C L A R K  S O R L E Y

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I’ve never taken music journalists very seriously. At best I might find their criticisms amusing especially when they write such earnest claptrap. That said, the heavy duty ones are well enough deserving of respect, Ian MacDonald for example, who scrutinised every Beatles song in his masterful tour-de-force, Revolution In The Head. That was a piece of art in its own right. Or there’s the superbly well informed Richard Williams. Anything important in music the last fifty years he knew about it. He was probably in the room when it happened.

Few journalists are as profound as Ian was or as experienced as Richard. Words like self-indulgent and pretentious might be more apt. I laughed aloud recently at this sentence in a review of some hip musician that probably only a handful of Guardian readers had ever heard of: “… he’s a singular character bridging the gap between slack hip-hop, wonky, aqua-crunk, booty, electro, shuffling bump tunes and lazer/purple whatever you wanna call it.”

Interesting how that artist isn’t fitting neatly into any of the genres mentioned but is merely “bridging the gap… or whatever”. Perhaps we should feel inadequate not being hipster enough to know about all these music trends. Rather, we joke about them in the studio: “Been listenin’ to any aqua-crunk recently?” “No I’m deep into wonky just now, can’t seem to see past it.”

Whereas music-making and its appreciations are among life’s more joyous pursuits there appears to be something just a little too condescending about the average music journalist. Under his influence the fun gets taken out of it and the thing you were liking is suddenly no good at all, worthy of ridicule even. All along you had been deluded finding identification and enjoyment where you did.

Take the insult genre, landfill-indie. Okay, that’s funny but it’s also quite cruel. If you’re a fan of Coldplay or Keane, both of whom have been branded with that unfortunate designation, then you’re an idiot with no taste basically. At the stroke of a scribbler’s pen millions of people are relegated to a cultural dustbin.

It may well be that art criticism has an essential function in society such that, like democratic politics, were it to vanish we would be worse off. I’m not so sure about that. Much as I realise that a lot of the music I took on board in the early 70s came from my friends who were avidly reading the music press I suspect I would simply have found other sounds as I usually have done and especially do now with gatekeeper-free discovery systems better advanced than ever.

And anyway, it’s not just the journalists themselves I’m having a go at. They are often professional guys who work hard at their trade like Richard Williams. It’s more the censorious attitudes they give rise to I find annoying where their discursive styles are aped by would-be critics who fancy themselves tastemakers.

Such charlatans couldn’t lace the boots of an Ian MacDonald. He took his own life so whatever love of music he had it wasn’t enough to save him from the abyss. I suppose we’re all landfill eventually along with the music we loved or loathed. With that weighty allusion I’m off to listen to something cool and hip. Might just be in the mood for some shuffling bump.

at the stroke of a scribbler’s pen millions

of people are relegated to a cultural dustbin


music • 18.10.12