Think about hot, passionate, and erotic sexual attraction, mutually felt between two people who can’t keep their eyes off of each other. Follow that lust and fantasy into a full fledged relationship that leads to deep, romantic love. Every time you eye this woman, her very appearance sends shivers throughout your body. A simple touch feels like electrical currents, a kiss is magical, and sex is… well, what is sex in this case? Whatever word I use won’t do it justice. No word can express the feeling of sexual climax in this kind of relationship. That’s because words, as Stephen King once wrote, diminish things that seemed limitless when they were in your mind to no more than life-size when spoken.
And so it is with music. That’s the problem with music reviews. Music reviews are cursed with an inherent problem – and that is, they are unable to express the feeling of the music due to limitations of language. Music, you see, is feeling.
“Cause every time I tried to tell you
The words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say ‘I love you’ in a song.”
Sure, you can show me your credentials as a graduate of a prestigious university. You can write about unique time signatures, novel chord progressions, production and engineering nuances, and even use adjectives like shrill or soulful to describe someone’s voice. And that’s all well and good. But that’s a far cry from actually hearing a song and experiencing (feeling) an emotional response. For that, there are no words. I’ve written before about the song “Routine” by Steven Wilson. Once I knew what the song was about – and especially once I listened to the it for the fist time while watching the animated video created for the song – it was impossible to hear the song again and not feel a deep rush of sadness and mourning. It’s a song that literally brings me to tears time and time again. How do you put that into words and convey the feeling of the song when telling others to give it a listen?
Why do we close our eyes and sway back and forth in rhythm as if we’re being tossed on the waves of the sea whenever the Jimmy Page solo takes the spotlight at the end of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin? Why do we feel melancholy listening to the song “Black Sabbath” from the band’s first album? Why do we sense impending death when listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails? You can’t put these things into words. But these facts are just as true – and more important – than describing the musical theory of a song. And simply stating these song characteristics as facts don’t do the songs justice. It would be like the person in my love analogy above describing a sexual climax and achieving orgasm together with just the words, “yeah, it felt great.” Stephen King was right. Words diminish things.
But music does not. Music is what feelings sound like.
And so it stands that music reviews have an inherent problem – one that cannot be overcome. You’ll never see traditional “music reviews” on this website. You’ll only hear my passionate pleas as I implore you to listen. I will lead you to water and I’ll you that it quenches your thirst – but I won’t describe how it tastes. And honestly, taste is subjective. It would be like reading a review of the color blue.
Perhaps this is why Sting, in his 1993 song, “Saint Augustine in Hell,” featured a spoken word section where Satan speaks to someone just entering Hell. He advises the newcomer to relax, have a cigar, and make himself at home… because Hell is a familiar place… populated with people we’re all used to… like lawyers… and music critics.
Think of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It is consistently referred to as one of rock’s greatest albums of all time (if not THE greatest). But reviews that focus on the time signature change in “Money” from 7/4 to 4/4 do nothing to explain why this album is so magnificent. Sure, a musician might love reading about such nuances (and as a musician, I do), but they are of little value to the casual listener who places the record on his turntable, sets the needle in the groove, and sits back for the musical ride of his life. Music is feeling.
One thought on “Music is Feeling: The Problem With Music Reviews”
Everyone’s language is a model. And even though we speak the same english, the english in my head is a singular model to me. Every model by nature attempts to shape the subject into its own parameters. But the soul itself is beyond our model, so if we could communicate from here we would lose less in translation. Bringing this back to you, music connects to and comes from the soul.