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Record reviews: Who needs them?

I could be wrong, but – adding together a decade of Trouser Press magazine, five Trouser Press Record Guides and a whole lot of freelance writing -- I may have reviewed as many albums as any American rock critic this side of Bob Christgau. From adroit to inept, I’ve offered my full faith and credit to a small percentage of them, attacked some (with the fierce indignation generally reserved for orphan-robbers, World Series goats and career criminals) and juggled the rest. I suppose I’ve shared a few valuable insights, but no doubt just as often I’ve come up empty, papering over ambivalence with utilitarian description.

How often was I right? Even if we can stipulate that there is a “right,” it’s hard to say, since the inconstancy of life synchs unreliably with value judgments that have been frozen in time. What was on the money in 1978 may seem horribly naïve in 1988 and condescending by 2008. Plus, a critic continues to hear and learn long after committing an appraisal to print, and that both alters the context and expands culture’s possibilities. When it comes to records that no longer live clearly in my memory, even going back for a refresher listen promises only a slim chance of summoning up enough sense of who I was and what I knew at the time to extrapolate what I was feeling when I wrote what I did.

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