Sunday, May 20, 2007


Yikes, it looks like this review of The Cops new album Drop it in Their Laps that I wrote has caused some heartburn around town. It was published in The Brag a couple of weeks ago now and last week I was surprised to be informed that Inertia (The Cops’ label) had, from what I understand, threatened to withdraw all of their advertising in The Brag and is very angry with me and the publication. So, the label’s pissed off, so is their manager, and in turn the band themselves. My friend had a birthday party last weekend. He’s pals with the band’s manager and the band themselves. My birthday-celebrating friend was fretting a little because the manager was angry at him for inviting me. Anyway, I didn’t go to the party after some deliberation (should I go to prove a point?) but a strange mix of drinks the previous night and a full day of work the day of said party meant it was back home into the foetal position for me. Or maybe I’m just a sissy. Anyway.

I’ve discussed this with various friends since then to get some other perspectives. The most common comment has been: ‘But isn’t a review an opinion? Aren’t you entitled to an opinion?’ Well, I suppose I am. But apparently it was the nature of the review that was the problem for The Cops and their manager. I can certainly acknowledge this; the review is harsh. Too personal, perhaps, but I thought that this would have emphasized the fact that it’s me who doesn’t like this record. The use of personal pronouns makes it clear that this is so; it's my voice in the review, my opinion; there are no pretentions of objectivity, but maybe there should be? In hindsight, I should have focused more on writing about the music than my own personal feelings towards it. I just wrote my reaction; this is how I felt when I listened to the album.

The way that shit hit the fan since the publication of this review has led me to some interesting questions about what a review actually should be. I am of the opinion that it is absurd to suggest that a review should be an ‘objective analysis’ of a record. It is inherently subjective, listening to music is only done on a personal level. Of course, there’s a huge responsibility in reviewing music, in writing of any sort. It’s funny to think that if this review was for Vice magazine then no one would've bat an eyelid, I’m sure. Maybe I should go and read some Bourdieu. It's an interesting conflict, money versus writing and opinions. It's sad; I've always (like a lot of people) been cynical of this sort of thing. The most succesful bands are the ones with the biggest record labels; usually, anyway. Hard work or musical skill doesn't go quite as far as a bit of the old Payola or just plain old advertising. Is NME magazine fueled by this sort of thing? They dish out a 'BEST BAND EVER' sort of claim at least once an issue. Hmm, cynicism. It can't be too healthy.

There's certainly a lot at stake beyond just putting your own hard work out there with the possibility of being critically panned. It’s a bit of a bummer to think that a site like Pitchfork has the power to make or break bands. Take their review of Jet’s latest album for instance. Responsible? Probably not overly, no. I wonder if Elektra withdrew any advertising from Pitchfork.

I’m rarely overly critical of music; in fact, it’s probably the opposite; I like too much music if anything. A few months ago, Max RQ had suggested to me that I need to be more critical in my writing and listening. I feel regretful that this has happened because of the review; I didn’t mean to offend anyone personally by these words, and it’s depressing to think that maybe I should have just stuck to the regular streetpress angle of either positive superlatives or ambivalence. It just comes down to the fact that money is the winner on the day. It’s pretty conflicting and I really fucking hate the idea that record labels can sway opinions with money (‘give our releases good reviews or our advertising dollars goodbye!’). I’m pretty sure that’s the same deal as Sony paying radio stations to play list their songs, but whatever, it’s nothing new, I know.

Anyway, this story was deemed interesting enough to be featured on Triple J's program Hack. Apparently this sort of thing happens fairly regularly and is a big problem for publications, both free and otherwise. You can download it as a podcast .mp3 from the Hack site as of Monday 21/5.


Liam Casey said...

I think a review is inherently subjective; to pretend otherwise is damaging. Of course, though, the reviewer must be able to back up the opinion, rather than saying "I don't like this" in different ways, and provide a meaningful commentary on the album - even if it is negative. My only suggestion for your review would be to single out a song that you didn't hate so much, to placate fans and those who might be interested in hearing more.

