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Over the past few days, there’s been a bit of a hullabaloo on Sputnik regarding what, exactly, constitutes evidence in a review. In the comment thread for contributor Josh Fountain’s review for the new Powerman 5000 album, there have been a few people attacking the review itself for, among other things, its “lack [of] basic argumentation.” At the risk of pulling some comments out of context, users have described it as a review “chock-filled with “cheap insults,” one that is “extremely annoying” and “filled with animosity.” While for every user who complained, there were about five or six supporting the reviewer (which, to an extent, I approve of), the thread still devolved into a trainwreck of “this review sucks/you suck/Powerman 5000 sucks/this thread sucks.”

I’ve already voiced most of my thoughts about the review itself in the first few pages of comments, but for those of you unwilling to read a few extra paragraphs of me blathering on about writing about writing about music I basically argued that evidence in the traditional sense is moot in terms of writing reviews. Of course it’s possible to describe a song down to the timbre of an instrument and utilize that as evidence as to why it’s an objectively brilliant and/or stupid piece of art, but for the near-total majority of the general Sputnik-reading-and-writing populace such criticism is undesirable and usually too dense and pedantic to read. If an author wants to argue that the reason such-and-such a song is good is the transition from V7 chord to ii6 arpeggio utilizing cello ostinato bass and a syrupy Moog tone, then by all means they can do that. The issue with such an approach, obviously, is that it’ll be nigh-unintelligible and usually stripped of all practical meaning.

That little spike about 2/5 of the way to the left is the sole reason this song rules.

So, as a result, most “evidence” in reviews of Sputnik’s ilk is going to be exceedingly subjective. Until a team of scientists finds the irrefutable key to what makes music undeniably good or bad, what we have now will most likely be the norm for a while. I defend the benefits of such an approach in part because it’s all I know, but also because it’s easier to read, easier to write, provides more fodder for post-review discussion, and a whole slew of other reasons. I’ve been attacked for my subjective, “unprofessional” writing (for those looking to save time, I’m referring specifically to this comment on my review for Feed Me’s Calamari Tuesday) with equally subjective arguments (and usually the accompanying hyperbolic claims that a review I’ve written could be “the most unprofessional review” ever to grace the Internet). My peeved, slightly incoherent response notwithstanding, I’d like to use that comment and similar ones as a springboard to say this: There is no such thing as an objective review. Everything a reviewer writes is irreconcilably colored with his or her own biases and previous assumptions. There’s simply no way around it. (The added bonus that reviews touting themselves as “objective” are usually no fun to read is a given.)

This brings us, though, to an important point regarding writing reviews. I don’t claim to be an expert in the field, as I’m still a relative newbie to critically analyzing the music I listen to, but from my limited experience I do know one important litmus test that any writer should keep in mind when starting a review: Do I care enough about this album to say something interesting about it? Or, in other words: Am I writing for writing’s sake? One of the biggest issues with Sputnik reviews I see is that the reviewer often fails this test. To go back to the beginning of this post, I think Josh’s review was very competent, a fun, easy read which said all that really needed to be said about the album. However, I also think the one thing it was missing, and the one thing that negative commenters immediately jumped on – and I mean this in the most helpful way possible – was something to justify its own existence. It seemed to me a review written for the sole purpose of having a review for a boring, already-dated-at-release album, and by nature no matter how well-written a review like that is (and it was a well-written review, don’t get me wrong) it simply can’t stack up with the same writer’s best work (as an example, Fountain’s previous review was exponentially better).

Even Spider One doesn't care about Spider One anymore.

Writing for writing’s sake can be a helpful thing. It’s a useful tool to take an album to which you have no attachment and force yourself to review it so that you can file it away as a piece of experience that will help you in the long run. I’ve done quite a few of these in my time at Sputnik, and one of the reasons I’ve been given a staff position is that I’ve spent hours and hours grinding away at reviews I didn’t have any reason to make, putting in the necessary work to improve my writing skills. Looking back, though, I realize that the reviews I’m most proud of are the ones which have a reason to exist. My most well-written pieces are the ones that cover albums for which I feel something, whether that something is good or bad.

