Christopher Nosnibor’s Guide to Being a Music Reviewer – Part Four

Knowledge is power, or so it’s said. In the music industry, there’s a sort of consensus that it’s now what you know but who you know, and while knowing the right people for bagging the best gigs and high profile interviews can help, gaining the respect of readers is more about what you know. People who read reviews – and a lot of music fans dismiss reviews as pointless, and consider reviewers to be pond-life – expect reviewers to be knowledgeable about music. It’s not such an unreasonable expectation.

After all, you’d expect anyone in any other profession to be suitably qualified and / or experienced. Granted, music reviewing isn’t on a par with being a medic or lab technician, but if someone’s job – paid or otherwise – is to impart critical judgement, you want to believe they have a background that means they understand context. While there are plenty of bozos down the pub spouting shit about football who haven’t got the first clue, anyone who writes a sports column or appears on TV or radio as a pundit has to have more than a pretty face or good speaking voice.

Of course, what ‘qualifies’ someone to be a music critic is pretty vague, but ultimately it’s about the hours put in listening to music and learning about bands and styles – including the ones you have no interest in, including the ones you hate. I make no bones that I’m no fan of The Beatles, but have a rudimentary knowledge of their career path, and know what they sound like and so on.

If anything, I think my own personal knowledge is more extensive than most. I’m a cultural sponge, and still keep half an ear to the chart shit that flops out of the R1 playlist and another on the half-arsed emo cack Kerrang! pass off as rock so much of the time. Because I’m curious. Because I consider it my duty to stay informed. I can’t criticise something I’ve never heard. Which means I’ve tortured myself with Katy Perry and Miley fucking Cyrus in the name of music journalism.

But people have unreasonable expectations. They expect you, as a music writer, to have heard every album, ever. And to remember every song, by title. And in sequence, on every album. They’ll whinge that their favourite album of the year isn’t on your list. It might be great, but you haven’t heard it. The fact you’ve listened to and reviewed over 500 albums in the last 12 months counts for nothing if you haven’t heard and raved about X, Y or Z, which 6 Music and the NME loved. Meanwhile, people in the office who love generic mass-market indie bands and who think The Cribs are off the beaten track and worship Paul Weller, and scenesters who go out to be seen at all the local shows while they talk through every act will be amazed you haven’t heard of their favourite new local band who have only played three shows but are amazing and are already getting quite a buzz around them. That, or the fact Tom Robinson played them and I haven’t a clue who they are… They were on the front of the NME! Kerrang! Featured them last week! They played the local pub last month…. The fact I don’t know who they are, and certainly don’t know their every song makes me the most pointless asinine excuse for a music journalist on the planet. I don’t deserve all these CD and downloads or free gig passes. I should just give up and get back to watching Never Mind the Buzzcocks right now.

 

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Some generic indie kids, yesterday. Your opinion as a music reviewer isn’t worth shit if you’ve not heard – and raved about – their friend’s self-released cassette, limited to six copies.

On a Grohl: The Best of Foo

The Foo Fighters have become something of a recurring theme in my writing, for a number of reasons. I will confess that I did find their debut disappointing, although it’s only as time has passed and their career has progressed that my dislike of the band – Dave Grohl in particular – has really solidified. There was a time in 2005 when it was impossible to escape the strains – and I use the word intentionally and fully aware of all of its connotations – of ‘The Best of You’. Not having a digital radio at the time, I found myself often stuck with Radio 1, where Chris Moyles would play it relentlessly. Fine, he’s a commercial DJ and a slave to the playlist almost as much as to his appetite and ego, which are of comparable size. But at the time, Zane Lowe represented just about the best – by which I suppose I mean the only – real conduit to new alternative music. However, it was around this time that the playlists of the supposedly alternative Lowe, who was growing increasingly irritating in his excessively exuberant links and evermore sycophantic interviews with artists, began to overlap with the mainstream daytime shows to a considerable extent. Were alternative bands taking over the mainstream? No, the alternative being represented was becoming increasingly commercial and narrow in scope.

 

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Zane Lowe: Bumlicking Cockend

The Foo Fighters – a major force in the charts, especially following ‘The Best of You’ and the attendant album, In Your Honour – were not an alternative act. In fact, the crime was worse than that: they were the acceptable face of rock, the ‘rock’ band it was ok for people who don’t like rock to like. The very worst type of corporate rock is surely the rock the suit digs and references when trying to make like they’re hip. In my own experience, I’ve heard it said on more than one occasion that ‘The Foos Rock’. The line always seems to emit from the mouths of people who wouldn’t know rock if it hit them round the head and knocked them unconscious. Arguably, it’s impossible for any band which has songs converted to ringtones to be alternative, and certainly, if an act’s getting played every morning for a month on Chris Moyles’ breakfast show, it ain’t alternative. While I’ve never actually heard a Foo Fighters ringtone, I’m sure they exist and are favoured by the least ‘rock’ people you’re likely to meet.

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Chris Moyles: the saviour of Radio 1 or just an egotistical fat cunt who loves the sound of his own voice?

Yet the Foo Fighters retained credibility with the true rock crowd because of Grohl’s credentials in terms of his previous output. Now, as a drummer, I have to confess respect, even admiration, and his contribution to the recordings of other bands is also noteworthy: Killing Joke’s eponymous 2003 album would not have been half the album it was without his powerhouse percussion, for example.

Anyway, while some authors have imbued characters they intend to portray negatively with, for example, physical defects or deformities as a reflection of their defective personalities or deformed morality, I bestow mine with questionable musical tastes – at least as far as I’m concerned. Ben’s liking of the Foo Fighters correspond with his conflicting nature, namely the conformist battling with his rebellious streak. In Ben’s case, it’s a more complex issue than his inner rebel struggling to find an outlet against the conformist he’s become in order to fulfil the function he has assumed. Moreover, he’s a conformist at heart who has a fear of anything that disrupts the comfort of conformity; any rebellion he exhibits is as artificial as the happiness he presents to the outside world, because he knows that a dash of rebellion, of non-conformity, is cool. Fearful of going too far, and not really having a taste for anything too far beyond the ordinary, The Foo Fighters are emblematic of ‘safe’ rebellion, the musical equivalent of, say, a henna tattoo.

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Foo Fighters, with the nicest man in rock, Bee Gee tribute artist Dave Grohl

 

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