Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A critique on critiquing - in response to Brian Wilson

Dear all, Brian Wilson raises an interesting point on his facebook page this morning, an angry rant against his fans who've been discussing his latest album on online forums even though it hasn't been finished yet. Apparently they don't like the sound of an album that features Brian sharing that magnificent voice with the likes of B-list celebrities who haven't paid their dues in the same way as Brian: Zooey Deschanel and Lana Del Ray. Maybe it's because I've spent most of this past week reviewing Brian's solo output (highlight from 'The Key Of Disney' 'what next? An album of animal songs ending with 'Caroline, Gnu'?!)but Brian's clearly hurt comments got to me so I thought I'd send a reply on behalf of beleaguered fans everywhere.

I'm not commenting on the album directly because that would be unfair - like everyone else I'll still buy it and come to my own opinions about it because goodness knows Brian has surprised me before now with what he's able to pull off (that Disney album for instance? A lot better than it has a right to be if not quite the 'bear necessities' of a decent Brian Wilson collection). Brian has a God-given right to record whatever the hell he wants; but we fans also have a God-given right to discuss whatever the hell we want - even and especially if we don't like the sound of it; it's our money we spend to buy these albums anyway and it's up to us who love Brian and his work so much to keep him to making the most of his musical abilities. In this case I think we're entitled to be cautious: I doubt any of us have ever thought 'gee, I wonder what a Brian Wilson and Zooey DeSChanel duet would sound like and The Beach Boys don't exactly have a good reputation for duets albums (The reason there was no 'Stars and Stripes - Volume Two' is that fans made it quite clear they wouldn't be forking out hard earned cash to hear country-rock stars hack their way through songs that already sounded perfect).

A lot of the comments have, naturally, supported Brian. Most of them say roughly somewhere along the lines that by ignoring dissenting voices Brian made both 'Pet Sounds' and 'Smile'. But to me, critiquing doesn't work like that; had Brian not cared what people thought of him and taken reviews to heart then he'd still be recycling 'Surfin' USA' today. That is, furthermore, why Brian recorded so many songs under pseudonyms in the 1960s: he wanted to check that fans loved him for his music, not for his name. Brian also makes the point that he'll only ever respect a critic when they write a hit song as good as his own; he makes a fair point on the surface, but music doesn't just concern an artist but his audience too as they're the ones who fund the ability to make that music. If Brian wants to make music with a bunch of friends for his own pleasure, then great - may it recharge his batteries and give him some fun. But when we come to spending hard-earned money for that same privilege then, well, we deserve a say in it too.

We critique not because we suddenly hate an artist and want to rubbish them (although a small number of people may have done just that) but because we care - we want that artist, whoever they are, to be as great as we know they can be and prove again just what talents they are. We want our thoughts to be an ongoing discussion with an artist to keep them honest - and if that means making the point that we'd rather Brian write some more original songs that make us delight in his sheer musical talent rather than re-recording some oldies with a bunch of friends too awestruck to say no then so be it. Yes sometimes comments get ugly, but more often than not that's because people care and want to see an artist at their best, not because they don't and think they're washed up. Of course Brian wants us to love everything he does as does we all - but it doesn't work that way; the day we give an artist blind faith in everything they do is the day they truly don't have to try and please us anymore and that will be a sad day for music.

Like everyone else I will be giving Brian the benefit of the doubt and look forward to his next album as eagerly as all the others. But as a listener I have a right to be disappointed or impressed or any other feeling - and so do you. Rant over, it's back to our normal postings next week!

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