A Critic's Job at Work

Rob Tannenbaum

We don't talk much about the increasingly absurd backroom aspects of this job—this business of begging for advance music, the crazy "agreements" we must make about where and with what equipment we listen to what the labels expect will be the next big. The artists should know that the work they spent months and serious psychic energy developing is often presented to the press under atrocious circumstances, and too often reviews are dashed off before the music has a chance to get under anyone's skin. That's not right, even when the product in question is one of those just-add-water Neptunes beats.

Tom Moon
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Source is so full of shit it floats. Regardless of whatever evidence they had suggesting Hot 97 engages in payola, so fucking what? Payola makes all of Black music go 'round (ask Jack the Rapper). Hell, payola makes the whole friggin' planet go 'round (ask Dick Cheney). Whether it's cash or trade under the table for spins or ad space in a magazine for coverage, commercial Black music is so completely corrupted that it's the presumed matter of course.

Darrell McNeill
Brooklyn, New York

The biggest story this year wasn't the biggest story and it wasn't about music. When the principals of The Source with their questionable motives exhumed old recordings of Eminem not quite exactly serenading Black women, the hip-hop community let off a collective shrug and many media outlets skimmed over the story, all too happy to undertake the futile task of figuring out what the hell goes on in Michael Jackson's head and bedroom. It seems that most white people—even (especially?) the card-carrying liberal types—find child molestation more digestible table talk than the issue of race.

Kris Ex
Brooklyn, New York

The only reason no one calls people on sexist, racist, or homophobic language is fear—fear of losing the story, of losting advertising, of losing their comfy positions or not ascending to their desired positions. Well, what has that gotten anyone? Blender?

Daphne Carr
Providence, Rhode Island

More than few noticed Liz Phair's plea to fans: "I am extraordinary/If you'd ever get to know me." But what about her message to wrongheaded critics and hurt five-year-olds everywhere: "What does it mean when something changes how its always been?/And in your head you keep repeating the line/My mother is mine."

Werner Trieschmann
Little Rock, Arkansas

The kinds of songs on the new Liz Phair record aren't inherently good or bad--they just don't suit her skills as a composer or singer. The record's emotional mode—post-teen-pop? post-op?—doesn't push her to discover the odd chord changes, the unsettling shifts in song structure, the kinds of melodies where her technically weak and highly personal voice can do its passionate, articulate thing. They're songs someone else should have been singing; I dunno, maybe Kelis.

Joshua Clover
Berkeley, California

Liz Phair: "A bizarre form of career suicide"? Yeah, a form of career suicide that lands one of your songs on a Now That's What I Call Music compilation can certainly be considered bizarre. But somehow I don't think that's what Meghan O'Rourke meant when she slathered her embittered ex-fan goop all over the pages of the Times' Arts and Leisure section. I don't much care what she meant, but I do think it's sad that almost all rock writing has come to this—hipsters with a delusional sense of entitlement mistaking attacks of personal pique for flashes of genuine insight. Surely this is not what Lester Bangs died for.

Glenn Kenny
Brooklyn, New York

It seemed like no reviewer of Mainlines could resist the parlor game of wondering what Lester Bangs would be into were he still alive. Everybody's answers were "well of course he'd love this and he'd hate that," all of which sounded like "we would be best fwends."

Michael Daddino

I also have no patience with and feel quite sorry for idiot rock critics who think "pop hits and hip-hop are suddenly very good!"; idiot rock critics who think "our generation's newfound ability to inexpensively download individual songs online" opens up a world of discovery that hadn't pretty much always been available on the radio and TV and jukeboxes and mixtapes and dance clubs and used record stores in the first place; idiot rock critics who think albums are any less albumlike now than they've always been; idiot rock critics who rejoice that "there are still acts out there who make quality albums built to last and not just a couple transitory hit singles"; idiot rock critics who think it was okay for Liz Phair to discuss her sex life when she was in her 20s but now it's somewhat unseemly since she's over 30 and all; idiot rock critics who think 40-year-old white guys who like hip-hop are unseemly; idiot rock critics who think grownups who like Justin Timberlake are perverse; idiot rock critics who like Justin Timberlake now but used to call me perverse for liking "Ice Ice Baby" and Will to Power and Amy Grant; idiots obscurantist enough to "still not get" the Strokes or White Stripes but who hype scores of more generic garage bands; idiots lazy enough to believe the Strokes and White Stripes are the best garage bands out there; idiots who think the Strokes and White Stripes are garage bands in the first place; idiots in the Strokes; idiots in the White Stripes; and um, lots of other people. (Many of which idiot categories sometimes include me.)

Chuck Eddy
Brooklyn, New York

As a critic I figure part of my job is to mediate, which is what my reviews and lists try to do. But try as I do, I'm just one data point in a vast and increasingly unmanageable world.

Tom Hull
Wichita, Kansas

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