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Forgive me for the hyperbole.


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I just wrote this in the Dark Knight thread:

Yeah, I'm always writing from a point of limited education on "the mythos."

Because I don't read comic books.

That's a serious blindspot when reviewing comic-book movies. I don't know much of anything about the comic tradition. It makes me reluctant to review comic book movies at all. Anybody who actually *knows* something about the comic will see my ignorance within moments.

But then I kept writing. I almost deleted the tangent that followed, but maybe it will make a good thread of its own.

Here's how it continued:

I'm learning this lesson more and more as I see young, up-and-coming reviewers take on, say, a Malick film or a Phillips album... a work that I actually know something about. When some new college sophomore starts praising, say, a U2 album as "the finest of their career" or "a return to their roots," I immediately lose faith in that reviewer. What are the chances that a college sophomore today has enough experience and knowledge with U2 to say anything of the sort?

It makes me embarrassed about my whole archive of reviews.

More and more, this is why I'm dropping out of writing music reviews. I just don't know enough to say the kinds of things about an album that music critics are expected to declare. I can talk about what the album makes me think about, or my own personal experience of it, but I need to break the habit of making hyperbolic declarations. I've been doing this for years... speed-reading articles about bands that are new to me, and then writing a review as if I can actually make a claim about a band with any authority when I've only just started listening to them.

I've given up on writing reviews on numerous albums in the last year because I realized I could not say anything with confidence about that band's history or catalog. And 9 out of 10 times, I stop believing a reviewer who uses superlatives like "best" or "greatest" or "most _______" about an album when I've never seen that critic discuss that artist's work before. Did the critic really explore, meditate on, and absorb the artist's whole catalog before making those claims? Or was that critic just in a hurry to get readers' attention and make an impressoin?

There are a few music critics who I would trust to make strong claims like that--and that's because the specifics and experience *evident* in their review are persuasive. More often than not, it feels like an inexperienced critic is in a hurry to be the first to use hyperbolic language about something. I've really burned out on reading, and writing, hyperbolic reviews. I couldn't care less if a critic thinks Viva La Vida is Coldplay's best album anymore. I want some substantive thought about the lyrics, the style, and the band's history that will help me listen to them in an educated way. Or I want some personal perspective, something that tells a story about the critic's experience of listening to that work. If they start off declaring that something is "the most ______ of the year", as I have a zillion times, I lose my faith right there. Has the critic heard everything of the year? And why does that matter? Of what value will such a claim be next year? Or in ten years, when everyone else has forgotten what else came out that year?

And I say this as someone who has abused superlatives and hyperboles somewhat recklessly and habitually.

Can you tell I've been gnawing on this? I almost dropped this into the middle of the The Dark Knight thread. That wouldn't really have worked.

What do you think, reviewers?

Do you trust critics who start immediately making claims about the standing of a certain work in view of an artist's history?

Do words like "the most ____________ of the year" or "album of the year" make you cringe and turn the page?

Should I seek help?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Jeffrey, this is the Best. Post. of your A&F Career. Maybe even the greatest writing of your life.

And that's why I'm in love with you.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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As someone who used to be -- or at least, tried to be -- one of those "young, up-and-coming reviewers", and who has written their share of hyperbolic music reviews, I wholeheartedly agree. Is there a time and place for "album of the year" sentiments? Perhaps, but as has been discussed elsewhere on A&F, there's a certain amount of inauthenticity to such claims simply because of the sheer volume of music that is released each year that people know about. Certainly, there are some records that will bubble up to the top, but even then, it's difficult to accept them as some sort of canon.

This is one of the reasons why I stopped doing "year-end" lists. Instead, I put together "mix tapes" like this one. Yes, they're still year-end lists in the strictest sense, and I still make some hyperbolic statements, but the attempt is to try and put together something more personal and purely subjective.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
Opus, Twitter, Facebook

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I couldn't care less if a critic thinks Viva La Vida is Coldplay's best album anymore. I want some substantive thought about the lyrics, the style, and the band's history that will help me listen to them in an educated way. Or I want some personal perspective, something that tells a story about the critic's experience of listening to that work.

The best music review I have read for a long time was Andy Whitman's blog on Jethro Tull. Personal, storied, and will make me contact Jethro Tull differently even though I don't even like him.

