The Role of The Critic

CriticFor decades the critic has rated music releases and held the expert status to either kick-start or euthanise a band’s career. Before the age of the internet, the traditional music publications such as Melody Maker and NME were the main authority on what was “bad music” and “good music” for it’s readers. However in recent years, with the rise of blogging and reader participation, and the lack of heralded critics to replace the likes of Lester Bands and Nick Kent, critics seem to have lost their power over the music scenes.

Perhaps there has however been a flaw in the role of the music critic from the start, as Zappa thought-provokingly put it; “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. Although it is human nature to document and collect the perceived precious things in our lives, music is most importantly an entity that reaches us on a complex and often indescribable level: “all music conveys meaning behind the notes and… Of course, we cannot put this meaning into so many words. At different moments… music expresses serenity or exuberance, regret or triumph, fury or delight. Music expresses these moods, and many others, in a variety of subtle shadings and differences. It may even express a state of meaning for which there exists no adequate phrase in any language” (Copland 1957).

While critics are able to give well-informed and carefully formulated opinions compared to that of the average listener, who has not spent large amounts of time watching a specific bands progression in a scene or practicing the best way to quantify the afore-Record gridmentioned emotions, they are often affected by the need for readership and good relations with record labels. “the role of the critic is to sell product. She is simply an extension of the marketing department” (Crispin, 2011), with mutual back-scratching somehow changing a critics dislike of an album into a forced salesman’s pitch in print. This pressure has tainted the honest and passion-driven role of the critic, with critics “Arguing in that dispassionate, genteel way (that) makes members of [the mainstream critical fraternity] feel they’ve been informative and reasonable…while at the same time keeping hands clean, hair un-mussed, and digestion undisturbed” (Douglas,2004)

Music criticism is arguably an artistic and personal response to a record, with critics such as Alexis Petridis still providing inspiring and explorative reviews. The growing issue is in the demand to keep publications afloat, meaning that critics “end up praising work that doesn’t upset them. That’s why there’s so much stuff that looks like art, smells like art, but when you bite into it, it just tastes of cardboard.” (Kunzru, 2011)


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