Growing up on the music press meant that from about the time I hit my teens until the time downloading replace CD buying, I was is a state of constant! almost unbearable! excitement! Tracking down hot fresh singles by sexy new bands takes a frightening degree of forward-planning when you live in a teeny-tiny village at the mercy of the nearest market town’s only record shop. My diary was full of release dates and upcoming TV appearances scribbled down from the NME and Evening Session. Being a music fan was serious business and it never really occurred to me that my friends wouldn’t share this burning need to flick through 25 dusty racks of promos in search of That Song That Got A Really Interesting Review.
The consumption and interpretation of reviews was key to my music acquiring success. Even with a dad who bought and sold records semi-professionally, friends to share tapes with, and a willingness to sacrifice sleep for radio shows, I could only hear a tiny fraction of the music that came out every month. Most of the time, reviews were what decided how I spent my pocket money, and David Hepworth’s post for Word magazine about reviewing sent me fluttering back to youthful days of furiously parsing numbers.
Because, like Hepworth says, there’s a technique to reading reviews as much as there is to writing them. With Q reviews, I knew that three and four stars were my patch: anything that got a five was likely to be a bit too polished and mature for me to love, not poppy or scratchy enough – so I’d only be interested in a five star review if it was of a band I already liked. Then I’d take the byline into account – there were plenty of writers I enjoyed reading, but couldn’t get my align my taste with, so I’d knaw off the prose and leave the opinion.
And the best moments of review reading would be when sheer force of text knocked me out of my assumptions. Someone, I forget who, described a Sharkboy single as sounding “like an iceberg”. And it did, too. The album was shit, but this one gleaming song was vast and glitteringly cool, and I’d never have listened to it if the reviewer hadn’t pinned down its loveliness in one phrase. Or maybe I heard the loveliness because of the phrase. Either way, the review made the record for me. Whoever that reviewer was, they didn’t tell me what the music sounded like so much as why I should care what it sounded like.
Now, obviously, if I want to know what music to buy, I find a way to listen to it and think about whether to pay for it later – but I’m still totally dependent on the people who can tell me why I should care what something sounds like before I go looking for new tracks. Fair reviews are rubbish. Tell me how it makes you feel.