I’m glad I still qualify as a Northwest Musician, so I could be reviewed by a young man named Andrew Fickes of Northwest Indie Music.
Andrew says: “Villain” is hands down among the top 10 releases of 2011.”
Villain has been reviewed more than any I’ve released so far. Most of the reviews are kind, some glowing. None, so far, are blanket pannings. But I am truly glad that Andrew likes it, because he’s one of the few critics who pays deep attention to the story-writing. Most critics talk about the “sound.” They refer to content only in passing. And this, in some way, tips off the lack of time and attention lent to the material. For my part, it takes me a lot of listens before I’m ready to talk about what’s really going on in a record. There are countless albums that I initially felt as bland, pedestrian, even boring. Only to discover much later that they are understated, economical, deceptively profound, if not sublime. On the other hand, I’ve absolutely drooled over stuff I thought was imaginative and intense. Only to realize later that these qualities lay merely on the surface of the “sound,” leaving me, in the long run, cold and indifferent to something ultimately contrived, posed and manipulative. (I will not name names, because I hate to hear myself disparage any fellow artist. But I will say I donate a lot of CD’s to Goodwill, made by hugely famous cutting edge bands.)
I want to say this about Andrew’s music journalism: Even if he hadn’t liked the album, he “gets it.” He interprets every song correctly. (And he covers each and every one of them. Only one other reviewer I know does that: Wildy from Wildy’s World.)
My favorite of Andrew’s descriptions is when he says I have “never been more unrestrained.” This is precisely what I have been working on for many years now. To find honesty instead of artistry (or perhaps “contrivance” if I’m going to be harsh on myself) without sacrificing craft.
It’s a fine thing to wax poetic and clever about any number of deep thoughts. But what really works is getting down to telling it like a real human being.
Andrew, you’ve made me feel like I’m finally getting somewhere. Thanks.
Allow me to delve further into the difference between one reviewer and the next. (They criticize us. Why can’t we criticize them.) In my opening song, “Lion,” the main character is beset by doubts, plagued with insecurity and defensiveness about her chosen path. She laments: “Everyone’s a critic/but I’m the one who did it/So why don’t they all just get out of the way.”
Here is how reviewer #1 responded: “Well, I would be happy to get out of the way, but your label sent this my way for a review, so here goes.”
Here is how reviewer #2 (Wildy) responded: “Villain opens with “Lion”, an interesting reflection on culpability, responsibility and choices…”
The relationship that Reviewer #1 wants to talk about is the least interesting relationship: between me-the-author and him-the-reviewer. (Or maybe me-the-author and the state-of-the-biz, or me-the-author and whatever fans I’m trying to woo.) Boring, boring, boring.
Wildy takes for granted that a story is being told. He wants to talk about the relationships in the stories. He shows an interest in what might motivate my character to say the things she says. (Meanwhile, there’s nothing in the song to indicate that my character is a singer/songwriter? For the record, she is not me; the song is not autobiographical.) Wildy, as a fine journalist, allows his imagination to take a ride as he listens, before he sets his pen in motion. He doesn’t inject himself or his cleverness into the review.
Typically, reviewer #1 goes on to say pretty much nothing–in the form of lazy genre descriptions like: “This is singer-songwriter material, slickly recorded with nice production and arrangements with many instruments including strings.” And; “There are some country styles and classic light rock songs.” He also wastes column space to talk about how difficult it was to find info on the film I mention in my press kit. Now, don’t get me wrong. This fellow’s review was actually pretty kind. “Smart and interesting,” he said of me. And he called “Some Hidden Things” an excellent song. So I am grateful for that.
But frankly, he says nothing about the experience one might have while listening to my album. His review reveals much more about himself than the work on Villain.
I may sound like I take this personally. And yes, I do, somewhat. But not merely out of defensiveness and insecurity. We artists value reviewers and critics. More than that, we depend on them. And they depend on us. The hard work it takes to create a listenable eleven song record is quite a match for the hard work of journalists to create valuable, readable content, vainly describing the multitude of CD’s that sit stacked on their desks. We deserve better than to have them toss it off their wrists.
Allow me to put it another way: A bad review from #1 would have pissed me off and caused weeks of sleepless nights. A bad review from Wildy would have had me back in my rehearsal space addressing my flaws. (And believe me, a couple thoughtful reviews already having me putting on my thinking cap.)