The main reason I hold Sputnikmusic emeritus Robin Smith in such high regard is that he always has something to say in his work. I envy how much he loves nearly all the music he listens to because it’s so much nicer to read a glowing piece than a highly critical one, and he’s exceptionally good at conveying his passion for good music into text. In a similar vein, it’s possible that people who comment critically on Sputnik reviews have a point. Sure, there are any number of reasons that they could feel moved to comment, including score disagreement, inexperience with a certain writing style, or what have you. But maybe, behind all their claims that a review is poorly argued and lacking solid evidence, they might be expressing their yearning for something visceral, gripping, alive in the review. Music writing is subjective – there’s almost no alternative. When writers embrace that objectivity, though, they give themselves the best chance to shine.





Brostep
06.03.14
credit to Fountain for letting me write this

Toondude10
06.03.14
I applaud you sir. Wonderful read.

Crysis
06.03.14
forced writing is so, so easy to pick up on, especially if you're familiar with a reviewer's style

Toondude10
06.03.14
I would say the same thing for lists too. A lot of people are really quick to judge others when it comes to those. Granted some people are like "this is complete fact and no one else can say otherwise" and that's understandable, but you have people who are just making a list of their personal opinions on music and everyone has to completely jump on those people like hungry wolves. It's the way the world is unfortunately, and I doubt it'll change in the near future.

Brostep
06.03.14
hope this wasn't an example of forced writing crysis haha

Brostep
06.03.14
also thanks Toondude, means a lot

Crysis
06.03.14
haha nah not at all, this is a great (and needed) post

ShadowRemains
06.03.14
someone should forward this to snoxall

Toondude10
06.03.14
hehe, no problem. and nah, I don't consider this forced writing. More like validating a point that many people seem to blow off or forget.

ExplosiveOranges
06.03.14
I'm new to the site, so I haven't written too many reviews yet, but I think I've made at least one or two where my heart wasn't really in the writing, and I just did them for the sake of writing a review. Honestly, as long as the review isn't totally half-assed and lazy, I think a "forced review" is a fine way of practicing one's writing skills. Thanks for writing this, Will.

Brostep
06.03.14
^^^couldn't agree more, but at a certain point it starts becoming less useful

dimsim3478
06.03.14
clap clap clap clap clap

Toondude10
06.03.14
yeah, I'm not one of those people who write like ten reviews in a single month (good lord, I'm not sure I could do that). I take my time, and in some cases I listen to the album while writing it to give me some more material when writing them. You could say it's forcing to write one when doing so, but it still works and it usually pays off in the end.

Green Baron
06.03.14
the same hate comments were said about the deleted review too

Green Baron
06.03.14
"I listen to the album while writing it to give me some more material when writing them."

I don't think there's a been a time where I haven't done this.

SeaAnemone
06.03.14
the fact that this issue even needs to be argued over (or does it? okay) is pretty sad smh

Toondude10
06.03.14
yeah, and sadly he was a user so he paid a much heavier price for it

Toondude10
06.03.14
the other reviewer that is

BMDrummer
06.03.14
Woah, this was posted tomorrow for me.

Toondude10
06.03.14
you know, I personally believe that this doesn't just go for those on this site, but it goes for anyone who want to be a writer in the future. yeah, this is focused more on the users on this site (mainly the ones who write reviews) but it conveys the same message in a way too all future creative writers.

ExplosiveOranges
06.03.14
^ Amen to that.

iswimfast
06.03.14
you picked the perfect example of staff/emeritus to cite here. not necessarily to the new guy just starting out, but to the above average writer looking to separate themselves. if music can't stir you to "feel ways" about stuff, then your writing will reflect that disinterest. the best experiences with music involve falling into it, and when someone can articulate their own tumble it makes the reading that much more engaging.

Jom
06.03.14
>> Ctrl + F 'Jom'

>> 0 entries

*exhales*

Curse.
06.03.14
I am an arrogant, pretentious douchebag, that guy was correct on that one.

I do think on a certain level reviewing things you don't really care about is important, because it helps a person write effectively in any situation. Also, making fun of Spider is always entertaining.

