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.