Little Touches: What I Dislike About Bad Reviews

Posted: June 7, 2012 by kingcrimsonprog in Life, Music Reviews

This post is about a list of a few things I’m sick of and don’t think should be included in any form music journalism (professional and amateur) in print, online or on screen.

Please note, that because tone is so difficult to convey online without tone-of-voice and without facial expressions or body language, some of my points may read like snarky mean-spirited digs if you are expecting them to, or if you disagree with any point and begin to feel defensive.

Just know that everything is actually intended to be delivered in a calm and reasoned tone that suggests, not demands, questions not condemns, and which only intends to highlight the unnecessary and clichéd way in we are all blindly writing. We should question why we are lazily writing the same things over and over and whether they are actually a good way to describe the music we want to discuss.

I have to admit that I am guilty of having used a lot of these terrible clichés in the past, especially when I was younger but I like to think that if I can outgrow it that other people can to. I just want you to think about how stupid some of these things actually are, and how much better reviews and articles could be without them.

Again; This is not intended as an attack on people who do use these terms or phrases, just a list of things that I would rather see disappear. If you use any of these terms, don’t feel offended, just consider what I’ve said and perhaps stop using them so much if you begin to agree with me. Still with me? Ok…

1. ‘For The Masses’ – Eg. ‘A new Slayer album for the masses’ ‘Cyber-Metal for the masses’ etc. –- I can see how it all stems back to the Metal For The Masses compilation album title, but it seems to me that it shouldn’t have become as overused as it has now.

2. Unnecessary Alliteration – Eg. ‘Teutonic Terror’ ‘Metal Madness’ ‘Guitar Gods’ ‘French Fury’ ‘Polish Power’ etc –- If you aren’t trying to sell preteens something, many decades ago, then this sort of thing doesn’t have a place. If you aren’t actively marketing to young people why write as if you are?

3. Exaggerated Violence in analogies or from abstract concepts – Eg. ‘The atmosphere is so bleak its like the listener is being raped by Jonathan Davis’ ‘So heavy the listener explodes into flames’ ‘The drummer pummels the listener until their ears melt off’ ‘Makes you want to beat the shit out of someone’ –- Again, I can understand the appeal of this talk in tempting in new preteens and maybe magazines need to do it for financial reasons but it is a ludicrous thing for an educated and reasonable adult to write and we should all just stop parroting these types of clichés just because we read them when we were young or just because they are ‘a part of our culture.’ They are a slightly embarrassing part of our culture and could be generously called a necessary evil at best. Wouldn’t it be better if albums didn’t bludgeon our grandmothers to death and piss on their ashes? Wouldn’t it be better if a reasonable description of the contents was written, accompanied by a well thought out opinion on its quality? Wouldn’t it be better to be helpful for the reader rather than just amusing yourself with ludicrous combinations of violent imagery that could be easily made for entertainment purposes outside of a product review?

4. Abuse of ‘The Best Album Since…’ – Eg. ‘Vol 3 is the best Slipknot album since the Self-Titled’ — This can be useful information, if the band has been on a long downward spiral of disappointing critical, commercial and fan reception. If the last six albums were dreadful for band and fan alike then when the new album is good again, the best/since statement should be used. If a band only released three albums and the third one gets called the best album since their debut, then the sentence should be deleted. It is not helpful information or indeed the best way to convey that this album was better than the one which preceded it.
If all of the band’s albums have been of a relatively similar quality, and suddenly one still-similar album is released, it isn’t the best album since an earlier one either.

5. On Drugs – Eg. ‘our new album is like our last one on drugs’ ‘Soulfly is like Sepultura on crack’ ‘Mastodon are like Crowbar on Acid’ ‘Sun O))) are Black Sabbath taking Ketamine’ — Its just such a lazy analogy and its been written a thousand times before you ever lifted a pen or touched a keyboard… so why write it again? Is it really an effective way of describing most things?
Sure, perhaps ‘On Acid’ connotes a 1960s Psychedelic-rock influence and maybe ‘On Speed’ may connote that the record is of a relatively high tempo, but why bother? It could be described infinitely more interestingly if you use your own creatively and more accurately if you use existing adjectives or terminology. Why add another on-drugs analogy to the billion that have already been written?

6. One dimensional Sex analogies – Eg. ‘Sex In Musical From’ ‘Aural Orgasm’ ‘Jizz-inducing Metal’ ‘Has Sex With Your Ear Drums’ –- For the exact same reason as the drugs analogies.

7. Empty or uninformed guarantees, ultimatums, defensive attitudes or name calling – Eg. ‘Every single listener will love this’ ‘Everyone hated their last album’ ‘If you don’t like this you are a pussy’ ‘Only idiots could possibly like this.’ –- Everyone has different opinions, there are no absolutes in the world of personal opinion. You are acting as if your opinion is better than someone who disagrees with you, when in fact everyone’s informed opinion is as valid as each other. Also making absolute statements is deceitful and a misrepresentation of the truth that will potentially distort uniformed reader’s opinions.

