Incredibly lazy journalism or just another lacklustre album?
In a recent thread on their Facebook page, Melbourne indie darlings Love Of Diagrams accuse me of some “incredibly lazy journalism” in my review of their fourth album Blast for The Guardian. They have since removed the comment.
Well, it’s either that… or incredibly lazy songwriting on the band’s part.
I understand that it must be upsetting to receive a bad review in such a prominent publication (where they might have ordinarily expected to receive a good review almost as a matter of course) after spending months of work and love crafting a new long-player and its attendant paraphernalia. Of course. And where there’s bad news, it’s natural to lash out at the messenger, instead of listening to the message itself.
And of course my opinion is subjective, mine and mine alone.
But – incredibly lazy journalism? Let’s have a closer look, shall we?
I’m not a slow writer. I used to have a certain reputation – justified – for being able to turn around four album reviews in an hour. I know my own mind – and that’s often all you need for a review (the rest is research and metaphor). And yet, when it comes to writing album reviews for The Guardian, it can often take me up to three or four hours to pen 700 words. And that’s not counting the back and forth that often takes place between myself and my editor, nor the rewrites if required. And it doesn’t even begin to take into account the time spent listening to the album: usually at least four or five complete playthroughs without any writing. (For Love Of Diagrams, it was actually more. I didn’t want to give a band I liked a bad review, so I kept listening.) So what’s that, six or seven hours work for a maximum of $210? And that’s not a full-time wage, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m lucky if I get more than two commissions like that a week. And during the summer months I have no outside work at all.
It takes a lot longer for The Guardian because a) I’m conscious it’s for a wider audience than Collapse Board (say) and b) I feel very privileged to be writing for The Guardian and don’t want to abuse my editors’ trust in me.
It’s possible Love Of Diagrams weren’t referring to the amount of effort expended, but to research not properly carried out. They indicated they don’t mind bad reviews – on the contrary, they welcome them as part of a necessary dialogue around music – but my (bad) review was, fortunately, simply “incredibly lazy journalism”. After all, no one likes a lazy journalist, do they?
The actual quote from the bands is, “[we] agree that diversity in music writing is essential”… unless, presumably, it involves criticising any music that Love Of Diagrams make?
In particular, Love Of Diagrams felt my comparison to My Bloody Valentine indicated laziness on my part – like I was going for the most obvious comparison, whereas there were many more influences to be had than that. Well, I went for it, the same way several other people who like Love Of Diagrams mentioned it on my social media, because I felt it was unavoidable. Far from being unfamiliar with the names and genres Love Of Diagrams fit alongside, I have a great familiarity with them – so much so that (as I stated at the start of the review) I felt it might possibly be getting in the way of enjoying an album I felt was so clearly derivative.
I know my shit.
I do wonder whether that was why the bad review hurt so much – that, coupled with the fact Love Of Diagrams aren’t used to getting bad reviews. “Indie darlings”, you see. I made a point about that in my original review, which got cut – probably rightly so.
Accusing a critic of “incredibly lazy journalism” is one of the default settings for bands/fans of bands looking to discredit the critic and thus devalue their words, lessen the currency. And thus the bands/fans of bands can avoid the elephant in the room, the fact the show or record or song or whatever in question just might not be all that. Opinion being subjective and everything. But, of course, I didn’t just offer opinion – The Guardian wouldn’t have printed it if I had. Instead, I offered an opinion backed up by analysis and argument and research, and knowledge and sympathy for the band themselves, and hopefully a couple of decent turns of phrase. I’m not sure how that qualifies as lazy journalism.
I justified my opinion.
If you receive a negative review and you’re upset by it, then it’s a natural reaction to hone in on the weakest spots of the argument and try to pull them apart, thus discrediting the rest of the review. I referred to two other bands in my review of Love Of Diagrams’ fourth album as all-female (Beaches, and Electrelane). Sexist, about three people howled! Patronising, a few more spat. Damn straight. I shouldn’t have used the phrase: it’s a phrase I’ll often take other journalists to town for using and I can hardly complain if folk do the same to me.
I will frequently use the phrase “all-male” to point out the ridiculousness of this device.
In my defence, I did so a) in an attempt to contrast these bands against the others mentioned, and b) because I had only two or three words to describe each band to a mainstream audience and felt the gender was important in both bands’ cases. Fundamentally, I disagree that the gender of the band is unimportant, especially in a country like Australia where gender imbalance is still so marked, a country where its ruling political party celebrates International Woman’s Day in a men-only club. I appreciate that some female and male musicians have moved on way beyond this, and hence find this position irritating, but I disagree that they represent the majority of the population. The idea that gender is unimportant is an argument people – both male and female – were throwing around during the gestation of Riot Grrrl. Some of us were pilloried for our support of female musicians in a way that I haven’t experienced since, not until I moved to Brisbane in 2008.
Weird how many people think some of the Riot Grrrl bands are so cool these days, especially those musicians who believe gender isn’t an issue.
I still believe females in the main are way more capable of creating interesting and exciting pop/alternative music than males. I do, however, appreciate this is a controversial opinion in itself, not least because of its emphasis on gender.
One of the band’s fans picked up on the line, “Of course, one has high expectations for Love is Diagrams” and amusingly replied, “Of course, one has high expectations for a music writer to get a band’s name right”. Damn straight. It would have been even more hilarious if I had written it. I didn’t. That was an editor, adding in the name (wrongly) while paraphrasing. An obvious typo, easily corrected.
There seems to exist a hardcore of Australian music fans who feel the need to mention Nirvana whenever my name comes up. I suppose I should be flattered that I am linked so closely in their minds, but… guys, guys, guys. Isn’t it time you moved on?
Quite a few people referenced my age. And rightly so. 1) it’s so relevant, and 2) it’s so much more acceptable than being sexist or racist.
I like the quote “regard all art critics as useless and dangerous”. Man, I wish I could approximate that.
Someone wrote, “This review makes me want to listen to the album more”. Good. Seriously. I think that’s great. I would be distressed indeed if I stopped people from enjoying music they love. Likewise, I enjoyed the comments where people were talking about how they liked the album, and why. That’s cool. That’s dialogue.
As CB contributor Tom Randall wrote, “The defensiveness on display here is completely uncalled for. ET’s regard for LOD is clear, and I think that it shows true appreciation of someone if you are willing to call them out for something you don’t like. The review wasn’t a personal attack.”
The review wasn’t a personal attack. No. It wasn’t. Shame Love Of Diagrams didn’t respond in kind.