There are times when we are, as consumers, driven to be over-critical of that which is put before us. I’m sure that back when young scousers used to run down to the Pier Head to grab the batches of records off boats that had just docked from U.S. ports (I’m not making this up, my dad used to do that very thing), that the sheer rarity, gleaming newness and vicarious rebellion embodied by those John Lee Hooker and Roy Orbison records must have been intoxicating. How could they have done anything but loved the music they heard?
Now, we get saturated by music and the acts that make it. Our first reaction is almost always scornful, jaded, cynical. Apart from the rare moments when we come across a piece of music that makes us gasp with pleasure, we mostly dismiss the music we hear with an attitude far and above the necessary levels of personal opinion. It’s not enough now to say, ‘I don’t like it’, instead we feel driven to say ‘that is the worst crap I’ve heard in my life’, or other, more wittily-put phrases of withering mockery. It’s clear to me that the degree of scorn with which we greet what we don’t immediately like is directly proportional to the amounts of hype the piece of music has already received. For a piece of music to even reach our ears in the over-supplied music market of 2010, it has to have been invested with levels of publicity that would have propelled governments to power back in the Elvis era. And so, by the time we hear anything, there’s already a bubble of perceived positive opinion surrounding it which, impelled by the imp of the perverse as we humans are, we feel duty-bound to burst.
Criticism is necessary to the creation of art. It acts as a filter, as feedback, as inspiration and as a leveller. Without healthy criticism music would degenerate into the repetitive awfulness of MySpace and pub bands. There are times though, when it seems to be directed as a knee-jerk reaction rather than as a considered opinion. At the end of last year, Guardian columnist Rosie Swash cited Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ album ‘It’s Blitz’ as one of her favourite albums of the year. The scorn heaped upon her decision via the comments box was out of all proportion to the album’s merits, and based more on ego-feed for the commentators themselves. The band were pilloried for swapping their previous guitar-based sound for a more synthesizer-based approach, for filling the album with weak tracks, for making it too short, for various crimes and misdemeanours which, really, had very little to do with how it sounded. Listening to the Tubeway Army-like ‘Zero’, or the whimsically beautiful ‘Hysteric’, I’m just lost trying to figure out how such a lot of scorn can be focussed on someone’s work. Frankly, if I’d been in the studio when they came up with the final mix of Hysteric, the one where everyone just nods at each other and thinks ‘that’s the one’, I’d have felt that something beautiful now exists where previously it didn’t. That would have made me proud. Now, what I’m trying to draw owards is that sometimes, it doesn’t happen that way. Studios and labels and acts are not always a finely-tuned mechanism, and sometimes a voice can be a bit louder than it should be. When Mil i Maria recorded ‘Meu Amor’, I hated it. The vocal sounded too far into the lower reaches of Rocio’s range, the composition dirgelike, the verses too lengthy and the whole song just seemed unnecessary on an already-long album. I won’t say I begged, but I did make it clear that I didn’t want it on the album.
I was wrong. It is a thing of great beauty and I realize that now. Sometimes negativity is just too easy.