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View Full Version : 4 Stars (or: The reviewing of art vs. the art of reviewing)



Ulala
29-08-2011, 02:44 AM
Right, I said in the 'Is Dissensus dead? thread that new threads were in order, so let's have it.

I like reading reviews of things. Music, films, books, theatre, videogames, restaurants, whatever - I lap them up. (I seem to recall devouring issues of Which? magazine whilst awaiting dentistry.) Reviews are a good idea - you can't possibly hope to keep abreast of every new thing that comes about in any given field, but someone will have seen/heard/watched/eaten it, and if they can get their thoughts down eloquently then you can choose to investigate further or ignore the thing in question.

A good review should present you with both facts and opinion, and ultimately allow you to make an informed decision whether the thing will be of interest - even if they've slated it, the descriptive/facts-based part of the review ought to be enough for you to judge (allowing for your own personal taste). But I find that reviews are getting worse and worse these days, for a number of reasons:

Ratings. I can accept this for something like hotels (or McDonalds staff), because there are clear and discrete criteria that have to be met to achieve each star ranking. Fair enough. But the need for a score out of 5 (or 10) for films, games or music baffles me. What is a 4/5 album? Is there a definitive yardstick against which the thing you're reviewing can be measured, thus ensuring it is a 4? No. I strongly dislike the application of an abstract, non-tangible measure to reviews - not only do they absolve the lazy from reading the actual meat of the review (the text) but it contributes to the Metacritic-driven monetization of review-based pay and bonus. (If you're not familiar with Metacritic, I'll come back to it another time, but it is an 'aggregator' and is ostensibly a good idea but is actually horrific.)

Also, ratings would be better if anyone actually used the scale in any meaningful way. I stopped getting Muzik magazine because, although they used a 5-point scale (six if you include giving things zero), nothing ever got less than 3/5, and therefore I never knew how to differentiate between records. If you're pretending everything's average to good, what is the point? (Presumably so as not to offend anyone in the 'scene' and ensure you keep getting sent free promos.) There are a few honourable exceptions when it comes to using the full range (Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian springs to mind, as does Swells (RIP)), but not many.

Consensus. Why is this thread called '4 Stars'? Because that is the default setting of nearly all reviewers, in any industry. Look at almost any promo poster for a film - it's littered with 4 star 'reviews' (in fact just the "****" and the name of the 'journalist'). Yes, obviously the distributor isn't going to proudly trumpet 1-star reviews, but there genuinely aren't any - everyone gives everything the same rating. But not only that, they give the same review. It is usually a regurgitated press release with, at best, a paragraph of 'opinion' at the end.

So why the hegemony of 4 stars? I think it's fairly simple: most reviewers are in collusion with their respective industry to sell tickets or downloads or whatever. Nearly all publications and websites are reliant on the generosity and/or advertising of their respective industry to ensure they actually get to review the thing before the public gets access to it. Film reviewers get preview screenings, music mags get promo CDs, etc. As above, the public are used to everyone marking from 3/5 upwards - 3 stars is effectively the minimum score. 4 stars implies better than average, enough to make the public think "oh, that's probably ok then". Giving 3 stars will piss off the distributor, who will subsequently remove you from their mailing list, or stop inviting you to previews, or other restaurants in their chain; or worse, stop advertising with you, meaning you can't afford to publish. (Even if you do give poor reviews, the vast majority of sales (film tickets, CDs, games) are in the first week of release, so by taking you out of the chain, any subsequent reviews of yours which slate the company's thing aren't in the public domain until after the thing's release, so the negative impact on sales is minimised.) Therefore the ubiquity of 4 stars - enough to tempt the public, enough to satisfy the industry, enough for the reviewer to keep their job and stay on the freebies list. It's a pretty open secret that nearly all the staff of a certain videogames magazine walked out when their publisher agreed, in return for exclusive advertising, that no games from a certain company could be given less than 7/10. Many mags and websites, of course, agree to deals like these - if you want to get upfront coverage, glowing reviews of their previous output is going to help. Beware anything which says 'Exclusive!' on it - 'compromised' is more accurate.

Hedging. The reviewers are trying to second-guess their audience, and not giving their own opinion, but rather what they think the audience expects (based on a mix of hype, previous iterations of the series, reputation, etc). For instance, the NME (yeah, I know, but it's a good example) gave the second Strokes album a gushing review and 10/10, because at the time they were hugely popular, on the cover most weeks and basically selling the mag single-handedly. Their readers loved the band, so obviously the album was great, wasn't it? Nope. Their career nosedived and it is the scourge of bargain bins everywhere. Staff of that era have quietly admitted to being lenient on it for fear of a backlash. Other examples would be the near-universal praise for Driver 3 (videogame-wise) and Star Wars: Phantom Menace (film-wise) - they were the next in hugely popular and successful franchises, the audiences were expecting them to be good, why confound them? Hmm, because it's your job as a reviewer to be accurate and honest, perhaps? Gits.

