0/10

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.

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9 responses to “0/10

  1. Hmmm. I don’t think a reviewer has any ‘responsibilities’ whatsoever and they can be as onanistic, spiteful, indulgent, and as plain wrong as they like. What is a review for? To me it’s engagement with the arts using art. And sometimes art is mean, petulant, snide, crass, biased, bitter, nasty, ruthless, etc. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, or bad. I think if there are responsibilities, it is to the self and one’s own faculties. Sometimes you have to say in the most emphatic and unsubtle terms the extent to which something is meritless. The notion of ‘understanding why something is good or bad’ is always fraught with a recursive loop to some didactic base logic that the reviewer has curiously acquired; I don’t think readers of music reviews need to understand where the reviewer is coming from to such a profound extent, unless it’s like a Neil Kulkarni pop-confessional piece. I believe in the idea of critical reading as much as criticial writing; you can get a feel for whether you trust the reviewer by the spell their words weave (or fail to) more than you can for their knowledge of political and socio-cultural touchstones.

    That said, I thought Cast’s first album was pretty good but they became a series of diminishing returns. The recent Dodgy single was pleasant R2 fodder.

  2. See, I don’t really subscribe to the idea that music criticism is an art in itself; there is a certain degree of ‘art’ / ‘artisanship’ / ‘craft’ etc to it, no doubt, but I view it, and journalism in general, as more communication, or discourse, or dialogue, than art. And the tendency for some music writers to think of themselves as artists is usually a downfall. I think Kulkarni, for the record, is terrific.

  3. I guess that’s where we differ then and that’s fair enough but I think that ideas that journalism is merely a craft (to my mind ‘craft’ is ‘capable of artfulness but remaining predominately practical’) are part of the mechanics of the industries such writing originally appeared in, such as newspapers and periodicals, where there are strict impositions on the journalist: such as length, house style, general tone of the publication, even the political stance of the publication’s owners. In an internet age we should reverse these historical decisions, free ourselves from commercial prisons and mechanical impositions – and embrace the freedom that the writer now potentially has. Especially now hardly anyone’s making money from it, so why diminish oneself as being merely a salaryman? Functional criticism is rarely consistently entertaining, just read Pitchfork for proof.

  4. PS I just read the Cast and Dodgy articles and if they are art as I contend, then they are bad art.

  5. Reminds me of something Ryan Adams recently said: “Their seduction is to the Internet and to information, and it doesn’t have anything to do with albums that take six months to a year of consideration… The preparation of what I’m doing takes a shitload longer than a person to just listen to it through once, and then start jive-turkeying on the Internet.” (http://www.avclub.com/articles/ryan-adams,63532/)

  6. Davy Jones - I´m not dead I just dozed off

    It is so easy to just write any old shit without thinking it through on the net (I mean look at me here…) and Mr. Mouthy´s asserion that criticism isn´t art in itself is largely true, I think. It can be art. Read someone like Erich Auerbach ploughing his way through epic poems, for example, and tell me it´s not visionary genius that´s rolling your brain around like a false tit on an operating table. But that kind of thing requires intellect and education (not to mention in his case an obviously ultra high level of intelligence), so given that most people who build their lives around modern music are intellectually lazy and cowardly and view anything old as unworthy, or a bit crap, I think it´s no surprise they lack the perspective needed to write serious criticism, which is just as well as most of the stuff they´re reviewing won´t, as a rule, merit such treatment. One of the most intelligent things I´ve read about the appeal of Joy Division, for example, was The Guardian´s film correspondent who compared their appeal to that of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe´s literary sensation which made him a star in 18thC Europe and caused numerous copycat suicides. It may be greek to most NME readers but it is the best comparison I have seenfor them in 25 odd years. Having said that, if you ever read an account of a pop culture figure like, ooh, Keith Richards or Simon Cowell in the London Review of Books then you´ll see that when it is done it is utterly rivetting and usually pretty cathartic to read as well ( their reviewer´s demolition, not so much of Richards´ book but of him as a man an a father, was devastating). I heartily recommend it.
    Oh, and Cast actually wrote some pretty lovely songs back in the day. Whilst mindless grass chewing herds (see:Britpop) are to be shunned at all costs, does anyone want to see a musical version of the Khmer Rouge take charge and force anyone with a knowledge of guitar chords out into a field to be shot in the neck with an Apple iGun?
    Anyway, I hope their new album has some great songs on. Good luck to them and well said.

    • I think your response predicates the necessity of art to be intelligent, which it need not be to be art: it can be visceral, mono-level, incomprehensible, pathetic, inert, tossed-off, etc. It’s just that you as viewer reserve the right to say that it is shitty art, if it is. I don’t think arts criticism needs to have a grounding or even understand the classics or modern European literature to be functional or valid or entertaining.

      I would file it alongside dance as ‘art which relies on art as stimulus’.

