Somebody, more than likely Elvis Costello, once said that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture". A hotly contested opinion, the point is obvious: music criticism a pretty futile endeavor. Kind of like Richard Dawkins writing about religion, or Julius Malema saying, well, anything. The best response to critics is usually to ignore them. When it comes to criticism, however, all people involved in artistic creation have two things in common: we love a good review, and we hate a bad one.
So what was I to do when I came across a confusing review of "Come Out Fighting" in local SA rag Locally Whipped? Normally I'd cut it out and file it away with my accumulated press clippings (to 'ignore' in the future, of course), but this one made me think. Here's why.
Despite a strange assertion that "Own Way Home" has a very evident 'Nashville sound', the short review seems to be in favour of my record until the last sentence: "All in all, Ellis has made a great debut album and hopefully he won't get lost in the array of solo artists out there in South Africa." So far, so ok. Then, "If you like solid, feel good music, then give this a try but nothing extraordinary has been laid down on this album."
At the risk of sounding sour-grapey, here's my problem: if there's anything I've ever tried to steer clear of in my life as a songwriter, it's 'solid, feel-good music'. This is not a feel-good album. If anything, it's a feel-pissed-off-let's-do-something-about-it kind of record. Then, to go from 'great record' to 'nothing extraordinary' in a few words sounds like another reviewer wrote the end of it. A consistent opinion would have been nice. Most of all though, the words 'nothing extraordinary' made me think. Was I trying to make 'extraordinary' music? No. Am I trying to be an extraordinary artist? No. Is extraordinary even possible these days? How can you really compete with Lady GaGa in a meat dress? I don't think we'd even raise a bored eyebrow if Jacko came back from the dead and made a better album than Thriller and played all the London dates after all. We live in super-hyped, over-exposed, technologically-enhanced times, and nothing, and I mean nothing, surprises anymore. Tiger Woods? Oh well. Wayne Rooney? Yawn. Meat dress? Wow! Oh, it's just a dress...
I got a three-fingered review for my un-extraordinary, feel-good record. It's wise to ignore criticism, good and bad, but it's also nice to give a one-fingered response sometimes.
Post Script: "Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk in order to provide articles for people who can't read." Frank Zappa