Cliché. This pisses me off no end. Any review containing any of the following phrases is basically shorthand for "I've given this only the most cursory amount of my time and have chucked out the required word-count as fast as I can, and am now hanging around waiting to get paid." Again, in order to stay on the freebie list and go drinking with PR people, reviewers are prone to saying things like:

"On acid" = this is beyond my frame of reference and I haven't the vocabulary or imagination to describe it. It might be a bit 'wacky', too.

"If you liked X, you'll like this too" = I hated this but don't want to say so, so to avoid giving a critical opinion, I'll just make a lazy comparison instead.

"It's like X crossed with Y" = ditto, but I not only hated it, I didn't really understand it.

"Great for fans of this style" = mind-fuckingly average.

"A real improvement over the last one" = which I managed to fob off onto a colleague so I didn't have to slag it.


I'm aware I have generalised here quite substantially, but I believe the above to be largely true of both mainstream and specialist media. I think this is particularly endemic on the internet, because there is no cover price to make up for lost advertising, but it does get everywhere. Obviously there are some journos on Dissensus, and I'd be interested to hear your opinions especially, but anyone's thoughts on this matter would be welcome.

bruno
29-08-2011, 04:05 AM
this may sound conventional, but isn't any opinion compromised to some extent and isn't that to be expected? there is always money and proximity to other people compromising opinion. there has to be financing and human affection for these things to be made in the first place, why would there not be in the review process? things are always seen from an angle, never judged in an ideal void according to ideal parameters. it is clear that two stars does not mean the same thing in all contexts, it will mean something different from magazine to magazine and within these from reviewer to reviewer. it is up to us to read between lines or choose the appropriate venue(s) to receive an opinion about something. also, stars and visual cues are meant to supplement written opinion, they are graphic markers that mean something within a particular system, nothing more. i would end by saying that there are almost endless venues and people one can get opinions from, and that it's not necessary to have one true opinion, there can be several.

crackerjack
29-08-2011, 10:19 AM
Consensus. Why is this thread called '4 Stars'? Because that is the default setting of nearly all reviewers, in any industry. Look at almost any promo poster for a film - it's littered with 4 star 'reviews' (in fact just the "****" and the name of the 'journalist'). Yes, obviously the distributor isn't going to proudly trumpet 1-star reviews, but there genuinely aren't any - everyone gives everything the same rating. But not only that, they give the same review. It is usually a regurgitated press release with, at best, a paragraph of 'opinion' at the end.


You've made lots of good points, but don't exactly help your case by resorting to clichés about "regurgitated press release". Film posters are irrelevant for the reasons you'e outlined, and review gradings generally take in a pretty wide range of scores (as a glimpse at the demon Metacritic will confirm).


It's a pretty open secret that nearly all the staff of a certain videogames magazine walked out when their publisher agreed, in return for exclusive advertising, that no games from a certain company could be given less than 7/10.


NAME AND SHAME!



Hedging. The reviewers are trying to second-guess their audience, and not giving their own opinion, but rather what they think the audience expects (based on a mix of hype, previous iterations of the series, reputation, etc). For instance, the NME (yeah, I know, but it's a good example) gave the second Strokes album a gushing review and 10/10, because at the time they were hugely popular, on the cover most weeks and basically selling the mag single-handedly. Their readers loved the band, so obviously the album was great, wasn't it? Nope. Their career nosedived and it is the scourge of bargain bins everywhere. Staff of that era have quietly admitted to being lenient on it for fear of a backlash. Other examples would be the near-universal praise for Driver 3 (videogame-wise) and Star Wars: Phantom Menace (film-wise) - they were the next in hugely popular and successful franchises, the audiences were expecting them to be good, why confound them? Hmm, because it's your job as a reviewer to be accurate and honest, perhaps? Gits.


This, alongside the advertising issue you've already flagged up, is important. It's
partly a consequence of the po-mo, anti-elitist posturing of recent decades that holds everything to be the equal of everything else. It's also a product of increased competition - the fabled NME era that people still hark back to (punk--->till ) was forged at a time when people [I]had to buy music mags to read about music. And even then, once the punk dust had settled, they still steadily lost sales. Conclusion: a lot of us who are convinced readers are rational enough not to take grave offence when their favourite bands are slagged in their favourite mags are flattering the majority of readers. Since then, most are much more careful about who they stick the boot into. As Alexis Petridis said recently, one mag is clearly engaged in second-guessing its readers with every review they write. He was talking about Q, of course.

