Sound Bites: Music Journalism Clichés


Is there an argument for using language as exciting and innovative as the music it hopes to describe? I can recall leafing through the endless copies of Q Magazine that I squandered my pocket money on, and happening across some of the most cornea-cloudingly typical pieces of language ever hastily emitted by a music journalist, in one particular instance masquerading as a review of Neil Young’s stroppy 2006 album Living With War.

“A state-of-the-nation address from one of rock’s elder statesmen,” remorselessly gurned the tagline, at once conjuring some of the most tiresome associations with rock journalism, and a quarter of a litre of gastric acid. These banalities pepper music journalism, contributing as much scattered pubes on a dessert. Lazy comparisons like likening all male harmonies as the Beach Boys (“Beach Boys-esque”), performances from provocative lead singers to caged animals, “prowling/pacing” the stage, or any production work a tad on the excessive side to Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ serve only to weary, not inform. Similarly lofty references to the German ‘‘Krautrock’’ movement are often exercises in showing off; not only are the majority of readers destined to be alienated by such a term, but such is was the diversity of the genre that it’s staggeringly ineffective.

The day in which these phrases were in any way titillating and fresh existed no doubt, but I fear it predates the Atlantic Ocean. The lexicon’s tectonic plates have since shifted and now you risk sounding like an asshole. They were created by fleshy, doughy mortals such as us; Melody Maker did not receive them on stone tablets atop Ben Nevis’s peak. We surely, can put our heads together and say something exciting, about something exciting. Similarly, if you can describe Paul McCartney’s newest album or mention Brian Eno’s influence in a record without employing the words ‘breezy’ and ‘ambient’ respectively, you deserve a hero’s welcome in the afterlife, perhaps an apartment with a view of the Baileys lake.

Some of these terms were never viable though, and have defied natural selection to survive so long. Fond of a tune as I am, ‘essential’, surely cannot be appropriate to describe a collection of songs, with or without of David Bowie’s involvement, unlike, for example, vitamin D. Prove me wrong, Q magazine: observe the bone development of a group of captive children while you deprive him of the delights of your ‘Essential Summer Playlist’ against a control group and see whether their femurs grow in right angles.

A thought ought to be spared for guitarists, or at least the noises coaxed from them, for they inherit the brunt of this drudgery. Descriptors the like of ‘pyrotechnics’, ‘incendiary’, ‘scorching’, ‘muscular’ and ‘angular’; the decrepit incontinent geriatrics of the pop’s vocabulary are employed to comment on today’s amplified plucking, and are as embarrassing as they are obtuse. Eamon Dunphy articulating what it feels like to have a hysterectomy would have more potency and relevance.

Music journalists have a responsibility of equipping fans like us with a vocabulary, to inform and excite readerships using their superior access and experience, rather than to disillusion, and while it’s hard to appreciate the volume of material that must be commented on, and that there are a finite number of word combinations in the English language, we’ll never have exhausted them by the time the sun consumes our planet at this rate.