Being tasked with writing a review is daunting. Though, I’m sure many hope-to-be critics flock toward and relish the opportunity to do so. Criticism has its place and there are people who are quite good at it – Roger Ebert is most notable in my mind. However, I have never found myself to be a person with the knowledge or care to say what is good and what is bad. Try defending the of validity “A Clockwork Orange” to someone who has neither read the book nor seen the movie but has already made up their mind that it is terrible. Now, try defending your point while they are drunk. It doesn’t matter, so why argue? Just have another drink.
My initial reaction to film, music, or literature is always a visceral one. All the criticism regarding technicality and form come second. My ideas about what is “good” are very much in line with one of the primary functions of communication: if it doesn’t elicit a cognitive, emotional, or behavioral response then it cannot be considered communication. Thus, if a film, album, or novel fails to do the same, I do not consider it to be “good.”
The problem here, and what ultimately makes me question my legitimacy in stating what is “good” or “bad,” is that if I don’t find that reaction I am looking for, who is to say that other people don’t, as well? Perhaps, I simply didn’t understand it. Perhaps, someone else was completely moved by the same roll of film I saw, the same stream of audio I heard, or the same book of words I read. My point is: someone is always going to be in love with the band Creed and I will never understand why. Then again, I will always love Phil Collins. Who’s to say Scott Stapp’s overtly religious lyrics and raspy voice don’t move someone the way Phil Collin’s cheese-ball lyrics and melodramatic voice move me?
All this is not to say that technicality does not have its place, obviously. Art can elicit a response yet lack some of the technical prowess of someone who has studied, immensely, that art, and vice versa. What truly stands out to me is the combination of the two: visceral reaction and technical know-how. I believe what makes a good critic is someone who is not only passionate about but also understands the art form. When I say writing a review is daunting, it’s because I know I will hold myself to the same standard I place on criticism. Sometimes the review could be just as good as the piece of art itself.
Yet, after all my internal bickering, I still had an assignment to do. The first question: what do I review?
I’m not huge into film – at least not the blockbuster thrillers or the shoot ’em up movies we get bombarded with every year (and given that Flagstaff has only one movie theater, my options for films were limited). I thought about reviewing a novel; however, being an absolutely poor college student whose diet consists of vegetable soup, eggs, the occasional fruit, cigarettes, and alcohol, buying a new book – in addition to the hundred-dollar textbooks I’ve already bought – wasn’t really in the cards. Besides, I need to save up for happy hour. My final option, an option I am sure was chosen by many students in our class, was to review a new album.
My next question: what album should I review?
I had a couple in mind. The Weeknd had just released an album with a ridiculously catchy hit, “Can’t Feel My Face.” Also, one of my favorite bands, Beirut, had released a new album, their first in four years. I felt familiarity might be easy and I wanted to challenge myself so I perused around websites like Pitchfork.com and Rollingstone.com looking for something different. I came across an album that had relatively good ratings by both publications. The album was called “Ones and Sixes” by a band called Low. I was intrigued with the simplistic album art and was familiar with the band, though, I had never listened to any of their material. Upon further reading about the band, I became interested and my decision had been made. I was to review “Ones and Sixes” by Low. I downloaded the album (I mean, legally purchased the album), poured myself a glass of whiskey, and prepared to embark on a musical experience.
My final question: how much whiskey is too much?