On the other hand, I've written for one mag for 8 years and have never once been told what to write. Interestingly, they don't have gradings. Maybe there's a connection.

crackerjack
29-08-2011, 10:24 AM
Also, ratings would be better if anyone actually used the scale in any meaningful way. I stopped getting Muzik magazine because, although they used a 5-point scale (six if you include giving things zero), nothing ever got less than 3/5, and therefore I never knew how to differentiate between records.

Muzik in particular and dance mags in general suffered horrendously from insiderism. Half the reviewers were DJs/producers/label managers/promoters, and so objective opinion was damn near impossible. At least most of the NME guys had realised by the time they got far that writing was their metier.

Ulala
29-08-2011, 01:14 PM
Cheers for your thoughts, Crackerjack/Bruno.

Crackerjack - I suppose the 'recycled press release' line was going a bit far, you're right, but I do find most reviews (particularly of films) spend 80% of their time detailing the cast, plot, director, etc, and then finish with "...and it's great!", or perhaps complimenting one particular actor on their performance. I accept that a lot of punters choose which films to see on the basis of the actors therein - hence Adam Sandler's ridiculous earning potential - but all those facts can be easily gleaned from scanning the credits or the accompanying notes, so I question how much time goes into these reviews, over and above watching the film.

I'm aware not everyone here is a fan of videogames, but the publications in that field are even worse - endless plot regurgitation (when the plot usually amounts to: it's the future/WW2. You shoot things), tedious technical details (frame-rates, polygon counts) and little or no critical content, yet still the 4/5s and 8/10s are handed out freely. I think, more than any other field, games reviewers are not, primarily, writers - they are good at playing games and love games, but see reviewing as a stepping-stone to working in the industry. By being nice to PR guys and giving their 'product' glowing yet vague praise, they're in line for a nice PR job when it comes up. Also, the main thrust of these magazines is the reviews - they are glorified buying guides, whereas in other industries, there are more features and interviews for journalists to get stuck into, and the reviews perhaps take less precedence.

The magazine in question re: the mass walkout was Edge, I'm told by someone who worked for Future at the time. Because they have a house 'style' and writers aren't credited with individual pieces, it wasn't readily apparent, but a scan of the credits column (flannel panel?) from one issue to the next revealed wholesale changes to the staff.

Bruno - I do agree that no review takes place in a vacuum, and I think having a vested interest in the field is fine - you wouldn't give the new Slayer album to your jazz reviewer, for instance - but I worry that commercial pressures no longer allow the reviewer to even have an opinion as such, merely acting as a part of the marketing process. Obviously smaller independent publications and websites circumvent this but are these read by many people? I tend to rely largely on recommendations by friends or on Dissensus, which is fine, but I used to devour the reviews in music, film and games magazines as a youth, and it disappoints me that I can't any more as nowadays they all seem to toe the line of 4 stars/little critical content, for fear of losing the precious advertising income. Reduced advertising leads to higher cover prices and thus fewer readers for print publications, and non-subscription websites rely entirely on ad revenue or sponsorship to survive.

As you rightly state, the score is supposed to supplement the text of the review, but I think many people simply don't read the text, and therefore why should the reviewer spend any great time on it? It's telling that crackerjack says he is under no editorial pressure because his publication doesn't use gradings, therefore the reader HAS to study the text, thus gleaning actual insight into the thing being reviewed. This is what I want to do, but I tend to think in many cases the rating comes first (to appease advertisers, editors, punters) and the text is an afterthought.

Is anyone able to recommend some good sites or mags for reviews? I like Nick Gillett in the Guardian Guide for videogames (though he doesn't get much space) and I always used to rate Jockey Slut for music, but these days I struggle. I should probably check Woofah, right? As for films and books, I really would like to see and read more than I do, but I can't afford to punt £10 on something without some idea I might like it. So I end up resorting to older things that friends have recommended, and the new releases get ignored. Point me in the direction of good reviews - perhaps you write them yourself?

Ulala
29-08-2011, 01:20 PM
Oh, and to add to my list of clichés: if anyone refers to the thing they're reviewing as a 'product', you are entitled to disregard everything they say. 'Product' should only be used in a mathematical or chemical context. (Or maybe with reference to, I dunno, bleach or something.) A DVD, book, 12" record or CD is not a product, you horrendous shitehawk, have some romantic attachment to the result of someone's creative efforts, for gawd's sake.

crackerjack
29-08-2011, 02:49 PM
I'm surprised ultra-opinionated reiews haven't made more of a comeback now that advertisers are looking at page views.

After all, controversial review = more comments = more hits = more ad £££. Or so you'd think. Certainly that's how the Telegraph see it - according to the recent P Eye, they review their bloggers' hit-rates monthly, and if one appears in the bottom quarter for a whole quarter, then they get the elbow. Delingpole is always top "because he's so batshit crazy". (Which reminds me, I must learn how to use that thing that lets you link to nutsites w/o driving up their traffic.)

