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 Everett True

Classic ‘reviews’ from the US music press – 1: Kanye West

Classic ‘reviews’ from the US music press – 1: Kanye West
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Who needs to reprint the review when you’ve got perfection in a numeral?

Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
[Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella; 2010]
10.0
Ryan Dombal, Pitchfork

MORAL: I do not doubt that the reviewer likes this album. But what is the tipping point wherein the Pitchfork reviewer says to HIMself, “Ah g’wan, this is worth far more than a tired old 9.9. 9.9’s are so 2009. 9.9’s just aren’t going to cut it here. C’mon Ryan, we need to prove to that doubting outside world that we’re not just Vampire Weekend-lovin’ indie nerds here at Pitchfork, we need to make a STATEMENT.” What is that extra-special something that allows Mr Dombal to give the album the extra 0.1 of a mark that will lift it out of the realm of the merely extraordinary to the spiritual plain of absolute perfection?

A particularly fine cup of coffee?
A gorgeous spring morning?
His kids allowing him to sleep in past 5.15 am?
The way the cellophane packaging came off the CD without needing scissors?
The production on the third beat, 15.03 minutes in?
…It couldn’t have been for that horrendous illustration on the ‘rejected’ cover, surely?

In the comic book world, and in the philatelists’ one, too, grades are given according to condition. When do you suppose the Pitchfork editors are finally going to bite the bullet and follow suit? It would do away with so much of the annoying arguing.

P.S. It’s a good job the album wasn’t given to someone who didn’t like Kanye West as much. Unless that 10.0 is supposed to apply to everyone?

P.P.S. Here, for example, is Blog On The Tracks’ take on the album.

24 Responses to Classic ‘reviews’ from the US music press – 1: Kanye West

  1. ben November 25, 2010 at 8:22 am

    the reviewers at pitchfork don’t assign the ratings, they’re given by the editors.

  2. Everett True November 25, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Thanks Ben …which leads one to think that yes, the Pitchfork editors decided that they SHOULD make a statement with this rating.

    If Pitchfork is the new mainstream, what is the new Pitchfork?

  3. Vegar November 25, 2010 at 8:26 am

    yes, you really gotta love YET another album with autotune overkill and the same old rhymes we’ve heard before. It has to be a classic

    Oh give me a fuckin’ break

  4. Ian Rogers November 25, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I like the album a lot. But it’s far from perfect and 10 just annoys me. It seems patronising somehow. Like the album has been ordained instead of critiqued. That score also completely inserts Pitchfork into the dialogue about the album. Now instead of a great commercial pop album by Kayne, it’s also the KW album that Pitchfork gave a perfect score too.

  5. nolan November 25, 2010 at 9:46 am

    i don’t understand what is so bad about pitchfork giving this amazing record a 10? also i swear autotune is used in about two of the songs so i don’t even think old mate vegar has bothered to listen to it… i really don’t think anyone is pushing pop music forward as hard as kanye and certainly no one else is providing great music to such a massive audience… so i’m glad the generally pretentious indie snobs at Pitchfork gave this record 10… even if it was to make a statement… clearly its had the right effect…

  6. Everett True November 25, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Well Nolan. What, f’r instance, happens if Kanye’s next album is better than this one? What grading will Pitchfork’s editors give it then? Or can the Pitchfork editors already see into the future?

  7. nolan November 25, 2010 at 10:15 am

    they’ll probably make a special ’11’ score reserved only for Kanye West to make another statement.. it’ll be the ultimate statement.. i don’t think by awarding such a flamboyant score they were claiming the album was literally musical perfection.. there was a wider comment going on and pitchfork has the power to put it out there… plus ryan is clearly a massive fan.. if there weren’t enthusiastic music fans in the world music would be shit… pop culture really shouldn’t be taken so seriously

  8. Everett True November 25, 2010 at 10:25 am

    As I said, I have no doubt that the writer is a massive fan – and that’s to the good. It’s the whole ridiculous concept of reducing enthusiasm and critical discourse to a base numeral that I take issue with. I believe it devalues both the review and the album under discussion. No one will remember a word of the review. Everyone will simply remember it as a ‘perfect Pitchfork 10’. In which case, why bother writing the review in the first instance?

