Reflections on being a critic
Recently, I was seriously criticized in the comments section of my blog for being careless in some of my criticisms of a mid 70s Mingus release, Changes One (I actually like the record, by the way). This made me wonder why I bother being critical of anything.
If you go on Amazon.com and look at how the critics are rated, the top 100 critics are the ones who give positive reviews 99% of the time. It’s human nature that if you praise something to the skies, and someone likes that something too, they will find your review “helpful”. On the other hand, even if you give a mild criticism of something that’s thought to be a classic, you run the risk of being given a beat down, not to mention losing the popularity contest which, let’s face it, is what success on the Internet is all about.
Actually, I like nothing better than to rave1 about music and I prefer to write raves because: 1) they’re easier to write, 2) they result in links to my site, 3) readers like them and comment on them and, last but not least, 4) my major purpose in writing reviews is to steer my readers to music that I love.
So why write negative or mildly critical reviews at all? Well, I’d be the first to admit that guys like Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and John Coltrane are master jazz musicians. In fact, they are my heroes. But that doesn’t mean that every note they played was equally great. In my opinion, each one of these giants has put out lousy albums. So what? Everyone has an off day now and then, or even an off album... So, I’m just hoping to guide readers to the best records of these giants first, and if they love these guys so much that they want to be completists like me, that’s their call.
Which brings up another subject. How do I judge how many stars to give a recording? Am I comparing each musician to the greats? If I am reviewing one of the greats, like Mingus, am I only comparing him to his greatest accomplishments? How about my personal taste? It’s certainly possible for a recording to be technically excellent, but I just don’t like it for some reason.
Well, first of all, I have to be honest enough to admit that I am the one listening to the recording, bringing my personal history and prejudices to my criticism. If I personally don’t enjoy something, I’m not going to rate it five stars, no matter how good it is. Of course, it’s my responsibility to point out the discrepancy between the technical excellence of the recording and my personal taste in that case.
And second of all, any and all of the criteria discussed in this article might come into play when rating a date. You might say that results in me comparing apples to oranges, and you’d be right. For example, how could I possibly justify that a seriously flawed John McLaughlin album like Floating Point and a consistently good Mingus album like Changes One both rate three stars?
I don’t know what to tell you except to read both reviews. I hope that by reading the reviews, looking at the star ratings, and listening to the samples, and factoring in your own taste, you can come to some reasonable conclusion for yourself. That conclusion might be that I’m off my rocker and that you can depend on me to pan2 recordings that you love, in which case you might want to pay special attention to things I pan. Or it may be that you agree with me a lot of the time. Or it may be that you find my criticism completely inconsistent and worthless, in which case you probably won’t be visiting this site very often. Whichever conclusion you come to is fine with me.
1to rave – criticar entusiasticamente
2to pan – criticar severamente
The author not only states that readers like positive reviews, but also gives reasons for their preference.
The paragraph where these reasons can be found is the:
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