Volume 96, Issue 100
Tuesday, April 8, 2003

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Rock Criticism 101: Learning to bash others properly

Whoa, Maggie
Maggie Wrobel
A&E Editor

You're ugly and your momma's fat.

There – see how easy it is to be a critic? At least that's most people's perception of the job, but I've always seen it a little differently.

Being a critic may be easy, but being a good critic is another story. It's basically effortless to rant about how much something sucks, or to say enough good things about your favourite artist. It's those who are able to find the balance between these two extremes by being honest and objective that succeed as talented and trustworthy critics.

Think of the worst album you've ever heard, or the worst movie you've ever seen. Despite the initial shudder of horror you experience remembering, say, Excess Baggage starring Alicia Sliverstone (I still wonder what the hell Benicio DelToro was thinking), try to think of any redeeming qualities the movie may have had (hmm... Alicia's and Benicio's moms probably liked it) and to consider what audience it was intended for.

Keeping these things in mind is important for any qualified critic, as any really good critic has two essential qualities: honesty and an objective, open mind.

As easy as it may be to write a scathing review of the new Matchbox 20 CD just because you've always hated the band, a good critic would arguably put themselves into the shoes of an Everclear fan and would try to look at the album from their perspective.

This does not mean that a great critic only finds the good in the bad, for it's just as important for critics to find the bad in the good. The key is simply to be objective and to take a similar approach to a review as one would take on an essay. This means: gather a thesis for the review, and then back it up with evidence. Research the artist and their back-catalogue and try to see how the record fits in to the sphere of their career so far.

You can't argue that critics don't have power; magazines like Rolling Stone and SPIN arguably have the puppet-master might to make or break up-and-coming artists.

People love to bitch about critics. The main claim is that critics are artists who didn't "make it big" and now sit in a tiny cubicle rocking back and forth in the fetal position and bitterly bash those artists who have managed to get even the tiniest sliver of the mainstream pie.

It's probably correct to assume that many critics wish they had the talent of the filmmakers and bands they pass judgment on, but then, who doesn't? It's not fair to presume that all negative criticism stems from personal bitterness.

The bottom line is that critics are most often music fans who review music because they love it. Let's face it: reviewing CDs for a living pays in breadcrumbs (or, if you work for The Gazette, well... let's not even go there) and only dedication could keep you going to back to such a glamour-less job.


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