Maybe people just aren't that bothered about other people's opinions on music anymore.

Mr. Tea
29-08-2011, 03:46 PM
Great post, Ulala. You've articulated nicely some of the things I think in a much more basic way when I see an advert for, say, the Smurfs film, gleefully pimping the four-star reviews it garnered in such august publication as News of the World or the Mail on Sunday. I mean seriously, who the fuck is actually to going enjoy a film like that, bar a few none-too-bright young kids with a touch too much ADHD to sit through anything else, or people who consume their bodyweight in cannabis on a daily basis?



"On acid" = this is beyond my frame of reference and I haven't the vocabulary or imagination to describe it. It might be a bit 'wacky', too.

This one is a particular bugbear of mine. It made for a great Stuart Lee/Richard Herring sketch, though - "Normal Wisdom on acid":


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF2fN4MmMAY&feature=player_detailpage

Another all-time unfavourite reviewer cliche: the dreaded 'recipe' review - "Take [writer/director/artist X], add a shake of [writer/director/artist Y]..." etc. Though I guess this is just a slightly more elaborate version of the "cross between [X] and [Y]" formula.

crackerjack
29-08-2011, 06:29 PM
Another all-time unfavourite reviewer cliche: the dreaded 'recipe' reviews - "Take [writer/director/artist X], add a shake of [writer/director/artist Y]..." etc. Though I guess this is just a slightly more elaborate version of the "cross between [X] and [Y]" formula.

food metaphors/analogies should be banned from arts writing, full stop.

gumdrops
29-08-2011, 06:32 PM
i think 3 stars are the real hegemony. its a safe score. neither too high nor too low. in short meaningless and helps you draw no useful conclusions. bang in the middle of the road basically, makes it hard to draw any real critical battle lines, cos everythings 'okay' in the end. i think i see 3 more than 4 or 2.

Mr. Tea
29-08-2011, 07:40 PM
Years ago when I used to read PC Gamer fairly regularly I enjoyed reading the reviews of games that got very high scores, especially in genres I liked to play, but they weren't half as entertaining as the reviews of games that scored < 50%. The magazine had (presumably still has) quite a neat practice whereby each game they reviewed would be summed up by a single word, printed in large type so you could see it as soon as you glanced at the piece, that was both relevant to the game and summed up how the reviewer felt about it. For instance, the first Quake was called 'rocking', the second one 'seismic', that sort of thing. Anyway, they once rated an incredibly dull and pretentious sci-fi RPG called Ring (a 'space opera' loosely based on Wagner's Ring cycle, apparently) at about 40%, and the summing-up word was 'piece'.

The writing was pretty good too and if they didn't like a game, they didn't mince their words when telling you why. I remember one "children's" game that came out on a budget label; it got about 3% and the review ended: "The pubishers of [whatever] describe the game as "fun for all the family". That's the Manson Family, presumably. For ten quid an armful of smack would do you less harm than this abomination". :D

bruno
29-08-2011, 09:48 PM
Obviously smaller independent publications and websites circumvent this
if anything a small venue is even more entwined with the people who create the stuff that is reviewed, there is more incentive to support that network and less to see things objectively, very incestuous. at the same time, people with a shared mission or sensibility will see nuances in the stuff that others will not. oddly, mr. tea's pc gamer might be on better footing to review impartially as developers can't afford not to submit their games for review. but gaming is also a very lucrative industry in contrast with the music industry which by all accounts is in decline.

these are also very difficult times for anyone selling anything non-essential, this would make someone intending to recover investment in a recording, for example, much more aggressive in marketing and cultivating relationships, much more likely to go to another venue if things do not pan out. i would imagine this and a sense of shared fate puts a lot of pressure on reviewers. incidentally, i am not a writer or journalist and read very little music reviews, and am partly responsible for the state of music as i haven't bought a cd in ages (i do buy books, however).

Damien
29-08-2011, 10:09 PM
I used to read Terrorizer magazine avidly as a youngster but stopped when I noticed previews of upcoming albums were basically paid-for press releases, writing such as 'will divide opinions' and 'this band doesn't follow the rules' usually meant that the reviewer hated the album but was not allowed to express such opinions.

slight deviation form the topic at hand I know but I despise the Sight & Sound reviews because they tell you the bloody whole synopsis of the plot in the review! You can't help but read it and then it spoils the whole film for you when you watch it. I guess I have no self control

Mr. Tea
29-08-2011, 10:35 PM
Speaking of metal magazines, one of the worst cliches going in that particular milieu is the review that contains some variation on "this album will make you shit your pants!!!". No, it won't. No album will do that. Well, maybe if you were to put a Strapping Young Lad CD in the stereo, pause a song halfway through, turn up the volume really loud and then press play when someone else was in the room who hadn't notice the stereo was on. And they really badly needed a shit anyway, having consumed a vindaloo and a gallon of Guinness the night before. But in all honesty, a Britney Spears album would probably work just as well.

