only for inspiring mealy-mouthed, anal discussion amongst a certain kind of messageboard warrior (particularly, as I’ve ranted about before, when they add the pseudo-scientific “authority” of a decimal place [“we’re so serious, we think in fractions; you can’t dispute our opinions, we have a formula”]), I have no issue with someone thinking a record is worthless and dishing out a resultant 0; it’s entirely your prerogative as a reviewer to do so. Hell, I did it myself back in the day.
The problem here, though, is that this is just a bad review – it says nothing about the music, makes strange, unfounded and insubstantial claims (The Stone Roses as Britpop “also-rans”?) which offer a strange, skewed perspective on the past from someone who wasn’t there and hasn’t researched it properly, either. It also commits the cardinal sin of amateur and online music reviews; assuming that the reviewer is intrinsically more interesting and entertaining than the thing being reviewed. A reality check; 99% of the time, if not more, this is not the case. Very, very few reviewers have “fans”.
Thus, the prolonged, obtuse, made-up anecdote introduction seems like nothing but self-congratulatory onanism. Which is distasteful, but would be OK, just about, if the second half of the review offered cogent, thought out, understandable reasons as to why Cast’s new record sucks. But it doesn’t. Instead it moans about Britpop vaguely, dismisses Cast as pointless landfill, gives no impression that the writer has heard the record at all, and ends abruptly with yet more self-congratulation.
The writer also produced this Dodgy review – which is more magnanimous but only just; he seems to have a problem with Britpop as a whole, and that’s fine, but for someone who was ten when Good Enough was a single it seems rather strange to fixate on it to the extent that he churns out “stunt reviews” of its lesser lights in 2012.
I actually agree with him that the nostalgia circus that The Stone Roses, Blur, and Pulp seem to have exploded over the last year or so is a miserable, backwards little thing by and large. (Pity The Verve for trying to start one 24 months too soon.) A conservative nation, stuck in recession, with a Conservative government, is always going to lean towards the inward past for comfort (as an aside, we’re doing some work on the rapid decline of language teaching in schools, which as I see as another symptom). The Smiths boxset, the Olympics closing concert (marketed as a “best of British” and featuring 3 none-more-English acts); it’s all a part of the same thing, and it’s regressive and disheartening, even if some of the tunes are still astonishing. Maybe I’m overthinking.
What is a record review for, anyway? What is the responsibility of reviewing a record? Even if a record is worthless, to you, there’s a huge amount of work that goes into making a record, and there are livelihoods (and not just those of the band) that are dependent on it being successful, now more than ever. Does a review have the same power in 2012 anyway, with a multitude of voices online, merging into one homogenous mess? Are there reviewers who you would trust enough to buy a record without hearing it first, based solely on their opinion of it?
Many years ago I wrote a one-line, Spinal-Tap-esque put-down of Coldplay’s second album. (Something along the lines of “Meaningless stadium-rock bollocks; I wish they’d stop.”) A year later I went back and rewrote it, at considerable length, in order to make peace with myself for making such a lazy, attention-seeking gesture. A reviewer’s responsibility, I think, is to try and understand why a record is good or bad, and put that into words. To educate, to offer alternatives, to entertain, to help parse the cultural landscape and make it more accessible and navigable.
Mike Diver tweeted earlier about whether artists should comment on reviews of their own records. I replied that I wished more of them would, that it would help both parties if artists and reviewers understood each other better. The Cast review puts reviewer and musician in opposition, slaps the record in the face like Derek Chisora, sets up an antagonistic, passive-aggressive dynamic wherein one is the other’s enemy. This is ridiculous. I write about music because I love it, primarily, and even when I hate bits of it, this is generally because I want it to be better, to aim higher, to move me more, to change the world (even if only on microcosmic levels). Just shouting “look at me, saying this is shit!” does no good to anyone.