Record Reviews are Worthless

Keep music evilWe at Glorious Noise try to be open minded. We like to think of ourselves as music fans first. But in the three and half years GLONO has been around, we have barely touched on Metal as a genre. That’s a shame and to remedy the situation, we are proud to introduce a new contributor, D. Alan Nash.

“In our youth we still venerate and despise without the art of nuance…”—Nietzsche

Ten years ago I heard a friend, on a mountain-top of Sativa, say “Rockin’ with Dokken!” And the humorous thing for those of us involved is that he really meant it. Now, ten days ago, I heard the very same friend denounce this same group. Was he more right either of these times?

I would argue for the momentarieness of musical appreciation. Each listener has a zeitgeist of receptivity at any given moment. If many persons are attuned to this same zeitgeist, then that is what we call popularity.

So all a record review can do is argue from a perspective that the reader may or may not be attuned to. A reader would best be served if the reviewer were to convey, in the prose, some sense of how someone who actually likes this music would think. Perhaps more than just thinking would be all of the various emotions, attachments, affiliations, and credences that the lover of such music would have.

This brings up the problem of what to do with something like Ronnie James Dio’s Sacred Heart. One is reminded of drummer Vinnie Appice’s comment that the album was “…a steaming pile of pooh.” Here we can say that someone made this album. And some kind of rotten drugs must have convinced the makers that it was in some way good.

So for this particular album a reviewer should try to convey the sheer idiocy of the mindless Dio fan. This is no small task. It requires the steadfast ingestion of a legion of cheaply made intoxicants. It requires the destruction of any semblance of sanitary listening room habits. Things need to be thrown about—relationships, bottles, entire glimpses of hopes and dreams—gone, out the window, or preferably onto the floor.

But what record reviewer is willing to go to such ridiculous extremes to listen to a Dio record? Yet that is precisely what is done for the typical record review. It just so happens that the typical U2 reviewer does about the same things that Bono does daily. That is to say, complain, complain some more, cash checks, look in the mirror, admire one’s genetic predispositions, complain, and retire for the evening. So it is with the typical Dio fan. That is to say, drink Jack, drive Trans Am, hit girlfriend, ingest semi-known substance of a powdery descent, trim moustache, puke blood, and retire for the evening.

Now are either of these two wrong? Not a bit. It’s just that very few record reviewers, or any other kinds of reviewers, really delve into the mentality of the actual consumer. The reviews are always from the singular perspective of the reviewer only. The true task of a reviewer is this and this only: to don the mask of the actual purchasing customer so that the reader can decide if this particular way of thinking is aligned with the zeitgeist that is dominant in his or her mind at the time.

And here is the most important thing! Whichever mindset is being approached, it should be celebrated, embraced, and praised fully. Why? Because when we realize how interesting that other mindset can be, we become insiders to a mentality that is outside us.

D. Alan Nash is a student of philosophy and an expert in many fields including but certainly not limited to eighties metal, basketball, and alcohol consumption. He has been incarcerated in five different states (10%) and ticketed in several others.

12 thoughts on “Record Reviews are Worthless”

  1. “The true task of a reviewer is this and this only: to don the mask of the actual purchasing customer…”

    There are two problems with this approach. The first problem is that it assumes that all purchasers of a particular album think the same way, which is ludicrous. While you might be able to approximate the trappings of a “typical” purchaser of a certain album (and there are problems with the whole notion of a “typical” fan of any genre of music as soon as you run into one who doesn’t fit your pre-conceived notion of who that “typical” person is) by snorting a rail of meth, downing a fifth of jack, hitting your girlfriend and driving your Camaro into the back of a semi, those superficial and frankly stereotypical trappings tell you relatively little about what the individual thinks beyond make broad generalizations.

    Second, and I started to touch on this with the first point, we can never really know what another is thinking, let alone what a large group of people are thinking, because each listening experience, and each listener, while they might be generally similar, are in fact singular experiences and singular personalities. I don’t know about you, but my rock and roll crystal ball don’t work so good.

    Better to fully express your own reaction to and relationship with an album as completely and eloquently as possible, since that’s the only experience you can really know, and hope that you’re persuasive enough to save the world from spending money on Dio or exhorting the world to buy a new Iron Maiden album that has no right to kick as much ass as it does. (Yes, I’m referring to Dance of Death.)

    So, yeah, I don’t much care what you suppose the typical Dio fan thinks. I’d much rather read what you think.

  2. I thought this was an interesting philosophical argument, fun to read though not very plausible. It’s against received wisdom to try to take on an aesthetic sensibility other than your own. D. Alan is saying that it’s better to understand a sensibility than criticize an artist who’s speaking to it. That would eliminate critical response, maybe in a utopian way? We should all embrace rather than criticize? But then what about values? Don’t critics actually yearn for art to rise to its highest possibilities and complain when it doesnt’?

    Ultimately I agree with Jaime — you can’t really sink into another person’s mentality, especially when you don’t respect it. Though I think to some extent you try to, when you listen to a performer you don’t particularly like but are trying to review fairly. You try to find things to praise. But I don’t think that’s the same as getting inside the head of someone for whom this music is transcendant.

  3. Umm. . .as “zeitgeist” typically refers to the “spirit of the age,” meaning the prevailing idea of a society, how is it that there are individual zeitgeists? Wouldn’t that be to simply say that people have individual tastes? Pedestrian perhaps, but. . .

  4. “Though I think to some extent you try to (sink into another person’s mentality) when you listen to a performer you don’t particularly like but are trying to review fairly.”

    I’d say that even this is a dishonest approach to rendering an accurate opinion about something you’ve listened to. It’s okay to find an album irredeemably bad, just explain why you think so baring in mind that when you describe the new Mastodon album as cacophonous, where that might be a pejorative description to you, it might be that “cacophony” is exactly what the Mastodon fan is looking for.

    P.S. I haven’t heard the new Mastodon album, I’m just using it as a “fer’instance.”

  5. Bah! Moral relativists.

    I keep my Zeitgeist of Receptivity in the Jelly Bunker I’ve dug below my house. I usually let it age for a full turn of seasons and it becomes more delicious and complex than ever.

  6. um… is it possible that he’s trying to say that the reviewer needs to speak to the audience in terms they’ll understand (buy it or don’t) rather than in terms of whether he would be proud of having produced it if he were, say, dio?

    although i enjoy debates on the singularity of the listening experience/repetition of the word zeitgeist as much as the next guy. although i suspect the next guy finds them tedious.

  7. When did a metal review turn into a philisophical debate? My excitement to read a glono metal review was crushed this morning by a vocabulary tennis match. Although I enjoy well crafted journalistic expressionism, I wanted to read about some fuckin’ metal!

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