Could also work if you gave someone a heavy dose of psychedelics and then subjected them to Throbbing Gristle's 'Hamburger Lady' on headphones, but now we're almost back to "[X] is like [Y] on acid"... :(

Dunninger
30-08-2011, 11:04 AM
Today everybody is a reviewer, blogs and social networks, on amazon, all these review sites like yelp and epinion (the reviews on these sites are almost a bizarre literary genre) - reviews in magazines are just another bit of information in a grey area between opinion and promotion. I have heard several times from label people that a review usually doesn't affect sales at all, nobody really cares. I guess that doesn't help to encourage writers to write good reviews.

gumdrops
30-08-2011, 11:26 AM
does anyone think the quality of interviews have gone down a bit too? maybe its cos there are so many sites running them that theyre no longer that special and a lot of artists/labels have become jaded about doing them as a result, or it could be just that the current era is just a bit boring, we dont expect artists to have opinions and well, everyones playing it safe.

or maybe i just need to read more of them in proper magazines rather than website Q&As.

IdleRich
30-08-2011, 12:49 PM
"I have heard several times from label people that a review usually doesn't affect sales at all, nobody really cares. I guess that doesn't help to encourage writers to write good reviews."
Definitely true with films. When a super blockbuster comes out it is hyped and trailed for aaages in advance with merchandising and all kinds of tie-ins, it's Conan that covers the buses and advertising hoardings at the moment but it could be anything. It can get slated in every credible (whatever that means) publication going but millions will still go and see it - and probably leave feeling slightly disappointed though unsure why. There's obviously too much money involved to risk letting anything prevent this happening. I think I read somewhere that the average age of film-goers is decreasing which makes perfect sense when you see the average maturity-level of the biggest films which are increasingly action adventures with less plot and more explosions.

Slothrop
30-08-2011, 01:54 PM
Definitely true with films.

Well, it's true with a lot of music as well. The point of reviews was a lot greater when it was hard to hear a given record before it got released because it wasn't on mainstream radio and you didn't have access to the internet. These days if I buy a record it's normally because I've heard it on mixes or radio shows that I've listened to repeatedly, listened to it on youtube, listened to clips on Boomkat etc, so I don't really need someone to tell me what it sounds like...

Reviews become a lot more interesting when they're about forms of music that it's still quite hard to find out about - full albums, for instance, or things that don't have a web radio / mp3 mix culture, or when they're actually interesting reading in their own right. Both of these are reasons that The Wire is about the only place I read reviews these days...

Sectionfive
30-08-2011, 02:24 PM
does anyone think the quality of interviews have gone down a bit too?

Read two interviews with BenUFO and one man yesterday. Clashmag (http://www.clashmusic.com/feature/ben-ufo-interview) one was good. There was at least four year when (with the exception of BD) every dubstep interview was identical.
Beginning to change now a bit.

crackerjack
30-08-2011, 02:38 PM
"I have heard several times from label people that a review usually doesn't affect sales at all, nobody really cares. I guess that doesn't help to encourage writers to write good reviews."


Certainly no direct relation, but good reiews still help. When record shops existed, a good reiew could be the difference between a face display and not. I'm sure there are now people who'll listen to an album on Spotify, or pay that bit more attention to a track on the radio, if they've seen good reviews. And good reviews (good press in general) creates its own outlets - it feeds into radio playlists etc etc.

But no, the days when a 5-star review in Q could put a couple of thousand on sales are gone (if they ever existed).

(and sorry about typing here - my v key is dying a slow death, as is the l and possibly the x)

IdleRich
30-08-2011, 02:44 PM
"Well, it's true with a lot of music as well. The point of reviews was a lot greater when it was hard to hear a given record before it got released because it wasn't on mainstream radio and you didn't have access to the internet."
Yeah, when you hear people talking about the days when they would wait by the radio on the day a song was released because it wasn't played before that day it sounds like a different world. Not necessarily a better one but I'm sure that it was true that there was more excitement about releases and probably songs in general.
Just picked films as an example because of the sheer cost of making a big film - it means that everything is exaggerated compared to an album. Plus I've often read film reviewers lamenting the lack of influence they have on film goers. Of course, the other side of the coin is when certain reviewers have the power to make or break a new release and I'm not exactly sure that's healthy either. Problem now is an influential reviewer with a bad review can probably squash a tiny indie film but have no effect on Transformers Seven so you arguably end up with the worst of both worlds.
One thing that's no-one has discussed is that romantic(?) idea of a review or critique as a kind of engagement with a work that increases the experience of the whole thing. Basically a review that regards as utterly unimportant how it affects sales but which can be enjoyed on its own terms at any point in time.

crackerjack
30-08-2011, 02:48 PM
Basically a review that regards as utterly unimportant how it affects sales but which can be enjoyed on its own terms at any point in time.

