Seth Colter Walls’ review of “HITNRUN Phase One” by Prince


Artist: Prince

Album: HITNRUN Phase One

Critic: Seth Colter Walls

Publication: Pitchfork 2015

Writing Disorders: Infectious Punctuation, Idea Fever, Jargon Palsy

Stuffiest Phrase: “Prince’s unfurling of his distorto-wail cape feels rote”


Seth, I’m concerned. Your writing is so…stiff. Seriously, your groin and hips must be tighter than a spring clamp if this is how you communicate online. And even as a complete stranger, I’d feel better knowing you made an appointment to get your magnesium levels checked.


But maybe your writing isn’t as bad as it looks. Maybe it just seems so ridiculous because Pitchfork picked the stiffest guy in the bullpen to write a predictable Pitchfork opinion on a Prince album.


But I’m still concerned. And since Pitchfork’s team of “editors” can’t seem to “edit,” I’ll volunteer my time with a few suggestions. Be sure to print a copy of this evaluation and bring it with you to the doctor’s office. She’ll appreciate it when she makes her diagnosis, believe you me.


So let’s get started and talk punctuation. Here’s your second sentence:


“Though he’s fallen off since the 1980s — who, in his shoes, wouldn’t? — it’s this artist’s strange and frequent urge to over-promise that helps keep everyone harping on Sign ‘O’ the Times as his apogee.”


I don’t like any of it, but I want to focus on the crusty question you smeared between clauses. Why’d you throw two commas into a phrase that’s only five words long and already propped up with double dashes? Why didn’t you just write this?


“Though he’s fallen off since the 1980s — who wouldn’t in his shoes? — it’s this artist’s strange…”


I’m still not keen on that, but at least it’s a decent fix for not a lot of work. Editing isn’t hard, Seth. All it takes is a little extra effort to reread your own writing. If you feel your eyes getting jerked out of rhythm as you go, try tinkering with word order. Maybe pick a different word. Go ahead and try it — I’ve got some more comma crimes you can use for practice:


“Even if, this time around, you can forget the familiar discographical parlor game…”


“…including that iconic, multi-tracked one-man choir, in addition to lyrics that, while they might not be much on the page, snap with a seductive pull”


Seth, if it’s any consolation, you’re not the only one with strangled hips in the business — not by a long shot.  Lately Pitchfork writers have been using commas like they’re petrified someone might whip out the AP Stylebook and give them detention if they loosen up. Even young Zoe Camp is writing about “where, exactly, we are” like she’s shivering under an air raid. Too many commas make writing stiff and bony, and that writing looks really dumb next to “loose” jive-talk like this in the same review:


“but experimental this ain’t”


Word to your mother, but let’s move on. It’s rare to find so many warts in one sentence, so I went with another from your introduction:


“Though after stripping away the promotional language from this streaming-only platter, exclusive to Jay Z’s Tidal Service (for now), one finds something far less earth-shaking: a casual, slightly-weirder-than-usual release with one very good R&B song (that’s reportedly been kicking around in his vault for a while), stranded in the album’s penultimate slot.”


So…what’s wrong with that sentence? First, it’s needlessly long with easy fixes. Instead of writing 11 words as a parenthetical aside, why not this:


“one very good previously unreleased R&B song”


WHOAAAA…two words that save the flow of the sentence in exchange for 11 that disrupt it?! Ah-MAZING. And if  you don’t want to wager your good name on the truth behind a rumor, maybe just leave it out altogether. It’s not worth the sentence break.


And about those parenthetical asides, I don’t know why music writers are so keen on using so many when they make reviews look like transcripts of some paranoid weirdo yammering to himself. Do you even know how crazy you went with parentheses in this review, Seth? A full one-SIXTH of your word count was lodged between parentheses. That means for 17 percent of the time you were whispering observations like they’d get you shot if you wrote them any other way.


Then of course there’s that damn hyphen orgy getting juice all over the furniture in the middle of the sentence. Seriously critics, if you want me to stop writing this blog, JUST STOP USING SO MANY HYPHENS, BECAUSE IT LOOKS JUST AS DUMB AS USING ALL CAPS FOR THIS LONG.


Seth, why do I care so much about hyphens? Let’s just say that when I see modifiers like “slightly-weirder-than-usual,” I want to have a “paranoid-freakout” and go “loopy-but-hard-hitting” on the room and turn it into “modern-dancefloor production-debris.” And if anyone thinks I’m overreacting, let me just go ahead and put the prize turd on display:


“opening sequence of not-disastrous (but not-terribly-memorable) EDM-influenced jams”


Ugh. Tell you what. You like magic, Seth? Here, let me show you a little trick. Ahem…


“opening sequence of decent EDM-influenced jams”


BOOM. Seriously dude…please just bookmark I use it all the time, and I don’t use goofy hyphen chains. Coincidence? Nope.


After staggering through your mechanical distaste for this album, Seth, I found myself asking the most basic question.  Why DO you write like this?  Did someone put you up to it, or are you just afraid that relaxing will make you look like less of an expert? Believe me, I doubt people will complain in the nonexistent comment section if you ease off the tension just a bit. And the first step for easing tension is getting more magnesium. Start chomping those pumpkin seeds.  They’re better than commas.

One thought on “Seth Colter Walls’ review of “HITNRUN Phase One” by Prince

  1. A piece of criticism that suggests fixes? This is refreshing compared to music reviews. Seems like every review these days skews one of two ways: praise rendered meaningless by its vagueness, or negativity rendered unhelpful due to lack of suggestions.

    Something tells me most of the bad reviews I’ve read are due to musical illiteracy rather than poor writing skills. I think it’s easier to tolerate clunky writing when the writer knows the subject. Anyways, interesting stuff here, I’m looking forward to reading more!

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