Album reviews – a personal view

(August 08, 2014)

“In summary, pleasant enough to listen to - not distinct or different, similar to many and something I’ve heard a million times before.” For me that’s so what? If the music doesn’t break through and engage, why write about it? There has to be a difference. That’s why some albums tend to fade into the crowd while others strike a chord and make their mark. There’s an indefinable something that raises music from ‘background’ to ‘foreground’ and were I able to accurately define that indefinable ‘something’  I would doubtless have a formula for success and proceed to peddle it across the world. The problem is that to date, other than saying that ‘different makes the difference’, I haven’t been able to distil what it is that makes some albums grab you while others, pleasant though they may be, don’t stop you in your tracks. And to be fair, when you’re listening to dozens of albums there has to be something that stops you, that’s how it is for me at least.

Sometimes the ‘difference’ lives in only one track, and then sadly the album steadily slips into sameness and becomes formulaic for its genre. The initial promise is not followed by a fulfilment of the expectation. Somehow that’s more disappointing than those that ‘miss it’ from the outset. The head-turning attraction slides into the crowd. There’s nothing wrong with the album, nothing at all, but its hold on you becomes tenuous and despite wanting to maintain the grip, even though you may try really hard, it slips, the connection is lost and the difference gone.

Perhaps there’s perhaps a certain boldness in saying that an album doesn’t maintain a connection. It has been construed as journalistic arrogance. That’s not the case, however one principle holds true – send an album to the media for review and that’s what happens. It’s reviewed, hopefully in an unbiased, completely honest way. However, I’ve been around journalism and the media for long enough to know that there are reviewers and critics that live for nothing more than pouring out their bile onto artists and their work. These people appear to drive pleasure from turning their role from reviewer to hit man and if they can berate an artist or scupper their work, a perverse joy comes over them. No, I’m not exaggerating, I know some of them and yes, they do have a piece of humanity missing.

Anyway, back to the point, if the difference is the difference, and I maintain that it is, why are there so many ‘same as’ albums? From personal experience, it comes down to that unpredictable and immeasurable sense - ‘taste’. You may despise Marmite, I don’t. For many, curry may be unpalatable, I love it. Guinness might make you vomit, not me. I find Tequila disgusting, but others pour it down. And that’s where it all essentially lives and dies – you’re dealing with taste. As much as many unprejudiced reviewers and critics, those I know personally and from reputation, endeavour to maintain an impartial view, personal taste always rears its head.

The prime mover for me in reviewing music is to find something different and share it with a wider audience. The result may not be to everyone’s taste and some may disagree with what I write, although hopefully not too often. Sending an album for review doesn’t necessarily mean artists will get what they want or even what they deserve, however the result should be a wider audience becomes intrigued enough by the review to listen and perhaps purchase the product. And if that happens then for my money the review has done its job. Should it occur that no review appears that could mean the album may well be ‘pleasant enough to listen to’ – not good or bad - but simply not different enough to break through.

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