Heavy Blog Soapbox – Aggravating Review Comments

Before hopping onto my soapbox, I should clarify that our staff loves receiving comments on our posts. The purpose behind Heavy Blog is to provide our readers (that’s you)

8 years ago

Before hopping onto my soapbox, I should clarify that our staff loves receiving comments on our posts. The purpose behind Heavy Blog is to provide our readers (that’s you) with recommendations of quality music as well as insight into genre and industry trends we find noteworthy. And whether you respond with positive or negative feedback, we appreciate you taking the time to read our opinions and provide thoughts of your own. But after reviewing music for the past several years, there are a few types of negative comments that have popped up on reviews my fellow contributors or I have written which do little to add to the discourse surrounding the album. While dissenting comments are something I encourage, the following collection of review comments either unfairly attack the reviewer instead of the review or attempt to define a review as something it’s not. I’ve attempted to remain as fair as possible, but of course, I welcome your disagreement in the comments.

“You’re not a musician, so your opinion doesn’t count.”

I’ve listed this one first because, frankly, it makes the least sense. Firstly, this type of comment is usually made as an assumption; unless a reviewer’s profile specifically states their lack of musical prowess, they could very well be both a musician and a reviewer. But more importantly, there’s no inherent correlation between being a musician and writing quality reviews. A reviewer’s abundant knowledge of compositional theory and technical musicianship doesn’t automatically mean they can write well or convey why a piece of music is worthwhile from the point of view of an average listener, who likely connects with a piece of music more for its emotional appeal than its numerous shifts in time signature. Additionally, what would actually constitute a musician “worthy” of reviewing music? Would making shitty beats on FL Studio count? Would the reviewer only be able to review music from the genre(s) they themselves play? Do these qualifiers seem as ridiculous to you as they do to me?

They should, because setting higher standards for the reviewer than the review itself is in itself ridiculous. If a restaurant served you a plate of  culinary garbage, it’d be ridiculous for the chef to tell you your opinion didn’t count because you’re not a chef. In the same way, a reviewer doesn’t need to be a seasoned musician to provide a well-reasoned critique of  whether or not an album is worth the reader’s time. Not everyone on staff plays music, but our musician and non-musician writers share both an avid love for music and ability to write about it in an interesting and quality manner.

“You didn’t listen to the album enough.”

Similar to the first comment, this opinion claims to know something that reviewers hardly ever reveal, and for good reason. Because what this comment essentially translates to is “You didn’t listen to the album enough (to enjoy it as much as I do).” And once this claim is made, almost no number offered by the reviewer would be accepted by the commenter as an adequate amount of listens. Personally, I’d argue that 3 to 5 listens is usually enough to compose a well-reasoned review, but this also depends on a number of factors. Anthony Fantano covers this point well on his video about this topic, pointing out that a reviewer’s familiarity with the band, genre or context surrounding the album dictates how many listens are necessary to be able to review the album effectively. Additionally, album length is a huge factor, as it takes less effort and focus to listen to a Nails record multiple times than any of Swans‘ latest albums.

But this also brings up the point of a review’s purpose. We regularly run pieces dedicated to extensive dissection of various albums, namely our *prognotes features. But while there’s nothing wrong with incorporating this into a review, this isn’t its primary function. A review is a formal assessment of an album’s quality and discussion of how the album fits into the genre, modern music landscape and band’s discography. Usually when someone comments that a reviewer “hasn’t listened to an album enough,” they’re talking about a release from one of their favorite bands that they’ve voluntarily spent more time with than they would with most other albums. And that’s an important distinction, because one listener’s deep, magnanimous opus is another’s boring slog of an album. Almost every album has enough depth to warrant several listens, but extensive listening for in-depth analysis takes far longer than figuring out why you do or don’t like something. Reviewers are heavy consumers of music as well, meaning that the handful of albums we have for review are tacked on to our regular rotation of leisure listening. It doesn’t take double-digit listens to figure out where you stand on an album, and forcing or demanding additional listens to “get” an album speaks more to confirmation bias than a lack of understanding.

“You don’t seem like a fan of [Band/Genre]; it doesn’t make sense for you to review this album.”

This is in the same wheelhouse as the last comment, but its worth distinguishing in order to illuminate how we operate as a blog. We currently have a staff of about 20 members who write for the blog as a hobby and bring with them unique tastes and musical experiences. With this being the case, it wouldn’t make sense for someone to take an album for review if they aren’t at least a fan of the genre the band plays in. Not only would it be a waste of their free time to listen to an album from a genre they dislike, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the blog either. I openly admit that power metal is my least favorite metal subgenre, which is why – for example – I’d never volunteer to review the newest Blind Guardian album. Not only would it require me to spend the little non-work time I have listening to something I’d never choose to listen to on my own, the review I’d end up writing would be inherently flawed an useless. I have no background or interest in power metal or Blind Guardian, so I wouldn’t be able to provide nearly as much insight or as educated of an opinion as someone on staff who’s actually a fan. Again, this is just another way of saying “You don’t agree with me, so you’re wrong,” which isn’t a worthwhile argument to make. And honestly, if someone says they enjoy every band in any given genre, they’re either lying or poorly-versed in that style of music.

“Your score is too high and/or low.”

I’ve saved this comment for last because it aggravates me the most. This point is deserving of it’s own post, but I’ll briefly go over it here. Here’s the issue: scores are by far the least important part of a review. Their sole purpose is to succinctly summarize a review’s general verdict in an easily understandable numeric system. Yet, the numerous issues with this system reveal just how problematic it is, and why levying this claim is so meaningless. First, no matter how hard a universal standard for scoring is sought after, no reviewer will ever score exactly the same. This goes beyond reviewers disagreeing about whether or not an album deserves a “5,” but rather, what actually constitutes an album deserving of that score. A numerical score only tells you what general grade that specific reviewer felt the album deserved, and not much else. And this is a key point: scores say infinitely less than the actual review. If your professor graded your paper but didn’t provide a single comment, you’d find it unfair and demand they justify your grade. In the same way, a scoreless review helps a reader understand an album quite a bit more than a reviewless score. Comments like these latch onto the easy target of a number without actually engaging with what the review has to say. Scores are overall just a massive waste of time; they’re the epitome of judging a book (or a review, in this case) by its cover.

Phew…it’s always a relief to vent. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these are the most prevalent, aggravating things writers hate to uncover when they see their review has a comment. Again, none of this is meant to insinuate that we discourage negative comments; to the contrary, they’re arguably more important to a writer and the discussion of the album than positive remarks. We may appreciate “Great review!” more than “I disagree with you, because…”, but the latter type of comment opens up the conversation and ensures our reviews and comment sections don’t create an echo chamber. As long as you have a thoughtful opinion in hand, we look forward to seeing you in the comments.

Scott Murphy

Published 8 years ago