8. Addressing the band – Eg. ‘Dear Mr. Osbourne, please retire!’ ‘Time to hang up the drum sticks Mr. Collins’ ‘If you are reading this, Mr. Manson…’ ‘I want my money back Burton!’ –- You are not likely important enough for the artist to read your review, or even if they did by chance, you are not important enough for them to actively care, and even if they do by chance, you are not important enough to make them act. You are just parroting reviews from a time when critics actually mattered significantly enough to alter hundreds of thousands of opinions and you should think about this before writing like you could do this yourself.

9. Mean-Spirited Puns – Eg. ‘The Final Countdown? I hope it’s the FINAL one!’ ‘Earache? You’re telling me!’ ‘Downer? They certainly are one!’ — Firstly its mean-spirited and you shouldn’t write reviews mean-spiritedly, and secondly most of the jokes will have been made a thousand times before, they are so obvious they don’t need pointing out. It makes you seem less clever for having made them.

10. Jokey Weight Analogies – Eg. ‘Heavy as a really heavy thing’ ‘Heavy as a concrete Rhino’ ‘Heavy as Marlon Brando’s butt cheeks’ -– They’ve all been done. It was fine the first few times, but what are you adding now? Why would yours be any better than the 20,000 existing permutations ?

11. Using things other people created – Eg. ‘Eighteen Legged Death Machine’ -– Its fine the first time someone comes up with something like this, when it’s the product of their own creativity. If you then use it, it’s just stealing other people’s writing. Use your own creativity or else just deal in facts.

12. TXT Speak – Eg. ‘2 Hot 4 TV’ ‘@ The Astoria’ ‘They suck, lol jk’ -– They don’t have a place in reviews. You don’t usually have to convey the information in a hugely limited number of characters, so why not just write properly? TXT Speak has a place and a purpose and was a useful invention, for TXT. It isn’t as necessary outside of TXTs or Twitter.

My idea of a really bad review:
“Now I no why deyre called fear factory… cuz I’m scared I’ll have 2 liten 2 this crap again. They can’t write 4 toffe ffs. Who likes dis crap? If you like it u must be a poser cuz this is not even metal. Dino, why don’t u just lose some weight n get bk 2 what ur good @? Writing riffs that rip your face off and send robots down your nose 2 rape ur lungs ? When I herd that theyre was sum more maniacal mechanic-metal 4 the masses I was excited but listening 2 this album is like being raped in the ear by a broken bottle that was infected with aids then set on fire. I want fear factory 2 rite riffs that are as heavy as adele after a year-long pie binge, not this sell out crap. They should be heavier than dino’s fat ass. Everyone ever nos that the last good fear factory album is soul of a new machine, that’s just the facts, sorry 2 have 2 break it 2 u ! Dat was an album that was just sex on a disc, it made u spunk out of ur ears. it was like napalm death on acid after watching all da terminator movies, it was the best album they dun since concrete and they will never get better. Fact. 4 stars.”

Now if you have been offended by anything I’ve written, and wish to complain, I suggest that you re-read it in the context with which it was written. I realize that some of it looks like it may be written in an angry or confrontational way but it wasn’t. It is just a calm explanation of things that I dislike. The aim of this blog post is the aim of every civilized blog post… “Here are some of my thoughts and opinions. Please agree with them and act accordingly.”

If you write reviews or articles about music anything like my example of a bad review… why not consider writing without any of the twelve points I’ve raised here for a few dozen reviews and then see for yourself which is better?

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Comments
  1. Are these things you actually hate or are they just things you’ve noticed a lot?

    I agree with the majority of these but must point out that your tenth and eleventh point contradict each other.

    Like

    • Not hate, more dislike. I think that they make up the majority of bad reviews and reduce the quality of otherwise good reviews. They’re relied on too heavily without ever really being questioned. We don’t all work for MetalHammer and we aren’t all trying to get the next generation of P7s and 1st Years to buy our mag. But it often reads like a lot of us are, simply because we still write like they do.

      Also I can’t see how 10 and 11 contradict each other:

      11- Perpetuating everyday memes (unimpressively) is bad.
      10 – Plagiarizing creative writings and turning them into everyday memes is bad.

      As to your other question that I’ve edited out here – I suspect it was him that dropped those 6-9 votes within one half-hour, yes. Pretty sure because on a surprising number of things he’s always the one after me. Wouldn’t know how to prove it though.

      Like

      • Oh, forgot:
        Yeah, good, entertaining and original alliteration is absolutely fine. Its the constant usage of the same old ones. Too many have just become stock, there are some ones that people just cannot bring themselves not to use, so that 20 out of the 30 reviews you read will all have them.

        Its doubly bad if its already a culturally significant one like Metal For The Masses or Metal For Muthas or Metal Madness. Why not also suggest that System Of A Down are the master of puppets and long may they reign in blood ?

        If you can be entertaining and creative with it them you’ve already been exempted from my criticism, because essentially I’m saying ‘You know what’s not entertaining, in part due to its lack of creativity ? This list…’

        Like

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