Wallace Wylie

8 Things You Should Avoid Saying in Response to a Music Review You Dislike

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Everybody Loves Raymond

By Wallace Wylie

God bless the internet. This modern marvel has already changed our lives at least 774 times since last year and has also caused 321 paradigm shifts in the past week alone. As we mortals struggle to stay apace with these revolutions it sometimes helps, when adjusting to changing times, to set some rules so everybody feels more comfortable and secure while traversing the wastelands of the World Wide Web. 

One of the biggest revolutions that the internet has brought about is the revolution in communication. Teenagers in Slough can now chat with 57-year-old perverts in Uzbekistan about what the other is wearing while also looking at hardcore pornography and contemplating their next chess move. Truly we live in special times. Nothing says communication, however, like the act of commenting on an internet music review. With the shield of anonymity users can unload their deepest thoughts and frustrations on the reviewer in question, spewing bile and self-righteous anger in all directions, before retreating to the comfort of fan-fiction chat sites. In the interests of fair-play, and in an attempt to avoid redundancy and boredom, I have compiled the following list of things to avoid when commenting on music reviews. If obeyed they should make the internet a livelier, more intelligent, and all around more fun place to spend your time. With these modest aims laid out, let us begin:

1. Don’t label the reviewer a hipster.

This goes to the top of the list as it is surely the single most overused put-down on both the internet and in everyday, non-electronic, communication. Please, don’t keep calling yourself uncool or not hip. It is unbecoming and, like labeling your tastes “eclectic”, it indicates self-delusion and conceitedness (plus it is pseudo-populist in a way that is scarily reminiscent of the way the Republican Party of America labels left-wing people “elitist”). Do you sit around all day in unwashed sweatpants re-watching Everybody Loves Raymond for weeks on end and still find yourself laughing at every joke? Clearly you don’t, and even if you did you would undoubtedly make a status update that said, “Sitting around in my sweatpants watching Everybody Loves Raymond for the third week straight. God, I’m such a nerd” just so everybody knew how self-consciously uncool you really were. Calling someone a hipster is just a pompous way of saying, “My tastes are not defined by what is cool. Sure, I like a lot of things that are considered cool but I listen to those things because I genuinely like them, not because it’s cool. Same with the way I dress, and the movies I like. I’m actually a nerd really”. In other words you are a self-deceiving halfwit who is playing up to the coolest and most obvious personality trait of the moment: being uncool.

2. Don’t say “You’re just jealous”.

This is stupid and sinks below even the cheapest pop-psychology. Apparently the driving force behind any dislike is jealousy? It doesn’t even make sense. If I write a bad review of Fleet Foxes it means I’m jealous of the fact that they are able to write insipid, pseudo-pastoral folk dirges? Or are you implying that it’s their success that I’m jealous of? Am I jealous of all success? What about the fact that I like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Nirvana and Outkast? Why wasn’t I jealous of their success? I’d feel embarrassed even putting this on the list if it didn’t crop up so often. Save your words for expressing something both original and worthwhile.

3. Don’t call someone a bad writer because their opinion differs from yours.

It takes a special kind of ego to imagine that anyone who holds a different opinion from theirs is automatically a bad writer. When asked to qualify such a statement the commentator may say, “The review just doesn’t work”, or some other such nonsense, but what they really want to say is, “This review is badly written because it dismisses an album that I think is really good”. Now it is possible for a badly written review to exist, but I often wonder why I never see complaints along the lines of, “I agree with almost everything this reviewer is saying but the way they said it was just awful”. Don’t kid yourself. You dislike the review because it tore apart, probably in a very convincing fashion, something you hold dear. At least have the decency to admit it.

4. Don’t say “Well what do you like?”

Do you really expect every negative review to provide you with examples of what the reviewer likes? When someone writes a positive review are they expected to offer examples of things they don’t like? Or perhaps the implication is that the reviewer doesn’t like anything? Would you notice if a reviewer only wrote positive reviews? Would you ask them if they dislike anything? When you read a review you should hope to god that the reviewer is giving an honest opinion. Worry when a reviewer is afraid of being negative. Chances are advertising concerns and fear of angering the musical act in question abated their anger. People are often assigned reviews and, considering the vast majority of music created at any one time is garbage, it makes sense that they will dislike a lot of it. Now quit asking stupid questions.

(continues overleaf)

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33 Responses to 8 Things You Should Avoid Saying in Response to a Music Review You Dislike

  1. Matt O'Neill September 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with an article on Collapse Board as much as I’ve agreed with this one.

