Rock Criticism: The State Of The Art
I’ve complained about the state of rock criticism for awhile now and I am gonna try and take another swing at it but first I wanna respond to complaints about my writing. Just really briefly, I am great at the culture surrounding the music, lousy at the technical stuff, mainly because I don’t play an instrument and to be perfectly honest don’t always know how what I am listening to is being done. I could go further but I really think that’s the crux of the matter.
As for the rest of the world: with the legs sawed off writing about music for money , those who do pay are quite powerful and all power corrupts. So Pitchfork with their very very profitable music festivals appear to give favored nation station to people who play their festivals, Freddie Gibb went from invisible to flava of the month when he agreed to perform for them. Meanwhile, they trashed MIA’s excellent / \ / \ / \ Y / \ (4.4 –the most ridiculous grading system known to man) subsequent to her signing off her use of their twitter account by calling them awful.
That was bad, worse was their constant insulting of superior musicians like the great Maria Taylor. They went out of their way to insult Taylor always. Maria said this to me “I hate Pitchfork and they hate me. They stopped acknowledging that I exist. They used to just write negative things and they’d write things like ‘this person came out to a Maria Taylor show for some reason, he must have been bored’ Comments like that. And now for the past three or four years they just pass on everything.”
Essentially, they treat Maria the way we treat Bono, with one small exception, we are tiny taking on the biggest and Pitchfork are horrid bullies, battering anybody who gets in their way and happens to be smaller than them. As for the writing, while technically it has its moments, it lacks anything approaching personality (everybody sounds various degrees of the same), they make liberal use of press releases on the more technical stuff and it is all wobbly bass line crap. They are completely humorless.
Their news is bad, interviews are worse and everybody writes the same stuff about the same people.
Rolling Stone have their forte, very good at celebrity profiles and, better at politics when Matt Tiabbi is driving, they are terrible at everything else. They don’t write a word without a reason behind it (as my friend recently noted, has anybody noticed all the positive Bro Country reviews: they’ve just started a country magazine). Everybody is under Wenner’s thumb, everybody is giving Bruce and U2 and Foo Fighters 5 star reviews and the entire industry laughs at them. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is a corrupt institution and lying for buddies is institutionalized plus, with the possible exception of Rob Sheffield,they are completely humorless, poorly written undernourished crappola. .
As for the rest? Spin CoS and Stereolab are ok but lack personality, I wouldn’t trust Billboard to clean my shoes, Hollywood Reporter fire their heads of State, the Village Voice music pages matters not a whit since Christgau left, New York Times is good and then some, our three tabs are all good but not nearly enough of it gets to print, and out of the NYC tabs are hit and miss, sometimes they have great writers (Susan Whitall, come on down) but mostly not so much.
And that’s the tip of the aesthetic iceberg.
Between being hammered by social media readers, trolls, and fans of the artists, indeed, contacted by the artist themselves, all writings, all opinions, are now a work in progress. If you pan the wrong artist, you will lose all access, all tickets. If you don’t acquiesce to the biggest stars you are gonna do what we do: buy your own damn tickets. This doesn’t even begin to deal with the advertisers. Worst of all is what we call the Rolling Stone syndrome; give the gift of friendship between writer and artist and what you get is lousy writing. It helps nobody, least of all the reader, who doesn’t trust you and the artist who doesn’t trust you either. Writing that bad stuff is actually good stuff helps absolutely nobody but the publicist.
Rock criticism in 2015 is in the crosshairs of forces beyond its control: of editorial dictates and the power of mass condemnation, of a type of music -EDM, that lends itself to technical jargon, and of an underpaid and Wikipedia addicted set of writers that falls back fast on 21st century chitter chatter, of a social media filled world happy to attack at the slightest provocation, and an overwhelming humorless 2015 air of defeated populism, that sucks the teat of power always, and of lies lies lies. Given all of the above, how can reviews be well written? Remember when Spin decided no album reviews will be longer than 500 words? Stuff like that kills it. The old-timers are stuck in their way blowhards, the middle managers are status climbing bullies, and the lowest echelons will write anything to get ahead.
Over and above, and here I know exactly what I’m talking about, rock writing is the icing on the cake of rock website, the bread and butter is presales, concert info, and streaming newly released sets. Brooklynvegan is the heart of rock criticism in 2015. The writing is none existent, the typing is fine, the cut and pasting for many many PR firms is second to none, and as an information bot it is brilliant, but as a rock criticism outpost? It has no negative opinion of anything with the possible exception of rock nyc.
It is what it is, but it also isn’t what it isn’t. And that is the state of the art.