Monday, May 14, 2012

How to Spot a Bad Critic

As those of you who read this blog somewhat regularly are aware, I review albums. Sometimes those reviews are very negative and critical. I try to be as accurate as possible and provide useful information about how I reacted to the material, not so much to justify my own opinions or to provide input to the bands themselves (whom I generally assume don't know or care what I have to say about their work), but rather to aid my fellow music fans in their searches for music that will be of interest to them. It's true that my reviews have gotten back to the bands in several cases, and it's pleasant to think that my meager assessment might have some tiny effect on their future recordings, but I doubt it. Whether I'm aiming at influencing the artists themselves or not, though, there are still good ways to be constructive in writing a review, and there are very nonconstructive ways to go about doing it too.

Tonight I read this new blog post by the creator of the very successful webcomic Goblins. It came from the artist's point of view, and it was focused on the idea of how an content creator of any variety can tell which critics to listen to and which critics to ignore. In particular, it discussed negative reviews and criticisms. In the post, he gave a list of 14 ways to spot poor critics. Most of the items on the list I've seen many many times in reviews on Amazon, Youtube, Metal Archives, etc. On really bad days I may even have strayed onto the fringes of a couple myself, though I think I've avoided any flagrant fouls. I found the post interesting to consider as a sort of constructive criticism of giving constructive criticism, and for anyone thinking about writing reviews (or for people already frequently writing them) I think it is worth looking at as a handy checklist of bad habits to avoid. If you see yourself or your reviews in there, it might be time to think about retooling your approach to writing critical reviews.


  1. He meakes some pretty obvious observations (that probably needed to be made anyway). It's kind of funny, though, that he has a couple rules against absolutes in criticism, and absolutely rejects them. Several of those rules are not, I think, so absolute. Just as you shouldn't judge something like a webcomic on the output of one strip, you shouldn't judge a critic on one critique. Generally. Some are so awful that it can be apparent from just one, but most aren't.

    I agree with the sentiments behind his rules: Watch out for lazy writers and unimaginative writers. But not some of the specifics. I think you can get a lot of insight from a critique that tries to get into the head of the creator, at least as long as they don't claim to really know what was going on in the creator's head, but instead offer a possible line of reasoning.

  2. You make some interesting points I hadn't really considered. I certainly wouldn't use his list as anabsolute critic's gospel or anything, but I do think it has some value.

  3. It certainly does have value, and I think it appears he has a good attitude toward criticism in general. It's just that there's a kind of irony in the whole thing. Creativity can't be boiled down to such simple and absolute rules, although they are definitely helpful.

    The one I would add to metal criticism is that I would completely ignore any review that implies that how much you like it is directly correlated with how true a metalhead you are. Scratch that--it's more like, if you see that, there's a really good chance it sucks despite their 100% rating. I guess you could expand that rule to a more general application, so you can ignore any review that implies that you must agree with the reviewer, or there's something wrong with you. That, I think, is very nearly an absolute rule.