All reiews should be like that. People who review stuff solely to boost its sales should give up now, because it's just fundamentally dishonest way of working. Your responsibility is to provide an engaging and informative read, to illuminate both the artist and, with luck, the wider culture. Anything else is promo.

crackerjack
30-08-2011, 02:55 PM
I get irritated when writers say they don't like reviewing bad records cos what's the point when there's so many good ones out. There's no point jumping on some obscure little no-hoper just to give it a kicking, but crap music is as much a part of what's going on as good music. and your good reviews only have any impact if you write some bad ones. as mentioned above, if everything is 4-star, then 4-star reviews are meaningless.

IdleRich
30-08-2011, 03:34 PM
"All reiews should be like that. People who review stuff solely to boost its sales should give up now, because it's just fundamentally dishonest way of working. Your responsibility is to provide an engaging and informative read, to illuminate both the artist and, with luck, the wider culture. Anything else is promo."
Should be yeah. But wasn't the romantic view also that some things were actually below the level where it was possible to engage with them in this way and that they actually didn't qualify as art? That would probably be almost every mainstream film these days...

Leo
30-08-2011, 05:08 PM
i miss the old days of gonzo journalism, back when lester bangs would rattle on and on and sometimes hardly even mention specific songs, but in the end you knew if the album was worth getting. that's probably back before many of you were even born, lol!

i wouldn't want only that type of reviewing, but i do miss the entertainment value of the more off-the-wall, often substance abuse-fueled bloviating when it's done well (and it's a horror when it's not done well).

Corpsey
30-08-2011, 08:13 PM
I've done a couple (http://www.factmag.com/2011/04/28/max-b-vigilante-season/) of reviews/pieces (http://www.factmag.com/2011/03/23/main-attrakionz-loud-pack/), working on a few at the moment too. It's really a case of writing about albums/artists that I'm really into, trying to communicate what it is I like about the music (especially as compared to what others DON'T like about it, or what I didn't like about it myself initially), trying to make it a bit funny in places and also - let's face it - making myself feel like a big man.

I find it very hard writing reviews, its a step-up from just giving my half-baked opinion on a forum/blog. I have a hard time cutting things down to reader-manageable levels. I've got loads of bad habits in my writing - too - many - dashes (and paragraphs), for example. But I dunno, I think I'm getting better at it... One thing about online reviewing is that you have to try and keep it short and sweet because of the nature of people's online reading habits (i.e. the majority probably won't read that much before clicking the next link).

I really like the hip-hop reviews David Drake (http://kingdrake.com/) (so many shrimp) does for Pitchfork. I'm deeply envious of his reviewing ability. Actually most of the rap reviews I've read on Pitchfork have been good.

Ulala
31-08-2011, 12:17 AM
Definitely true with films. When a super blockbuster comes out it is hyped and trailed for aaages in advance with merchandising and all kinds of tie-ins, it's Conan that covers the buses and advertising hoardings at the moment but it could be anything. It can get slated in every credible (whatever that means) publication going but millions will still go and see it - and probably leave feeling slightly disappointed though unsure why. There's obviously too much money involved to risk letting anything prevent this happening.

I think this is an important point, Rich. The (undoubtedly true) inference is that most people don't read reviews or do research or seek to obtain any other views, 'expert' or otherwise, before parting with their cash. Was it ever thus? Sadly, I think it was to some extent. I tend to fall back on videogames as an example, but there were about two million Playstation 2s in the UK in the machine's prime years. The Official Playstation 2 Magazine (a prime offender in giving things an uncritical, easy ride, but that's another point), had a circulation, I believe, of about 200,000. So that's just 10% of owners who are actively seeking information or guidance as to what to buy (and not getting good advice, but again, I'll leave that for now). My point, then, is that even allowing for other magazines and websites, comfortably more than 50% of people sought no further information and simply bought the games with the biggest advertising spend or the recognisable brand name on the box, or even just the ones they liked the sleeve art of, which, although it can occasionally pay dividends (I'll buy records from charity shops with cool sleeves for 50p) seems like madness with games costing £30 upwards. It's the same with films, plainly. I've definitely heard people at cinemas debating what film to watch and going solely by which actors appear, whether it's in a series they are familiar with, or if they've seen it advertised.

