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

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 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.

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

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?

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

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

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