a review of album reviews
ALBUM: NO ALBUM IN PARTICULAR
BAND: NO BAND IN PARTICULAR
February 9, 2021
by NADJA DEE
[Tip: This review looks best on a desktop computer]
A lot of people are going to think this is about YOU and YOUR BAND. The hard truth is that it is, and it isn't. It's really about anyone who has ever released or reviewed an album. It's for folks who are in a situation where they give feedback on another's work of art.
It goes back to the first person who had to review anyone's music. Those poor creatures we call "Music Critics," or journalists. From a music critic who criticized Antonio Salieri's music compared to Ludwig van Beethoven, to little 16 year old Cameron Crowe when he wrote for Rolling Stone to anyone today who writes album reviews.
This is as much about me as it is for you, for I know the double edged sword upon which you fall - Nadja Dee
The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1839)
Lately, I haven't been in any mental or emotional state to write a new album review. I work retail, and every day I risk contracting COVID-19 because of my interaction with the general public. Many of the people I come in contact with, either don't believe that there's a deadly virus (Despite the roughly 500K Deaths and counting in the USA alone), they don't care about infecting others (Especially some poor, second class citizen, working stiff like me), or they are just too lazy to give a crap about anyone else's safety.
We've been dealing with this pandemic for almost a full year now, but some people still don't practice any safety protocols. You know, the daily grind of getting up, cleaning up, masking up, sanitizing and trying to keep everyone, myself included, safe from harm. Customer service, if done correctly, is exhausting in itself, it's almost a forgotten standard of yesteryear. Watch Back To The Future and you'll soon realize that gas stations used to not only fill us your tank, they would check your oil and wash your windows as well, all the time doing it with a smile.
How often have you run into customer service people who don't give you good customer service? It happens all the time. Today, it's become even more complicated with the additional social distancing, talked through a multi-masked face, cleaning up after everyone's germs. It's no wonder that all of us on the front lines of customer service are exhausted.
Lately, I simply don't have the downtime or the energy to write a bunch of reviews. But, it wasn't always this way, plus I wasn't so alone.
At one time, Hop On Power Pop was a team. Sure, a small team, but still a team. I had others to help me write an album review. On top of that, I had the energy to take it on. But that was in the "before times," the times where we weren't wearing layers of PPE, socially distancing and we were able to recharge through friends and hugs. I've taken for granted how much a hug used to recharge my batteries.
Yet, I also have another confession...I've yet to hear a new(er) album that's blown me away and made me want to write a review. If you're reading this, and you've recently released an album, and you're thinking...that's about me! It's not necessarily. (See above for why, because you missed my point.)
My point is that I haven't been in the mood to exert that extra energy. I'm like a person in a coma right now, no gentle reminder of music is going to be strong enough. It's got to be EPIC, it's got to be that one, the "Gold Buzzer" moment, you know the perfect alignment that "Sword In The Stone" moment that wakes me up, shakes me out of it. I just haven't heard it yet.
There's been good music for sure. I know most musicians have fragile egos, but, I haven't been moved like that first time I heard Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. I've had songs that made me pull off the freeway because they were that good and I had to focus on what I was hearing. Smells Like Teen Spirit was a mix of nothing I'd heard before and at the same time, like every great song before it. It was like that Beatles moment, where I had the realization, oh wait, that's THE BEATLES too? They wrote all those songs?
I'd say recently, the album that's really blown me away most was the first time I heard Mike Viola's 2011 album Electro de Perfecto. Sure, I didn't hear it until a few years ago, but when I finally did treat my ears to that album, it truly was "perfecto!"
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
A lot of good comes from reviewing an album.
You've made the band/musician's day
You've made the label very happy
You've called attention to their music
You've help sell copies of their album
You've made new fans of their music
You've put prestige in their hands, a feather in their cap, especially Top 10 Lists
You may get more followers to your music site
You've hurt their feelings
You've possibly hurt future sales
You may have gotten the album for promotion and now they resent you
Basically you just called their "baby" ugly
A mixed or negative review will get you blocked
WHAT'S THE CATCH?
In anything good, or worth doing, there's always a "catch."
The catch is that it's not easy to review an album because the person making the album, has given birth to their new baby and if you don't love it, you've just called their baby ugly.
But, if you like their album, you've just made a new BFF for life. (That is until you dislike their latest album.)
It was recently said that every band who releases a new album says "It's our best album yet!" Haha. That's so true and I get it. An artist should be advancing their skills so that their next album is better than their last album, but where does that end? It's like an endless Russian Nesting Doll, but every new one is bigger and better than the last.
