I was reading some user reviews on iTunes earlier today, and the top one on the particular song I was interested in blew me away. The listener who had left the review in question described an experience with the song that was 100% opposite of my own. I had to read it twice, I was so sure that I must have misread something, but no. I, of course, responded in the only sane manner open to me – I left a review contradicting every word of the one that had sparked such incredulity in me, but the whole experience got me thinking about the value of music reviews.
Obviously, I feel that music reviews have some merit, said activity being a large part of my job here at CultureMass. I also believe that I have good taste in music, am fair minded and knowledgeable about the topic, and am able to articulate beyond “I do / don’t like this”. Even with those sterling qualifications, though, and I’m speaking not just about myself, but about all music writers, isn’t it likely that some bias creeps into the reviews, at least some of the time? What if the reviewer is having a particularly good or bad day? Especially because music feeds our emotions like it does, it’s nigh-on impossible to separate how you feel when hearing a song to whether or not it’s any good.
Firstly, I think it’s imperative that we, as consumers, find a reviewer that we trust. Recently, I was having a conversation with a co-worker on a classic work of comic book literature, and he told me that he’d never read that particular book because he didn’t trust any of the people he knew who’d liked it. That’s a good point, and it holds true for music, as well. In fact, it works two ways. I once read that reviewers should be required to post, along with their reviews, examples of their favorite work in that particular medium. As for me personally, I’ve found that, as a rule, there’s a particular reviewer for AP magazine who’s tastes seem to be very close to mine – normally, if he’s given something 4 stars out of 5, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m going to enjoy that record. That’s how I got turned on to Cincinnati’s own Foxy Shazam, one of my favorite bands. On the contrary, though, If i see that famed music critic Robert Christgau has given something a bad review, there’s a good chance that I’m going to like it, because I’ve learned that he and I have vastly different expectations regarding music. Mind you, that’s not a vote for or against either of those sources, just an example. The point I mean to make is that in the same manner as my counterpart knew that his tastes differed from those around him, it pays to learn the opinions of others.[pullquote align=”right”]Firstly, I think it’s imperative that we, as consumers, find a reviewer that we trust.[/pullquote]
Of course, that can be pretty difficult when we’re talking about user reviews on a site like Amazon or iTunes. The people writing their opinions on any given product, whether it’s music or the iPotty aren’t professionals and often can’t differentiate their own opinions from what’s been fed to them by the local newspaper – in short, they don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s why I follow another important rule when reading bulk reviews in such a forum, and that rule is this: No one knows my taste as well as I do. If you’ve liked every single release from a particular artist, it’s probably not much of a gamble to break down and buy their newest album. Heck, if you’re a completist like me, you’re probably compelled to get it anyway, but that’s a conversation for another article. But what if it’s a new artist, or someone you’ve never heard of. It’s helpful to have source of comparison, a point of reference so that you can get on the same page as the reviewer. You should start seeing more reviews on our site, and as we move forward here at CultureMass in our endeavor to become your source for everything music related, I am making a pledge to you, my readers, that every review that we publish well contain easily recognizable comparisons so that you have an simpler time choosing whether or not to pursue a particular release.
There’s one more piece of advice that I’d like to impart to you, and that is to always keep an open mind. You never know where your next favorite song might come from, and even genres that you’ve long since given up on can surprise you. I’ll give you an example. I confess that I am not a fan of country music. If there’s ever a country record reviewed on this site, I’d give you dollars to donuts that it won’t be by me, but occasionally a song ekes out that defies all the stereotypes of it’s genre and demands to be taken seriously. Tim McGraw‘s “Please Remember Me” is such a song for me. If you read my piece on the science of how music affects our brains, you remember me talking about the ecstasy that a listener can feel when particular chord progression, for example, is implemented. That measurable phenomenon is not exclusive to any specific genre, and the big, dynamic chorus in that song absolutely makes my toes curl. It’s a guilty pleasure, to be sure, but I trust you can keep my secrets.
I’m excited for the opportunities that we’ll have in the coming months to share music. As we publish reviews, I hope that every one who reads them will pitch in with their own opinions and comments, and I hope that each of you come to trust the writers on our site to give you the straight scoop on every album we review.