When I began writing reviews last century it was largely an opportunity to hear new music. These days I don’t listen to much music and when I do it’s often older material. As much I railed against the narrowing of tastes with age while younger, I’ve grown more comfortable with the idea as I’ve become older.
But this mature perspective has also made me uneasy about writing reviews. Too often they’re a bunch of subjective statements with little relationship to their subject, like Zappa’s observation that writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
Subjectivity is a weird thing to try and be objective about, I think. It makes me appreciate those Postmodern writers who grappled with writing statements, even if they were often so verbose as to be impenetrable.
One example for me was reviewing Everclear’s album “Sparkle and Fade”. Wikipedia notes the band endured comparisons to Nirvana and that was something I focused on in my review because it’s kind of easy to look for comparisons. I later felt somewhat surprised and blindsided when the band gained airplay, as I felt I’d dismissed their album on first listen.
There’s an interesting discussion in John Seabrook’s book “The Song Machine” where he discusses the process of testing new music with listeners. He outlines that a song needs to be heard three times before a thorough opinion can be formed. I wish I knew this when I was writing reviews for print.
When I began writing for Cyclic Defrost I was given an album to review. I didn’t like it but persevered with attempting to objectively describe as I really wanted to write for them and needed to demonstrate this to the editors. As soon as I could I said I wouldn’t write any more album reviews.
Yet here I am attempting to write a review after seeing the backlash from an Iranian musician to Tony Mitchell’s review of the album “Absence”. I really feel for that guy because when I dismissed Everclear, who would go on to get a lot of airplay and sell albums, the band probably never read my review and were irked enough to write a statement in response. The internet makes the world a small place.
The other thing is that the album I’ve been attempting to review is one that I have a relationship with already. When I hear it I am transported to a Scout Hall outside Wagga, where I heard the music being performed. I’m not sure those memories will provide anything of interest to Cyclic’s readers.
Anyway, now that I’ve written out these thoughts, I think can attempt to be objective.