  2. Matt O'Neill September 20, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Well, except for my articles, of course.

  3. David September 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

    So, so, SO insanely freaking true. This is the best article I’ve seen on Collapse Board possibly ever. Thank you so much for doing it.

  4. Shan Welham September 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

    #6! Gosh, yes.

  5. Joseph Kyle September 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

    After all, the only thing than the reviews of a failed musician are the reviews of a successful musician.

  6. Joseph Kyle September 20, 2011 at 9:54 am

    “worse than,” i mean to say

  7. golightly September 20, 2011 at 10:04 am

    ha ha ha ha Love it!

  8. Scott Creney September 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Wallace, I’ve thought about writing an article like this for the past several years, but could never quite get it the way I wanted it to be. This is EXACTLY the piece I’d been trying to write.

    Thank you so much. Now I can go and re-post it everywhere.

  9. Darragh September 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

    This is so emo.

  10. Darragh September 20, 2011 at 11:22 am

    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

  11. a_grey September 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    #6 is the one that always rankles my feathers. most of the people who spout that nonsense usually have awful taste (i know, i know… taste being subjective and all, but it usually comes out of the pieholes of zappa/rush/satriani/pastrious/elp/stevie ray vaughn types of fanboys- ick).

    the ability to play music should bear nothing on one’s ability to critique it… that’s why writers are writers and musicians are musicians. ever notice that most musicians are terrible authors?

  12. Princess Stomper September 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    The one that annoys me most is “you’re just jealous” – because the word is “envious”. Jealousy is a destructive anxiety about losing something you have, esp. a human connection. Envy is the destructive yearning for another person’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession – often including the wish that the other person lacked it. If you’re going to accuse someone of being “jealous”, at least use the right context.

    The “failed musician” one is funny because most of the reviewers I know are either gigging musicians, or ones who just decided they were better writers than players. How does one “fail” at being a musician anyway? Aside, of course, from making truly terrible records.

  13. Darragh September 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    RAWR! Linguistic debate – something I’d fail miserably at – but Princess Stomper, that’s fairly harsh dichotomy you’re establishing there.

    As far as I see it, the word jealous can be used legitimately as a synonym for envy – everyone uses it that way nowadays, regardless of its etymological roots. Anyway, it’s the context and comprehension that matters, not the meanings of individual words.

  14. Paul September 20, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I’m even worse than a failed musician I never even tried! But I have an opinion and I know words and stuff and I have ears all of which qualify me to review music. Taste is by it’s nature subjective so don’t get upright by bad reviews take it as feedback. If you respect the reviewer then take their feedback on board if you don’t then ignore it. It really is that simple.

  15. Dave Franklin September 20, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    The “you’re not a musician” bit is the strangest one to me, I suspect most science fiction writers don’t live in the future and most crime writers haven’t actually bludgeoned anyone to death with a hatstand (though I suspect Steven King does actually conjur demons on his days off)

  16. Princess Stomper September 21, 2011 at 5:38 am

    That’s the funny thing about this site – as soon as some folk decide that they don’t agree with a review then then default setting reply is always: “Oh, this is over-written! It used too many words etc etc”. Maybe this review is harsh but it’s certainly sending me off to have a listen. Should I disagree with it then I’ll enter some discourse and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. That’s what a debate is about, right?

    – Comment left in response to a review at The Quietus.

  17. Joseph Kyle September 21, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Princess, while I agree somewhat with that commenter and their POV, that review was, in the words of Casey Kasem, “fuckin’ ponderous.”

  18. Princess Stomper September 21, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Heheh … I agree with your agreement: it was a tad flowery. But I just thought that comment was hilariously apt.

  19. Princess Stomper September 21, 2011 at 7:02 am

    (That said, I did agree with the review.)

  20. James Flint September 21, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Agreed Wallace. Attacking a speaker’s/writer’s credibility/ethos has been recognised as the lowest/weakest form of argument since Socrates. My only problem is that you do look a bit ginger, so…

  21. matt ahrrr September 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    this is mostly terrible. the idea that you can write an article saying what can and cant be said in response to a review is self contradictory. do you not see this? please try harder next time.

  22. James Flint September 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm


  23. Everett True September 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I think it’s a joke, James.

  24. Wallace Wylie September 23, 2011 at 12:23 am

    I am ginger mind you.

