Writing Disorders: Scorn Disease, Jargon Palsy
Will, I’m having mixed feelings about this. On the one hand you wrote a review that’s begging for ridicule. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all just a joke, like your way of punking fogeys who can’t recognize subversion. And if I say it’s pompous claptrap, apparently you’ll welcome the abuse:
My purpose in this world is to despise and to be despised 👺
— will neibergall (@glassVEVO) July 18, 2015
Kids have some weird fetishes these days. I blame the porn.
Well, if you want to feel dirty, let’s get it over with. Someone sent me a link to what you wrote, and after your first sentence my reaction was “Ugh…not one of THOSE reviews.” I haven’t seen one in a while because they’re thankfully rare. But a five-word opening that makes no mention of the artist, album, or even the genre usually signals a foul stink down the page. What stink is that? Well, in your own words, “what appears to be the singular affective nuance ends up being a simple formula.” In this case:
Noun x (needlessly long exposition before the eye-rolling comparison) = band/album
“Instagram used to be strange…(229 words)…Tame Impala is the Instagram of rock bands.”
Yep, a simple formula. Will, I understand that music writing needs metaphors, but most writers outside of The Island of Tiny Mix Toys aim for short, controlled bursts like “(song) is a thunderstorm of noise” or “(chorus) is a swirling turd.” Regardless of how corny that stuff ends up being, at least it’s over in a hot minute. It takes a special kind of narcissism to build a 1,200-word review around a single metaphor between some random noun and a band.
And it’s not like you penetrated the cosmos and found the ONE true parallel, even if you made it sound that way. You really could have chosen anything. If I just limit myself to things on my desk, I could probably write a convoluted explanation of how Tame Impala is the Himalayan salt lamp of rock bands…or the TI-503SV calculator of rock bands…or the “Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America” of rock bands. I’m sure if I threw shame out the window I could whip up some profound-sounding comparison between a band’s approach to music and a book’s arrangement by class and order of Arthropoda.
So the way you went about “reviewing” this album annoyed me for a few reasons, not the least of which is the arrogance required to bombard readers with a sour history of Instagram before even mentioning the band. Also, you wrote disclaimers like “I don’t claim to understand” and “I’m definitely not elitist or naïve enough” when describing the thing you peg as the band’s equivalent…and then again with “I know it’s unfair” and “I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence” when you finally get around to the comparison. Well, forgive me for not buying your modesty, but lines like this make me suspicious:
“Even so, shouldn’t we be discussing an economy of affect in which the commonest, basest commodity is worth more than the fleeting apathy of an Instagram double-tap?”
Right…because “fleeting” apathy is so much worse than ponderous concern. Will, I’m glad your writing doesn’t structurally suck and that you do it in the first person, but that’s about where my praise ends. I don’t much care for people who puff around like masters of divine taste, and you really pranced like a peacock in this review:
“It seems like Parker is writing songs that would be pretty decent and probably interesting if he freed them from this musty aesthetic and gave them room to express themselves.”
“Just add a particular guitar tone, lots of phaser and tremolo, and that Lennon affectation to any rock song, and you’ve got it.”
Let’s skip the use of “affectation” to describe someone other than yourself in your treatise here, because I’m more interested in that formula you whipped up. Let me see if I’ve got it — just add a particular something, lots of one thing and another, and something else to anything within a genre…and I’ve got it? Wow, does it work across platforms? If I just add fast pacing, lots of weapons and explosions, and Mexican standoffs to any action film, I’ve got John Woo movie? Or if I add a particular choice of stone, lots of anatomical detail and thematic nuance, and Judeo-Christian themes to any sculpture, I’ve got a Michelangelo? Or if I pair a particular warm lighting, lots of volume and thickness, and a look of shocked surprise to any POV money shot scene, I’ve got a Winston Burbank? WHOAA…
Will, if I were a licensed clinical writing tutor, I’d suggest not trying to look so erudite on the subject of a few songs you heard. You can be honest about what you thought of an album without writing like someone sucking farts out of a leaf blower. For God’s sake, when IAN COHEN makes fun of your music writing on Twitter, you’ve got serious problems.
And for what? Why do you write like this? So you can use a band and album as a side prop for vague, eye-rolling platitudes about entertainment writ large?
“Maybe music is just a commodity, and the vivid feelings of love and beauty and nostalgia and intensity and heartbreak we feel while listening to it are just capitalism playing surplus-value games with us.”
Wow, that’s some good schmaltz liquor. It’s one thing if Ian Cohen or his ilk write nauseating *positive* reviews, but if this is what the counterargument looks like, I’d struggle to pick which is worse. It always fascinates me how precious little modesty some writers employ when a band dares to make an album they don’t particularly care for. It can’t be just, “eh, I didn’t like this” or “this music doesn’t reach me” or even an obtuse explanation of something to that effect. It’s got to be MUCH more melodramatic, replete with meditations on the timeless clash between meaningful music built on what’s real and right against the evil, debasing powers of corporatism. And without any shred of irony, all the florid, pretentious declarations you droned through in your review coexist with statements like these:
“as if they are the most important or complicated words ever to be spoken”
“as if overwhelmed with their own meaning”
Will, I doubt you care about anything I’m saying here, and it probably doesn’t help my cause that you’ve already gotten a fair share of crap from Tame Impala fans. But if it’s any consolation, I’ve never listened to Tame Impala. I just thought your review sucked. I thought it was pompous, self-indulgent writing that does nothing to ease the image of music writers as scarcely more than neurotic nitpickers who can’t edit.
And what really bums me out is that YOU’RE A MUSICIAN. I’ve listened to some of your stuff, Will. I’ve seen you perform. You’ve got a heck of a lot more talent for making music than you do in writing these things for a website that’s a half-step up from Tumblr. If I can make one final request, it’s this. Please, please, PLEASE divert the energy you’re going to spend writing more of this junk into your music instead. Or go to a farmer’s market, build a LEGO set, watch some Winston Burbank — I don’t care. Just do anything else but repeat what you did in this review.
Please…for the fogeys.