Against excessive praise

In this past Sunday’s Times Book Review, Joe Queenan addresses himself to the problem of unjustifiably enthusiastic reviews. Perhaps not exactly a problem around here so much of the time (though not even I am immune). But nevertheless, it’s a timely discussion given the most recent flare-up of joyful noisers. Money quote (just replace all the literary references to ones from gospel music and you’ll be fine):

Just as authors dread being labeled “a poor man’s Francine du Plessix Gray” or “Satan’s errand boy,” many authors live in fear of praise that is discomfitingly intimate or jarringly visceral. I for one would never want one of my books referred to as “a big dish of Beluga caviar” sailing in “on a sparkling bed of rice, with a mother-of-pearl spoon,” as one of Alice Munro’s once was. There’s a macabre chumminess to this kind of writing, suggesting that the reviewer may actually be daydreaming about the author in graphic cetacean terms. If I were Munro, I’d add a couple of locks to the door. Deadbolts, in fact.

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Comments

  1. Irishlad wrote:

    Yes the sg(publications/blogs) reviews are the most sycophantic you will find in any genre of music.It’s as if they’re afraid to let go and really say what they think. Now,i’m not trying to read DBM orAaron Swain’s et al minds,but,you can sense a restraint, a cautioness there like ‘it’s the Lord’s work we’re dealing with and we don’t really want to put anyone’s nose out of joint’whereas a more candid approach might raise the bar a bit higher for the general good.

  2. Wade wrote:

    WoW IrishLaD… glad to see you got it!!! I knew you did…just wish more would!!! Hope everything is going well in the Land O Green!!!

  3. Dread Pirate Roberts wrote:

    Doug,
    Thanks for the reminder - Allison had completely fallen off of my radar, but she’s got some cool stuff going on her blog, so I was glad to reconnect.

  4. cdguy wrote:

    Years ago, I read reviews in CCM that seemed to say “If you’re not going further and further toward rock on each new release, you’re not worth listening to.” Why can’t we just hear an excellent recording of great songs that speak to people where they are, and say, “that’s good”?

    Now, should we lie about mediority, and say it’s good? Definately not. I think there’s probably a tactful way to say, “this is not my favorite project from this artist.” Or if there is no redeeming value in the project, just not print any review at all.

    It’s almost as bad as those mama’s of American Idol wanna be’s, who’ve LIED to their children all their lives (or the parents have tin ears).

  5. Irishlad wrote:

    2 Wade bud,it’s going great in 50 shades of green. How’d your stand-up gig on sun nite go? Now back to topic,you rarely if ever see a top tier group getting less than 3*, it’s all gushiness and wonderfulness. All sweetness and light. Bring some pundit in from Rolling Stone and give them a dig at objectivity,or,how about Mick Jagger,he just ordered a load of the Oaks stuff because he “liked their harmonies”. ‘Nuff said.

  6. quartet-man wrote:

    #5, Where did you find out about Mick ordering a bunch of Oaks stuff, or is that just an example that didn’t happen? :-)

  7. Irishlad wrote:

    6 It’s perfectly true. It was reported in the Daily Mirror,one of the biggest dailys in the U.K.,earlier in the year.

  8. Aaron Swain wrote:

    I agree with what cdguy said in #4. In my reviews (or any other item on my blog), I try to say what I think in a tactful manner. There’s a difference between constructive criticism and just being nasty.
    If I think a project is good, I’ll say so, and likewise with a not so good project. I do agree that us bloggers shouldn’t overlook mediocrity and say it was good when in reality, it wasn’t.

  9. quartet-man wrote:

    #7 When you said that, I had a strange inkling I might have seen it at one point. That would have been when I was laid up in bed after surgery probably. I can’t find it now though. I would like to see it again if I had seen it, or for the first time if I didn’t. :-)

  10. Irishlad wrote:

    #5 Ooops.Looks like an other 10 shades have been added on since the LGJC wrote that lovely little ditty! Lol.

  11. Wade wrote:

    IrishGuy… The show was great thanks for asking. We found a guy remember this name… Mike Haun… you will be hearing about him. Wish you were here you could compete!!!LoL:-)) We need an IrishLad in the Show!!!

  12. Videoguy16 wrote:

    Mean what you say, and say what you mean? This is the Southern Gospel biz; everyone should know better. Why should we let let a little thing like Matthew 5:37 get in the way?