Most bands/managers/label reps react well enough to well-constructed and thoughtful reviews - even if they are negative. They see it for what it is, and know that the relationship with a publisher can carry on.

I resent the label using financial threats to make you "like" the band more but I guess that's how it works.

Tyson said...

The answer is simple: if you want to avoid a bad review, make better music.

emmy hennings said...

A couple of things:

- Your review is far less harsh than I had been led to believe given all the fuss about it

- The Brag are a bunch of cowardly fools who must suck up to advertisers to pay their costs each week - I clearly remember having reviews changed without my permission when I wrote for them, and also the fact that we weren't allowed to say nasty things about Jet

- All power to reviews that are critical. Constructively critical.

- What Tyson said

andrew g said...

heh, that's ridiculous...

firstly, the review was a lot less harsh than i originally imagined - and obviously just a personal opinion. one that was explained and expanded on no less.

i think the fact that the band's label / management threatened to stop advertising is A LOT more detrimental to them than an (subjective) bad review.

i'd stick to your guns here... being honest is way better than fawning over every single thing so no-ones feelings (or managers) are hurt.

eliza said...

totally agree with emmy. i remember the brag refusing to run two of my reviews that were negative towards sponsors - constructively negative, in my opinion too.

i totally don't agree with liam though - why would you write a review to placate fans rather than engage with how you respond to it? its a subjective review, right?

andrew g said...

i have seen plenty of music magazines with scathing reviews only to find a full-page advert of said album on the next page... it's always quite funny to see actually!

but to be honest i don't think it should matter. the review is independently done by a reviewer - it's not the opinion of the magazine as a whole and i don't think anyone should take it that way.

after all, all a review should do really is describe the music and personal reactions to it... then it's up to the reader what they take from that.

andrew g said...

wait, you said "cacked their dacks" in a review.

i think you deserved this now!

Anonymous said...

Richard, I think that the thing that sucks the most about this entire debacle is that it's made you doubt your ability as a writer.
You should know that you're a great writer, a great assest to Brag and that this whole scenario is not your fault! It's the fault of oversensitive management and the horrible nature of streetpress (and not just the Brag I might add) in that they are unfortunately bound to record labels and touring companies to say nice things, or like we've seen here, risk losing the very source of income that keeps them afloat each week.

Being brave and publishing these type of reviews is really the only way around it, until it becomes more accepted that streetpress is a form of free media and should be treated so!

Chin up.



matt said...

I'm with Eliza, Emmy and Tyson. This sorta thing is why so much Australian music writing is a sycophantic race to the dullest, and frankly, I'm most surprised and disappointed to hear about the label's behaviour... Is that for real?

Anonymous said...

"some of us prefer to live in illusion rather than despair"

- nelson muntz

gervin said...

Love your work, Richard.

richard said...

thanks for the comments! i guess a good thing to come from the whole fiasco is discussion like this. very important i'd say!

Anonymous said...

Dude, I live in another city so I don't know your work but having been involved with street press for many years, this shit happens all the time, seriously. A bad review will make those involved with the band/film/whatever spit chips for a while, those inside do damage control, soon everything goes back to normal. The number of legal threats I've seen over this sort of stuff... very rarely does anything happen. As those of us inside the street press say, next week there'll be another issue and another crisis/fuck-up/bruised ego and everybody will forget about this one...

Anonymous said...

Right about now NWA court is in full effect.
Judge Dre presiding in the case of NWA versus the police department.
Prosecuting attourneys are MC Ren Ice Cube and Eazy muthafuckin E.
Order order order. Ice Cube take the muthafuckin stand.
Do you swear to tell the truth the whole truth
and nothin but the truth so help your black ass?

Why don't you tell everybody what the fuck you gotta say?

