by Mariah Craddick/ Reviewing the Arts Honors class
“SEA CHANGE: Frank Ocean and the new R.&B.”
by Sasha Frere-Jones (The New Yorker)
Jones’ ability to connect the piece of music to a larger picture and do so in beautifully descriptive language makes her review of Frank Ocean’s “channel ORANGE” album work for me as a reader.
First, she opens up with a statement that she plans to qualify with examples:
Male R.&B. is now less about dancing and more about emotional clarity—a trend that owes more to Ocean than to anyone. If R.&B. was once the main mode of dissembling attractively and seducing openly, it is now America’s confessional booth.
How does she go about proving this point? She makes musical references to artists like D’Angelo, Marvin Gaye and Prince to illustrate past influences who’ve used the same formula as Ocean.
Then she references more current, “mainstream” artists like Chris Brown, Rihanna and Usher to make the point that “commercial R.&B. has gone through a crisis, scared silent by the thump of club music, which now seems to be required in all pop music.” Her assumptions make logical sense and she backs them by citing the declining sales of artists like R. Kelly and Ne-Yo.
But then she references Drake and the Weeknd as artists who, like Ocean, are offering a “new R.&B.”—characterized by soft, dreamy sounds and unabashed emotionality.
Once she gives us this background, Jones goes into the actual review of the album. She’s specific with details, constantly quoting lyrics from the album, and easily makes her case for why the album “reinvigorates R.&B. by flouting the rules of the genre.”
This review is a great example of how a critic can make a big statement (Ocean’s music is new R.&B.) but back it up with clear points and examples.
“Normality Play: Michael Jackson, Invincible”
by Alexis Petridis (The Guardian)
What makes this review so disjointed and poorly executed is Petridis’ inability to review the actual music. And when he does begin to make judgments of the music, he only gives his unfounded opinions and gets facts blatantly wrong.
Words like “bizarre,” “peculiar,” even “inhuman” are tossed around to describe the sound of the music, though he never states why. It sounds like the writer’s own feelings about the singer himself—Michael Jackson—seep into his critique of the music.
When he quotes one lyric (“I can’t do it by myself,” he magnanimously admits on Threatened), he attributes it to the wrong song. And he continuously undermines the artist by referring to him outside of his name (“Wacko Jacko”). The writer loses the reader’s respect by critiquing the album almost like it was for a tabloid.
The writer delves so much into the the persona of Michael Jackson that he’s no longer reviewing the music. For instance, this statement:
The lyrics to ballads such as Break of Dawn may be clichéd, but the very fact that they are being sung by Jackson gives them a whiff of weirdness. “Let’s walk down to the park, making love until it gets dark,” he trills. The thought of Jackson having sex is odd and frankly distressing.
Petridis’ critique reads like one long, baseless opinion of Michael Jackson as a person, not the album being reviewed.