  9. nolan November 25, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I suppose… but I personally think it is good thing that this score has become such a reference point for people discussing the album, especially online… I bet the review will get a shit-load more reads then if it was given say a 9.2 or something… Pitchfork’s readership will grow, which certainly can’t be a bad thing either… it’s not like he designated the score as an easy way out, the review itself is well-written and the writer has clearly put a lot of his soul into it… Also you would never ever hear Kanye West complaining that Pitchfork giving him a perfect 10 has devalued his art… I see where you’re coming from as a writer, but most of the people who read stuff online aren’t going to be paying as much attention to critical discourse we are… plus anyone who judges an album wholly by a pitchfork score (there are a lot of hipsters out there who do) are dickheads anyway…

  10. tomfiend November 25, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Number scores have plagued general criticism forever. Not just in music either, its a plague video game and film criticism is rife with also. Fuck the numbers off, and read the damn review. Like all music it is going to have something good (hopefully) and something bad about it.

    At the risk of sounding incredibly pretentious, a good writer can articulate this without using an arbitrary scale to define something’s quality.

  11. inks November 25, 2010 at 11:53 am

    If you don’t like the scoring of albums it seems counter intuitive to add yet another blog post to the mass of others bemoaning this 10/10 score. Why not talk about the actual writing instead? I found the Pitchfork review to be an interesting and illuminating read. It was nice to see someone getting really excited about music for a change, instead of taking the kind of ultra cautious approach that seems to be everywhere at the moment.

  12. Darragh November 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Here is my review of the Kanye West record that I submitted to Pitchfork earlier this week.

    “Ten ten,

    Nine Nine? Eight? Seven? Ten! Ten, ten ten ten. Ten, eight ten ten ten; ten ten ten ten ten. Ten!

    Ten

    Tenten Eight Ten.”

  13. bmule November 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    just for the sake of argument and some rational prospective; if The Beatles’s ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is the best album ever, then it would have to rate an 11, thereby bumping Kayne’s to a 9 relatively speaking. can we really say ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ is as good or maybe even better than so many other great albums?

  14. Everett True November 25, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Inks, I didn’t bother discussing the review because the grading at the bottom of it far overwhelms it. The grading is quite deliberately designed to be the major talking point of the review, and to claim otherwise is disingenuous. Maybe it was a great review? Who knows? Who cares? What matters in the Pitchfork world is the mark, not the words.

    I’ll start reading Pitchfork properly when the editors start treating their writers’ words with something bordering on respect and not reducing their doubtless illuminating insights to base numerals. But as they don’t, why should I? What does it say about the faith that the Pitchfork editors have in their writers (and, more to the point, their readers) that they feel the need to “explain” reviews with the lowest common denominator conceivable?

  15. Everett True November 25, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Also, pause for reflection. If the Pitchfork editors really are adding the grades afterwards – i.e. the grading has nothing to do with the writers – then surely, they are basing those grades on the force and eloquence of the individual writer’s reviewing ‘skills’, not on the merits of the album itself?

  16. Everett True November 25, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    P.S. Is there any truth to the rumour that the Pitchfork editors only started grading the reviews so they could tell them apart?

  17. Andy November 25, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Pitchfork give 10/10. Plan B would have give it ‘my friend gave me some excellent coke last night and whilst I was watching the band I had a really profound thought about Habermas, but anyway the singers shoes are fucked up. Vampires are real. I think they had a moog’/10.

  18. Shaun November 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Are you crusading against the masthead or the writer? This is a good review – Dombal treats the subject well and he justifies – entertainingly – his enthusiasm for the record. ET, you’ve written for publications with a rating system before, and I know you’ve attempted to subvert it (the 0 or 10 anecdote), but Pitchfork has a dual purpose, and that’s what makes it successful: it provides a rating for listeners looking for recommendations, while also providing longform criticism for those who want more.

