Music criticism is difficult. It can be hard to have a solid, journalistic opinion on every piece of new music and feel out a rating based on that opinion. Then, they have to convince people that their feeling is more than just a relative, subjective opinion, but that it contains factual authority about the album's failures and accomplishments. The worst case scenario for many critics is that their panning or praising of an album is looked at as not just an outlier, but illogically wrong-headed. It's a risk with every review.
Now that we understand that good music criticism is a difficult job, let's take a look at its most delicious failures. These are reviews on albums that went against the grain in the worst way, likely causing some palms to meet foreheads in hindsight. Unfortunateley, there's no sweeping under rugs, because the internet is forever.
Weezer's album Pinkerton
is rightly considered a '90s alternative classic. While it wasn't a financial success right out of the gate, it had the right critical reception from most outlets at the time. Except Rolling Stone, who gave it a middling 3 out of 5 stars
, which is as useful as Rolling Stone saying “This sure is music.” The text of the review cites aimless songwriting and a juvenile point of view as faults in the overall mixed evaluation. What makes this a gaffe is the attempt to correct things in hindsight. In 2004, the album was re-reviewed with a perfect 5 stars
, and the 2009 deluxe reissue was awarded 4 ½ stars.
Then there's Daft Punk's Discovery
and Pitchfork's 6.4 review. Kanye's use of Daft Punk on “Stronger” just kicked into high gear what was already happening: a lateral shift of pop music towards club-centric house beats, which Daft Punk demonstrated to be their strong suit. So if something had such an impact, how do you give it 64 points out of a possible 100? First, by complaining about the lyrics.
In hindsight, reviewer and Pitchfork owner Ryan Schreiber admitted to being wrong and falling in love with the album later on
in the summer. These days, it's frequently listed as one of the best albums of its decade.
While those two focus on classics being downplayed, there's also something to say about loving a universally reviled album. This was the case with Chris Cornell's Scream
, a Timbaland-produced pop album from the Soundgarden frontman. It was so thoroughly disliked that even his friend Trent Reznor
had to say something. Over at Entertainment Weekly, they loved it enough to give it an astounding B+ grade. That wouldn't be so bad, as having enthusiasm for something that no one else likes is admirable for its positivity. But the language of the praise – saying Cornell almost succeeds at creating his own Thriller
– is a little bit out there. It's hard to imagine the connections one has to make in order to listen to Scream
and think, “This is almost as good as Michael Jackson's best work.”
Vitamin String Quartet Performs Weezer's Pinkerton
Available at iTunes and Amazon
Beaucoup de VSQ
Available now at iTunes and Amazon