in the fade

  1. the honest music critic.

    Since starting at Forbes, I’ve been added to hundreds of mailing lists. Record labels, agents, PR people, handlers, venues, what have you. They all want me to review something. They want to give me albums and tickets and have me write about them in glowing terms. 

    But that’s not what I do. I write about music. I am not a critic. I don’t review albums. I don’t go to gigs. I just write about music. 

    I am a nice person so I write back to these people explaining my situation. I say things like “I’d be happy to give the record a listen and possibly include it in a round up of recently released music” which is, I think, better than “I hate music criticism.” 

    See, a long time ago, I wanted to be a music critic. I wanted to write for Creem or Rolling Stone. I needed for the world to know exactly what I thought of the latest Led Zeppelin album.

    One day, many years later, my dream sort of came true. I was asked to write CD reviews for a very small, local entertainment zine. My first assignment was reviewing Sugar Ray’s first album. I panned the damn thing in brutal fashion and I was summarily fired. I learned a little bit about the relationship between record companies and struggling music magazines that day.

    I also learned that I didn’t want to be a critic, in the strict sense of the word. I wanted to write about music. I wanted to talk about music. I wanted to share every song I loved and discuss why I loved them. 

    I no longer wanted to be a critic because I did not want ot join the ranks of people who use the word IMPORTANT in any list title. Just because you think it’s important doesn’t make it so. Maybe you believe that Nevermind was the Most Important Record Ever because it paved the way for all the grunge bands that followed, but there are millions of people who hate it for that very reason.

    You know what I want in a critic’s list? Honesty. Don’t give me some standard pretentious claptrap as to why the Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street ranks right up there with the discovery of penicillin. Be honest. You love the album because it’s what was playing on the stereo when you finally got that goth looking chick from the record store to make out with you. I can get behind that. That’s important. Setting industry standards and enlightening legions of 12 year olds with guitars takes a back seat to flashbacks of banging MaryAnne Brady every time you hear Tumbling Dice.

    Just once I would love to see a smug critic put something totally mainstream on his list amidst all the earnest, self-aware bands. Like, right in between Songs Written on a Bleak Afternoon in Prague and This Album Title is Really an Obscure Reference to a 13th Century Philosopher, there would be the latest offering from Papa Roach, with the explanation that it makes the critic feel like a pre pubescent boy just discovering his dick, and he likes that.

    Is any critic worth his indie cred going to admit they liked a best selling album? I bet you my last dollar that there’s at least one critic out there who, when the lights are out and everyone else is sleeping, is grooving to Rhianna on his headphones. You know that some sweater-wearing geek from Pitchfork is spending his day talking about Stephen Malkmus, but when he goes home writhes around on the floor to Linkin Park.

    Why can’t people be honest when it comes to music? I’m not afraid to admit that I have enjoyed singing and maybe dancing to “Bye Bye Bye.” I just want these critics to admit that they like something besides bands with unpronounceable names and acoustic guitars. We all know how much you love Frank Black. Tell us something else. Be the first to put Hanson on your “important” list. Break tradition. Set yourself free.

    I don’t want to be a music critic. 

    I just want to write about music.