Ben Ratliff’s review of “Scream” by Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

Artist: Chris Cornell

Album: Scream

Critic: Ben Ratliff

Publication: Blender, 2009

Writing Disorders: Infectious Punctuation, Jargon Palsy

Hyphen Foul: “board-certified cheese-ball rock-guitar”

Stuffiest Sentence: “Their collaboration suggests a nice philosophical dissonance, but only in theory”




Ben, this review is unreadable, which is a shame because essentially what you’re writing here is copy. In case you don’t know what that is, copy is a short way — usually less than 200 words — to convey or promote something to the public. You’ve got the length down pat. But copy is also designed to be snappy, succinct, and easy to understand.


I’ll let your copy speak for itself:


“a Vegas-y shpritz of synth orchestras, mock-Asiatic wails and sitars, board-certified cheese-ball rock-guitar solos ripping off Journey and U2”


Let’s try something fun, Ben. Let’s picture for a moment that the Heinz Company hired you to write copy about how good their ketchup tastes with French fries. Here’s that I imagine you’d come up with:


“The salubriousness is obfuscated by the vinegar-y undertones and faux-fire-engine-red pigmentation lifted from the annals of Hunts, yet one can’t help but marvel at the symbiosis present in the union with the common fried tuber of the Solanum tuberosum.”


And then you’d get fired because no one outside of respected botanical or linguistic circles would know what the hell you were talking about. It’s clear your style of writing wouldn’t get you far working for any outlet other than a music zine. But what I’m struggling to understand is how that style is near universally embraced, even elevated, when it comes to writing about music.


Also, how do you feel comfortable writing that a songwriter wrote “tragically clumsy lyrics” when you wrote such jargon yourself?


There are a number of cures to your affliction, Ben, but here’s a good way to start. Stop using hyphenated words so much to convey meaning. Let’s go back to that horrible sentence fragment I quoted earlier:


“a Vegas-y shpritz of synth orchestras, mock-Asiatic wails and sitars, board-certified cheese-ball rock-guitar solos ripping off Journey and U2”


Now, watch what happens when I clear the sentence of hyphenated words:


“synth orchestras, wailing sitars, and guitar solos ripping off Journey and U2.”


See, by cutting out hyphenated words that A) make no sense, and B) make the review impossible to read, you give your potential audience a much-needed boost!


I look forward to reading your future work that incorporates these suggestions, Ben. And like any good critic, I’m sure I’ll still find plenty to criticize.

3 thoughts on “Ben Ratliff’s review of “Scream” by Chris Cornell

  1. Totally, TOTALLY enjoyed your utilization of such acerbic-type wit that radiates with attitudinal disdain.

    In translation: Your article smacks of a major “diss” to Ben Ratliffe. Love it! Most refreshing!

    (Love the album Scream, also!!!) Thanks for giving me a gut chuckle today!

  2. Okay, I’m reading through your site now and finding a lot of great, humorous points. But, especially with this review, I’m also noticing that you employ a lot of the same hyperbole and unnecessary abuse that you accuse other people of using. That first quote you used actually makes perfect sense and accurately describes the sounds, even if the sentence is a little unwieldy. Your appropriation of his thoughts without the hyphenated words didn’t really capture the idea that he was going for, even if it was easier to read. So essentially you’re telling someone to improve their review by making it less accurate to the sounds they’re hearing.

    Also, hyphens are not the devil. They can be useful tools, which is why they’re a part of the English language. Just saying, your criticisms sometimes either go too far or focus on the wrong items to criticize.

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