Fuck tha police
Comin straight from the underground
Young nigga got it bad cuz I'm brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority

Fuck that shit, cuz I ain't tha one
For a punk muthafucka with a badge and a gun
To be beatin on, and throwin in jail
We could go toe to toe in the middle of a cell

Fuckin with me cuz I'm a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics

You'd rather see me in the pen
Then me and Lorenzo rollin in the Benzo
Beat tha police outta shape
And when I'm finished, bring the yellow tape
To tape off the scene of the slaughter
Still can't swallow bread and water

I don't know if they fags or what
Search a nigga down and grabbin his nuts
And on the other hand, without a gun they can't get none
But don't let it be a black and a white one
Cuz they slam ya down to the street top
Black police showin out for the white cop

Ice Cube will swarm
On any muthafucka in a blue uniform
Just cuz I'm from the CPT, punk police are afraid of me
A young nigga on a warpath
And when I'm finished, it's gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops, dyin in LA
Yo Dre, I got somethin to say

Fuck the police

M. C. Ren, will you please give your testimony to the jury about this fucked up incident.>

Fuck tha police and Ren said it with authority
because the niggaz on the street is a majority.
A gang, is with whoever I'm stepping
and the motherfuckin' weapon
is kept in a stash box, for the so-called law
wishin' Ren was a nigga that they never saw

Lights start flashin behind me
But they're scared of a nigga so they mace me to blind me
But that shit don't work, I just laugh
Because it gives em a hint not to step in my path

To the police I'm sayin fuck you punk
Readin my rights and shit, it's all junk
Pullin out a silly club, so you stand
With a fake assed badge and a gun in your hand

But take off the gun so you can see what's up
And we'll go at it punk, I'ma fuck you up

Make ya think I'm a kick your ass
But drop your gat, and Ren's gonna blast
I'm sneaky as fuck when it comes to crime
But I'm a smoke em now, and not next time

Smoke any muthafucka that sweats me
Or any assho that threatens me
I'm a sniper with a hell of a scope
Takin out a cop or two, they can't cope with me

The muthafuckin villian that's mad
With potential to get bad as fuck
So I'm a turn it around
Put in my clip, yo, and this is the sound
Ya, somethin like that, but it all depends on the size of the gat

Takin out a police would make my day
But a nigga like Ren don't give a fuck to say

Fuck the police (4X)

Police, open now. We have a warrant for Eazy-E's arrest.
Get down and put your hands up where I can see em.
Just shut the fuck up and get your muthafuckin ass on the floor.

and tell the jury how you feel abou this bullshit.>

I'm tired of the muthafuckin jackin
Sweatin my gang while I'm chillin in the shackin
Shining tha light in my face, and for what
Maybe it's because I kick so much butt

I kick ass, or maybe cuz I blast
On a stupid assed nigga when I'm playin with the trigga
Of any Uzi or an AK
Cuz the police always got somethin stupid to say

They put up my picture with silence
Cuz my identity by itself causes violence
The E with the criminal behavior
Yeah, I'm a gansta, but still I got flavor

Without a gun and a badge, what do ya got?
A sucka in a uniform waitin to get shot,
By me, or another nigga.
and with a gat it don't matter if he's smarter or bigger
[MC Ren: Sidle him, kid, he's from the old school, fool]

And as you all know, E's here to rule
Whenever I'm rollin, keep lookin in the mirror
And there's no cue, yo, so I can hear a
Dumb muthafucka with a gun

And if I'm rollin off the 8, he'll be tha one
That I take out, and then get away
And while I'm drivin off laughin
This is what I'll say

Fuck the police

The jury has found you guilty of bein a redneck,
whitebread, chickenshit muthafucka.
Wait, that's a lie. That's a goddamn lie.
I want justice! I want justice!
Fuck you, you black muthafucka!

Fuck the police

Anonymous said...

go richard!!

at really good media organisations the editorial department and the advertising/sponsorship dept are separate and independent.

but at places like the brag they are sadly, hand in hand.

advertisers have far too much say in so many places and its not just brag. Most other street press is the same, as is FBi, but perhaps not to the same extent.

