In the past week I’ve been given cause to think about the nature of just how fickle the music biz be, through a consideration of release reviews and the nature of textual intervention.
As any self-respecting metalhead knows, Iron Maiden‘s The Final Frontier is almost due to hit the shelves. The major press has already heard it and reviewed it. I am getting a promo sent to me but because of where we are, it’s coming from the States, so I won’t get it until the PR firm there gets theirs. Likely I’ll see it after the album has already come out. No matter. That’s beside the point.
The point is that the major press is banging on about the release with gusto. Unwarranted gusto, in my opinion. In fact, having already heard the album and listened to it a LOT, I can say that my opinion is as divided as this release is going to make Maiden fans.
For it is not a stellar release. It is tired, weary, wandering. It is not complex and nor does it break new ground. It is, however, (largely) poorly written and lacking in direction. It needed more time, more thought, more strategy. And a good, forthright producer.
I’ve come to realise that many so-called lauded critics use meaningless phrases like ‘breaks new ground’ because they can’t say anything real. And it makes me consider that, in all honesty, it is likely there are other things going on in the background.
Allow me to wander a moment by way of illustration.
This past week I received a review of a release, by one of my best writers, that is innovative. It is unique because of its fictionalised format. And this format allows the critic in question to be scathingly brutal about the release. So much so, in fact, that it gave me long pause.
It mentions a particular label in a way that I fear could get me into trouble. Not that it is derogatory, but because the format makes it appear rather factual. It is written as a product recall notice.
It is clever, intelligent, and right up my alley, in all honesty. But the legality of potential repercussions bothers me.
And it is also likely to make the label think very carefully about how it chooses to interact with us.
Do you get my drift? How is it that I am suddenly thinking about what a LABEL might think of my publication? I am enough of an antagonist to not care, and, in fact, to encourage this small rebellious review. But I am enough of a businesswoman to consider the longer term possible effects of potential damage to the great relationship we have with said label, and the enormous support they’ve given us over the past year and a half.
Combine such issues with the fact that labels, distros and PR firms give our publications what they need to survive, and throw in a desire to keep fans happy, and you have a really explosive mix.
I am not going to go so far as to suggest that reviews of The Final Frontier are a result of paid journalism. (Which happens, you mark my words, especially in pop music.) But I find it highly suspicious that such a release could be given unanimous praise when it is clearly undeserving of such.
I love Iron Maiden. But I really struggle with the largely formless beast they have created. No doubt it will become a classic and everyone will turn around to me and say ‘I told you so’.
But this is why I have made the decision to run multiple reviews. It’s a divisive album. It needs multiple perspectives.
As for this other review… Well. I need to sleep on it. Probably I will stick to my guns and publish as-is, and I will be either shot down or not. What will be will be.
The music industry is governed by relationships, and the music press is governed by relationships and money. Nothing says this quite as loudly as a global situation of praise for a formerly glorious racehorse that has suddenly gone lame.
But we’ll see. It wouldn’t be the first time I’m wrong about something. And if the album grows on me, and by some miracle I am in love with it in six months, I am woman enough to admit it.
As for other murky business behind the scenes, I have a perverse desire for people to gain some critical learning and a skeptical eye about all types of press and music. But it is there that I really know I’m dreaming.
3 thoughts on “Music industry mores”
I’ve come to the party four years late, but I want to agree with your premise: this record added nothing new to the Maiden canon, and shared the faults of its 2/3 predecessors – long, rambling, formless songs without appreciable structure, workmanlike (not bad – just barely proficient) musicianship, and a vocalist whose best days are now a long, long way in the past.
It’s not bad at all – I’m judging it by the high standards which I reserve for my favourite musicians. By those standards, it comes up as ordinary or slightly better than ordinary. And yet the critics raved. Dance of Death and A Matter of Life and Death were at least as good as this, and probably superior, and yet received markedly mixed reviews, but for some reason the hive mind of the music press got together and decided that this would be acknowledged as a classic. This may be down to payola, but frankly I think Maiden are long past caring what critics think, or paying them to give them a good review – they make albums 1) to please their existing fans, and 2) as a pretext to go on tour. It’s been that way for at least 15 years and arguably closer to 25 (and there’s nothing wrong with that at all).
No, more likely is that the tragically hip denizens of music criticism and the media in general are forever trying to gauge when the unfashionable as become fashionable again, when that which has previously been slated is now due revision and praise, and when perseverance and longevity alone deserve recognition even if they don’t like the actual music. And – probably working individually – enough critics just decided that the time was right to give this Maiden record the thumbs up. It probably didn’t matter whether it was actually any good or not (as long as it wasn’t an obvious disaster) – it was just Maiden’s turn. Next year it might be Slayer’s, or Status Quo’s, or Uriah Heep’s, or Gary Moore’s… you get the idea.
Hi Rob, thanks for your comment. I think one of the problems with Maiden’s output, too, is that Maiden fans tend to be accepting of everything they do. I think also your notions about the turn of praise, as it were, are probably pretty true.
To a large extent, whatever is due praise comes as much from label pressure, to what is available at the time, to whoever is paying for advertising. If [major band] is giving you merch to give away, paying your publication bills, and being available for copy, then you’re not going to rubbish whatever they’ve released – it’s just not good business sense. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that side of things, too.
I really appreciate you taking the time to make such a detailed response, by the way. 🙂