  13. Irishlad wrote:

    9Q-M. I’m almost certain i saw it mentioned on their(old)site.Checked their site yesterday and came up zero,sorry.

  14. smemah wrote:

    #4 and #8, thank you for your responses. There is a difference between a critique and a critical spirit, one that is obviously lost on many on this site.

    Someone just brought me a fresh, still warm apple pie. But she was not attractive. Her teeth were crooked, her hair uncombed, and her coat too big. For those unsure of the point, that is not a critique, that is a critical spirit. The pie was wonderful, by the way. And I am enjoying it as I type.And should not that be all that matters. Along with the fact that she wanted to bring me some pleasure, just as the SGM artists do.

    My enjoyment of SGM does not rely on either critique or critical spirit. And since I can not appreciate the critical spirits of many on this site, I am off to a site where I can share my love for SGM and most of the artists, who do NOT have such critical spirits, and leave you few to your own warped kind of enjoyment.

  15. quartet-man wrote:

    #13, That is where I think I saw it too, but like yourself, I checked last night and it is gone. I presume it was a casuality of the redone site as it isn’t in the archives either.

  16. CVH wrote:

    One of the problems with reviews in southern gospel is that through the years much of the SG culture has not generated a healthy mindset or self-image. What I mean by that is, in many cases, there is a resistance to criticism because it is deemed unspiritual and unChristian. (cue the guy in the back…”Touch not God’s anointed!”…
    “Thank you sir, now sit down and shut up”).

    Actually, a healthier mindset would be to accept criticism as part of life, develop the ability to separate the reasoned from the foolish, and learn from it. We all have to do that in every other area of life. But for some reason, many SG artists and fans are of the opinion that their work is above criticism because it’s being done ‘for the Kingdom’.

    Now if criticism is sniping or ill-spirited, that’s one thing. You can’t question a person’s spirituality because they shave pitches or can’t conjugate a verb to save their life. But you can criticize their art.

    If your career is built on superlatives you give yourself or self-congratulatory ads in the Singing News, how do you expect to grow a thick enough skin to listen to objective criticism? The horror isn’t a critical review that skewers a bad project or performance; the horror is that it happens so infrequently that mediocrity is allowed to perpetuate and flourish, costing SG any sense of credibility in the broader marketplace, making it look like a fourth grade playground fight to onlookers.

    So God forbid someone like our esteemed host comes along and calls a spade a spade. All hell breaks loose. I say, bring it on.

    It’s not the SG genre, but there is an excellent website that reviews contemporary Christian music - www.christianmusictoday.com - and the editor and reviewers actually write reviews of albums. They’re not judging the character or spirituality of the artists, but they do evaluate the art. The reviews are not soft puff pieces; sometimes they’re searing in their criticism. But if any artist in any genre is putting their stuff out their for public consumption, it’s fair game for constructive criticism. The irony is that while SG demands the same playing field as other genres of music, it lacks the fortitude and willingness to be judged on the same basis.

  17. Kyle wrote:

    When I write a review, I try to be as tactful - yet honest - as I can be, and I always stick to the ALBUM that is being reviewed. For example, when I reviewed Legacy Five’s latest CD, I pointed out what I felt were flaws in the album….NOT the artist.

    Same goes for the latest GVB Christmas album. I was very vocal about the fact that I did not enjoy it near as much as I’d hoped I would, and I backed my opinion up with facts about the album.

    I used to hate reading reviews in the Singing News or even Country Weekly because they felt more like publicity spots than reviews….never a cross word could be found.

  18. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #17: My thoughts exactly.
    I agree with the Singing News reviews statement as well. Thank God they have DBM doing those now. He’s not so starry-eyed. =)

  19. Irishlad wrote:

    Kyle,don’t be tactful,just be truthful. Afterall,there’s no gain without pain. I would doubt if ‘N Harmony put on an other dismal display after the honest trunching they got in N.I. The bottom line is;people are paying increasingly hard earned money to hear the very best in s.g. If Gold City can do it then most certainly it can be done. Anything less, let them know because,in the real world without the sentiment of ‘Jesus’ dying love’to hide behind,they would surely strave to death. It’s a business and(reviewers)you can’t afford to be soft.

  20. Irishlad wrote:

    18 starve not strave,sorry.

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