REVIEWS….. The ticket to a secret identity?

When you write a review, whether it’s a CD- or a concert-review, you can be sure that there’s going to be lots of people having opinions about it. They don’t always realize that it’s all part of the game.

Reviews are nothing but one person’s simple opinion, written for the sake of entertainment and, to a degree, guidance. But there are always going to be fans out there who think that a review is a scientific essay. They want it to be “objective”.  You can’t be objective in a review, that’s the whole point! :-)

When I got my first job writing for Swedish newspaper Kvällsposten, I received tons of records from all the major record companies. I didn’t have my own post-box at the editorial office cause I was working from home. I just went there about twice a week to pick up my mail and submit the material of the week.

Every time I got there, there was a sack full of LP’s waiting for me on the floor behind the film-editor. Back in 1988, vinyl was still the main material that people wanted their music on. :-) The CD’s had been introduced but it took a few years before the music that we got went from vinyl to CD altogether.

Vinyl Lp

Anyway, as I was the rookie up there, the other music reporters taught me that as far as reviews…. I was not allowed to like too many records – which means I was not allowed to rate something 10 out of 10 too often. I don’t remember the exact quota, but it was strictly limited.

I was told that I would not be taken seriously if I liked everything, especially not if I wrote positive reviews too often. They wanted me to write negative, nasty reviews as much as I could, because not only did it trigger people to react – it was also good publicity for the band/artist. If people get upset, they tell their friends, or they write letters to the editor, they simply do unintentional PR for the publication!

And as weird as it sounds – when you write something really nasty about a band or an artist, people will get curious to hear it. “Is it REALLY that bad? CAN it be that bad?”

So, they try to get a listen if they can, or they talk to other people about it. EIther way – everybody wins.

A bad review doesn’t necessarily ruin sales, if done right. It can do the exact opposite.

I think that a band like W.A.S.P is the perfect example of that. There was not one “serious” music journalist out there that wrote anything good about “Fuck like a beast“, but all the bad publicity got people running to the stores and the record just flew off the shelves!

As I grew older and started to see music more objectively – not just in black and white, like when I was younger – it got harder to write strict “good” or “bad” reviews.

The review-editor at Sweden Rock asked me what I REALLY thought about one album that I had written about, because he couldn’t figure out if I liked it or hated it, I was beeing too diplomatic about it.

I told him that personally, I didn’t like it. No reason, it just wasn’t my taste. It was well played and for those who like that kind of music, I’m sure they would love it. It’s just that I didn’t and I didn’t want to be unfair and rate something low, when I knew it wasn’t really BAD…… It was a tough situation.

He told me it wasn’t about being fair. It was about having a personal opinion. If I didn’t like it, I should just say so, straight out, no excuses, no “buts” or “ifs”. That helped me get over the “objectivity-barrier”. Thank god. But he has actually been great with constructive feedback on my writing, I’ve learned a thing or two just by small details he’s mentioned from time to time. I like working with people like that.

One of the most memorable reviews I’ve written through the years was for “Hot In The Shade” by Kiss.
That, I will never, ever forget. 

I wasn’t particularly impressed by the album, and wrote somewhere that Paul Stanley couldn’t sing…. And used some pretty undiplomatic expression to illustrate exactly HOW much I thought he sucked.

Mind you, this was before the internet – back in those days, people wrote regular letters. When I got to the office a few days later, there were TWO FULL POST BAGS there with my name on them.

It took me FOREVER to open all those letters! I had pissed off the whole RAGING Kiss Army! I think every Kiss-fan from north to south had a thing or two that they wanted to…uhh, “share”… :)

I got the message – loud and clear – oh boy, it couldn’t have been ANY clearer!
Lesson learned: There are some bands that can not be criticised unless you want to get a secret identity and move to Vladivostok! Don’t ever say that Paul Stanley can’t sing and don’t ever say anything bad about Metallica or Slayer if you want to live. :)

Another time, I wrote a review about a GWAR-concert at club Stadt Hamburg in Malmo, Sweden… That review led to local authorities CLOSING DOWN THE PLACE! I was not popular by some people after that. Like I had any idea what a simple review could cause!

[I actually found a video where that whole thing was mentioned…. only, there were no “local authorities” at that show that could be spat on… they based it solely on my review. Ouch..
See it mentioned in the info text to this video. ]

I don’t know, it’s as if some people have their whole life hung up on their favorite bands. So when you criticise the band, they take it dead serious and dead personal – as if you’re criticising them.

I still think it’s fun to write reviews though. It can be diffucult after more than 20 years, finding different ways to describe something GOOD or something BAD, because you don’t want to keep repeating yourself. Yet, there are only so many superlatives you can use. It requires creativity. Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you don’t. But in the end – it’s all just entertainment.

Or… is it? :-D

8 comments

  1. West Side Dave

    Wow, my reviews never generated THAT much bile! I ggot on E-mail from some kid who felt I shouldn`t rag on Metallica [I called them “Alternica”, “The-Artists-Formerly-Known-As-Metallica”, among other things a while back in a review, as well as saying that anything they recorded after The Black Album was crap] because, as he put it, “Metallica is the reason you`re able to listen to Metal.” I`d say his CD collection started in 1997, at least! Other than that one, I never really got excoriated like you did. Maybe `cause I have a smaller audience? Anyway, you`re right, it IS just one persons` opinion, but w/ some groups/genres, you can`t please `em all….

  2. Daniela

    I think it might have something to do with the timing. Before the internet, bands were a lot bigger – it was a different thing altogether back in the days when bands were larger than life and their followers really worshipped them. Now, when everything is so accessible, there are less crazy followers to mock one reviewer. :-) Back then you had a handful of people reviewing, as opposed to now when everybody can do it, and everybody’s got different readers. :)But people still get upset in forums and groups on Facebook or whatever. Especially the fans of some bands. :)

  3. West Side Dave

    True. There was more of a “mystique” about bands before the `Net. I haven`t posted in any forums for years; too many drama queens [of both genders!] and you pretty much end up in arguments you`ll never win, even when you try to avoid them. So I send the reviews to the bands, as well as post `em on My Space, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Whomever wants to read them can do so and make their own judgements.

  4. Ronnie Soo

    Lots there to make you think!Especially that bit about the mag actually WANTING nasty reviews, confirms what I’ve long suspected about some music publications! I remember Sounds giving KISS’s ‘Asylum’ a one-star slating but by then the paper had turned into a pale imitation of the NME so it didn’t get quite the hatemail you’d expect. However, they also panned ‘Slide it In’ which did get a reaction! It was two different reviewers but the other thing that crossed my mind is that, in a big-name paper like that, people don’t always remember who wrote that slagging, only the paper it was printed in so it becomes ‘[Music paper] slagged off that album’ not ‘[Writer] slagged off that album’.This is such a thought-provoking post there’s too much for me to comment on here, may well write some of my own thoughts on this in my blog soon!All I’ll say is, that’s why I never wanted to write about music professionally!

  5. Clint

    “Metallica is the reason you`re able to listen to Metal.”This revisionist view of heavy music, especially by mostly younger, American fans, can be a bit annoying when you see it becoming something of a general consensus on certain forums, chat rooms and even print/broadcast media. They may be the most successful heavy band ever, but even they are the first to publically give props to the bands that inspired them and were ‘inventing’ heavy rock for a good 15 to 20 years before 1983 :PThat’s where album reviews can also be helpful, giving a little insight on bands and careers, which some people might happen to scan and think oh ok, I didn’t know that, and delve deeper if they’re passionate about music, if only for a little awareness of a field you claim to ‘love’.

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