Birdman VS Album Reviewers

Birdman VS Album Reviewers


“…you just label everything. That is so fucking lazy, you’re a lazy fucker…”, then “…it’s just about crappy opinions backed up by even crappier comparisons…” and “…none of this costs you a fucking thing…” says Michael Keaton through the Riggan Thomson character in the Oscar- awarded “Birdman” movie. I know, I may have focused on a less significant part of the movie (excuse my ignorance, I am no cinema expert or a deep thinker), but being a music critic myself I just couldn’t escape resonating with what the charismatic actor says in this movie excerpt.

First of all, allow me to correct myself by saying that I don’t consider myself a music critic because I strongly believe there’s no such thing. And I would go ahead and extend my thinking to the food, wine, book or whatever critics are trying to say what is good and what is bad for my taste. Sure, this may come from my ignorance of all the technical details hidden behind the making of a specific food or wine, but think about it, can you place rules to one’s taste or to how a human perceives all the forms of art? No, is the definite answer and I will use the theory of relativity to back me up on this, because something that looks hideous to my eyes may mean the world to another person and the most shocking news is that none of us can be right or wrong. All the forms of art are just a collection of things that appeal to our minds, to our experiences as human beings (this is why your taste on things changes with age) and all the things that affect the number of neural synapses that constitute your brain and consequently your perception of reality. Everything is relative and nothing is absolute (I know using this ‘absolute’ statement creates an oxymoron here), so I will repeat myself by underlining that there is no way to place rules on what is good to like and what is not. Sure, I can accept a selection of general rules, like for example you cannot start telling a story from the middle of the events sequence or maybe one could do that and then earn an Oscar for this. Because thinking more about this, you may agree with me that what gains our attention is what moves outside the box and in a way shocks us from what we consider as normal (by the way, ‘normal’ is again a relative term because what is normal for one society may be unacceptable for another).

Since these lines are hosted by a musical related webzine, I’ll stick to the so-called ‘music critics’ or the ‘album reviewers’ that have flooded the internet pages and their number is constantly growing as if there is a need to have equal number of critics and musicians. And as the internet has infiltrated our everyday lives, these reviews have gained significance that is measured by how many ‘likes’, ‘shares’, ‘tweets’, ‘pins’ or whatever are receiving in the social-media outlets (fun fact; when you are dealing with the social media you are actually on your own). Sometimes the review becomes more important than the music itself and so there are people being caustic and ‘strict’ just to attract some additional clicks and shares that are usually translated into the financial well-being of the online magazine they are working for. What is missing from all this is what Mr. Riggan is saying: “you risk nothing. I am a fucking actor; this play has cost me everything…”; I mean, how long does it take to put together a 500 words review? One, two or even three hours tops? And how much time is one spending listening to an album? Well, considering the number of new releases and how the online magazines are trying to beat each other posting a review first, then an educated estimate would say that no more than five album spins are required. Without being a musician myself, I have come to the understanding that to release an album it may take a couple of years considering how the technology has evolved and one can pretty much produce and mix it using a high end laptop. I guess it is pretty obvious that the amount of time required to present the two products are simple of a different magnitude (hours vs. years).

If you have read so far, I am sure you’re wondering where I am getting with this ranting; well, I am not opposed to writing reviews and I sure will not stop doing so. But I think we have to be careful and maybe don’t deal with an album that falls outside our cup of tea. For instance, if I do not like Black Metal, how can I have an opinion about a specific album? And if there is no way to avoid dealing with an album that is outside your listening aesthetics, then try to think like it would have been of your taste and then discuss what a fan of this music genre would like or not about it. This requires some ‘training’ and of course additional time, so if you want to make money out of this, then maybe you should keep doing what you’re doing but remember, written words can hurt, especially someone who has “risked everything”… To my mind, the only bands that deserved to be criticized harder than the rest are the most successful ones, because (sadly) in most of the cases the making of an album involves an entire team being considered as a product of a well-oiled machine, and after having a good research of what the market (a.k.a the fans) wants. For this, I will quote Mrs. Tabitha Dickinson (the critic) as a backup: “you are not actor, you are a celebrity” and feel free to replace the word ‘actor’ with ‘musician’.

What should one take from all this? Well, I think keep listening with your ears and only read the reviews just to get a first taste or some indications that the album in question may appeal to your taste or maybe if it has something to add to your listening spectrum. For my fellow reviewers, I’d say that we shouldn’t take our words/roles so seriously and maybe step off the pedestal that some peers of ours may have placed us under the false impression that we know better (not even close). Because when it comes to taste, no one knows better than you.