Writing a Review: Obligation to the Artist?

Recently, a group of us at work listened to the album Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons. The opinions ranged from decent to current favorite of the year. As we have read other reviews coming out from publications, we saw that many of the reviews echoed our sentiments. The album is not groundbreaking, nor does it ever try to be. What it is is well-produced, with solid music and (again) at the very least decent vocals/harmonies. However, one publication blasted the album with an extremely low score that actually caught a coworker's surprise, and he emailed the link for us to read. Ultimately, the low score seemed to be based on the fact that the group sounded like other bands, was not original, and was pointless.

I am not going to name the publication, nor am I going to review the album anymore than saying that I have enjoyed the album so far. What this review did was raise an interesting point: If you really hate an album (regardless of whether your opinion is "correct" in the view of others), should you really review it at all? Reviews both positive and negative can have a tremendous impact in the success of an album, and a band. Positive reviews, whether justified or not (like an album by Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Dylan, Kings of Leon in Rolling Stone) means only good things, but a negative review can mean the beginning of the end. Since there are so many blogs and music publications out there, how many are affected by the other? How many reviewers may be basing some of their opinions on what they have already read, and in turn how many readers form opinions before even giving the music a chance?

We'd like to think all of our opinions are freely formed, but we know this is not the case. With a positive review, we may buy the music, realize later we don't like it, and that's the end, but at least the band achieved the sale. A negative review means no sale, no concert, maybe no new and dedicated fans. It's exponential loss.

What I have enjoyed about this blog is the fact that we generally focus on music we like; music or albums we don't care for may be mentioned in passing, but we don't drag them through the mud. This frees people to make their own decision, and not perhaps cause a chain reaction that severely limits a group's chances. I often think of movies not screened for critics: Usually this is because they are awful but often they end up having a decent opening weekend, then putter out once the collective masses discover the general suckiness. If an album is bad, people will ultimately find that out, and a truly bad artist will disappear.

So, a few things: Should a critic review an album they hated, or just ignore and focus on the ones that they WANT to talk about? What albums have you bought based primarily on reviews, or have avoided based on bad ones?

A final side note: My Old Kentucky Blog provides an interesting counterview to Mumford that we thought was very perceptive and fair, without the anger and spite of the "other" review.



Poindexter said...

Good article Chris. Since you won't name the "other" website that reviewed the album poorly I will. Pitchfork. I've read a lot of bad album reviews from that site. I CANNOT take them seriously. They seem to get off on butchering artists. That site is a complete joke in my eyes and there are so many other music review sites including this one that give an in depth and honest opinion. And for that, I thank you J.O.C.

Bang Potential said...

I never minded Pitchfork's trashing of an artist until I went to a great Dent May show at the Jackpot that was nearly empty and realized that tons of supposedly enlightened indie fans don't weight PF's opinion, but depend on it solely. Still, the problem isn't with PF and critics who we should want out there actively debating, but with short sighted people who don't investigate both sides any issue.

Bang Potential said...

p.s. that said it does take a considerable amount of hubris or knowledge to justify writing a negative review of an album, and as far as Mumford goes I think I'll find myself arguing both sides depending on which friend I'm talking to

Matt said...

I can't knock someone for not liking an album (and thus, giving it a bad review) I just wonder how they feel knowing they are holding a small bands career in their hands. That may be an exaggeration, but in some cases it's true. I can think of one example when they gave the Black Kids EP a 8.4, but the full length a 3.1. It's just interesting to see them build up hype for a band and then crush it.

BP is right on though, the problem isn't with P4K, but with indie kids that view P4K as their bible. There are a ton of kids out there that will buy and album or skip an album purely based on their reviews, and that is sad. That's not P4K's fault, but they probably need to think about that when they are dishing out really low scores. Maybe offer a contrasting opinion from another writer in these cases.

Matt said...

Not to continue to trash P4K (I still check out Pitchfork TV quite often) but another huge inconsistent I noticed with their reviews.

When it first came out, the album Rooty by Basement Jaxx got a 3.8 (http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/571-rooty/), yet, when it comes to putting together their top albums of the entire decade, Rooty lands in the top 50 (http://pitchfork.com/features/staff-lists/7709-the-top-200-albums-of-the-2000s-50-21/2/) at number 33!

That don't make no kind of sense.

Chris said...

Wow. I think this article contains the most comments I've ever had. Definitely an interesting issue, and one that I think is tied to the age we live in. On one hand, multiple sources can provide us with thousands of POVs regarding one artist, and can provide a well-rounded idea of said artist (thank you, Metacritic). On the other hand, if these reviews can effect each other, then you can have a large, overriding bias that can scare people off without experiencing it first hand. I do like how most online reviews provide at least one song, so someone can listen to it themselves.

One band I bought despite subpar reviews was Kasabian (their first album). Probably deserved, but they had about four tracks that were pretty fun, so I can't say I regret buying the album. That being said, I won't buy them again