Saturday, December 30, 2017

Criticism: a question of give and take

Nettled by a musician's recent stinging criticism of amateur music bloggers, one such blogger, Michelle Lindsey of Highway Queens, posted a reasoned but firm defence. She argued that enthusiasm and the personal dimension are the most important things, that moaning about unprofessionalism is ridiculous, that everyone has the right to a voice and that ultimately what matters is "to share the love of music".

I found myself nodding along in agreement - but was then struck by the thought that doing so effectively makes me a hypocrite. After all, when it comes to sticking the boot into bands, I'm guilty as charged. If it's unfair to castigate and mock amateur music writers for doing something they love, then is it not also unfair to castigate and mock amateur musicians for the same reason? To accept the former proposition but reject the latter is, at very least, an uncomfortable position to hold. Lindsey doesn't deny that some writers are better than others - and perhaps we have to accept that writers of all hues should be as fair game for criticism as musicians are.

Certainly, I have no problem in subscribing to the view that the efforts of musicians are legitimate targets for negative as well as positive commentary. In that respect, I wholeheartedly agree with Luke Turner, who has argued the case for genuinely critical criticism in a recent piece for Crack, in the course of outlining why changes within the media mean that such reviews appear to be a dying breed. It's vitally important that critics shouldn't feel pressured to be dishonest and write only in positive terms that will keep PR flunkeys happy - something that sadly seems to be on the increase.

Turner's article appears to have been prompted by the reaction to his Quietus demolition of Public Service Broadcasting's Every Valley, as discussed in a previous post. Regular readers of this site will know that his characterisation (caricaturisation) of the LP as "a tacky and inept album that turns the collapse of the Welsh mining industry into a gin-in-a-jam-jar musical turn at a bunting-strewn village fete" is not one I endorse - on the contrary, I recently named it my favourite of 2017. But we can agree to disagree over the album's merits. What really rankles is Turner's declaration that "The best criticism takes the weaknesses within a piece of art and turns them against it, rather than personally attacking the artist themselves. The critic has a duty to the artist to treat them fairly, to not go in studs up with preconceptions". Absolutely right - but something that Turner himself completely ignored in savaging Every Valley. As he admitted on Twitter: "I've always disliked that band but you need a review to hang it on. Or hang them on." In demanding honesty of everyone else, Turner should remember to hold himself to the same standards.

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