Last modified 19.09.02019

Confessions of an album reviewer

For reasons known not even to himself, Fred disparages the memory of George Orwell’s essay ‘Confessions of a Book Reviewer’

By Frederick O'Brien

Abstract illustrations of two heads
Image by the author

In an expensive yet strangely characterless flat in some important city or other a man sits unblinking before a computer screen. His hands tremble over the keyboard in anticipation of words that have not come for hours and will not come for hours yet. Countless pairs of headphones litter the floor and one wall is piled high with speakers. After years of listening and thousands of pounds of debt incurred, our hero has resigned himself to the fact that most music sounds irredeemably awful.

And yet he must write, for he is a music reviewer and the world waits with bated breath for his verdict on a smorgasbord of songs he’s barely had time to listen to once. More often than not the prospect of listening a second time fills him with unspeakable dread. It is exhausting to be so unaffected so often. There are no words for his indifference, so he must invent them. A thesaurus tab is open on his computer. It his always open. Words like ‘texture’ and ‘immersive’ and ‘emotive’ have lost all meaning. The album he is writing about has been out for two hours. Before the end of the day he must know how he will feel about it for the rest of his life.

This man began with innocent intentions. He liked music, he liked talking about it. His favourite albums made him feel rather good. Music was wonderful. What he had failed to consider was that this favourable picture of the sonic world was formed of a small minority of quality artists. It has long since dawned on this unfortunate fellow that most albums do not nourish the soul or give strength to the heart. Indeed, most may as well not exist. But they do, and they pine for someone, anyone, to review them. They are leeches competing for the reviewer’s thin, watery, highly caffeinated blood.

Several reputable music review websites have solicited this lonesome man’s services over the years. He adjusts his voice to each, for one daren’t stray far from the official tone. Smarmy here, hysterical there, submissive everywhere. He once reviewed the same album for two different publications and came up with two wildly different scores, sincerely believing both. Whatever consistent opinions he may have once held are gone. It is no matter. He has found people only read music reviews to be upset by them.

Occasionally, in a fit of desperation, he can publish a meme or a GIF or similar contrivance as his review. Some may be fooled into thinking this is clever, others will roll their eyes and move on. Most will never read his review so he figures it’s worth it from time to time. Such stunts spare him the chore of writing several hundred words effectively saying, ‘Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.’ Not that he is averse to terrible albums. The truly awful ones are a gift. They allow him to at least feel something, even if it is only a yearning for sweet, sweet death.

He looks out of the window at a pale sky and reminisces about that one album he genuinely liked a year or two ago. What was it called? Was it real? Would he enjoy it as much now? He doesn’t want to find out. He has ruined enough things for himself already. He has not paid for music in months. He feels bad about this sometimes, though not enough to pay for music. What little sympathy he has for musicians is quieted whenever he meets one in real life, which is rarely.

The internet and advances in technology are marvellous of course, our friend concedes, but it does seem a shame to him that so many more people are able to make and distribute mediocre music, presumably to mediocre listeners. What does that make him? Some kind of mediocre weathervane? It doesn’t bear thinking about. At least he’s not making reaction videos.