A Critic's Job at Work

I've but one comment, and that is to state that I will never again use the word "achingly" in a record review. I would like all my brothers and sisters in reviewing to join me in that pledge.

Gaylord Fields
Jersey City, New Jersey

I look forward to reading the witty witticisms and snarky malaprop tooting of the poll comments, of upper-echelon critics putting the crosshairs on easy targets and shitting on the big names for failing us, praising old dudes for keeping the dream alive. Jackson Browne Box Set, anyone? Free cum rag autographed by Jann Wenner with every purchase!

Jessica Hopper
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Ryan Schreiber: You said "Stacy's Mom" was "too catchy." I am still waiting for you to explain how this is a bad thing and/or to knee you swiftly in the groin. Just use the regular address. Best wishes, me.

Michael Barthel
Brooklyn, New York

A few observations from another year of editing 2,000 or so record reviews: "Derivative," by itself, isn't a legitimate term of criticism. The passive voice, like, sucks. Description is not the same thing as insight. Each singing voice is unique, and as such is likely to merit characterization. Lastly, did you pay attention to the words?

Rob Tannenbaum

Between the difficulty in finding talented writers an convincing my boss the work of said writers doesn't exist merely to decorate advertising banner, the fight for quality has been an uphill battle. When you see Blender swallow Rolling Stone and hear about hard times at the Voice, you begin to ask the Great Rock Critic in the Sky, "What's it all about, Lester?"

Michael Tatum
Carlsbad, California

The wisdom of rock editors. In early fall, before Room on Fire came out, the Strokes were no-brainer for the tastemaking honchos of the rock press. There was jockeying over covers and exclusivity, there was the coveted "buzz." In the end, Rolling Stone did the obvious "partying with," Spin published five different cover images (one for each Stroke), and the record sank into that special bin marked "sophomore oblivion." Next!

Tom Moon
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I am a 41-year-old single, straight, white male writer for the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. When I am not writing about development and stormwater runoff for the North Raleigh News section, I review albums for the Arts & Entertainment section and write features for the What's Up section (the last one I did was on Rocket From the Tombs). I review about 50 new albums a year and listen to about maybe 75. I love: punk rock, hip-hop, good blues. I hate: Fox News, 50 Cent, and that Darryl Worley song. I may have additional comments later, but right now I have to get back to writing about development and stormwater runoff.

Danny Hooley
Durham, North Carolina

The itch is palpable, a genuine jones as overpowering as any urge for a cigarette or other drug that I've never bothered to touch. I'm 45, I know more than I've ever known about music, I hear more than I've ever heard, and I just can't stop myself from wanting to hear things for the first time more than I want to hear what I've heard before.

Steve Pick
St. Louis, Missouri

When is it enough? When do you have enough records? Have enough cheesy rock bios? Seen enough gigs? How much of a blur does everything have to become in your head before you close the door and confront a lifetime's (or at least half of one's) accumulation?

David M. Snyder
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When a critic lists an obscurity, that's often not an effort to sway the consensus; rather, it's an invitation to share a personal, overlooked pleasure. When I read a critic's list, I do two things: 1) use the ratings of things that I'm familiar with to estimate whether I think the critic is going to be useful for me; and 2) if the critic seems worthwhile, I look at the unfamiliar items and consider investigating them further. Sure, it's possible that this is done to show off—e.g., to show how far one will go to bring back precious loot. But there's also some basic economic theory behind this: critics, like products, may want to differentiate themselves.

Tom Hull
Wichita, Kansas

The idea that people listen to only one kind of music has always been ridiculous. But I've rarely had it driven home more potently than during a monthlong stretch early last year. Nelly played a sold-out show at the city auditorium and a few weeks later, Good Charlott and NOFX did the same. I saw plenty of young people at both shows. But the real headturner came at an alt.country show (Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jason Boland and the Stragglers) at a local boot-scooting club where I spotted a dozen or so who had been at Good Charlotte. After a few minutes of conversation, it turned out that most of them had also been at Nelly.

L. Kent Wolgamott
Lincoln, Nebraska

Most rock critics have rooted for the downloaders, partly because we understand their ruthless love of music, and partly because we share their disregard for greedy record labels, but the file- sharers have done harm to the quality of reviewing. You want to hear the Jay-Z record? Come to a listening session at the record company. You want to hear the new Murs? Better like the voiceover ID stamp that runs through it every 20 seconds, rendering it unlistenable. Interested in the new Korn? Well, YOU CAN'T HAVE IT.

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