I’ve already addressed some of these issues in “Bad vs. Good Negative Reviews” and “Reviewing old books and films with content which unsettles you,” but it’s been quite awhile since I wrote those posts, and I’m discussing a slightly different angle today.
Unfortunately, some people can’t grasp the concept of reviewing a product as it is, not as it’s not. It’s tantamount to whining about a painting because you would’ve put the tree on the left, made the sky overcast, and added more birds. You’re welcome to make your own painting with those specifics, but right now, you can only critique the other person’s painting as it already exists.
George Harrison’s Somewhere in England (1981) originally had different songs, different versions, a different track order, and a different cover, but Warner Brothers thought it wasn’t commercial enough.
George had to record some new songs, remove others, and change the cover and track order. The lead-off track “Blood from a Clone” is a not so subtle dig at these stuffed shirts who couldn’t think outside the box.
It really sucks that record company politics forced him to compromise his artistic vision and release an album that hasn’t aged as well and isn’t as consistent as most of his other work. But we can only review the album as it came out, since that’s the product that actually exists in material reality. It’s not fair to give it a bad rating just because it wasn’t what George intended.
I totally agree with someone at Amazon who said “Teardrops” sounds like an unholy collaboration between Paul McCartney and Elton John, and that it makes you feel like you have to take a shower afterwards!
I came to The Who’s final two albums, Face Dances and It’s Hard, expecting them to be an absolute pile of garbage. So many older fans had talked such smack about them, leading me to believe the worst. Then I actually listened to them and discovered they’re pretty good considering!
It’s Hard is one of my favouritest Who albums, and I’ve never fallen out of love with it since I first heard it on 3 September 2001. I consider Face Dances one of their weakest albums, but most of the songs aren’t nearly as bad as their reputation, and I’d rather listen to a weak Who album than just about any modern music!
Their main beefs with the last two albums are that Kenney Jones’s drumming isn’t nearly as good as Keith Moon’s, and they don’t measure up to the perfection of Who’s Next, Live at Leeds, or Quadrophenia. Well, yeah, duh! No one could ever mistake Kenney for Keith, but since Keith had gone to the other world, and they chose not to retire early, they needed a new drummer.
It’s also unfair and ridiculous to expect a band to spend the entire rest of their career constantly remaking their greatest albums instead of trying new things and evolving with the changing musical landscape.
Looking back all these years later, I realize what a long, slow, steep learning curve silent film was for me, even considering how I always loved silents and never mocked them as laughable, outdated relics. But very often in those early days of seriously cultivating this love, I was too quick to judge films as overrated and bad if they failed to immediately live up to all the hype.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, The Wind, Faust, and The General were just some of the films I damned as massively overrated on account of this. It never occurred to me that some films, books, and albums need to be watched, read, or listened to multiple times before we start to appreciate and understand them.
The same goes for some classic sound films. Casablanca and Citizen Kane failed to blow me away the first time I saw them, thanks to all the massive hype, so I declared they were some of the most overrated films ever. And I was about 25 or 26, not some kid who knew jack about film history and appreciation!
When I watched Citizen Kane, I was also extremely drowsy and almost falling asleep multiple times, so my physical state of mind wasn’t very good either.
The Haj, by Leon Uris, was going so well until it completely fell apart in the last 50 pages or so. All these characters I’d gotten to know and love suddenly starting acting so out of character, and the entire story unraveled, without seeing storylines and characters through to their natural conclusions.
That’s a valid criticism many readers have made. What isn’t a valid criticism is ranting against an entire book because you don’t like any of the premise, narrative, thematic, character, plot, storyline, setting, development, dialogue, etc., decisions the author made. You’re not reviewing the book that actually exists, but whining because it’s not how you would’ve done it.
I didn’t really start getting into the Betsy-Tacy series until the fourth book, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, and then felt distant again for the next two books. Only with the seventh book, Betsy Was a Junior, did I finally really begin to mesh with the characters and stories.
I feel bad for how I was a bit too harsh on the books in my reviews until I got to that point. I unfairly judged them because I couldn’t relate to Betsy’s cushy upper-middle-class life and focus on social life over school, and was also coming to them as an adult instead of growing up with them.
However, that doesn’t mean they deserved mediocre ratings. When I reread the series, I’m going to try to focus more on what they actually are instead of what they’re not.
And that’s how we should approach everything we review.