Weezer’s first album, Weezer, also nicknamed “The Blue Album,” saw universal acclaim both critically and financially. Songs like “Buddy Holly” and, my personal favorite, “Undone — The Sweater Song” shot to the top of the charts and found love among their new fans.
It seemed as if grunge would finally be dethroned because alternative rock was on the rise with a band like Weezer — from there, the future could only get brighter. At least, that’s how it should have been before critics nearly derailed the band’s career.
After the first album, frontman River Cuomo struggled with the drawbacks that came with fame. As a result, he wanted the next album to reflect the inner demons he had to battle and give fans an insight into the dark thoughts that rattled around in his brain constantly. Compared to the success of their first album, Pinkerton was panned by critics and fans alike. Even Rolling Stone readers called it “the third worst album of 1996” when it was released.
Since then, people’s perception of the album has changed. And as a matter of fact, it is now hailed as one of Weezer’s better albums. However, the initial negative reviews caused irreparable damage to the band’s psyche. Cuomo has been quoted saying he “never want[ed] to play those songs again.”
The underlying question is whether or not music should be reviewed in the first place. Pitchfork and Rolling Stone made their millions by being critics of music, telling people whether or not they should spend their money on the work an artist has put out. For an album like Pinkerton, these reviews are critiquing artists’ personal lives that are manifested through their music, which is likely their livelihood.
And of course, there are endless sources to find reviews of music, from the entrepreneurial Forbes to the cancerous comment sections of YouTube videos. But most of these reviewers likely have never even picked up an instrument before and couldn’t tell you where “C” is on the piano (hint: it’s a white note). What gives them the right to judge the work of someone who makes music professionally? What gives me the right?
Truthfully, I think people forget that a review is an opinion of the reviewer. The reviewer, if they did their homework, sat down and listened to a song or album multiple times, made note of all the nuances they possibly could and thought about how all of the instrumentation, production, concepts, lyrics (if any), sequencing, mastering and other elements came together to form a work of art. Finally, they give their honest opinion about it. This is where looking at music with a critical eye gets tricky.
I’m sure everyone’s had a moment where they’ve played their favorite song among friends expecting a vehemently positive reaction but gotten an indifferent “Yeah, this is good, I guess” response instead. People simply have different tastes in music due to their background or experiences they’ve had in life.
The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is aptly applied to music preferences. Over the break, I showed a friend of mine “Bad and Boujee,” a song I think is one of the best, if not the best song, to come out of that abomination we call 2016. My friend, however, thought the opposite and has no problem telling me that I’m an idiot for liking something with a line that goes “You know we winnin’/Yeah, we is not losin’.” Likewise, one reviewer will find your favorite song the greatest thing to sweep the nation and another will say it’s the salt of the earth. So who’s right? Who has the right to say if music is good or bad? Who had the right to say that Pinkerton, despite its insight into the dark corners of a celebrity’s life and the intimate themes it imparts on its audience, is a piece of garbage that never should have seen the light of day?
The easy answer is nobody and everybody. Everyone has a right to form an opinion about the music they listen to, and provided that they truthfully process the songs and albums they hear to come to a thought-out conclusion, everyone can say whether or not they like whatever an artist puts out. But what they say shouldn’t be taken as a universal fact, but rather, for what it is: an opinion. And everyone, myself included, forgets that from time to time.
Even artists can get in a tizzy over a bad review of their work, as a music journalist claims he was assaulted by a member of the Wu-Tang Clan a few years back over a negative review. Reviews aren’t the final say over whether or not something is good or bad, just a jumping -off point for you to make your own opinions.
Spencer Lee is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His column, “Spencer’s Soapbox,” runs Thursdays.