Originally Posted by mrmusic
uh, well, I dunno ... I am the Music Editor of AVRev.com, as you can see from my ID (look left and click "mrmusic") -- if you hadn't noticed yet by reading our music section anytime in the last 3 yrs.
You seem to think "critic" is a Bad Word, David. Here's how those two (dead) arbiters of meaning, word "experts" Mirriam and Webster ("yeah, what gives them the right to determine the merit of one meaning of a word over another? My definitions are just as good as theirs!"), define it:
1 a: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
b: one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances
2: one given to harsh or captious ("marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections") judgment
You (and many others) incorrectly blend the two meanings, emphasis on #2, but when used in this context we're talking about the first definition, part b especially, and part a. Arts criticism can turn out either positive or negative, praising or damning, but nearly always is a mixture of the two, because rarely do you come across something either perfect or totally worthless.
"Ah yes... the 'artistic merit' that only an 'expert' can properly assign!," you intone. That sounds kind of sarcastic, mocking and self-righteous to me. But you know what? I agree with that statement. Artistic merit IS the purview of experts.
What's wrong with experts? Do you fix your own car? Alignment, transmission, engine? Maybe you do. That would make you an expert. Me, I go to an expert called a mechanic. When I'm feeling physically off in a way I'm concerned about, I go to an expert called a doctor. Nothing wrong with checking out an expert's opinion.
The artistic merit of art (e.g., music) IS evaluated by critics, because they are experts. Not infallible gods, but yes, experts. So what? It has nothing to do with popularity, sales, whether or not you can or should enjoy it, how often it gets heard on the radio, if at all, or how many points it would get for danceability on American Bandstand. If you read a negative critique of some music you think is great, you probably take it personally, as though the reviewer is saying your opinion is uninformed, wrong and stupid.
Don't take it so personally, people. There's a place for popular opinion, and for critical opinion; both are useful, and neither invalidate the other. You can still like what you like. I like Tommy James & the Shondells' music. I can only weakly defend it, artistically. But I don't care. If some critic slams their work, I'll either agree or not with the basis for slamming it, but I'm still going to listen, and like.
There are certainly a lot of people in print or on line who don't deserve the designation of critic, and give the good ones a bad name. Notwithstanding, it is an art form in itself. Music is the most ethereal of all the arts, gone in an instant, triggering emotions in its wake, so difficult to capture in words on a page. To be a good critic you must not only be up to tackling this incredibly elusive task, but be working from a foundation of wide knowledge and experience. An excellent writer or journalist doesn't necessarily make a good critic, nor does a music expert, if he can't express his feelings in writing.
Like they say about assholes and opinions, everyone has one. You, David, are in the biz, and a music expert, many would say. But you don't choose to let your opinions be judged by the world by taking on the challenge of being a published critic. Fine, but give credit to those who do, for the world to judge, slam and mock their work; like the musician, they are offering something creative to the world, and have to let the chips fall where they may. But don't try to denigrate and invalidate the very idea of legitimate criticism.
I have to put in a word for the critics who write for me. They were meticulously chosen from literally a world-wide search, and had to show they were up to our high standards. They've all far exceeded my expectations. I'm very proud of all the standard-setting writing and reviewing throughout AVRev.com, but especially that of my stellar music critics. What they do is unique, insightful, inspired and inspiring. Look around. You won't find better reviews anywhere. These guys know their stuff, and their opinions are brilliant, and brilliantly expressed.
Your pithy proverb about no one ever having built a monument to a critic is actually a quote from one of my very favorite composers, the great Jean Sibelius. But you know what? It's a rare, rare, really rare musician who will react with anything less than disgust to a review of his work that's anything less than a rave. (Meaning every thing they've ever done is perfect, beyond criticism, right?) And it may have been an accurate statement when he said it, but there are at least two prominent playhouses on Broadway named for critics, the Brooks Atkinson and the Walter Kerr. And if you want to expand into the 1a definition, you can start with Martin Luther and go through Martin Luther King Jr. and find plenty of critics who have had monuments built to them.
Here's something on the subject from Frank Zappa: "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." In the Guns N' Roses song "Get in the Ring," Axl Rose verbally attacked critics by name who gave the band negative reviews because of their actions on stage. Zappa's is pretty funny, I think, because it's too often true. Axl's is kind of pathetic.
Even the best critics are wrong sometimes. And believe me, few things are as egotistically uncomfortable as confronting that rave review you wrote a few years ago about a band or album you now, for good reason, loathe, or having trashed someone everyone now regards as genius.
Concerning your Led Zeppelin remarks above: "loud, violent and often insane" sounds like a great concert to me. I would say I wish I had been there, but I sort of was. After being stunned by their first album, I couldn't believe my great good fortune to see they were scheduled to play in little ol' Albuquerque on their first tour (opening for Vanilla Fudge!!), in a 3,000-seat hall. It was a life-changing experience. I wasn't aware til now that Hilburn and Landau slammed them, but the young critic in New Mexico, fresh out of the army (where his CA buds turned him on to Led Zep I), didn't have to "look again"; I had already written a rave review of LZI. Guess music critics aren't some monolithic, predictable entity, after all.