In June of 2000, Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone wrote of Britney Spears’ then-new album, Oops…I Did It Again: “She has nothing to do with Lolita, and everything to do with Ann Margaret’s pink capri pants in Bye Bye Birdie.”
First of all, what the hell does that mean? Secondly, what had become of honest reviewing? Sheffield went on to string together a series of ridiculous comparisons and pointless alliterations. It made me feel as if the review had been bought and paid for. Nearly 10 years later, I have yet to read Rolling Stone again; the review convinced me the magazine is not the place to get an honest critique.
Some time later, I started getting into buddyhead.com, a music review and gossip website run out of Los Angeles by a guy named Travis Keller. Keller is funny, sometimes to the point of silliness, but clearly knows his stuff. The contributors to the site are also well-versed in music and can be counted on to deliver their honest opinions on whatever they review. The site first came to my attention when it put out a review of Weezer’s 2005 album Make Believe. The piece was titled “20 Things We Would Rather Do Than Listen To The New Weezer Album.” Suffice it to say, though graphic, the piece was insightful and well-written.
The job of a music critic is to sift through all the bands, musicians, albums and shows a city has to offer. The critic must observe and listen, and then take his (hopefully) fine-tuned ear to formulate an opinion and pass this opinion on to the public at large. This is where things get tricky.
I was recently standing outside a show at the Aztec Café, when a guy—who I had never met in my life—overheard someone refer to me by my full name.
He walked over to me and asked, “You’re Alex De Vore? Have you been beaten up for your awful writing yet?”
“No. Not yet,” I replied.
To which he said: “It’s coming.”
Wow. I never thought for one second that someone would vaguely threaten violence against me for doing my job.
What validity would any critic have if all of his reviews were fawning pieces that tell every reader that every single band and show is worth their time? The true responsibility of any critic of the arts is to present an honest and straightforward account; a responsibility that would be marred by fearing the repercussions of a negative review.
Say, for example, that I were to call a Santa Fe band “amazing” simply for the sake of blindly supporting the local scene. Then say that you, on my recommendation, went to see said band, only to discover that it was some of the most god-awful music you had ever heard. Not only would I not be doing my job, you would be spending time and money on something you could have just as soon avoided.
Personally, I welcome criticism. Why would anyone ever strive to do better if everyone around them constantly tells them everything they do is perfect already? At the end of the day, we are all free to decide what sounds good to us. We wouldn’t let a silly little column stand in the way of that—now would we?