Critical Backlash: Why I Hate Rock Journalism

These guys are the punchline to a joke in the fourth paragraph of this post.

Go ahead and read this monstrosity and then we’ll talk.

OK. So for those of you newer to TRRTS!, Critical Backlash is an occasional feature where I bitch about Pitchfork and Ryan Adams.

With that out of the way, ARGH. Now, I like Marc Hogan a whole lot. He’s generally reliable (just dropped an 8.1 on the new Russian Futurists comp) and we seem to have pretty similar taste, even though he’s usually less of an apologist. His writing is routinely funny, readable and unpretentious. On a personal note, I read his Magic Numbers review last year and shot him an e-mail to both compliment him and see where I could score a promo. I didn’t end up getting the promo after all, but during our brief correspondence he was helpful and personable.

Which brings us to his snarky trashing of Rose Melberg’s Cast Away The Clouds. (Disclaimer: Rose is one of my favorite musicians of all time and I’d still be listening to her whether she was doing folk songs or playing bass for Dragonforce.) The review is well-written enough, sure, but taking it all-in-all, it’s a puff piece that skims the music and disregards the lyrical content aside from a few convenient lines. Then there’s the totally irrelevant/just for laffs “Hey guys, look how twee I am” Camera Obscura reference he finishes off with, which echoes the tone of the whole review: witty, clever, and completely condescending. “I must be a horrible person. I mean, I used to think criticizing Rose Melberg was kinda like tearing the wings off a butterfly,” opens the review, and like, way to earn sympathy points, bro. I’d feel a lot more inclined to forgive you if your review took the album seriously.

So here we are at the real issue: I think Hogan listened to this album two, maybe three times. It shows up in his lyrical interpretations (non-existent: “Who says that?” he writes instead) and the fact that all the review does is point out the obvious differences between this record and It’s Love, and I think exchanging electric guitars for acoustic ones is hardly a reason to drop a 3.9 on something, especially since The Softies’ Holiday In Rhode Island (which, along with Winter Pageant, Hogan conveniently ignores) foreshadows a lot of the instrumentation and harmonic style Rose uses. The “sterile” tone he criticizes was actually a much bigger part of Holiday; Cast Away The Clouds is arguably her warmest, most directly personal album production-wise.

Anyway gang, the point here is not for me to call out poor Marc, who I’m sure is a nice guy who honestly thinks this record is boring (a fair enough criticism), but there are plenty of reviews that come out exactly like this one: witty, flashy pieces with no serious interaction with the record that make the reviewer look reasonably smart and hip and will probably fool the average reader. I’m sure you’ve downloaded a leaked record (or been ahead of the curve and bought one before the ‘Fork or SPIN got around to it) more than once, listened to the thing eight times and then read the review – only to find that the writer completely missed the point. (Um, New Buffalo?)

I’m not saying every album is worthy of deep, lengthy examination – some stuff is just flat-out terrible, people don’t like certain genres, etc. – but this particular review is aggravatingly misleading, and this kind of thing happens all the time because writers (ostensibly on deadline) don’t always give deserving records enough time. Admittedly, I have a pretty itchy trigger finger (this year alone, I decided that new albums by Nelly McKay, The Strokes and The Knife are all terrible after listening to the first four songs of each), but hopefully I’ve avoided using it outside of the blog. This is just irresponsible journalism, fellas – let’s shape up.

(Marc, if in fact you did listen to the album 6-8 times and thought the lyrics sucked, my heartfelt apologies. But my argument stands.)

But hey, judge for yrself:

Rose Melberg – “Take Some Time”: mp3

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