Remember how I mentioned the growing irrelevance of critics? Well, let me introduce you to James McMahon. Hardly the new Nick Kent*, McMahon turns in a fairly typical showboating NME review: Portrays critic as more '4 Real' than the reader? Check. Inserts a bit of 'right on' politics? Check. Forgets to actually mention the music? Check. The NME has been churning out this kind of shit for years, though in the past the writer would have quietly buggered off to an accountancy job somewhere. McMahon will probably end up donning a suit (but with trainers, yeah? this is the music business) and become editor or something.
McMahon was never going to give Seasick Steve a fair hearing, which renders the review pointless. He thinks the man's a fake and can't stand him. Fair enough. Perhaps he is right. The trouble is, the review doesn't tell someone who is interested in Seasick Steve whether they should buy the record or not.
Anyway, in this instance, McMahon gets sandbagged in the comments. It's a joy to behold and a reminder to rock critics that readers see reviews as a service. You can't get away with self indulgence anymore because readers will respond.
Critics don't often see it that way. I once had an argument with a fairly high profile Fleet Street critic (not one who works at the Telegraph) who insisted that rock criticism is art. I think that's pompous and self-indulgent. Art's first duty is to itself. Journalism's first duty is to its readers. Plenty of critics would probably disagree with me but I think the readers are on my side.
Well done to the NME for publishing the comments. In the past, readers would have said all this to each other and had no outlet. McMahon has failed his readers and they've told him so. I wonder whether he's listening.
*insert your personal giant of rock criticism here.