THE MAGICIAN'S CODE
There's an unspoken code amongst magician's that they never reveal another magician's tricks. It's the ultimate faux pas to do that. And there's probably another unspoken code amongst music journalists, to not reveal the double meanings when reviewing an album. But I've never been one to play it safe, so I'm throwing caution to the wind.
When a reviewer doesn't like an album, we'll say things like "It took a few spins to get into this album." What we're really saying is that we didn't really like the album, but we have to review it, so here goes. Of course, this is a great excuse because there have been a few times where an album really did take me a few listens before I "got it." But most of the time, saying that it took a few listens to sink it, is code for the reviewer didn't like the album.
Or when we say "The singer has a unique voice," what we really mean is anything from they have a voice that's only suitable for one style of music. Or it could mean they have a terrible singing voice and they really needed to keep their day job. Again, like the previous journalist code, it really could be a "unique" voice, think of Crash Test Dummies lead singer Brad Roberts, Bob Dylan, Cher or Tiny Tim. Saying a singer has a "unique voice" doesn't always mean it's bad, not at all.
The first time I heard Billie Holiday, I thought she had a really unique singing voice, different from everyone else. I could say the same thing about both Chrissie Hynde, Lorde, Björk or Stevie Nicks. All of those singers have such unique voices they've been parodied on quite a few shows, including South Park.
SOUTH PARK: Comparing Stevie Nicks singing voice vibrato to an actual goat
In 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, "What Happened To The Negative Music Review? citing that albums rarely get bad reviews anymore, pointing out that it's easier to give a movie a bad review than it is an album.
And although negative album reviews are going the way of the Polar Ice Caps, there still have been plenty of scorchers from some major music sites:
Today, it's easy for anyone to be a reviewer, you can use platforms like YouTube, FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter or publish a review on your own website like we do here. Anyone with access to the internet can rave or rant about any work of art out there. But, it's getting harder and harder for people to tune in.
There's over 14 major music streaming websites from YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music and Google Play to name a few. So, anyone can access music and not have to purchase a song or album.
The fallout is that an album review may barely get an audience, unless it's targeted correctly.
On Hop On Power Pop, we've chosen not only to avoid assigning a grade or a score to an album, we also won't review an album we don't like. It avoids a lot of headache and heartache. If we decided to write a scathing or mixed review on an album, it's possible that it could hurt the sales of that album. And let's face it, whether we like an album or not is subjective.
SMASHING PUMPKINS - SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT
There is nothing for you here. There is, in fact, almost nothing here at all - Pitchfork
MUMFORD & SONS - DELTA
The Mums were much more likeable back when they were pretending to be coal miners who churned their own butter - Rolling Stone
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE - MAN OF THE WOODS
If this is the real Timberlake, maybe he should go back to pretending - Northern Transmissions
ERIC CLAPTON - HAPPY XMAS
At least Christmas Tears is aptly named for the effect induced by its combination of 12-bar blues' lusty strut and Yankee Candle phoniness - The Guardian
OPINIONS ARE LIKE 🍑
It's been said that opinions are like 🍑's, everyone has one and everyone's stink.
But opinions are not like 🍑's because opinions, unlike 🍑's, can change over time. This has happened to me.
In 2001, Tears For Fears lead singer Roland Orzabal released Tomcats Screaming Outside. As a huge fan of Tears For Fears, I raced to get my hands on a copy, only to be severely disappointed by it. It wasn't more great Tears For Fears music, it was an exercise in techno sounding crap. In fact, I kind of hated the album.
But I didn't throw it away, I shelved it with the other Tears For Fears albums, for what I thought was going to be it's final resting place. Rest In Peace you stinking Tomcats, go scream somewhere else.
Then, years passed. I listened and became a fan of bands like The Killers, Young The Giant, and Walk The Moon. While these bands where not Power Pop, they mixed electronica with hooks and melody. I began to actually like this style of music. It felt like that scene in the movie White Men Can't Jump, where Wesley Snipes character Sydney Deane, tells Woody Harrelson's Billy Hoyle that he can't "hear Jimmy Hendrix."
I felt like I couldn't "hear" what Roland Orzabal was going for with his solo album. While perusing my record collection, I saw the album I had shelved many years ago and remembered it was in that realm of "electronic pop music," and decided to give it another chance.
