Everyone's a critic (2)

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.

Everyone's a critic

Squarepusher's Q&A with the Guardian's music reviewers is interesting for several reasons. Firstly it reminded me how irrelevant critics are to my music choices these days. I quite often read the reviews in The Wire because they cover music that isn't really written about elsewhere but even then I'm annoyed by the pretentiousness of the writing, which is almost beyond parody.

Most new music comes to me through social tools: recommendations on blogs, from Last.fm or within eMusic's automated system and I find I'm pretty happy with that. I don't miss the critics at all.

Secondly, I was struck by the patronising statement from Alex Petridis who says that 'in my opinion' is something "something student journalists and customers who review albums on Amazon say". It seems so woefully out of touch with the democratisation of media over the last few years and in particular with the growing irrelevance of critics as mentioned above. Implicit within Petridis's statement is that it is amateurs who have mere 'opinions'. The professionals do something of greater value somehow.

I've noticed that I've been writing things like "in my opinion" with greater frequency in my posts on 26 Books. It's been quite deliberate. It takes Petridis's "implicit" subjectivity and makes it explicit in a way that I think suits the medium better. Blogs are better when the tone is recognisably human and open to engagement. For example, my Akutagawa post (I'm even hesitant to refer to them as "reviews") balances standard critic-ese - "The second set of stories [...] is less successful" - with a more emotional, personal response - "It's the third section [...] that is my favourite".

I think the post is better for it but that's just my opinion.

There's some interesting discussion of the Squarepusher Q&A at Metafilter.

Childish humour

I know I shouldn't laugh but this story about a Canadian newspaper raised a snigger. You see the film staff wanted a temporary reprieve from the Toronto Star's obscenity policy so that they could use the full title of a new film: Young People Fucking. The editor-in-chief said no. His name? Fred Kuntz.

(I told you it was childish.)

Alex James is unwell

Blur bassist Alex James has a piece in today's Independent magazine that is so ludicrously pretentious that it must be a joke. In an article that seems destined for Pseud's Corner, James writes about his first trip to McDonald's in 20 years:

Although it was just an ordinary Coca-Cola, there was something deeply pleasing about the cup; the packaging is all part of the McDonald's spell. The ergonomic perfection of the container's shape, its size, its weight, its proportions and the satisfying way that the ice cubes rattled around in it. A fragile vessel, it was quite a piece of engineering, really, almost musical, with its taut-as-a-drum top, and begging to be sucked dry, scrunched up and thrown away.

Alex, it's a cup. Have you bought a coffee lately? Or a drink from, well, anywhere? Where have you been?

Anyway, what did you think of the burger?

The burger box performs a Wonderbra kind of function. It makes the steaming sandwich sit up and beg. Like a breast in many ways, the Big Mac sags under the crude tug of Earth's immense gravity. It would best be presented floating in free space. I doubt it would disassemble itself in zero g, as it seems to be intrinsically bonded together by some kind of electroweak cheese force.

Now I think you've put me off burgers and breasts. Thanks. And "electroweak cheese force"? Are you high?

I hate to ask, Alex, but what about the chips?

The chips are quite close to the crisp end of the potato's infinite spectrum of delights, somewhere to the left of a chipstick but to the right of the true chip family. They are heavily salted and it's the salt that I craved, but they've got crunch and puff and they're straighter than steel, a side order of yin.

Straighter than steel? A side order of yin? Alex, calm down.

The new net

CNN's Business 2.0 magazine has published a list of The Next Net 25. These are the websites they say are reinventing the Web. Bloglines, Newsvine, Last.fm, Technorati and digg - all sites that I use regularly - are mentioned but there are also two or three interesting sites that were completely new to me. One of the sites CNN featured, Writely, was recently acquired by Google - a deal that BusinessWeek followed up with an good overview of Web 2.0.

Another list worth reading is DesignTechnica's guide to The Best of Web 2.0. Again, most of them are fairly well-known but there are a couple that were new to me.