I am driven by compulsion and the fear of trolls to remind the reader that this is an opinion. My opinion, or, “Just my opinion, but….” . As such, any disagreement should be recognized as your own opinion. Something you needn’t defend, and which you are entitled to feeling really, really passionate about.
I had the unfortunate experience of hearing a new single by the Pixie’s earlier this week and of course, I needed to read what Pitchfork had to say about it. Lo, reviewer Jayson Greene delivered a suitably melancholy elegy for the walking dead. He’s right on the money with his comments. But it got me to thinking about the art of criticism.
It’s not a new field. People have been critiquing the work of artists for at least as far back as Oscar Wilde, who published a famous piece that roasts critics. Critical review has been turning over the spit since then, and long before. It is now juicy, golden-brown and ready to serve. Artists sit eagerly around the table, awaiting their turn to rip into the well-done carcass of criticism, fattened on derision and judgment, baked over a fire of self-righteousness.
Sadly, it is a dish that will never be served, for criticism has well-established legitimacy as an art form. As evidence, I submit Pitchfork.
If you’ve been sheltered from Pitchfork, I commend you. The website has been alternately raking musicians over the coals or singing their praises since 1995. In prose, stylish, erudite, and often inscrutable, Pitchfork has set the trend not only for indie hipsterism, but for indie criticism as well. The phrases that spill forth from the site are amongst the finest prose in modern critiquery. Nay, in modern literature. Should these writers strike out to create their own works of art, the literary world would be their oyster.
Yet, they apply their linguistic prowess to judging and deconstructing the works of others, a base and depraved sport. As an artist, it makes my gut churn a little. As a consumer and a fellow critic, I’m fascinated.
There’s no denying the quality of the writing and the accuracy of their judgments. The fact that it exists is a sort of twisted homage to the art of criticism. Which is thriving.
I can’t help but liken professional, or even amateur, criticism to the safe position of an armchair quarterback. Explaining how an album shied away from the naked confession of earlier releases is much easier than creating an album that will survive the slings and arrows of Pitchfork. How would any accomplished critic fare under the scrutiny of their fellows? Would they care?
I like to think that most artists are sheltered from critics. Truly, it’s hard to imagine a band slaving away in the studio, after reading Pitchfork to gauge their likelihood of success. Sometimes, when I’m in the midst of a late night music session, I like to ask myself, “What would Pitchfork say?”. It always makes me chuckle.
As soon as I step into my listener and fellow critic shoes, though, I find myself righteously agreeing with reviews, fist waving at the injustice of arbitrary artistic decisions, or yelling at the pages, regardless of company. “Do they think they can get away with giving Yeezus a 9.5? Out of 10?”.
In the end, I’m a little aghast that people get paid to critique music. Or that people get paid to critique music critics. As you can see, it’s impossible to add your two cents to this debate without becoming part of it. So, I guess I’m ready to write for Pitchfork.
After writing this diatribe, I checked to see how powerful Pitchfork is. A lot. It’s a lot powerful. I stumbled across an article in Wired from some years back, which talked about the Pitchfork Effect. The article pointed to the success of Broken Social Scene after a favorable Pitchfork review. Apparently, Pitchfork is making and breaking bands everyday.
Oh, and Pitchfork, I still love you. I read you all the time. But I gotta know, WTF? A 10.0 for the reissue of Rumours? Seriously?