Alan Ranta’s review of “Yeah Ghost” by Zero 7

Zero 7

Band: Zero 7

Album: Yeah Ghost

Critic: Alan Ranta

Publication: PopMatters, 2009

Writing Disorders: Detachment Syndrome, Scorn Disease, Idea Fever

Stuffy Phrase: “subtly introspective lyricism”

Stuffier Phrase: “space-case organic breakbeat instrumental”

Stuffiest Phrase: “indecipherably warped vocals and a few swirling, grainy digital manifestations”

 

 

Alan, just the other day I got an email from a reader asking me to dig into reviews by the A.V. Club. Before that, a critic I’d blasted complained that I don’t pick on the big guys like SPIN and Rolling Stone. Why do I avoid those? Well, there’s a very simple reason. They feature very short reviews, often only a paragraph long. With the exception of Raoul Hernandez’s stuff, there’s a natural law at work here: a 1,000-word review has more stuff to pick apart than one that’s much shorter. There’s usually a limit to my patience, though. Over 1,200 words and I get bored fast.

 

You pushed the limit with a tubby 1,100 words here, Alan, but there was so much poop in the stall that it held my focus long enough to finish. Besides, you sold me on your first sentence:

 

“For some reason, trip-hop and lyrical chill music is typically grounded by prominent female vocals.”

 

Alan, I’m going to use this as a teachable moment. Why is it that so many music critics can’t help but write “female vocals” to describe sounds coming out of a woman’s mouth? Have you ever heard a woman say she’s going to Marshalls for a sale on female clothes? How about someone in a bar asking where the female bathroom is? Can’t say that I’ve ever attended a rally for female rights or gawked at an issue of “Female’s World” in the checkout line. In a woman’s world, why do certain men in their 20s describe one of the sexiest, most expressive acts a woman can do like they’d identify a bull shark’s gender? On top of that, what’s with the paragraph devoted to talking about women like Arnold talks about men?

 

“overly girly “yoo-hoo” and “yeah, yeah” overdubs”

 

“Ann-Margret would struggle to be this over-the-top girly”

 

While you’re sorting out your feelings on the fairer sex, I want to dive into something else that ruffled my feathers here:

 

“the backward-sounding guitar—a sound that is a lot more disjointed here than the similarly distorted six-string on the righteous “This Fine Social Scene” from The Garden—but it is not enough to save the song.”

 

Save it from what exactly, Alan? If anyone’s wondering why I get so incensed when critics use the third person to molest someone’s music, this is another teachable moment. Far as I can tell, the only thing this song wasn’t saved from was your own picky eating. No matter how thick you bloat your review, how many tangential references you make for gravitas, or how many artists you mention in obtuse parallels, a music review isn’t a communication of facts. It’s subjective. Whether you gently fondle the art you chained to a rock or violate it with a “few obvious boners,” whatever you choose to write about someone’s heart and soul is your own opinion. Dressing your opinion as fact by obscuring your own responsibility makes absolute statements even stinkier, Alan. And boy, do you roll out the absolutes in this review:

 

“The only Eska submission that brings anything worthwhile to the table”

“The only interesting part of the track”

“the only track on Yeah Ghost that has the same kind of gravity”

“the only track that hints at the kind of sweeping cinematic soundscapes”

 

Oh, and about those obtuse parallels —

 

“Henry Binns doing his best Peter Gabriel come Huey Lewis impression”

“That number would sound exactly like a Badly Drawn Boy producing a Cat Power song”

“starting off like an unreleased b-side to the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and ending up like a Nelly Furtado cover of “Closer” (Nine Inch Nails).”

 

Alan, what the hell is the point of describing tracks like that? Explaining a song to a curious reader by saying it sounds like another artist doing an impression of another artist with a touch of another artist isn’t the best way to enhance understanding or pique interest. It just burns space, which brings me to another question: If the third-person version of Alan Ranta thought this album was mediocre at best, why did he write a three-page lab report on it?

There’s more to pry into here Alan, but before the hypocrite police cuff me for writing an 800-word review of a review I didn’t like, I’m going to end on something lighter, just a bit of a little redundancy:

 

“That is a captivating, soulful lullaby of a tune”

 

Thanks for that, Alan. I thought for a minute you meant it was a soulful lullaby of a basketball game or broom closet. Ciao.

26 thoughts on “Alan Ranta’s review of “Yeah Ghost” by Zero 7

  1. “Have you ever heard a woman say she’s going to Marshalls for a sale on female clothes? How about someone in a bar asking where the female bathroom is?”

    Actually, it is common for women to ask “where the ladies room is” [or “where the little girl’s room is” if they’re trying to be cute]. And if you’re going to talk about female vocalists for two paragraphs in a review, and not merely vocalists in general, it is necessary to mention you are going to talk specifically about vocalists who are female. In the case of the Zero 7 review, the absence of Sia was a major point of the review, and I related that to the importance of female vocalists throughout the genre of chill music.

    That said, good call on the parallels, redundancy, and stuffiness. That redundancy should be fixed, though there isn’t much I can do about the stuffiness [that’s just my style… I like big words in awkward arrangements, much to the detriment of the clarity of my writing]. I’m not a big fan of parallels in reviews either, but they’re too much fun to write, and they can occasionally paint a pretty accurate picture [I stand by “Peter Gabriel come Huey Lewis”… the other two, not so much]. Either way, thanks for the criticism. It’s rare to get such useful feedback in this business.

  2. That is a truly amazing response! I wish everyone was this open minded. Or, at least, everyone being ‘ripped’ here.

  3. agreed. This is a great and funny post, but it takes a lot of guts to offer such a gracious response as Alan did. Kudos to you both.

  4. I love your critique of the critique! Great writing…

    I just discovered this site, but I’m off to read more — awesome!

  5. So funny. This site rocks.

    I’m a fan of Zero 7, but I haven’t heard this album yet. I’ll have to check it out and see what Alan’s problem is.

  6. I guess reviewers feel like they have to challenge themselves when they come up with stuffy phrases, as if “it sounds good” is the worst thing they could ever say.

  7. I love your writing style… I’m going to pass this site on to my musician friends who will certainly get a kick out of it

  8. “Henry Binns doing his best Peter Gabriel come Huey Lewis impression”

    What?? It’s amazing that reviewers don’t write “I know, that was dumb” right after sentences like that.

  9. I never would have noticed how many times Ranta said “the only…” , but I guess that’s what I come here to find out…

  10. I had to go back and read the original review to see all those gems in context.

    I’m curious, though: what phrase would you use instead of “female vocals”?

  11. This is the second post in a row that I’ve read where the reviewer has responded. You’re really on their radar! I bet they’ll think more about their words for their next review, knowing you might be reading it.

  12. You really seem irked by these reviewers. I can identify — when I come across common grammatical errors in blogs, like the “your/you’re” travesty, I have to restrain myself from leaving snide comments.


  13. Zane:

    This is the second post in a row that I’ve read where the reviewer has responded. You’re really on their radar! I bet they’ll think more about their words for their next review, knowing you might be reading it.

    I believe Matt Wendus performs a service with this website, one that could make the field of criticism better. He definitely gave me food for thought. Unfortunately, I don’t think he has posted anything new since September of 2010. I’m glad someone posted this on Reddit a few months back, so the extra surge of traffic might encourage him to get back into the game.

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  15. I’m a fan of Zero 7, so it’s poetic justice to read a review of a review like this. Thanks as always for being so poignant and spot-on!

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