Music Criticism and Reviews

DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina
edited June 2020 in Everyone

Background

Music Criticism as we know it now is an art that was born around the 18th century. From its very inception and especially in this digital age, the criticism against music critics has been its inseparable companion.

The main reason is, in my opinion, that critics almost never clearly state their way of thinking around music critiques. What they value, what they don't, their background, influences and ultimately why they like what they like and do not like what they don't.

I believe to be crucial that, at the time of reading any reviews (especially mine), you know beforehand how a critic writes them.

The origins of the words "Criticism", "Critique" and "Critic"

While Criticism also means finding fault, for the purposes of this article Criticism and Critique share the same meaning, the "art of estimating literary or artistic worth". I will also use the word "Review" as a synonym.

Criticism and Critique are derived from the French expression "critique" which has the Latin root "criticus" (a judger) tracing back to the Greek word "krinein" that means' judge' or 'decide' while the Greek term "kritikos" means "able to discern", which refers the Critic or person who does the review.

Main Ideas

How Do I Write a Review?

There's so many words to be written, so little space, limited time, and ultimately the reader's attention is a scarce resource...

What I value

This is what I look for in a reviewer, and I try to follow the same principles when it comes to writing a review:

Honesty. No, you cannot be objective as the picture of the blind justice. You are a subject, thus you are subjective. If you are open and honest about your tastes and the criteria that support your reviews that honesty will become clear to the reader.

Curiosity. Knowing your subject, listening to different kinds of music, investigating the artist's background and if possible the circumstances surrounding a certain release, giving examples, trying to paint a picture of what you do hear.

True love for at least a genre as a minimum. The love for music at large starts with maybe only one artist or a genre and over time it reflects on the reviews even though you might not be an expert in the genre you are actually reviewing

Practice. Devoting time to listening, reading as many reviews as you can, writing yours and openly accepting and asking for constructive feedback.

Patience. Listening to the albums from beginning to end several times and in different situations (at home, while doing other things, with headphones, etc.) before making any judgement, which should be substantiated in all cases.

Drive. Being driven by a passion for music that translates into the review, even (and especially) when stating what you think needs improvement.

Signed reviews. If you don't sign your own reviews, you are not allowing the reader to know where it comes from and, most importantly, whether they will like the actual music under review or not. An unsigned review is not honest.

What do I look for in an album under review on a practical basis?

I like memorable melodies, hooks, singers that can actually sing despite different vocal ranges, strong screaming guitars, prominent but at the same time subtle bottom end, energy (which is not the same as making your ears bleed whatsoever).

In addition to that, well-dosed drama, fun, nuances, balance between exciting moments and relaxed ones; and finally yet importantly, a good sound/production/engineering/mix which are not necessarily tied to the money spent on them.

Although I'm not looking for originality, I expect at least to be surprised and, why not, shocked in the best scenario.

Sounds too demanding? If I can identify at least a handful of the aforementioned, then it is a good album to these ears. The following are examples of assorted albums I rate high from around the same period to illustrate it.

ABBA's self-titled and KISS' 'Alive!' from 1975. Venom's 'Welcome To Hell' and Foreigner's '4' from 1981. Exciter's 'Long Live The Loud' and Baltimora's 'Living in the Background' from 1985.

My last examples are Bon Jovi's 'Slippery When Wet', Yngwie Malmsteen's 'Trilogy' and Megadeth's 'Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?', all from 1986.

My background

I recall listening to music on the radio while taking a nap with my father when I was still a toddler. Led Zeppelin are my first rock memory.

AC/DC shocked me at six years old with those screams courtesy of one Bon Scott in the song 'High Voltage', then Queen came in with 'A Night At The Opera'.

Finally, KISS put me on the definitive rock path that lasts until today. Hard Rock, Metal, Glam Metal, Thrash Metal, AOR, Pop, Westcoast, Glam Rock, I like them all.

I loved writing about everything from the country up to sports in my childhood, and I've been reading music reviews since then. I also collect rock magazines.

