Who will review the reviewer?, AR Rahman, Anirudh


'Reviewing' a soundtrack, in the true sense of the word, is a really tricky place to be in. In my line of work, I have had the good fortune to be exposed to a lot of good music and of a lot of variety, from film music to interesting independent material. And the idea of a 'review' has always irked me. Why, you ask? It's mostly because in this age where everyone's a critic, there arises the question whether music has to be 'reviewed' on its technical aspects or 'the feel factor' it lends to the listener. Is a well-produced song deemed bad if it does not work for a listener? Or if a fun song has been badly produced?


Of course, we've always seen a clear dichotomy when it comes to reviewing films. One, you can always catch a common man's review of a film based on its mass appeal or entertainment value. Then there are the critic’s reviews by well-respected reviewers or industry folk that lean heavily on the technical hits and misses in a film. We already have established writers and reviewers for film, both locally and internationally. There are reviews we trust and respect, say a Roger Ebert, a Richard Corliss or even Rajeev Masand for that matter. The audience, therefore, has become attuned to reviewing a film on both commercial and technical parameters.


But when it comes to writing on or reviewing music, what do we set as our yardstick? Who do we look up to as THE word in music writing? What qualifies them, and that in turn, questions what qualifies us. Internationally we can look at writers like Lester Bangs or Hunter Thompson, who wrote for publications like Rolling Stone magazine or writers for The Guardian, who have set their own style and standard when it comes to music reviews. There was a sense of brutal honesty in their writing. For example, Lester Bangs, in a review, called the Metal musician Alice Cooper a "tragic waste of plastic". He has not been kind to anyone, be it the famous Lou Reed or even The Beatles.


That brings us to right here and right now. As a reviewer in our setting, do you really have the right to trash someone's work, unless of course it's that awful by common consensus? Does that kind of honesty have a place here? Would an artiste appreciate such honesty? Of course, the reviewer must also know the difference between malice and an honest opinion.


Another flipside I see to doing reviews, especially for vernacular films is that you get too acquainted to the sound and feel of a music director's work. You can listen to a song a say, "That's Rahman" or "That's Anirudh". We grow so accustomed to their sound that these music directors often have a particular hook in a song or a particular progression that keeps making an appearance in almost all their soundtracks. So, when such familiarity sets in, wouldn't that cloud our judgment on the song or soundtrack? How much weight do we lend to the freshness factor or the recall factor of a song then?


This is a reason why I have always wished our filmmakers would experiment by doing away with a music director for individual or situational songs. We have so much independent musical talent in this state. And Chennai alone has an amazing array of bands that play anything from classic rock n' roll to jazz or even interesting folk fusion collaborations. Why not use a single track from a band for one situation while employing other musicians on other situations in the film. I believe this could bring in such a vibrant kaleidoscope of sounds, each different in their own right. Hollywood movies have been employing this for years and to be honest, it's always a pleasure to hear a Led Zeppelin song break in during a scene in Argo or a song by 17-year-old Vancouver Sleep Clinic's song being used in a Cameron Crowe film.


Which brings us back to the final question. As said before, in this age where everyone's a critic, what makes a good review? Or rather, what makes a good reviewer? Is it a review that's written well? Is it when the review is balanced? Or does the secret lie in the simplicity of a review? Is a proper review only supposed to make the artiste happy? Does a good reviewer put across the flaws tastefully or does brutal honesty work?


So, while we are being exposed to wave after wave of popular opinion and mob reviews, be it for a film, its soundtrack or even a book, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves...


Who will review the reviewers?

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