Album Reviews Have Been Useless for Decades


The "usefullness" of an album review is derived from the idea that there were a handful of really cool guys who could tell you what was good and what was bad. That era existed in the minds of the Sixties generation, which conformed with gusto and followed publications like Rolling Stone into a Beatles and Stones world. It was simply not cool if Rolling Stone didn't say it was cool, and if it wasn't a lesser work in comparison to the Beatles, then forget it.

Well, I shouldn't say just The Beatles. An elite cadre of respected "critics" have spent decades trying to enforce taste on people by getting them to buy a Captain Beefheart album that, year in and year out, simply does not sell. Despite glowing reviews, no one wants to hear it. Despite critical acclaim, most people still, to this day, reject the album as trash. No one publication has tried so desperately to sell a failed album--Trout Mask Replica--than Rolling Stone. Each and every time they mention it, an angel in Heaven explodes into flames.

More hype has been delivered about this album than virtually any other in rock history and yet, no one ever really buys it or bothers with it because it is derivative trash and junk from the 1960s. This has also sustained Lou Reed's career for far too long as well. He ceased to be relevant decades ago but critical acclaim has kept him in the spotlight long after his own sell-by date. The Who continue to tour despite having nothing to say. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues to exclude legitimate rock and roll artists while letting in others who have never had anything to do with Rock and Roll.

But Captain Beefheart is a critical success by virtue of what an elite thinks of his "art." Oh, sure. People swear by it. But that's done chiefly to elevate their "taste" over yours and exclude others from a secret club. This is the legacy of rock criticism--creating phony levels of cool that ignore what is actually good rock and roll music. Step one is, find someone who excludes others. Step two is, spend decades flogging that dead horse. Step three is, sustain yourself at all costs by being irrelevant and open to no new ideas.

Consumers have never been placed at the forefront of any consideration. Instead of what it good you are subjected to the bias of others and a desire to eliminate anyone who doesn't conform to their tastes. How does beginning with a mentality that excludes others translate into determining what is actually great rock and roll? I would think that inclusiveness and an open mind would be preferable, but, of course, I don't listen to what's cool and therefore I am suspect.

This post is also pretty useless. Who cares what an artist says about a critic on Twitter? Is there anything of substance being exchanged through name calling? Eliminating the stranglehold that the leftovers of the Baby Boom generation have on rock "criticism" has been the real issue. Holdovers from Rolling Stone frequent places like the Huffington Post and the like, offering up their standard playbook--everything you like sucks because you didn't start out with Trout Mask Replica and Sgt. Pepper as your all-time favorites. Bah.

Why waste your time on a review? No one ever gets it right. This is 2013--the album is dead. And the rock critic isn't dead as well? Please.

Look at the cover of Rolling Stone, above. The "five star masterpiece" of which they refer is U2's No Line on the Horizon album, which was a commercial bomb all over the world; more people went to see the U2 360° Tour (7.2 million) than actually bought No Line on the Horizon (somewhere north of 5 million). It was a hugely disappointing failure, and the album review reflects just how out of touch Rolling Stone actually is with what is commercially viable and critically acceptable.

I would never tell anyone what they HAVE to buy but I would tell people that supporting artists is practically the only way to ensure that music continues to be made. I readily champion anyone who uses Bandcamp and the like to get their music out there but I won't vouch for anything because I refuse to consider myself a music critic. Music is entirely subjective; something you hate today becomes a favorite at a different time in life. Reactions are irrational in many cases, and change over time.

I will tell you what I like and don't like, but I will not issue my opinions behind some veil of having an exclusive club that you cannot join; people have to decide for themselves what is good or bad. For all I know, No Line on the Horizon is a great album. I gave up trying to listen to it early on and I don't regret doing so.