FEATURE: “If Music Be…”



  “If Music Be…”


THERE are three reasons I am writing this piece.

IN THIS PHOTO: Björk for Dazed’s autumn 2017 issue/PHOTO CREDIT: Jesse Kanda

I need to keep this short(ish) for a couple of further reasons. The first is, having to compact my writing into an evening, there are inevitable mistakes and rush-provoked mishaps coming in. I yearn to have the entire day writing and not be beholden to the dark embers – pushing myself until the light is extinguished. I shall come to that another time but, ironically, I am writing about reviews and journalistic attention – whether it is useful and how authoritative it is. I mentioned I had a few motives for writing this feature. I wanted to look at other writers and whether they are being forced into brevity: if it is useful when reviewing an album and whether one needs to expend many words. Another reason (why this is here) is Björk (who one can see pictured above) has announced a new album is just around the corner. Her last one – 2015’s Vulnicura – was a pretty good one. Even by her impeccable standards; it was one of her most successful and assured of the decade. She is a consistent artist who does not want to rest between albums for too long. Lord knows what has inspired her upcoming album. Recent efforts have looked at nature and science: she has pushed boundaries and found new ways to create sounds and invent staggering soundscapes. Whether she continues along this line – or adopts a directness one can associate with her early days – I am not sure. Although she says it the album is coming out soon; that could mean a few months – maybe it will be out on Friday. Who knows, eh?! Whatever it is dropped, and whether a single comes out beforehand, it is one of the most-anticipated releases of the year – even though nobody heard about the album (whatever it will be called) until today. The mere suggestion of a Björk is a moment of joy and revelation. Speculation will grow and people will be wondering what is coming...about that word limit thing…!

I wanted to write this piece because, more than anything, I am reading reviews and articles that come out in the mainstream music websites; those we see in the underground sites and the big magazines. Going back to Björk and, without being too distracted, she assessed her forthcoming album, thus:

This is like my Tinder album,” she explains in the feature. “It’s about that search (for utopia) – and about being in love. Spending time with a person you enjoy is when the dream becomes real.”

Elsewhere in the piece, Björk discusses how the rise of right-wing populism helped inspire her new direction: “If we’re gonna survive the situation the world is in today, we’ve got to come up with a new plan. Especially now, this kind of dream is an emergency.” She also talks about reuniting with Vulnicura co-producer Arca for the album, describing it as “the strongest musical relationship I’ve had.”

That snippet is from Dazed - and is a teaser for the question-and-answer/feature she has conducted with the magazine. It is very exciting and it makes me feel, when the album does come out, what kind of reception it gets. I titled the article the way I did because there is a huge irony. We all know that Shakespeare soliloquy/adage and that, as much as anything, should define music. It is a food of love and banquet: a passion that should not be prone to brief curiosity and insincerity. I find a great number of music journalists are tasked with reviewing an album and really not putting in the graft – have to keep this to fewer than two-thousand words! I mentioned how mistakes are creeping into my work – there may be the odd bit here-and-there in this article (that gets missed). It is inevitable there’ll be the odd grammar/spelling error because: A) I do not have a sub-editor and try the best I can and, B) I do better than most – consider the number of words I type a week. My reviews are unique as, simply put, they go pretty deep. Like a well-hung porn star working overtime: I go in hard and plunge deeper than a submarine.


Expunge that rather odd nautical-cum-ejaculation image from your mind and you know what I mean. I review new artists and feel I need to be as thorough as possible. I realise accuracy, articulacy and variation are important: if one is lacklustre in one area; are they entitled to judge others?! The reason I put so much effort into every review is down of the work that artist does. They take the trouble to write the song/E.P. and toil endlessly to get the sound right. From there; they embark on production and mixing; pushing it to journalists and hoping people react to it. Few realise how hard and anxiety-provoking recording music can be. There is so much expectation and pressure on an artist: they, in turn, feel rushed into recording music to fulfil a sense of critical expectation. I am not naming any papers/sites but we all read such brief and pointless reviews. If a mainstream artist puts out an album – and ensures it is the best it can be – what use is a review that lasts only a couple of paragraph?! I honestly see mainstream reviews that distil an album into eight lines. Sometimes it can be even worse and you wonder what the journalist is doing during the day – and why they are in such a rush! It comes down to editing guidelines and making something bite-sized and digestible. I was looking at reviews for two recent albums: Dizzee Rascal’s Raskit and Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. Both albums gained different reactions – the former more positive; the latter left many cold – but it was hard getting a genuine consensus. Obviously, different reviewers have different thoughts but I saw few reviews that actually went into any details. Rather than listen to the album itself: how am I meant to get a true sense of an album’s pros and cons from the collection of barely-there reviews?! Arcade Fire’s album got a couple of five-star reviews off the bat. Those were, by-and-large, quite detailed and gave me something to go by. The mediocre/poor reviews – in terms of the quality of Arcade Fire and not the journalist – were punchy to the point of being pointless.