  7. Davy Jones - Seriously. Fucking let me out.

    Of course what you say is correct. ANy fusion of form and content can be adjudged art – I always think that if you have the manual to a Ford Focus with the instructions on how to operate and fix it that is not art.That´s an instruction manual.
    If, however, the manual was a huge origami box in the shape of a Ford Focus which you had to unfold in order to read it – Now That´s Art! Fusion of form and content.
    Art doesn´t have to be intelligent to be called art. I accept that. However….. we should all be honest about what we need. Different periods were driven by artists motivated by often quite visceral cultural hatreds and desires which they translated into not so much the kinds of childish manifesto which the early 20thC threw up and which, by the end had found their way into pop groups but rather broad movements which invariably existed in opposition to another movement or certain aspects of the status quo which disgusted. Modernism´s large scale rejection of democracy (Joyce, of course, excepted), the Lake Poets’ dive into the parochial vernacular as a form of radicalism, Wagner´s opposition to the limitations of opera as a result of his German nationalism, Picasso´s quite obvious layman´s interest in the technological breakthroughs of the late 19thC as well as his interest in ancient art or the Dutch masters’ use of scientific tools to help attain accurate perspective. Top of my head so pretty random but the point is obvious – art is created by conscious decisions, not falling asleep with a bucket of paint balanced in one hand and a score sheet in the other in the hope that if the paint falls right you´ll end up with either a vibrant painting or a great piece of music or both. It takes thought.
    All of these things made the art great. It is the thinking and the deliberation which makes the art great. power – visceraltiy – in art needs to be controlled and channelled to make it great art. An artist in creating is like a little God. To allow randomness into the process is simply to allow the ‘other’.I wish I could remember something someone like George Steiner would say about this but I can´t. But I bet it would be fucking profound….
    So who needs more shit art made by lazy, opportunistic piss artists? Is there not enough in our society when anyone can shit on a canvas or turn on a suquencer and try to get cash from it? I certainly don´t.
    I have spent my life around stupid people and so I have no need for any art which is not intelligent and gives me a feeling of magic and discovery. That is the feeling of creaton which is passed from artist to recipient. That is what it is. If you witness something arbitrary the control of the creator is not perceived to be present. It is that consciousness which unites both religious and artistic thought and which is the key to it all. I know viscerality and mundanity and crassness inside out. Stupid activity which is then excused as ‘I done an art thing’ stuff seems to me to be a luxury made by lazy minded dossers who are simply bad artists.
    Why make art if it´s not seeking to elevate the viewer or listener or to illuminate (and often the artist themself?) To do that, of course, is a lot harder than making any old fucking mess and saying ‘Look. I done an art. Can I have some money?’
    I understand what you write, though. Of course I agree with the definition – but like I say I have no place for it. I mean, the X Factor is shit art, isn´t it? Why not sing its praises if that´s the case? Because neither of want it, surely? It is culturally corrosive.The moronic specimens on there, grading the height of the notes they sing with their hand as they wail a Carey track and wait to be thrown a Big King are viscerally stupid to anyone with any respect for the integrity of individuality. Or why not something painted on Art Attack? Who says under 5s art shouldn´t be taken as seriously as Van Gogh? I do. These arbitrary conditions which we impose – which worked against the Blakes and Van Goghs in their times – are still all we have to actually define artistic excellence, even if we get it wrong at times. (Sorry, chaps). No medium cannot be worked with great thought and no artistic endeavour cannot be bettered by more thought put into it, however visceral its components and violent and physical its methods.
    Now I need to go to the toilet.Pip pip.
    Likewise outsider art made by mentally ill people. Ian Curtis, Van Gogh,

  8. Davy Jones - Seriously. Fucking let me out.

    Ooh, that toilet call cut off my last sentence so sharp was it.
    Give it five if I were you.
    So I was just thinking about Outsider Art and mental illness. Van Gogh again, Curtis, numerous others who have suffered mental illness but still retained a vision and control to put themselves (or rather keep themselves) in the role of Creator. If you´ve ever seen Van Gogh´s paintings in the flesh then I´ll guess you were as amazed as I was. I had no idea how luminous the colours were – reproductions and prints simply can´t contain the colour he put on the canvas. It was a shock to me. In that sense I´d say it is a physical thing (vision being physical) but the intense thought which informs the work is obvious. Fusion of form and content, innit?
    This is a good read if you´ve not seen it:

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n15/terry-castle/do-i-like-it

    It deals with the presence – or rather absence – of a Creating, unified consciousness in makers of art which seems to be an indicator of sanity. And of course it deals with the freakshow saleability of their works in our everyone-is-equally-talented-because-everything-is-relative society (though only the wealthy get to indulge themselves in this quite ridiculous theory at private expense while the poor are invariably designated honorary morons by the ‘thinking’ class which this post-modern con trick reinforces by flattering the unintelligent and untalented members of the middle class who can cover their tracks by spouting taught theories).
    So I´d say cultural relativism is also intensely political and serves the class war of the Right. WHich is in full swing, of course.
    Fries with your rape examination, madam?

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