In A New Chance for Music Criticism, present-day critics are encouraged to “embrace their role as curators who are able to provide new music with a meaningful context” – this also suggests a duty of providing context and fair consideration to old musicians, which Tim Martin’s review does not. As the Beach Boys have had half a century of criticism on their songwriting, it is appropriate for the critic to focus solely on the concert experience rather than the music itself. Yet Martin’s review, for all its eloquence and demographic appropriateness, also abandons musical language in favour of visuals and overall impressions.
While the hyperbolic title would draw in anyone (“The Saddest Gig Ever?”), the Beach Boys are a seminal band which, despite their harmonic and rhythmic genius, are not sonically-relevant to the today’s mainstream youth. Therefore, we can assume that most readers are either well-rounded culture afficionados who appreciate rock history, or Baby Boomers who are simply curious as to how Brian Wilson is doing. In terms of tone, Martin caters well to the first category, with such high-brow references as surrealist cinema; “There’s an almost Lynchian oddity to this strange exercise in reanimation and nostalgia”. Through such language, he describes the visual and emotional dimensions of the concert.
Yet, he skims the auditory. A few paragraphs superficially describe the set list, from the Beach Boys’ “greatest hits” to “agonisingly middle-of-the-road rockers”. We are told Wilson sings “abstractedly”, but know nothing about how his timbre, style or pitch compares to his album voice. We picture that Blondie Chaplin “threw himself wildly about with guitar and tambourine as though he’s turned up to a Stones concert by mistake”, but are almost clueless as to how these wild gestures affected the overall sound. This is perhaps a consequence of the profit-decline in journalism, where as Alex Ross explains, “cutting the critic of whatever art form seems to be an easy cost-cutting move as newspapers and magazines continue to pare back their staff.” Tim Martin is neither a professional musician nor concertgoer, but a “journalist and book critic for the Telegraph”, and hence the lack of musical judgement.
Finally, the review did not start a conversation, ask questions or enhance my understanding of the surf rock genre – it merely functioned as a snapshot of Wilson in this stage of his difficult life, and a warning to avoid future concerts. Several provocative questions were bluntly answered, rather than exposed in themselves – when the artist outgrows their peak, should we consider their value as an artefact? Is it fair (or ethical) to award two stars to a performance where the intent may not have been in the performance itself, but to witness a a 73 year-old survivor of mental illness, still making himself vulnerable to the public ear? Was it appropriate of Martin to let a subjective fear of mortality overshadow such a defiance of odds? As Martin acknowledges but doesn’t seem to process, “it is a miracle that Brian Wilson is here at all”.
Martin, Tim. “Brian Wilson’s Anniversary Tour: The Saddest Gig Ever? – Review.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 16 May 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2017. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-to-listen-to/brian-wilsons-anniversary-tour-the-saddest-gig-ever—review/>.
“Degtyarov”. “A New Chance For Music Criticism.” Black Ivory Tower. 25 Nov. 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2017. <https://blackivorytower.com/2016/11/25/a-new-chance-for-music-criticism/>.
Meline, Gabe. “‘It’s a Very Strange Job’: Talking With Alex Ross About Music Criticism.” KQED Arts. 4 Nov. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017. <https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2014/11/04/alex-ross-classical-music-criticism/>.