Anonymous said...

All magazines work the same way.

From Vogue to Brag, when it comes down to it there's so much risk involved in printing a negative/truthful view because it's highly likely some advertiser will call a waaaaaambulance.

That's why almost every single publication (free or otherwise) kowtows to advertisers who are pulling the strings.

But you know what? At the end of the day readers can see through that.

All it takes to break this circle of lameness is a strong editor with a clear vision who understands that editorial quality translates to greater readership, circulation and eventually more advertising. Suroosh Alvi and the kids behind Vice are a clear example of this.

So anyways, I'm thinking of starting my own streetpress mag in town. One that's not a piece of crap. Anyone want in?

max said...

interesting stuff, anonymous. also, LOL, as the internet would have it, at "waaaaaambulance".

matt said...

>> All it takes to break this circle of lameness is a strong editor with a clear vision who understands that editorial quality translates to greater readership, circulation and eventually more advertising. Suroosh Alvi and the kids behind Vice are a clear example of this.

is this a joke?

david said...

hey anonymous

>> "advertisers have far too much say in so many places and its not just brag. Most other street press is the same, as is FBi, but perhaps not to the same extent."

i volunteer @ fbi and i know how they work, advertisers have no say whatsoever in the music or the content. happy for you to prove me wrong - can you defend your comment?

Lyndon said...

I really wanted to unleash a rant here that probably would have been a kneejerk reaction against all who are rallying against you, but I thought the better of it and would prefer to say this:

Richard, stick to your guns and don't let any institution or organization get the better of your judgment. After all, here in Sydney there are a lot of scared
egotists and sycophants running the show. Believe me, I've encountered a lot of them working in the press, in venues and in radio too.

If you bend to the populist or glad handing ways of these misguided types, we might as well pack it all in and accept a blandness that will surely be the death of us all.

Stay cool and say what you feel, the real world will thank you.

Did I say I wasn't going to unleash a kneejerk rant? Oh well, fuck it.


knifey said...

Honestly? The Cops have been around long anough to know better by now, if they don't, who gives a crap? On the one hand it's embarassing for them that they can't hack an objective review, on the other hand, this is all great publicity, and just makes people wanna go listen themselves. The record company needs to put down their guns, because they will backfire. Threatening free streetpress is a bad habit the public won't tolerate. Advertising dollars do not (or should I say 'should not') equal editorial power. Keep doing your thang, yo. Respect.

Leith Ryerson said...

A record label / band / band management has every right to place advertising wherever they like, good reviews or not. The simple fact is that if a record label / band / band manager thought that a publication was absolutely necessary to market their artist, they wouldn't make a threat to withdraw advertising.

Record companies can beat their chests as much as they like (hi recording industry, can you hear me all the way back there in 1974?) but really it's the last gasps of a dying industry behemoth, a behemoth that for all intents and purposes should have been long gone, but due to competely destroying the lives of musicians for over 20 years that behemoth hence clocked up massive bank accounts that have allowed it to continue to make a complete stuttering fool of itself long after it stopped making money.

The issue here is the integrity of the publication in question.

All The Brag needs to say is "Go ahead, pull your dollars out. We back our editorial independence, it makes us a more credible alternative for readers, who, you, my dear antiquated recording industry person, are trying to reach. See you in two weeks after your sales drop and your ass gets tied to a whipping post because your marketing manager has now recognised you have no street visibility anymore."

Fact: If The Brag is a credible marketing outlet for a record label, they wouldn't actually go through with a threat to pull advertising. If they did pull their advertising, then it's quite clear they were simply making donations, in the guise of advertising in the first place.

Suggesting anyone lacks morality for pulling advertising based on a bad review is extremely naive and indicates a lack of understanding of the 'real world'. It's their advertising money, that they've earned, and they can do whatever they like with it. If that means you, as a publication, need to publish lukewarm, insipid reviews of artists in order to keep your publication afloat, then sucks to be you.