Okay the easiest job for a critic is to be a judge on a cooking-based reality/game show. That, next to record reviewer, is the world’s easiest job. Music critics, looking as they do at macro levels of the artform, work harder. I mean, looking at how one thing fits into a continuum or context of many historical things (which things include our communal lives and time) takes hard and long thought and (we hope) a way with words. I have a friend who is a very good and esteemed music critic (who is, I should say, in my opinion, too generous toward pop and with whom it’s been too long since I’ve hung out), and knowing her impels me to make this distinction between critic and reviewer. Hell: it’s a distinction everyone’s already made before me.
Here’s what passes for publishable record reviewing in the mostly abysmal Rolling Stone:
Rhythmically flimsy, despite guitar and synth tracks that flash back to “Raspberry Beret”, this apparent one-off offers Eighties nostalgia to match the new mini-fro Prince is rocking. The song is a tale of a suburban girl colliding with a guy who believes in “jazz, rhythm & blues and this thing called soul.” They live screamingly ever after, but the purple mountain majesty faded long ago.”
The problem with most criticism is that the proportion of work done by the critic to work done by the criticized in so infinitesimally fractional that it feels almost from the start like a paltry waste of time. What I should stress here is that the above blockquote is the review of this new Prince track in its entirety. I don’t know how Prince works these days, but no way did this reviewer work half as hard as Prince did. Sure, it’s a track review, not a record one. But it’s easily 60 percent the length of what RS lends to most new records.
Two grand points to make in this post. One is that, in the end, shitty reviews do the service they’re meant to of telling me new records are out. Will, for instance, the new Corin Tucker Band album live up to the awesomeness that’s been the Wild Flag record? And when will I run out to buy this new Band of Horses record? Two is that I have this very smart music critic friend whom I need to interview on the worth of the record review in a post iTunes era. Ann, if yer reading, let’s you me and my voice recorder grab a drink sometime.