Are these people stupid for not reading reviews? Not necessarily. Or, rather, in absolute terms they probably are, yes, but are they unhappy with their choices? My guess is 'no'. If you've only ever seen blockbusters, or played Need For Speed, or read Dan Brown (for examples), and you enjoyed them, then you're unlikely to take notice of negative reviews anyway (or read the publications that give them), and the positive reviews ('4 Stars' - Baz Bamigboye, The Mail; '4 Stars' - Alex Zane, The Sun (sorry, more brackets, but how the hecking fuck did Zane get to be a film critic? Being a cunt to innocent people on Balls Of Steel and having a modern haircut is all you need these days, is it? Bicycling Christ...)) don't need to be read because they're already on the film poster, or book jacket (big stickers on the front of paperbacks, ugh) or whatever. If you've only got a narrow strata of experience in a given medium, you're much less likely to find fault - and as Rich says, even if you do "leave feeling slightly disappointed though unsure why", it must be difficult to pinpoint why you're disappointed, and so the same mistakes are made again.

That's why I like reviews, and why good reviews are important. I don't like wasting money and haven't the time to try everything out on the off chance I might enjoy it. The good reviewer (or reviews section, if all the writers are on point) is like the rich kid who's your best mate, who has the time and money to try everything, and tell you if that album starts well but tails off, or if that film is actually great, even if the director's last one was an abomination, or if that game looks lovely and plays well but spends all its time loading from disk, or whatever. Things you couldn't get just from the trailer or playing a demo or reading the plot synopsis on the inner jacket.

mistersloane
31-08-2011, 12:24 AM
I used to read Terrorizer magazine avidly as a youngster but stopped when I noticed previews of upcoming albums were basically paid-for press releases, writing such as 'will divide opinions' and 'this band doesn't follow the rules' usually meant that the reviewer hated the album but was not allowed to express such opinions.


I know the (ex) editor of Terrorizer and I can't speak for him, but will say that that sort of stuff may have been the staff trying to get good stuff past the (idiot) owners, so they were trying to sell (i.e. review good stuff not shit) to their "market audience" as they'd been told to do, whilst knowing that the idea of a "market audience" is crap. See also early Bizarre, good journos trying to get interesting stuff past idiot editors. In the end we all lose.

bruno
31-08-2011, 01:21 AM
I think this is an important point, Rich. The (undoubtedly true) inference is that most people don't read reviews or do research or seek to obtain any other views, 'expert' or otherwise, before parting with their cash. Was it ever thus? Sadly, I think it was to some extent.
isn't film different to other media in that it is a kind of experience? and mainstream films are this plus special effects plus iconic actors that people relate to or fancy, a promise of blinding experience. the trick is to make the product as visible as possible, reviews are a supplement to this and irrelevant unless the film is really catastrophic.

Damien
31-08-2011, 01:01 PM
I know the (ex) editor of Terrorizer and I can't speak for him, but will say that that sort of stuff may have been the staff trying to get good stuff past the (idiot) owners, so they were trying to sell (i.e. review good stuff not shit) to their "market audience" as they'd been told to do, whilst knowing that the idea of a "market audience" is crap. See also early Bizarre, good journos trying to get interesting stuff past idiot editors. In the end we all lose.

I was pointed towards a recent Terrorizer article in which they previewed the most recent Morbid Angel album. Now this album is beyond terrible and has been universally panned.

In this preview they gave glowing praise and made all the bad points of the album seem good ie the quotes I used above 'this band don't care what anyone thinks, they do what they want etc)

This is clearly a case of either

a/ a magazine being payed to praise a crap album

b/ a magazine trying to double guess it's audience

either way, I find this unforgivable and I am glad I stopped reading a long time ago

alex
02-09-2011, 02:08 PM
this thread has just reminded me but I take it everyone has seen the Paul Ross print on amazon?

mistersloane
02-09-2011, 02:37 PM
I was pointed towards a recent Terrorizer article in which they previewed the most recent Morbid Angel album. Now this album is beyond terrible and has been universally panned.

In this preview they gave glowing praise and made all the bad points of the album seem good ie the quotes I used above 'this band don't care what anyone thinks, they do what they want etc)

This is clearly a case of either

a/ a magazine being payed to praise a crap album

b/ a magazine trying to double guess it's audience

either way, I find this unforgivable and I am glad I stopped reading a long time ago

Double guess its supposed market I think. They changed editor and any semblance of being an alternative metal mag went out the window, havent seen it in quite a while now.

blacktulip
02-09-2011, 04:05 PM
The Gentle Art of Making Enemies by James Abbott McNeill Whistler is a great book and very pertinent to this discussion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Abbott_McNeill_Whistler#Ruskin_trial

PadaEtc
04-09-2011, 09:44 PM
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v221/converse/Photo-0077.jpg
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v221/converse/Photo-0080.jpg

Probably one of the worst reviews i've ever read! My favourite bit of this is when he name drops Source Direct in order to appear to have some credibility.

I read interviews more than reviews to be honest - I often find reviews stop me hearing something without pre-conceptions, I know it shouldn't be like that but I can't help it sometimes!

computer_rock
04-09-2011, 11:20 PM
i wouldn't read vice if i wanted informed opinion on anything....


