A Little Back And Forth

As much as I harp on Pitchfork-the pomposity, the ‘we know better than you’ writing style, etc-, I have to admit they have their own style, an individual voice in the sea of mediocre blandness that has become rock criticism.

Album reviews and band criticism used to be by music obsessives for music obsessives. Critics like Lester Bangs, Lenny Kaye and even Robert Christgau loved music, and their writing reflected that. They wrote glowing reviews and, more often than not, wrote damning reviews. They took it very personally when a band they had previously championed took a dump. Lester Bangs was a very early champion of The Velvet Underground, for instance, and he had a love/hate relationship with Lou Reed his entire professional life, often baiting Reed in interviews. Reed, of course, being the crusty old dude he always was (Reed was never young; he always looked and acted like he was 70 years old), fought back often. But Lester’s haranguing was always out of a very deep respect for Reed’s as an artist, even if he did prefer his older, more groundbreaking work. I myself love Lou Reed’s excursion into glam-rock and consider Transformer a masterwork. Bangs hated it and thought it was a sell out, and so did a lot of folks. His reviews often went on for pages, for as long as it took, and you know what? People read the whole damn thing, and you know what else? People listened, discussed and obsessed over its most minute details for months. Some of his reviews are still being discussed today.

I’m rambling, but my point is Bangs voiced his singular opinion, made it known. Nowadays, as you’re scanning the music rags (what’s left of ‘em, anyway), you’ll be lucky to find a negative review, and you’ll be even luckier to find more than a terse paragraph more than 100 words.

It all started, apparently, when People magazine started publication. Its debut was March of 1974, an offshoot from parent company TIME magazine, and they were quick to capitalize on this whole “rock and roll fad” by making room for a little plot of land dedicated to album reviews. The reviews were short and almost 100% positive, making sure they steered clear of any negativity. People was, and remains, one of the worst magazines of all time. It’s a mere one step above the other gossip rags such as Weekly World News and the Enquirer. But it sold, and continues to sell, in the MILLIONS, far more than CREEM did even in its heyday. Other magazines followed suit hoping to capitalize on People’s success. Rolling Stone to this day is just a slightly hipper version (slightly) of People. And so it went for decades until…

The internet came along. The two largest expenses at a newspaper or a magazine are paper and people. The internet didn’t have to worry about the first, so independent bloggers and music lovers of all types started ‘publishing’ their often lengthy opinions on their fave albums and bands, some even going so far as to organize and create a communal publishing house for like minded individuals. You could update every week, every day or every hour if you wanted to, and your reviews could be a pithy and as lengthy as you wanted to make them. And you know what? People are reading the wole damn thing, and you know what else? People are listening, discussing and obsessing over their minute details.

So even though I don’t always agree with the nerds over at Pitchfork I am really glad they’re there. We need them now more than ever.