Reviews Shouldn’t Be Useless Crap
Preface of the review section in Inside Front #8 (January 1996)
“Sure I reviewed it, I didn’t say I listened to it”
—Dwid of Bloodbook in an unguarded moment
Reviews are perhaps the most common component in today’s hardcore ‘zines; I get the impression that some editors view them as a necessary component—or should I say a necessary evil? For there are so many review sections these days, and so few actually useful ones, that it’s hard to figure out exactly what their purpose is anymore. In theory, reviews serve an important purpose: to let the readers know about other magazines, records, etc., how to obtain them, and what they should expect (based on their knowledge of the reviewer’s tastes). A lot of smaller magazines tend to fail in accomplishing the first two ends by neither reviewing many releases nor giving addresses for those they do describe… and of course we’ve all seen a few ‘zines that gave everything a positive review—a positively useless review since most of us don’t have the resources to buy everything somebody feels kind enough to endorse, especially when they don’t even tell us exactly why they endorse it.
The larger magazines are no better. Apparently, overwhelmed with so much material, they are forced to unload reviewing duties on people who just don’t want to do it. I offer as an example a review that appeared in Maximum Rock’n’Roll #140:
Ryker’s — “Brother Against Brother” CD
NYC style hardcore from Germany, tough guy, macho core, what else can I say?
For starters, he could have said which NYC bands the music reminded him of, what it was that made them seem “macho,” whether it seemed real or fake and why, or perhaps even intelligently discussed whether or not their stance seemed valid… let alone tell us more about actual music, recordings, and packaging. But at least in this case we learn something about the release; we’re not so lucky in Punk Planet #9:
“You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” 7″ compilation
It’s pretty much a rule that punk compilations suck shit. Really, I mean, other than “Rebuilding” and “Forever” what hardcore compilation 7″s have ever been any good? OK, maybe there’s been one or two but they are VERY RARE. So, that said, this compilation has tracks by Option, Deckard, Outcome, and Brother’s Keeper. Yeah.
This jaded piece of shit should never have wasted our time and his with this drivel. He told us nothing about the music, why he didn’t like it, what the music or packaging were like, or anything else—all he did was drop a couple names to get credibility or something. He should be fucking publicly humiliated for doing punk and hardcore such a disservice as a review like this, a review that encourages other to think that a review need to be nothing more than this… not to mention he has denied the readers of Punk Planet any knowledge of all the bands or the music. The publishers of P.P. are themselves responsible for apparently believing that this was a useful review and wasting our patience and their paper with it.
So what is to be done? In the case of smaller magazines, that do not reach much of an audience outside the circulation of the bigger magazines like MRR and PP, their editors need not feel as if reviews are an essential part of a ‘zine. There are plenty of other equally useful and interesting subjects that could be addressed in that space than other people’s work, if the editor does not expect that his or her reviews will offer something that the larger magazines do not. In the case of the larger magazines, which we all depend on for reviews, they must first weed out the kind of shit I’ve given examples of.
If you are going to publish reviews, publish useful reviews: reviews that describe the music in terms of specific musical approach and emotional impact, in terms of recording quality and influences… reviews that make interesting reading and leave the reader feeling more knowledgeable. The same goes for ‘zine reviews, for any kind of reviews.
This is not an obscure problem; I’ve heard people from many different circles complaining about it for quite a while now. I don’t mean to give the impression that we feel we have the best reviews here at Inside Front; despite our hard work, nothing could be farther from the truth. But I feel that if we all work hard to actually produce useful, high quality reviews, eventually some of us will succeed, and we will all be the better for it.
We in hardcore should never settle for mere mediocrity: there’s more than enough of that in the mainstream world.
A note from DIY Conspiracy: As we receive an ever increasing amount of press / review requests and our review category is growing exponentially day by day, we’re getting worried about the quality of our reviews and how to prevent our webzine from becoming just another blog with nothing more to offer than just constantly burping reviews and press-releases from hc/punk businesses. Saying all this, we’re still looking for new contributors and reviewers, but only if they understand our concerns and feel passionate about being part of this… a conspiracy of DIY punx who never settle for mere mediocrity or boredom. If you think it’s time to become our fellow reviewer just get in touch.
P.S. For tips on how to actually do (not) write reviews go here.