    I think the reader needs to be held responsible sometimes, and Pitchfork by no means birthed this phenomenon. If a reader is happy to have their taste guided wholesale by one publication’s numerical rating then that’s their problem, but most other publications are either/or. On the one hand Rolling Stone, NME etc, and on the other FactMag, the Quietus, Wire, Mess+Noise. People who read these sites/mags are music fans, but whether they’re invested in the criticism of music, or just want to be told what’s good on a scale of 1 to 10, is another question.

  19. David November 25, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Thanks Pitchfork … I guess my taste in music is absolutely shithouse, as I think Kanye West’s latest offering is exactly what I hate in music of today. Oh well you guys are the experts so therefore you must be right.
    D

  20. Everett True November 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    With reference to Shaun’s comments.

    I certainly have nothing against the writer – especially after Ben pointed out that the editors add the grade afterwards. (Has anyone verified this? It seems odd to me.) Nor have I anything against Kanye West.

    I’m just saying that 1) whether it’s the intention or not, the fact this review has been graded a ‘perfect 10′ far outweighs the critical power of Dombal’s words, and 2) it’s rather patronising, the fact that the Pitchfork editors clearly think so little of their writers’ ability to communicate clearly and/or their audience’s ability to understand what the writer is trying to communicate, they feel the need to codify their words at the end into a single numerical value. Plus, music is not a competition.

    I deliberately didn’t reproduce any of the original review beyond the grade at the end because, frankly, the grade at the end is a 1,000 times more effective at putting the writer’s point across than his own words. It’s absurd, of course, that this should be the case – for some of the reasons I’ve already listed. Universities and schools grade students’ work, but most commonly they set out very defined assessment criteria for these grades. Last I looked, popular and alternative and whatever music does not. And neither do the places supplying these grades.

    P.S. This – “Pitchfork has a dual purpose, and that’s what makes it successful: it provides a rating for listeners looking for recommendations, while also providing longform criticism for those who want more” – is a really interesting point.

  21. Max November 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    hey, shouldn’t all criticism meant to be longform? I mean if someone says I suck at music or I’m the greatest performer alive, I sure as hell know I’ll remember about that ’till I’ll stop breathing… isn’t it all coming down to what we perceive?

  22. Shaun November 26, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Max, I think so. Music “criticism” should offer reasons: the writer needs to get their hands dirty. Music reviews – the type that explain what something sounds like and passes a subjective verdict – are easier, but there’s the imperative to have authority, which most writers can never hope to achieve in 2010. Readers looking for a verdict don’t care about reasons, they just want to know whether it will appeal to them, therefore they need to trust the writer, and why should they trust them? Just because you’re writing about music, doesn’t mean you write about it well. Lesson #1: your opinion means shit. All you’ve got is your argument, and if you’ve got the opportunity to make it, don’t waste it.

    Imagine this: you’re writing a review of the new Arcade Fire record. You’ve got 300 words. Two dozen more influential mastheads have covered the record already: what do you do? What’s your angle? Don’t tow the line – you need to exert yourself. There’s no point padding your prose out with crappy hyperbole, because while that will get you published, no one will give a fuck about you. Your byline will be forgotten. You’re just another moron who likes or dislikes the new Arcade Fire record. Don’t just pass a verdict, explain why. It should be fundamental, but everyone forgets.

  23. Princess Stomper November 29, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    @ Shaun – that’s a surprising line to take. I don’t know – I never viewed reviewing as a competition. I only ever sought to communicate how I genuinely felt about an album. I guess that’s why I never really “got” the whole critic thing: if all I want to know is *why* it’s so amazing/terrible, then I thought that’s all anyone would be asking of me.

  24. Other Ben December 10, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    This is the most intelligent internet discussion I’ve ever seen. You’re actually considering each others’ words! Off-topic, I know, but it had to be said.

    I give it a 10.

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