I popped it in my CD player and started crafting. The album built slowly, and the songs caught me at the right moment in time and mood. I listened to the whole album, and when it was finished, I listened again. Then, again and again. I listened to the album for an entire week, it was the only album I wanted to hear. My husband probably wondered what had gotten into me, Tomcat's Screaming Outside was the only antidote for my mood that week. I don't know why I hated the album so much in the first place, but now I will grab that album and listen to it at least once a month or more.
It reminds me of the story of Big Star. At the time they released Number 1 Album, they couldn't get arrested, let alone any favorable attention. Then time went on and finally people started realizing what a masterpiece that album was, and it grew in popularity and gained recognition as the Power Pop iconic work of art that it is today.
Roland Orzabal's Tomcat's Screaming Outside album had the same journey in my life as Big Star did, going from almost total obscurity to musical work of art. So, I wonder how often other music might travel down the same journey with other music journalists? Sure, maybe an album doesn't go from "pauper" to "princess" but it's possible an album once hated becomes recognized for the great work that it really is. Stranger things have happened.
I wouldn't trust any reviewer who always praised any album release. To me, it means that they're not being completely honest. Seriously, who likes EVERYTHING? Nobody.
Any time I see a list of albums always at the top, or reviews that do nothing but RAVE RAVE RAVE about every new release, alarms go off in my head. I feel that either they're friends with the musicians or label and aren't telling us the truth, but doing a favor for a friend or powerful person in the music business. Or they're getting paid for their reviews. In other words, they're selling reviews for profit. In either case, I will not take their reviews for honest takes on new music because they're basically commercials.
I also wouldn't appreciate a reviewer who hated everything that came out. If you're a reviewer and you hate everything, why in the hell are you a music journalist? Find another hobby because this one is making you miserable. It's either that or you have a serious Schadenfreude problem.
When I founded Hop On Power Pop, I realized that we would have to review albums. I didn't want to fall into the trap of the BAD or the UGLY aspects of album reviewing. So, I built in certain protocols to do our best not to compile a long list of musicians or labels that ended up hating us.
HERE ARE FIVE RULES THAT WILL HELP KEEP US FROM FIGHTING EACH OTHER
We only review an album if we like it. If we don't like your album or if it's equal to Courtney Love covering a Big Star classic, then we will pass. Hop On Power Pop feels a scathlingly bad review could hurt your sales and that's not our goal
We don't assign a grade (A, A-, B, B- etc) or a score (10 out of 10, or ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐stars) to any album we choose to review. Our tastes change over time, so if we give an album ⭐⭐⭐ stars today, then a few years later realize we should've given it ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ stars, we don't want to change that rating
Hop On Power Pop is a Power Pop site. That means if your album doesn't fit our perception of Power Pop, then it's (usually) not going to get a review. If you seek out Hop On Power Pop, you're looking for Power Pop music. You didn't come here to hear about a new country pop album, or any other genre. It's a Power Pop music site and that's what you're going to get
We never claim to be the end all, know all, flawless music site. A lot of music that gets talked about here is new to us, even if it came out in the 60s or yesterday. We don't have any sort of publicity machine working for us and it's very possible that we not only listen to ROCK music, sometimes it feels like we've been living under a ROCK as well
We've only been at this for a little while and sometimes the pressure to stay current, the pressure to put out content or review the latest album gets pretty heavy. Like I said, it's a side project at best, and while we do our best to keep you folks entertained, we are human beings with day jobs. The jobs that actually pay the bills and those come first.
Hopefully, that shed some light on album reviewing from our perspective. I certainly don't envy album reviewers. It's not often that an album comes along that really impresses us, and more often than not, it's just going to be pretty good.
Most of the musicians I review have limited budgets and work out of home studios. The days of the session musician are long gone, and some folks have figured out how to collaborate with others across the globe. That's impressive, but the song has to be there to begin with or else you have a lot of talent working on mediocre music.
But, it's that one in a million song, reviewing that one hidden gem that makes a reviewer feel like they just opened King Tut's Tomb. We all live for those moments.
Thanks for listening,
AS ALWAYS, PLEASE SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MUSIC!
DISCLAIMER: HOP ON POWER POP doesn't give stars, a grade or any sort of quantifiable rating. What HOP ON POWER POP does is let you know what H.O.P.P. thought of the music by the band at this particular time. If an album isn't to our liking or fitting into the Power Pop genre enough, we simply won't review it.
Go to HOP ON POWER POP ALBUM REVIEW GUIDELINES
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