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The Latest Trend in Music Reviewing: Non-Listening? [2/27/2008 04:17:00 PM]:
Y'know, on the one hand the Maxim mess is pathetic and disturbing (and props to Broken Record for talking about it before anybody else I subscribe to did), but I'll be damned if it doesn't strike me as being mostly hysterically funny. I mean, c'mon, how much more "meta" could we possibly get? My favorite Threadless tee, the one which I will one day actually go & buy, proudly declares "I listen to bands that don't even exist yet," but dammit, Maxim had the unmitigated gall to go one better (er, worse) -- they review albums that don't exist yet, at least not in the public realm where one can listen to them. Call it "non-listening," a new form, of sorts, of music criticism.

Yes, that's right -- if you haven't yet heard, Maxim hack David Peisner wrote a review of the to-be-released Black Crowes album, Warpaint, for the latest issue of the mag. He smacked it down fairly solidly, which probably didn't make the band happy, but they were apparently much less happy when they read it again, checked the date, and said, "hey, wait a minute -- how'd he even hear the album?" As detailed in the press release linked above, the new Crowes album isn't just unavailable to Joe Schmoe on the Street, but it's also unavailable to Big Important Music Critic Guy. No, seriously -- the band's label was so worried about leaks of the new tracks that they decided not to send out any press advances.

Which I know, by the by, because SCR attempted to get our hands on one, so that writer Damon could get his Black Crowes fix. And rather than receiving zero response from the PR people (which is pretty much what I expect when we're talking about a band like the Black Crowes; I'm still somewhat in awe that PR types respond to my emails at all, actually), we got a note apologizing and saying that no press advances were being released.

Naturally, with no disc/MP3s to listen to, we decided we'd have to hold off 'til the dang thing actually comes out. Which makes our little e-zine, I guess, more ethical than Maxim. Woo-hoo! I'm gonna pin that review up in my cube, right next to the cautionary Amplifier clipping, so it'll make me feel a teeny bit better about my lazy-but-principled pseudo-journalistic ass.

Obviously, the whole debacle raises a host of frightening visions -- if a relatively major mag like Maxim can just go and review an album, sound unheard, where's it stop? I mean, why bother to actually see that new Definitely, Maybe movie if you don't have to, right? Hell, you can find the synopsis on IMDb, and you can probably guess enough of the most-likely-sappy plot to fill out the rest. Poof -- review completed! We could be looking at a whole new world of critical endeavor where there's no, ah, actual criticism involved.

The scariest part, though, to me, is that if it weren't so damn blatant -- i.e., writing about an album the guy couldn't possibly have heard -- who's to say Maxim would've even been caught? Hell, if they'd held off for a couple of weeks and then released it right as the album hit the streets, nobody would've been the wiser. Totally fake journalism, totally undetected.

That's the part that makes me twitch, a bit, and it's partly because, y'know, the thought's occurred to me in the past, too. We're not Maxim, no, but there's still time pressure from time to time, and it'd be all too damn easy to just slap together a couple hundred words on Big-Time Band X's latest release we just got sent so we can put the review up before they play H-town. I mean, I basically did just that for 2-3 of the 4 years I spent in college, and then honed the craft while working book PR; it's easier than you'd think to say a lot of nothing about something.

All of which makes me wonder, how often does this happen? I think it's fairly likely that it happens a lot, honestly, especially when you get up to the Rolling Stone/Pitchfork/SPIN level. Pressure to deliver, tight deadlines, etc., etc. How many other reputable, big-name music crit outlets do shit like this? And that's where I stop chuckling and shaking my head at how stupid Maxim is -- maybe they're stupid, in a sense, not because of what they did but because they got caught doing it. If they were smarter, nobody would even know they'd pulled the review out of their ass. Which is nowhere near funny, if you ask me.

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