Published Oct 26, 2018Noted music journalist and author Michael Azerrad read one too many cliché-ridden record reviews and decided, damn it, someone has to do something about this.
So, after yet another critique suggested that musicians appearing on each others' records were "returning the favour," Azerrad tweeted out his irritation about the oft-used descriptor with #rockcriticlaw and discovered he wasn't alone in noticing a certain laziness in music writing that had become infectiously rote.
Azerrad, to his own amusement, was able to turn his contempt on social media into a viable book pitch and set about writing Rock Critic Law: 101 Unbreakable Rules for Writing Badly About Music. The short book, featuring illustrated depictions of each law by noted Seattle artist Edwin Fotheringham, will amuse musicians and fans for its ribbing of critics, but it should similarly entertain and educate the very writers and styles it scorns.
"If two guitars play a melodic line in harmony, you MUST say they are 'twin lead guitars,'" Azerrad notes early on. "You MUST use the word 'moniker' even though you would never say that word out loud," goes another Rock Critic Law. To add a little English jab at the end of another, he writes "By all means say 'honing in on' and not 'homing in on.' Because words no longer have meaning."
In his introduction to this book, Azerrad recognizes that all of this boilerplate, template-like rock writing occurs due to various factors. Rock criticism has never been more tenuous, with many writers forced to pump out more content for less money against hard deadlines. The musical form itself is on the decline, in terms of popularity, and it's old too, which might make it harder for writers to get excited enough to come up with interesting or fresh vernacular when so much has been said already.
But none of the above completely excuses the proliferation of stock phrases and imagery employed by writers more interested in joining the herd than looking like an innovative black sheep.
Azerrad notes that most rock writers are enthusiasts first, decent writers maybe a distant third. They are seldom trained and often get into their trade having mostly read other rock writing and not, say poetry or fiction, which might expand their skillset. What Rock Critic Law does, comically and satirically, is highlight all the hackneyed stuff writers should avoid. Virtually all of us have abided by at least one or two Rock Critic laws and it might be time to break free of of the status quo and commit some radical, literate crimes. (Dey Street Books)