Artist: Josh Ritter
Album: So Runs the World Away
Critic: Jesse Cataldo
Publication: Slant, 2010
Writing Disorders: Purple Hemorrhage, Idea Fever
Longest Sentence: 64 words
Irony: “ornate surfaces that are largely filled with air”
Jesse, there’s a line from a review I read last year that stuck in my mind:
“Mew is not as thoughtful or smart as they think they are”
I couldn’t remember who wrote that stupid phrase or where it appeared, but the words still hibernated until sheer coincidence brought me back to the author. So I’m going to switch the dice now that we’re together. I’ve got this latest review of yours so we can test if you’re as smart as you think you are, because you clearly think your brain cooks some brilliant eggs. Otherwise you wouldn’t have written stuff like this:
“The conundrum in assessing a project like this is that there are the two sets of criteria by which it can be approached”
I’ll come back to that breakthrough in musical surgery, but first I want to focus on the writing itself. In any writing class handing out grades based on writing, I think it’s fair to say that you’d be at the bottom of the curve. The only thing this review really challenged me to do was to hold onto subjects long enough to reach the verb. I lost many lives. First things first: I’m going to highlight all the extra crap hedging these sentences:
“But the atmosphere of rough, old conceits scrubbed clean, with just enough dirt left to seem genuine, is ultimately a disquieting one”
“This is unfortunate because Ritter, whose numerous songwriting accolades are trumpeted in the album’s press release, is a more than capable lyricist.”
Jesse, putting the Red Sea between subject and linking verb is…not good. Contrary to popular belief in your field, a two-letter verb can indeed collapse under an author’s excess. Imagine those sentences surrounded by others just as hard. Might make for a difficult read, wouldn’t you say? Well, that’s your review.
Thanks to the rating stars and a few rereads, I understood you had mixed feelings about this album. Well, it’s fine being on the fence about liking or disliking an album, but not so much with silly adverb constructions. Read these phrases:
“the borderline offensive”
“the slightly enthralling aura”
“nearly stuffy compositions”
How can you be almost offended by something? Slightly enthralled? Nearly stuffed up? Those are all adjectives that describe either/or situations, so you really need to be on one side of the fence or the other, because straddling the thing with a post up your butt just doesn’t look right.
If nothing else, all these modifiers showed me how you avoid brevity like the plague. At least SOME music critics are succinct, but certainly not most. I’d lump you in with “most” there. Nearly every sentence in your review kicks brevity in the balls and drops a teabag for good measure. You seemed to pride yourself on taking the long way around EVERYTHING, even down to the level of word choice. Let’s return to a previous example:
“This is unfortunate because Ritter, whose numerous songwriting accolades are trumpeted in the album’s press release, is a more than capable lyricist”
I’ve got a couple issues with that sentence, Jesse. First off — when did America fall out of love with the word “many”? I can’t even watch “People’s Court” these days without hearing someone say his girlfriend cheated on him numerous times. “Numerous” is a clunky modifier and should only end a clause, as in “his songwriting accolades are numerous.” Second, wouldn’t a “more than capable” lyricist simply be a “very capable lyricist”? Readability, Jesse…readability.
There’s even more I could take issue with here, but I’m just going to quickly run through your musical dissection and wrap things up. Take a gander at the criteria you mentioned, the ones binding your assessment of this album:
“The first is the fulfillment of the formula it attempts to emulate, in this case a kind of moody but detached wilderness lyricism, at home with nature but not down-home, smoky Americana crossed with the yellowing allure of old adventure stories.”
“The second is the creation of an individual product, and though World Away scores points for style, it also inevitably appears a little dried out and musty”
Jesse, it’s easy enough calling BS on your molecular analysis when you reviewed 10 albums the month of April. Writing a graduate thesis on this guy’s album in three days seems disingenuous to me. But aside from that, it did get me thinking. If anyone reads your review besides me, it’ll be someone who’s never heard the album before. So riddle me this: What’s the point of writing this for a listener who’s curious at best? Is it for his glory…or for yours?