Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Music critics and U2

I've written about the dismal state of music criticism before but I feel compelled to revisit the subject after reading no less than 10 reviews of U2's "No Line on the Horizon." A couple of first-out-of-gate reviews -- including Q magazine and Rolling Stone -- awarded the album 5 stars. This week's Entertainment Weekly stamped an A- on its review. I've listened to the album a few times now and, though it has commendable moments, you'd have to be of a very subjective opinion to declare this album a masterpiece. This kind of grade inflation makes one wonder if Ben Bernanke is secretly moonlighting as a music-review editor.

An astute, and persuasive, essay in the new WORD magazine (Kate Bush) cover, uses Kanye West's "808s & Heartbreak" as a case study in how the media now reviews the myth and not the music. Author Rob Fitzpatrick concludes, "Why can no one say this record is dreadful? In the pointless race to be the first review, no one wants to 'get it wrong.' " In this week's WORD podcast, its three participants -- editor Mark Ellen and senior writers David Hepworth and Andrew Collins -- wonder whether album reviews shouldn't be replaced by assessments three months after the release.

The ever-excellent WORD, incidentally, offers the sort of measured and insightful reviews that are in short supply these days. I'm looking forward to reading their review of U2's "No Line on the Horizon." In the mean time, I recommend reading the two newspaper critics I most trust, The Guardian's Alexis Petridis and The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot. Pop Matters also has a spot-on critique. As for me, perhaps I'll wait three months to offer up my own review of "No Line on the Horizon."

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