Spin starts tweeting 140-character album reviews: Is this the end (or beginning) of music criticism?
On Wednesday, Spin magazine announced that they would be launching a new Twitter account dedicated to providing 140-character reviews of records, doing away with most (but not all) long-form album reviews associated with the magazine. According to his introductory essay about the undertaking, Senior Editor Christopher Weingarten (who himself tweeted reviews of 1000 different albums via his @1000TimesYes twitter handle) explained that this would free their writers up to put more work into the 20 extended reviews per month that will still be found on Spin's website, as well as tackle many more obscure albums that perhaps would not have been mentioned otherwise.
While I certainly applaud the forward-thinking ambition of Spin, I have to question the fairness and depth of a cursory twitter review of music that a band or musician dedicated so much time and effort towards, and reducing it to the mere equivalent of a catchy sound-bite.
Obviously, we've been drifting towards this easily digestible form of criticism for quite a while now, as attention spans have shrunk while the vast array of media competing for your time has only grown. There are a lot of people who only bother to check out what sites like Pitchfork rated an album, while skipping the review itself entirely as they move on to the next breaking story (#BlueIvy!). So, obviously Spin's plans cater to those individuals who can no longer even be bothered to read a four paragraph review.
There is, of course, a 10-point ranking found within Spin's perfunctory twitter reviews, so that someone can casually check their feed and dismiss a record entirely based on their haughty appraisal before bothering to dig any deeper, or *gasp* actually listening to the album itself. It's a sad reflection of our times when you think of all the time and energy that a band pours into their music to get a finished product that they can feel proud of, only to have that record treated so casually, and disregarded so easily.
But in these digital times that we are, in many ways, fortunate to reside in, there is perhaps less need for an in-depth review simply because of the fact that we ALL have access to the music anyway. Music fans already know what an album sounds like before the critic has even had a chance to start typing up their review. In her brilliant critique of Ellen Willis' Out Of The Vinyl Deeps for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sara Marcus speaks of this conundrum quite eloquently:
"Today it's simple enough to be listening to a song while you read a review of it, which means the critic doesn't have to tell you that the song is nine minutes long and punctuated with harsh birdcalls; it might really free up a writer to delve more deeply into what it means that you are listening at all."
And that is where I believe Spin's modern idea fails. These truncated synopses don't ever approach the type of understanding or profundity that writing about music demands, nor do they make any claims to. It's a gimmick, really, meant to capture the attention of the music industry and its fitful, unfocused fans who are tired of being sold anything resembling a dusty, unimaginative status-quo.
In my opinion, there is no possible way a writer can capture the essence of an album (if a writer CAN even capture the essence of an album) in just 140-characters or less. So I see this as a disservice to both music fans and writers alike, where everyone just gives up on the art of the long review entirely in favor of something far inferior but far easier to digest.
I've been told many times that I'm too wordy and that I need to start being more concise (perhaps most people stopped reading this piece three paragraphs ago), but I have faith in the written word and what it can accomplish, and insist that there are still people out there who crave a more in-depth analysis of whatever subject they hold dear.
In the world of music criticism, I feel that while the avenues that are available to writers to express their thoughts are always evolving and expanding (to the point where I can have more interactions about music with people who I, in all likelihood, will never meet than I do with my real life friends), we must always show a level of respect to the bands themselves, and take immense pride in the weighty responsibility of conveying exactly what it means to hear their songs and albums, how that music truly makes you feel, and ultimately why we are even listening at all. Try fitting that in a tweet.
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