About four years ago, I contacted George (Gdazegod) 'cause I wanted to share my reviews at GDM. My native tongue is Spanish but I love writing reviews in English. I'm also an Accountant and have a Masters Degree in HR in process.

Other considerations

Musical language

Should we throw in musical terms in a review? A reviewer should be proficient at conveying the feeling of a song, but should not confuse readers with musical language for the sake of ego.

I mean, instead of talking about a Major or Minor chord, key or progression, a reviewer should just simply say that the vibe is upbeat/happy or more dramatic/sad, respectively.

It's also useless to talk about a Harmonic Minor passage when you can just state that it is Middle-Eastern-tinged or exotic-sounding.

Opinions are not Critiques

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"
The famous quote is attributed to Frank Zappa among others, but it seems actor Martin Mull was the first who used the phrase according to this source.

Anyway, are reviews worth it? Answer is a yes and I fully disagree with the aforementioned statement as far as they provide a useful new point of view to readers whom, in some cases now in the digital age, are also music consumers in the sense of buying public.

Therefore, music criticism is still valid in the age of streaming. This takes us straight to the next topic.

Opinions are not critiques. If a self-proclaimed critic does have neither a method, nor a protocol and does not comply with the minimum standards a proper review requires (I've made clear what they are for me in previous paragraphs), then what they write are opinions and not reviews. I'll give you a few examples.

A reviewer should write well or at least in a way readers can effortlessly understand. They have to avoid being biased towards either bad things (pure criticism) or good things (hype). Frequently, reviewers discuss how cool a musician's look or lifestyle is instead of focusing on the music.

Of course, opinions are valid. Everybody wants to share their opinions, and that's ok and technically allowed as never before in the digital age. However, an opinion is based on the old saying "to each their own" while a review has to follow several logical steps.

The Ratings issue

Ratings should be a fun feature to complement but never replace the review. If they choose to include ratings, reviewers need to be careful with the consistency of the ratings across albums and eras.

Often times we see current albums being highly rated as a rule, which is not good for comparison purposes. E.g., few current albums share the same rating with The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', although a (unprepared) reader might be misled to think so... :)

The opposite situation happens as well, rating classic albums higher than recent ones only because of the former's historical significance or popularity. Either way, reviewers need to be aware of these instances.

In Summary

There is good music and bad music as well, in all cases according to the critics' thoughts.

This essay was inspired by a 1989 article in the Argentine Magazine 'Madhouse', which was in print from 1989 up until 2001.

The article, written by journalist and Editor César Fuentes Rodrí­guez, was called "Sobre Crí­tica Y Los Crí­ticos" (Spanish for "About Critique And Critics". Ed.) and published on pages 21 and 22 of Madhouse #1 issue, May of 1989. See picture above.

César has been and still is a huge influence on me at the time of writing reviews. He paints in detail exactly what a recording sounds like, and the best I can say about his reviews (I don't know him in person) is that I knew I was gonna like bands he'd rated low because of how well thought-out his articles are.


All written content on this website belongs to GloryDazeMusic.com copyright. Duplication elsewhere on the Internet is strictly prohibited, unless specific permission is granted.

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Comments

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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia
    edited December 2019
    Wow very cool. Interestingly, my whole vision about this website was about preservation. As a fan of what could be considered to be a minority or fringe genre of music, let's be honest it is, it was important to write about all of these albums and bands and musicians to the point where their memory and their efforts could be preserved on the internet.

    This is as important now in 2019 as it was in 1999 when we first kicked off this website. Two decades hasn't really changed my thoughts on this. Thus I'm more inclined to worry about our written record for the older articles, more so than the new.

    To the many writers who have contributed to GDM, we must be doing something right. It's been a fun journey along the way sometimes preoccupied to the max but nevertheless when you're committed to something like this nothing stands in the way really. B)
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    The reviews on this site were what drew me in. Finding a review of albums by a band like, say Dakota... maybe the band is familiar to us, but those reviews are not common out there! This site serves as a reliable library for me.

