Dissonant Notes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

8 Things You Should Avoid Saying in Response to a Music Review You Dislike

God bless the internet. This modern marvel has already changed our lives at least 774 times since last year and has also caused 321 paradigm shifts in the past week alone. As we mortals struggle to stay apace with these revolutions it sometimes helps, when adjusting to changing times, to set some rules so everybody feels more comfortable and secure while traversing the wastelands of the World Wide Web.

One of the biggest revolutions that the internet has brought about is the revolution in communication. Teenagers in Slough can now chat with 57-year-old perverts in Uzbekistan about what the other is wearing while also looking at hardcore pornography and contemplating their next chess move. Truly we live in special times. Nothing says communication, however, like the act of commenting on an internet music review. With the shield of anonymity users can unload their deepest thoughts and frustrations on the reviewer in question, spewing bile and self-righteous anger in all directions, before retreating to the comfort of fan-fiction chat sites. In the interests of fair-play, and in an attempt to avoid redundancy and boredom, I have compiled the following list of things to avoid when commenting on music reviews. If obeyed they should make the internet a livelier, more intelligent, and all around more fun place to spend your time. With these modest aims laid out, let us begin:

1. Don’t label the reviewer a hipster.

This goes to the top of the list as it is surely the single most overused put-down on both the internet and in everyday, non-electronic, communication. Please, don’t keep calling yourself uncool or not hip. It is unbecoming and, like labeling your tastes “eclectic”, it indicates self-delusion and conceitedness (plus it is pseudo-populist in a way that is scarily reminiscent of the way the Republican Party of America labels left-wing people “elitist”). Do you sit around all day in unwashed sweatpants re-watching Everybody Loves Raymond for weeks on end and still find yourself laughing at every joke? Clearly you don’t, and even if you did you would undoubtedly make a status update that said, “Sitting around in my sweatpants watching Everybody Loves Raymond for the third week straight. God, I’m such a nerd” just so everybody knew how self-consciously uncool you really were. Calling someone a hipster is just a pompous way of saying, “My tastes are not defined by what is cool. Sure, I like a lot of things that are considered cool but I listen to those things because I genuinely like them, not because it’s cool. Same with the way I dress, and the movies I like. I’m actually a nerd really”. In other words you are a self-deceiving halfwit who is playing up to the coolest and most obvious personality trait of the moment: being uncool.

2. Don’t say “You’re just jealous”.

This is stupid and sinks below even the cheapest pop-psychology. Apparently the driving force behind any dislike is jealousy? It doesn’t even make sense. If I write a bad review of Fleet Foxes it means I’m jealous of the fact that they are able to write insipid, pseudo-pastoral folk dirges? Or are you implying that it’s their success that I’m jealous of? Am I jealous of all success? What about the fact that I like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Nirvana and Outkast? Why wasn’t I jealous of their success? I’d feel embarrassed even putting this on the list if it didn’t crop up so often. Save your words for expressing something both original and worthwhile.

3. Don’t call someone a bad writer because their opinion differs from yours.

It takes a special kind of ego to imagine that anyone who holds a different opinion from theirs is automatically a bad writer. When asked to qualify such a statement the commentator may say, “The review just doesn’t work”, or some other such nonsense, but what they really want to say is, “This review is badly written because it dismisses an album that I think is really good”. Now it is possible for a badly written review to exist, but I often wonder why I never see complaints along the lines of, “I agree with almost everything this reviewer is saying but the way they said it was just awful”. Don’t kid yourself. You dislike the review because it tore apart, probably in a very convincing fashion, something you hold dear. At least have the decency to admit it.

4. Don’t say “Well what do you like?”

Do you really expect every negative review to provide you with examples of what the reviewer likes? When someone writes a positive review are they expected to offer examples of things they don’t like? Or perhaps the implication is that the reviewer doesn’t like anything? Would you notice if a reviewer only wrote positive reviews? Would you ask them if they dislike anything? When you read a review you should hope to god that the reviewer is giving an honest opinion. Worry when a reviewer is afraid of being negative. Chances are advertising concerns and fear of angering the musical act in question abated their anger. People are often assigned reviews and, considering the vast majority of music created at any one time is garbage, it makes sense that they will dislike a lot of it. Now quit asking stupid questions.

5. Don’t say “Who the fuck are you?” or “Well what is it you do?”

This one is truly pathetic. On the one hand, there is the implication that an opinion must only be respected if it comes hand-in-hand with financial success (so the commenter is a brown-nosing sycophant) and, on the other hand, there is the suggestion that the opinions of the reviewer are easily dismissed due to the fact that their life has been an unsuccessful one (so the commenter is a smug, conceited prick who gives higher prestige to those who show signs of societal success). The commenter here is trying to belittle the reviewer by using the basest psychological ploy of all, which is to undermine their opinion by undermining their entire life and purpose, all to defend the honour of a recording artist who probably knows nothing of this little commotion. It is the lowest kind of ad hominem attack, disregarded off-hand by all but the most idiotic.

6. Don’t call the reviewer a failed musician.

This relates to point 5 in that the commenter in question is trying to undermine the reviewer’s point by implying that they are a failure at life. Have you read Lester Bangs? He is generally considered one of the most gifted, articulate and all around life-altering music writers to sit down at a typewriter. His passion, wit, intelligence, anger and humanity spilled out over everything he wrote. To many he is still the standard against which one has to measure oneself to be considered a good writer. Guess what? He was a failed musician. Now put that in your pipe and choke on it you ignorant bastard. Calling the reviewer a failed musician is boring, predictable and downright embarrassing (and for the most part wrong). If somebody in your social circle had dreams of being an architect, but dropped out and instead became a chef, would you dismiss their restaurant by saying “The food is terrible because they couldn’t make it as an architect”? Of course you wouldn’t because people would mock your laughable excuse for an opinion. Expect the same result on a music website.

7. Don’t use the artist’s personality to defend their work.

The artist is by all accounts a nice person but that does not under any circumstances make their art worthwhile. So they worked hard for their success? Artistic merit is not based on hard work. If you like to see hard work rewarded watch The World’s Strongest Man. So they are nice to their fans? That is truly a plus but it doesn’t mean they deserve less scrutiny. A review should contain good writing and, at some point, an honest appraisal of the music. That’s it. If somebody wants a pat on the back for being a good person, the last place they should look for it is a music review.

8. Don’t describe the reviewer as bitter.

So I just reviewed your favourite artist and I ripped them a new one. You’re angry. You’re really angry. What are you gonna do about it, huh? You’re going to call me bitter? Are you serious? That’s the best you’ve got? Here we have yet another failed attempt to undermine the reviewer by supposedly exposing their real motives, a tactic of such worthless wrongheadedness that is outdone only by its predictability. The word bitter crops up almost as much as the word hipster in time-wasting dismissals of negative music reviews and seems like the go-to word for those high on anger but low on reason.

Look, I’m not saying people shouldn’t ever take issue with what a reviewer says, by all means take a crack at it. Just do me a favour and don’t use any of the examples I’ve listed. Either say what it is you like about the album or make your repudiation of the review original and entertaining. It’s not that difficult.

(This article originally appeared on Collapse Board)

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