Album: Strange Little Birds
Critic: Nina Keen
Publication: Drowned in Sound
Writing Disorders: Scorn Disease, Ambiguity Sickness, Jargon Palsy
Nina, I want to start out with some praise. You play a good bunch of instruments — guitar, bass, trumpet. I’ve dabbled in all three myself, and they’ve rounded me into a decent fellow. I don’t come across many music writers who started out as multi-instrumentalists, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more. It’s nice when young people make their own music before they start going on about other people’s stuff. I’d love to hear some songs or riffs you’ve recorded, Nina — I’ll even swap you some of the tracks I tossed together during my basement-dwelling years.
Nina, your writing just irritates the hell out of me. I won’t make any bones about it. But what really caulked my nuts about your review of Garbage’s album is that you wrote it as a college kid stuck in a burst of ‘90s nostalgia…
…but taking your frustrations out on musicians who did something other than finger-paint and learn to crawl in the actual decade of the 1990s. And it chafes a little hard for comfort when someone so young begins her review of a band that’s sold 17 million units with “in case you’d forgotten who they were.” Nina, don’t start out your career by being a dick to old people. It comes back to bite you.
All right, let’s go through your review. And if I get a little condescending, sorry — your tone’s wearing off on me.
Nina, I kicked things off with praise because it’s the opposite of what you did in your music review. After you crapped on the band for three paragraphs, you put a comforting hand on their shoulder and whispered a tepid hurrah…
“All this isn’t to say the album doesn’t have its moments.”
…before you yanked down your pants again, fired up the jetpack, and rubbed your bum in Shirley Manson’s face for kicks:
“‘If I Lost You’ and (even, despite its melodramatic title,) ‘Even Though Our Love Is Doomed’ feel like hidden gems.”
That’s a clunky diss, Nina. What, are your weird friends going to jeer at you for NOT writing that the title was melodramatic, even if it made the sentence easier to read? And it’s not like all the prior nitpicking leads up to a seismic climax of staggering insight. After three paragraphs of abuse, THIS is your grand conclusion:
“If only the album had been made up of songs where they’d allowed the songs to be low key and interesting, it could’ve been really good.”
Nina, have you ever actually listened to Garbage? There are plenty ways I’d describe their music, but “low-key” isn’t one of them. Whatever, though — I understand what you think you mean, so let’s roll with it. Lemme mansplain, honey cricket. Really you’re arguing that if this album had been made entirely of songs like “You Look So Fine” or “Milk,” it could’ve been “really good,” whatever that means.
It’s like moaning about “In Utero,” then writing that the album could’ve been really good if Nirvana had allowed the songs to be less distorted and mellower like “All Apologies” and “Dumb.” I don’t think it’s strong criticism of a band’s execution to suggest that their album could’ve been a lot better if they’d made nine-elevenths of the songs sound more like two-elevenths.
Further up the page, after you castrated the band for sounding not enough like this or too much like that, you started turning bad little tastes on your palette into decrees like an emo dictator:
“they don’t add anything”
“we don’t get anything”
“don’t need to exist”
Nina, it’s easy enough to poke holes in absolutes. “They” added things that were important enough to complain about in the music review. What you didn’t “get” on the first five albums were the lyrics, progressions, and sonic elements unique to “Strange Little Birds.” And if you’re unable or unwilling to discern anything different, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing about music. So here’s some more unsolicited advice. Don’t write in absolutes. They flash too much crotch.
And that thing about not needing to exist — that bugs me. Nothing “needs” to exist, Nina. Maybe the four musicians who started this band 23 years ago had their own very specific reasons for writing and recording their own songs their own way. And if parts of that music didn’t live up to your expectations, then maybe write that you THINK or that you FIRMLY BELIEVE those songs don’t need to exist. At least then you’d be putting your own fingerprints on the pouty face you’re trying to pass off as scientific consensus.
Nina, there’s a lot more that bothered me — the “cheesy” repetition of words, the terrible use of parentheses, the “squirmingly” melodramatic adverbs, the nonsense phrases like “pretty uniformly,” or the “cringingly” baffling decision to write out “heavy-handed look-we’re-a-Nineties-band-ness” but abbreviate “over-the-top.”
Whatever. You’re going to make mistakes; you’re young. But I’m old, and I don’t have a problem complaining about young people being dicks without much thrust behind the shaft. Nina, you have a great opportunity to be better than the scores of other two-bit sourpusses who tried their hand at dumping on musicians and faded into obscurity. Don’t squander it.
As you were, musician.