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Lady Blackbird with Chris Seefried, producer of Black Acid Soul, top at the 100 Club in August. Photo: Christine Solomon
In a social media age when a ''like'' is about as much ''criticism'' as anyone is seemingly entitled enough to expect (the ''dislike'' button if it existed would probably be more honest but again would not be the whole story) the point of a review is more obvious than ever as is wider debate. Is our discourse these days really as serious and as significant in terms of thinking as in 1948 when Sidney Finkelstein published Jazz: A People's Music?
I think not given the lightweight ''playlists'' we devour, the ''request'' programmes on the radio we seem to think are cute but just about lifestyle or nostalgia, the terrible shortening of attention spans that favour shuttling through tiny snippets of important music without ever staying long enough even to get the basics of what we are listening to straight.
We are not all that dumb to not want to know more, or are we? And yet criticism, which does dig deeper and can see the bigger picture as Finkelstein and other seminal critics did, whether culturally Marxist or not, is seen as dangerous, maybe that is why the social media solution is to reduce the process to infantile blandness and a ''thumb's up'' rather than even allow a brief sentence of explanation.
To an artist, in thrall to their often self-delusional ego which is only helpful as a protective shield, it probably seems presumptuous for someone to review their work at all. ''You mean that person out there who isn't one of us, knows nothing, is saying that?'' It's an irony that some artists only want kudos without scrutiny but kudos cannot be reached without that process of independent critical analysis.
To a reader reviews may seem like grandstanding and too opinionated half the time. And if you have the misfortune to read a review of a new car by Jeremy Clarkson or something toxic by Camilla Long (surely the most fearsome and often most unreasonable critic of all these days) dear reader you'd be right.
The main thing about criticism which on a basic level is to give an opinion but not one as per Clarkson or Long that is hurled at you like a riot of provocation just for the sake of it. Why people need an opinion by someone they like reading can be as simple as knowing that the object written about is worth buying or going to. So there is a value in it at this basic but significant level. You don't want to waste your time. You want a clue even if you disregard the opinion and go out there yourself to prove or disprove what's been said. It's also because art actually matters and someone has to say it as often and coherently as possible and how it can help to change the world or correct some of the world's most egregious issues such as racism and subjugation.
Online criticism is the type we mostly consume nowadays and we want the reviews straight away. Reading a review of a gig that happened months ago is not the same in terms of relevance as reading one that happened last night or earlier in the week. And the same applies about an album, you want to know what's current, not really about reissues so much. After all they were originally reviewed a long time ago and are only really interesting when an unreleased archive album comes along that isn't just the record company cashing in which is usually the case.
So there is a point. Critics aren't the despicable, laughable, people sometimes they are portrayed as being. Sometimes they are pompous and preening and can't write as elegantly as you'd like. But they do fulfil an important function in the sense that they express themselves freely without fear or favour unlike the kind of marketing copy we all read day in and day out no matter how carefully disguised by the PR industry. For the reader it is impossible to gauge what something is like if it is just the gist of the press release because you are just reading the official version cut and pasted into a review. It happens a lot and ain't that a shame and while we're at it do we all actually know what to think any more because of a war of attrition on all our critical faculties?