As far as film goes (as this was spurred by a film topic), your above sentence fits what I look for really well. When writing, I want to dig until I find out why I connected with a film, and pen a little record of that journey so I won't forget it. But don't be embarrased about your archive, think of all the free cds you got in the process.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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LOL.

Would you believe I've received... oh... maybe three free cds in all of my music reviewing? (Well, three free cds that I actually reviewed. I've got stacks of cds of bands I didn't think were worth reviewing...) No, if you can find an album review of mine online, chances are I paid 15 bucks for the privilege of reviewing it without pay.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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There's obviously plenty of hyperbole to be found in film and music reviews, and I've been guilty of writing my share of it.

I don't usually get too bent out of shape about Top 10 or Top 100 or "Best of yyyy" lists. I realize that these titles are simply coded ways of expressing "Stuff that I, the reviewer, really like." From a literal standpoint, of course, such claims are ridiculous. We're dealing in realms that are hopelessly subjective, and in the music world we're dealing with an increasingly fragmented industry where more than 10,000 new titles will be released this year. Even the most crazed, music-obsessed reviewer couldn't make it through half that material. And he or she would smell because there would be no time for a shower. In a good year, I think I probably listen -- really listen, actually pay attention -- to 500 to 750 albums, somewhere between 5% and 7% of the material released that year. Against that backdrop, "Best of yyyy" claims are plainly ludicrous.

But I was intrigued by this statement, Jeffrey:

More and more, this is why I'm dropping out of writing music reviews. I just don't know enough to say the kinds of things about an album that music critics are expected to declare. I can talk about what the album makes me think about, or my own personal experience of it, but I need to break the habit of making hyperbolic declarations. I've been doing this for years... speed-reading articles about bands that are new to me, and then writing a review as if I can actually make a claim about a band with any authority when I've only just started listening to them.

I think there's a way to avoid both the hyperbole and the dubious practice of trying to place an album within the context of a performer's/band's oeuvre (that you may or may not know much about), or within the wider context of a particular genre. And that is to simply react to what you hear. An album has to stand or fall on its own merits, and I've seen far too many instances of surprisingly good efforts being dismissed because the performer/band in question has a dubious track record. Similarly, I've seen far too many mediocre or bad albums given a free pass because the performer or band in question happens to be a longtime critical favorite.

Comparisons are inevitable in any review, and I think it's fair to stick with what you know, and not to venture down the blind alleys of what you don't know. But I think this is easier than perhaps it sounds. I won't review hip-hop and classical albums, for example. I don't follow the music closely enough to have informed opinions. But for other genres, I've paid attention enough to know at least some of the touchstones of those genres, and these are often the albums that my (or your) audience will know as well. Most effective music reviews will be a combination of comparisons to genre touchstones, personal reaction, and scintillating prose! I'm often missing one or more of those components in what I write. But I think you sell yourself short if you believe that you have to be intimately familiar with every artist's complete back catalogue before you can write an effective review.

Edited by Andy Whitman
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Similarly, I've seen far too many mediocre or bad albums given a free pass because the performer or band in question happens to be a longtime critical favorite.

Rolling Stone magazine is particularly guilty of this, as long-standing bands are almost guaranteed to get three or more stars, no matter how bad the album may be.

I'm guilty of using hyperbole. I've pared my writing down over the past few years, but occasionally statements like "this is the best thing I've ever heard" pop out. I hate it! My writing on A&F is often cluttered with hyperbole too, which upsets me. I spend very little time editing when I write on forums. I wish this weren't the case.

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Jeffrey says "I just don't know enough to say the kinds of things about an album that music critics are expected to declare." But that is why we need you to keep writing about music! The things that music critics are expected to declare are boring! I have to agree with what Andy has said here. There was a time when I declared I was dropping out of the music review business (I've since rejoined it, because hey, money) for similar reasons, but really I think all we can expect -- certainly all I want -- from an album review is an honest reaction from someone I trust. I don't trust a lot of writers, especially not the ones who only seem to be interested in name-dropping or pinning down obscure genres (remember Mark Judge's piece in B&C?). Andy used the phrase "human connections" in his blog entry responding to that piece. I like that.

For me, I guess comes down to my desire to say "here's what I think!" And that desire is perhaps unnecessarily strong. I try not to write much about music I don't like, because I figure life's short and there is plenty of really good and interesting music, and maybe I can help some people discover something that I loved and that maybe they will love, too.

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