  25. Drew September 27, 2011 at 8:32 am

    I guess Bob Dylan broke one of your rules then. Because he talked about how little value he places on music critics because he said most of them don’t understand music, chord structure, and what it takes to write a song because they’ve never written one, never played an instrument and never would. Dylan said he valued book reviews more because at least the people writing them had actually done the activity (writing) they were evaluating.

    Not sure I agree but that’s what he said.

  26. Everett True September 27, 2011 at 9:06 am

    I’ll reply to this on my blog later.

  27. Wallace Wylie September 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I will just say that the idea that a person must understand songwriting from a level of experience in order to critique a song is fucking stupid. The majority of people who listen to Dylan do not actually play musical instruments, and even of those that do most do not write songs, a fact that Dylan I’m sure is more than aware of. Should their judgement be trusted when they enjoy his music? Does Dylan only write songs for a select few group of songwriters whom he admires? I can assure you a person of limited hearing who had never so much as seen a musical instrument would be well within their rights to call “Man Gave Names To All The Animals” a worthless piece of shit. Music is made for listening and those with ears can do that just fine and critique what they hear. Must I make a film before I offer a critique of one? By that logic almost nobody should be allowed to talk about films. Dylan has a tendency to talk absolute bullshit. I should know.

  28. Branches October 11, 2011 at 5:11 am

    I think the bigger question, Wallace, is what really separates your judgement from mine? Like you said earlier, the internet has given so many people the chance to communicate… what then, would make the critic so “special”? What is it about your writing that can make your opinion matter more, or hold more weight than the judgement of any random kid at home in their pajamas?

    What exactly is the function of a negative review if you are writing about nothing more than personal taste? In short, why should I care about anything you say?

    I know I’m rather late in commenting here, but I would greatly appreciate a reply. These are questions that have been on my mind for quite a while now and I’m still looking for explanations.

  29. Everett True October 11, 2011 at 6:51 am

    I think the bigger question, Wallace, is what really separates your judgement from mine? Like you said earlier, the internet has given so many people the chance to communicate… what then, would make the critic so “special”? What is it about your writing that can make your opinion matter more, or hold more weight than the judgement of any random kid at home in their pajamas?

    This is a valid question, but why stop with just criticism? It’s a question that can be applied to all branches of culture.

    “You play music, but what is it that really separates your music from mine?”
    “You draw pictures, but what is it that really separates your pictures from mine?”
    And so on.

    Everyone can paint. Everyone can sing. Everyone can create. Everyone can critique. Everyone. Some folk when they do it have more resonance than others. Does that mean they’re ‘better’ in their chosen fields than others? Who the fuck is qualified to say?

  30. Wallace Wylie October 11, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Branches, nothing separates your judgement from mine. You don’t have to pay attention to my judgement. Did you need me to tell you that? Nobody is forcing anyone to read articles on Collapse Board (at least, I don’t think they are). Music writing is not simply about opinion. It’s also about the ability to articulate that opinion in an entertaining / funny / thoughtful way. What I say isn’t as important as how I say it.

  31. golightly October 19, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Some people feel the need to read a guide book when they go travelling to a new city. Others let the city dictate the tour in a natural random way. It’s a matter of personal preferred approach. No one ‘needs’ music criticism really, but plenty of people find that it enhances the listening experience and also points out songs, bands and music styles that may have not naturally presented themselves otherwise. It’s also a forum in which to discuss opinions and share a passion with others for something us critics hold dear: good music. You can take the Magical Mystery Tour… or you can wander through the crowds of scallies to explore Liverpool. One approach is no more valid than the other, but the experience will be different and cater to different people. Me? I like a bit of a tour guide and I like to get lost and find my own way. That’s why I both critique music and read music criticism written by others.

  32. Luiz com Z January 20, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Well, what if the critic is a bitter, jealous hipster who happens to be a failed musician and seldom states what he likes? Should we just leave all those out of the conversation and feel sorry for him in silence?

  33. Mark Lansing August 29, 2013 at 7:44 am

    As someone who has worked as a music critic, I quite like this piece, but I take some exception to describing Lester Bangs as “a failed musician.” Maybe Lester didn’t sell an awful lot of records, but I don’t think that was his intention — he clearly knew he was never going to be a pop star, and didn’t make music with the mass audience in mind. Lester DID make two fine albums, that proved he could write literate, compelling, personal songs and sing them in a way that made them work with a band. I’d say JOOK SAVAGES ON THE BRAZOS and BIRDLAND WITH LESTER BANGS are good enough to shut down the notion that Lester found fault with others but couldn’t make music himself … Lester always believed passion was the most important thing you could bring to the stage, and he had that to spare.

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