It’s interesting. You wouldn’t say film critics are a particularly daring group these days. Newspapers and magazines are losing readers and, rightly or wrongly, a lot of editors think that dissing popular films—like the ones that now commonly anchor weekly sections in many major dailies—isn’t the way to retain them. But you look down that list, and there’s a lot of mediocre and even negative consensuses. (Consensi?)
On the music side? Not so much. You might conclude, in fact, that the nation’s rock critics … well, I was going to say graded on a curve, but that’s not a curve! It’s a frickin’ hockey stick! Hoobastank, which gets about the same rating as the film critics gave the not-unserious Despereaux, is about the bottom, and the ratings go straight up from that point …. and stay there!
Who knew that Justice and Chris Isaak, Fall Out Boy and Robyn Hitchcock, were putting out work worthy of such critical acclaim?
On the entire list of current albums (two or three times as long as the part I excerpted), there wasn’t a single artist whose reviews would drop it into the red zone.
This is a topic I’ve pondered in the past, especially when it seems all my reviews end up sixes and sevens. Honestly, there are days I’m dying for something to skewer, and still, I’m left with a stack of cds which are good, not great, and ultimately worthy of their six.
An obvious place to start the blame game is media segmentation. With so much music available, and so many niche websites and publications catering to a specific crowd, reviewers are more likely to stick within their comfort zones and review within their own parameters of taste. So, instead of branching out into the world of pop and popular rock, I stick with indie, underground rock, garage rock, punk, and lo-fi. Would it really benefit any of you if I started reviewing mainstream modern rock and slagged each and every Hinder cd I had the misfortune of hearing? Similarly, would Pitchfork’s readership benefit if they reviewed Nickelback? Conversely, would the Plain Dealer’s readership really want to know what John Soeder thinks of WAVVES?
Or, is there something else at play? Is it a case of the mainstream press playing catch up with the independent press, and the independent press being too focused on being the first to break the next buzz band? Call it the Animal Collective effect, the one where no critic wants to be left out of the praise parade once a tastemaker like Pitchfork starts the discussion on a new, breaking band.
These are the things which make me go hmm…