[Hype Hype Hooray] The Horrible Criticism Machine Takes on Boring Mainstream Rock

Every [two weeks?] Jamie Hale takes a long, hard look at the music industry and the blog scene that feeds it. Here, he releases those findings and makes snarky, sarcastic remarks. Admittedly, both Jamie and Knox Road are a part of this scene. So sue us.

Ohhhh some critics like to opine about the current state of the music industry (yours truly included) and that just riles up other critics who like to opine about how wrong the former critics are. It’s a vicious cycle of critics being critics, and never liking or agreeing with what other critics say. You could say that it’s some kind of small-fish-trying-to-make-a-name-by-disagreeing-with-big-fish scenario, but I’ll shy away from that accusation. For now, let’s go to the New York Times:

2011 may well be remembered as the most numbing year for mainstream rock music in history … The genre didn’t produce a single great album, and the best of the middling walked blindly in footprints laid out years, even decades, earlier.

That bold statement comes from a Dec. 29 article titled “The Year When Rock Just Spun Its Wheels.” Times writer Jon Caramanica is of the opinion that rock music is “zombified,” in that it’s present without any kind of soul or inspiration (I made a similar, albeit harsher criticism a while back). He makes a good point! Veteran rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant and U2 have made wholly uninspired and boring albums on their last outings (although some might disagree with me on Plant), and new rock bands are just as uninspired (I’m looking at you, Foster the People, Kings of Leon, et al.). Even the Black Keys, the new kings of alternative-gone-mainstream blues rock, couldn’t match last year’s superb Brothers.

Personally, I think Caramanica has a great point, one I would even extend to the mostly-lifeless indie scene of 2011. But not everybody agrees! Author/poet/blogger Andrew Dubber gave the Times piece a strong criticism. And just what does Mr. Dubber find wrong with it?

1) You can’t complain about a dull year in music if all you do is report on the pile of CDs that ended up on your desk as a result of public relations and major label marketing.

2) Even if you are looking outside the pile, chances are you’re still looking in the wrong places.

3) IF IT’S BORING, DO NOT WRITE ABOUT IT.

Well I tell you what, Mr. “I’m too good for the Times,” I got a criticism for your criticism of that criticism! Sure, Mr. Caramanica may review music from a pile of CDs that ended up on his desk as a result of public relations and major label marketing, but that pile of CDs is exactly what he’s talking about! He didn’t say “all music in 2011 was boring” he said mainstream rock music is boring. To your second point, he’s not looking in the wrong places, because he’s focusing his search on one place—that likely pile of CDs on his desk. I’m very sorry that you liked some music this year and took his piece as an affront to your good taste.

But it’s the third point that kind of gets to me. “If it’s boring do not write about it” is a totally irresponsible viewpoint for any critic to say. It’s not the job of a music critic to only tell people about the good stuff. It’s like telling a news reporter to only write about good news. As much as you don’t like it, people need, and WANT, to read reviews about bad, often boring, music. Maybe you only like the exciting stuff that you deem “not boring” but I personally LOVE reading a good lambasting of U2 or Kings of Leon. To further his point, Dubber closes his argument with this:

So if your job is to report upon popular music and you are unable to find ten incredible things in the past year to share with those of us who still read what you have to say, then that makes you a failure. I’m sorry – but there it is. You’re a lazy, complacent, boring failure.

No, if he can’t find 10 “incredible” things to write about the last year of popular music, it’s more likely than not the fault of popular music being terrible and boring. It’s not the critic’s job to manufacture greatness that doesn’t exist. That’s called lying. It’s the critic’s job to take an experienced ear to music and give an honest, critical take on it. Sometimes, as you say, this can result in great finds of obscure acts. But sometimes it can result in a really terrible year for mainstream rock music. It just so happens that 2011 was one of those years.

But I’m just another critic, criticizing the critics. It’s a vicious cycle, really, and this column is just another spoke in its horrible wheel. Drubber, Caramanica and I are all here, spinning around and around with all the other yahoos who want to voice an opinion (see Collapse Board for another take on this). Sure, you could call me hypocritical for judging the machine and joining the machine all at once, but then you would just be feeding the machine too, wouldn’t you? At least I can take solace in knowing that I’m right and stupid Dubber is totally wrong. That’s the idea, isn’t it?

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