Curse.
06.03.14
Also, it was an easy to access new release and I like being featured

Voivod
06.03.14
Excellent read. I agree with everything you wrote Will.

sixdegrees
06.03.14
this was much needed

Brostep
06.03.14
True, and as I said it wasn't a bad review at all. Plus, it does indeed help you get better as a writer

Brostep
06.03.14
also now "Jom" will have two entries from the comments better watch ur back

tommygun
06.03.14
robin rules agreed

tommygun
06.03.14
like everything he writes is so very good and makes you think/feel

Toondude10
06.03.14
Almost everything that the staff writes is great. After all, they are considered professional writers.

iswimfast
06.03.14
i'll agree that it's great [i]writing[/i]. but sometimes they can bore, and that's when you can tell they're just going through the motions.

iswimfast
06.03.14
WHY don't those work and i can't edit it this site some times

Toondude10
06.03.14
lol, it happens

thelastsignal
06.03.14
Nice work, Will. Josh's reviews are generally up there with the best that the site has to offer. They are succinct, informative, and more than serve the purpose of what a review is about. I honestly don't mind when a review doesn't have any higher purpose other than to describe the music on display. I thought the review was good, and just because no one expects P5000 to put out a classic (let alone a good) album doesn't mean that the review is unnecessary. I agree that Fountain is at his best when reviewing an album that he loves, but the same can be said of most people. I'd argue that these kinds of reviews are necessary for the sake of informative purposes.

ILiveInNetherlands
06.03.14
Why didn't you mention me? I thought we were best friends!

Curse.
06.03.14
Hey thanks for the compliment sigs

thelastsignal
06.03.14
Np, Josh. You're a great writer, and you tend to cover genres that I'm into. Also, that thread turned into a mindfuck real quick because Netherlands lol.

TPM731
06.03.14
While I thought that this piece was good, I don't appreciate you taking my comment out of context. I didn't say that the review "makes you seem like an arrogant pretentious douchebag". I said that his specific use of the word "relevant" did that, not the review itself, which I found to be well-written. Just wanted to clarify.

Trebor.
06.03.14
Yeah I feel like I'm getting to the point where my reviews are on autopilot. Like how many times can I write a 2.5/3/3.5 review about how a new emo release is OK but a disappointment like shit

Brostep
06.04.14
"At the risk of pulling some comments out of context..."

but sorry, I really should have checked with you. I can remove that bit if you'd like

TPM731
06.04.14
Sure, go ahead and do that. No ill will towards you.

Brostep
06.04.14
Done

AtomicWaste
06.05.14
"I do think on a certain level reviewing things you don't really care about is important, because it helps a person write effectively in any situation."

This. If you plan to write professionally, you must plan to write about things you have little interest in and develop a way of deceiving others into believing that you actually do care about them. You should do it often, at that. Because sometimes you just have to get that 3/5 review out the door and there's no real positive or negative angle to take on it.

Judio!
06.07.14
Excellent write-up, Will! As someone who plans on getting into music journalism in the near future, I really enjoyed reading this.

SowingSeason
06.19.14
Good write up. I think every review should try to say something (and I'm very guilty of reviews that have said nothing, sometimes I just go stream of consciousness on everyone's ass), but whether or not the review "has a point" is entirely subjective and based on the reader's interpretation of the album as well as the author's opinion.

Therefore, people should try to write meaningful works and just leave it at that.

Omaha
06.19.14
I have the weird inclination of writing reviews I don't care much about, and then realizing how boring they are and going all "here, let's talk about THIS because it actually matters!" on everyone's ass.

Mongi123
06.19.14
I think almost everyone who reviews is guilty of that but that's ok. It really helped me to improve by just trying an album I've never heard of and reviewing it.

Green Baron
06.19.14
Everyone has those reviews

Omaha
06.19.14
Yeah, I think fresh perspectives have their place in reviewing. I stopped writing about progressive metal once I felt I didn't have anything to say about it anymore.

johnnydeking29
06.19.14
Interesting article...I accept that reviews are always subjective to some degree, but my preference has always been inclined towards those that make their perspectives convincing by rooting them in the album itself, rather than the reviewer's reaction to it. Critical analysis is only useful if it analyses relevant content.

Brostep
06.20.14
To be honest, I think part of what makes super-visceral reviews especially nice is how they contrast with kind-of-dull ones. Like, I look at my favorite reviews I've written and find them even better in comparison with some more "blah" ones

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