They slagged the album off in a couple of sentences and that was it. Because of that, I was so confused as to whether the album was much cop. I had, say, five reviewers saying it was crap and five saying it was good – if two journalists say it is a great record, and put the effort in, does that means I should side with them?! The same was true of Dizzee Rascal’s new one. The Guardian gave it a meaty review and that was quite refreshing. I picked up some good points but felt, before I went out and bought it, I’d read a few more reviews to get a balance. The ones I saw ranged from three-to-four stars: there were few that rated it higher or lower. That lets me know critics like it – if not crazy about it – and they were pleased Dizzee was back to his near-best. Pleasing for me, as a fan, to know he has produced something better than the genuinely bad, The Fifth. I have, so you know, bought the album and heard it on Spotify beforehand – so irritated at the slapdash reviews and complete lack of passion. I have heard Everything Now on Spotify and had to make my own mind up (I will not be buying that album). I mentioned a certain Icelandic artist earlier – and have her as the cover-star – because her as-yet-untitled album will not merely be dropped into shops without it getting into the hands of critics. Maybe she will release a single before; maybe she will have snippets of songs out there – she is not someone we can predict in any way. Being a Björk album; it is going to be full of wonder, invention and the mysterious. It will have big sounds but, as it is a paen to love and hankering for Utopia; it makes me curious how that will manifest itself. I can well imagine but, before the writer graces us with the L.P.’s presence: I need to collate a few reviews and see what people are seeing. For me; passion may compensate (to an extent) for some at-times-sloppy penmanship – scansion, syntax and grammar not always tip-top and rosy – but I acknowledge this.

IN THIS PHOTO: The album cover for Arcade Fire's Everything Now

People pick me up on it and I yearn to be better. My greatest positive, I feel, is the way I approach reviews and how I dissect songs/artists. If I was charged with reviewing Björk’s upcoming album; I would provide some background and contextualise the record. I would ensure the review was thorough, concise and helpful. I worry so many journalists, even if it is a Björk record, will reduce it to a few paragraphs. It makes me wonder how useful modern media is and whether we are compressing articles to suit a short attention-span. There are culpable sites – some are really great and ALWAYS make their reviews detailed – but I want to see consistency across the board. If I am looking for some Björk reviews; I will do a search on Google and see the search results. Clicking on them; it can be quite a frustrating experience. They give the album a star-rating but then, when it comes to explaining the songs and what the album is about, often that is compacted into a few paragraphs. The artist has put her soul into the album so one wonders whether she is offended by the short and punchy reviews. I know sites limit their writers to a word count and do not like to put too many long articles online. Music is a wonderful industry and the greatest albums deserve a proper and passionate review – even so-so records need the right amount of words to justify their rating. One cannot give an album four stars and then write ten lines. What is anyone supposed to do with that?! It is happening more and more and it is making purchasing habits quite erratic. Once was the case we’d look at reviews and get a sense of what an album was about; go out and buy it and that was that. Now, people cannot gauge an album’s validity and quality on the strength of reviews. They stream the odd track and then, when everyone has had their say, will, make their own decision. The music consumer needs education and guidance: I am concerned sites/newspapers/magazines, in their zeal to be accessible and digestible, and taking a calorific approach to writing.


They are presenting a sparse and small meal and not providing the public with any real substance and nutrients. Because of this – and follow the diet/food analogy here – there is this anaemic and under-fed reaction. We are being left hungry and maddened by the vast array of stupidly-sized reviews. (I am aware of the irony that is on display here). I have rambled on and exceeding my word limit desires for this piece. There might be errors and omissions but, I feel, in decrying critics and their review culture have, ironically, put more depth in than they would reviewing an album. I want to be one of those mainstream critics but feel I would not be allowed to expend necessary effort and thought. Perhaps that is the way the media is but it makes me sad thinking Björk’s upcoming album will be assessed in so few words – she deserves so much more and is an incredible artist. I will leave this be but wanted to discuss something that is making me quite angry. I see a lot of people rage at the laziness of many journalists and how sites are putting out threadbare reviews. It is not inspiring the new generation of journalists and means, for the artists being reviewed, they are not provided with the attention they deserve. That creates a negative culture and makes them less inclined to make more music. We all know, dears, music IS the food of LOVE. Whether you like the album (or not): it warrants a decent and diligent write-up. For that reason, when faced with an album, there needs to be changed. Do not limit the reviews to so few words. Truly LISTEN to the album; let the imagination conspire and…


PLAY on!