    How do I mostly use this site? I’m a vinyl nerd, and I love digging through the bins at used record stores. Often I’ll come across a release from the mid-80s that I’m unfamiliar with that looks like it COULD be a decent AOR release. SO MANY TIMES I was able to find a review here at good ol’ GDM. Do you realize how amazing it is to be able to reference that right there at the store?

    Quickly I’ll know if it’s proggy, tech-based, southern boogie, etc. The reviews here are a really useful guide.

    I too collect music magazines (never threw one out, my attic contains many stacks of them). The reviews have always been my favorite section. Even if I totally disagree with the assessment, hearing the thoughts of another individual is always welcome to me.


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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia
    edited December 2019
    True José, as they are being added back they are also being cleaned up and slightly modified because we're now a few years down the track and some of the words need to be updated because they are out of context.
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    DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina
    edited June 2020
    Great considerations, Bill.

    One of the expected implications is the discussion around what readers actually want to find at GDM, something that was brought up a few months ago with regards to glory days reviews versus current ones.

    I'm also attracted to the site because it's one of the best , if not The best, Rock libraries out there (thanks George) and the main target is still those glory days, yet I do believe there's a healthy room for current times reviews and I'm driven to write about both the past and the present.

    Take care of that magazine collection, Bill. Everything music-related is a treasure :)

  • Options
    Good and interesting article. I like to think that I try to incorporate these guidelines when I write a review. It does keep me from reviewing albums that I don't particularly like, which is why most of my ratings are on the high side. I think I've only given one rating below an eight, which was a Daughtry album several years ago where they had clearly deviated from the sound I loved from their first three albums. I try to mention the things I value - at least I think I do that - so that readers can better understand my perspective.

    It is an interesting point about ratings being used in comparing newer albums to older ones. There are plenty of classic albums out there where my numerical rating would be way lower than what the album "deserves" for its historical significance. So I might give that latest Work Of Art album a ten while giving, say, that Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" a lower score based simply on my personal enjoyment of each of the albums. I think some reviewers take that into account, where newer albums are docked points simply because they're not breaking new ground. I hope I'm transparent enough that readers realize that I don't have that high on the list of things I value.

    Anyway, I think it's time for me to finally write the three articles that have been on my to-do list for the past couple of weeks. Thanks for the motivation :)
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    DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Jeff, you've made a great point about current albums ratings. It's the opposite situation to what's stated in the essay, rating classic albums higher than recent ones because of historical significance.

    Sometimes older albums have the benefit of more time on the reviewer's hands to digest them plus the nostalgic factor and a wider availability of other opinions praising them. That might lead to understating current albums when comparing them against classic ones.
  • Options
    Good and interesting article. I like to think that I try to incorporate these guidelines when I write a review. It does keep me from reviewing albums that I don't particularly like, which is why most of my ratings are on the high side. I think I've only given one rating below an eight, which was a Daughtry album several years ago where they had clearly deviated from the sound I loved from their first three albums. I try to mention the things I value - at least I think I do that - so that readers can better understand my perspective.

    It is an interesting point about ratings being used in comparing newer albums to older ones. There are plenty of classic albums out there where my numerical rating would be way lower than what the album "deserves" for its historical significance. So I might give that latest Work Of Art album a ten while giving, say, that Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" a lower score based simply on my personal enjoyment of each of the albums. I think some reviewers take that into account, where newer albums are docked points simply because they're not breaking new ground. I hope I'm transparent enough that readers realize that I don't have that high on the list of things I value.

    Anyway, I think it's time for me to finally write the three articles that have been on my to-do list for the past couple of weeks. Thanks for the motivation :)
    One of the interesting things about writing for Sea of Tranquility is that I'm sent a box of review CDs to work through with no prior knowledge of what I'm going to get. It makes me work outside of my comfort zone (sometimes good, sometimes really not good) while also leading me to review albums I don't particularly enjoy from time to time as well.

    I try not to be a hack who slags things off so, to me, it makes me work harder at trying to explain what I don't appreciate about an album. Sometimes that leads to some very curt emails from the artist/band involved but sometimes I get some very upbeat responses thanking me for the observations, which is a pleasant surprise!
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