Going back to the original post I agree with a lot of it but i think your idea of a cliche is a bit off the mark. i'll give you the 'on acid' one because that is utterly useless, but 'if you like x then you'll like y'? that's a probably one of the most simple and effective ways of communicating to the reader the information they want/need - it's essentially just contextualisation...

But if you actually meant that specific phrase 'if you like x...' then yeah you've got a point, but i think that would come under bad writing rather than bad reviewing

computer_rock
04-09-2011, 11:23 PM
oh yea and i think gumdrops already said but 3 stars is the real average. you see 4 star reviews on every average movie's poster because every average movie has some generous reviews, for whatever reason.

Ulala
05-09-2011, 12:04 AM
But if you actually meant that specific phrase 'if you like x...' then yeah you've got a point, but i think that would come under bad writing rather than bad reviewing

I very much meant that specific phrase. I'm all for "this is comparable to..." (with justification as to why, of course) but just plucking the first vaguely similar example and saying "you'll like this too" is presumptuous and lazy.

It's entirely possible that 3 stars is the average score given across all publications (it should be, certainly, if we assume a normal distribution, though as I've said upthread, very few publications use the entire range in any meaningful way and seem to mark from 3 upwards) but my point with the thread title is that '4 stars' is absolutely ubiquitous, quoted on every film poster, cd sleeve and book jacket. It is the visual short-hand for "not shit", in the eyes of the entertainment industry and public.

Gregor XIII
05-09-2011, 06:06 PM
I'll be the radical one, then, and say, that it's not just the phrase 'if you like x...' which is problematic, but the whole point of basing a review on comparisons. A review should point out what is unique and original about a piece of art, not what is familiar and old. Yeah, it's an easy way to tell the reader what he wants to know, but the whole problem with reviews - and kinda everything in these consumerist times - is that they focus too much on giving people what they want as easily as possible. This is the opposite of everything art should do.

computer_rock
05-09-2011, 07:16 PM
I'll be the radical one, then, and say, that it's not just the phrase 'if you like x...' which is problematic, but the whole point of basing a review on comparisons. A review should point out what is unique and original about a piece of art, not what is familiar and old.

I don't think comparison necessarily precludes identifying uniqueness. A thing's brilliance could be what was absent in something else...

Gregor XIII
05-09-2011, 08:44 PM
You're right, good point. Yeah, just saying that 'comparisons' are problematic is too simplistic, often times reviewers do point out why this record is different from this other, mostly similar record, i.e. it being 'on acid'. But still, I would say that most comparisons used in reviews are used to point out similarities, and even when they actually point out differences, the point could have been made better by engaging more directly with the object under review.

IdleRich
06-09-2011, 01:43 AM
"I'll be the radical one, then, and say, that it's not just the phrase 'if you like x...' which is problematic, but the whole point of basing a review on comparisons. A review should point out what is unique and original about a piece of art, not what is familiar and old."
Of course, that relies on there being something brilliant and original about the art-work in question. Some might say that the increasing number of reviews that draw primarily on comparisons is inversely proportional to the number of original ideas you find in the average work these days.

craner
06-09-2011, 08:08 AM
The Gentle Art of Making Enemies by James Abbott McNeill Whistler is a great book and very pertinent to this discussion.

As is Oscar Wilde's The Critic as Artist. And, come to think of it, Walter Pater's The Renaissance. I certainly used to keep these texts in mind when reviewing All Saints and Ultimate Handbag House CDs for Leeds Student paper.

craner
06-09-2011, 08:11 AM
Criticism only really raises its game when it believes it is at least as important as the work in question.

muser
06-09-2011, 10:02 AM
I hate to say it (on here especially) but most of the time I see a music review I'll go and listen to it first and then read after if I like it. If I cant find a way to hear it easily its generally not the number of stars or descriptions that help me guage whether i'll like it but the knowledge of the reviewers tastes compared to mine.. and the comparisons to other music.

I do enjoy reading a well written review though, I think it'd be really interesting to do some data mining on the words used to try and describe a song. It seems that as more technology is involved descriptives almost get less abstract and more physical. From things like rich, fluid, lively, melanchony etc to sludge, metallic, cold, liquid.

muser
06-09-2011, 10:22 AM
although I guess thats more to do with people trying to describe the pure sonics as opposed to the song. still its interesting how things can sound like unrelated physical objects or sensations. Its like a kind of universal synesthesia

Tony Flavourmore
13-11-2011, 01:43 AM
http://bigghostnahmean.blogspot.com/

fake ghostface blogger reviews modern hip hop records. funniest reviews I've read in a while. This is art in itself.

Corpsey
21-12-2016, 03:51 PM
3 STAR THREAD