I’m going to use one review in particular to explain why it is record reviews are so often the very definition of suck. The review I’m using to illustrate my point is Time Out Chicago’s review of Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampire’s of the City”. Now, it might seem that I’m picking on this review in particular, and I kind of am, but mostly this review perfectly encapsulates all the reasons I hate 99.9% of all record reviews.
First, the review opens with a broad generalization about a target demographic I am usually not a part of. This example starts with a generalization about what age people begin to consider their own mortality. According to the reviewer this comes in adolescence, though three sentences later he contradicts himself and says that’s only for Goths. For everyone else it happens in their twenties, I guess. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that by reading the first paragraph of this review I realize dude is talking to an age demographic I am not a part of, which is fine. Like I said, most record reviews I’ve ever read were talking to a demographic I was never a part of, being that I’m a woman.
Also, I get that I’ve aged out of what most consider the rock & roll target market, though I have to say that most reviewers still idolize rock and roll stars who are way older than I am.
But anyway, I get it. This is a review for all those people who didn’t grow up in the shadow of the Cold War, who didn’t spend most of their elementary school lives worried that Reagan would pick up the red phone and call in a nuclear attack on Russia, thus ensuring our annihilation due to retaliation. So yeah, this review is not for GenXers.
Incidentally: the first few times I listened to the new Vampire Weekend album all I could think was “Dude’s turning 30 or turned 30.” This albums smacks of dude-thirty-year-old-ness, which is when I think dudes contemplate their lives. Women’s thirty-year-old-ness is very different. Turning thirty as a woman is very liberating, mostly because you’re so damn happy to be out of the drama-filled twenties. This is a fact. Ask most thirtysomething women you know, they’ll agree with me.
Okay, so next in the record review Mad Libs game, the reviewer uses a bunch of lyrics from the album to prove his (or her, but really who are we kidding, it’s still dudes writing for dudes a majority of the time) premise about the overarching theme of the record (in this case, the whole mortality thing).
Then comes the point in the review where the reviewer must prove his/her cred. This is also, incidentally, the point at which I abandon any record review I’ve made the mistake of reading. Why? Because you end up with this kind of gobbledeygook nonsense:
“Don’t worry, the pastel group has not gone all Sisters of Mercy in neri-oshiroi and black; it has not traded the Cape for capes.”
I don’t even know what that sentence means. I know what most of the words mean individually, but when you put them together like that, all I can do is the eye-roll barf face.
Next comes the part where they talk about individual songs and what they sound like. This is where reviewers pull out things like glitchy drums, crunchy guitars, and other crap I can’t remember right now. This is the part I usually skip over if I make it past the gobbledeygook portion of the review.
Then I get to my favorite part, and by favorite part I mean the part that makes the inside of my chest itch and makes me want to claw out my own eyes lest I have to read this kind of bullshit ever, ever again. I understand the reviewer’s impulse here (and please forgive me, I’ve been guilty of this crap myself). I get that he/she is trying to proved a cultural context for an album. But here’s the thing, trying to provide a cultural context for a record that’s a week old is total bullshit. You sound like an ass when you do this, so stop it (same goes for book reviewers too). Reviewers love to make a bunch of bold statements about the place a record/book/movie will have in history as though they can see the future.
And the worst part is that most of these proclamations aren’t even backed up by any sort of evidence, often the reviewer is lazy/hurried to even make an argument for their case.
For instance the intrepid Vampire Weekend reviewer made this statement:
“In moving away from Paul Simon’s obvious world-beat influences, Vampire Weekend has made its first album that can stand up to the best of Paul Simon.”
WHAT? Really? You’re gonna say these dudes with three records under their belt and seven years in the industry can stand up to the best of Paul Simon? Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame? Paul Simon of the nearly fifty-year career?
Ridiculous. But then I have a sneaking suspicion the reviewer might not be familiar with Simon’s work outside of “Graceland.”
And this is why I hate most record reviews. However, I do love the reviews where people write about what a record means to them personally. I enjoy the personal context more than the cultural context, I guess, because at least the personal context is genuine whereas the cultural context is just utter bullshit prognostication.