artwork by Sam Nelson
(Andy Synn wrote this opinion piece about the tendency of some people to make excuses for mediocre or terrible bands in the face of criticism. We gave up making excuses for Andy long ago.)
A wise man once said:
“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
A similarly wise (and far more handsome) man also once said:
“Excuses are like assholes… I don’t want to hear yours, and it’s not special.”
Ok, so maybe that second one is slightly less well known, but still…
Before we go any further, let me stress one thing – this column is not directed at anyone in particular. If I have an issue with someone, if I disagree with you (and if it’s appropriate to do so) I’ll address you personally. I have no problem with talking to people directly. This may be the internet after all, home to some of the rankest trolls and gibbolds of mankind, but that doesn’t mean that you and I, whoever you are, shouldn’t be able to have a reasonable discussion/disagreement online.
I’ll come back to this point ever so slightly later on, but for now…
The genesis of this piece was spurred on by a general observation of just how far people are willing to bend and contort themselves to excuse the bands they like from criticism or censure, or to make excuses for their own tastes. Now, while there’s a WHOLE other column that could be written on the topic of people being criticised and chastised for their own personal tastes, I’d rather focus on the topic of making excuses for a band/album. After all, we all do it. Even me (please, try to contain your shock).
One thing I’ve observed (and I don’t doubt you have too) is how often people will make excuses for a band they enjoy, without really considering what they’re saying.
When you say something equivalent to “I really like this band… when I’m stoned/I’ve had a few beers” what you’re really saying is “I really like this band… when my judgement is impaired.”
Which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement now, is it?
When you say stuff like “it’s not great… but I don’t mind having it on in the background when I’m doing other stuff” what you’re actually saying is “it’s not great… but I can tolerate it if I’m not actually paying attention to it.”
So why bother in the first place?
Surely it’s better to ALWAYS listen to something that’s actually… you know… good? Even if you’re not paying that much attention to it, or have had maybe one too many intoxicants, surely it’d be better to have something that’s objectively (loaded word there, I know) GOOD on at the same time? You’re far more likely to subconsciously appreciate that than you are something you essentially admit you wouldn’t listen to out of choice… right?
So why waste your time with something that you feel the need to qualify or make excuses for?
But I do understand the urge to make excuses for bands that you love, I really do.
Oh, there’s an element of saving face to it, sure. Maybe a sense that you need to justify your choices in the face of what can seem like an increasingly hostile and judgemental world. But often there’s also an honest willingness to give a band you like the benefit of the doubt, and maybe even a sliver of just wanting other people to also like them in the same way you do.
You want them to be appreciated.
You want them to be given a chance.
Hell, I’ve done it myself. I probably still do it in fact. I can definitely look back at certain bands/albums and realise that maybe I was a tad generous or made a few too many concessions or excuses for them because I WANTED to like them, in a manner that didn’t (or doesn’t) accurately reflect how good they are.
I’m not however – repeat NOT – stating that all the music you listen to has to be Progressive Rock Opera about the perils and pitfalls of implementing a progressive tax code, or that only music that self-identifies as “high art” (although, isn’t all music “art”?) is worth your time.
In fact, I think it’s totally ok to like a band on their own merits. Not every band is going to be an innovator, not every band is going to bring about a game-changing shift in the music we love. And not every album has to be a masterpiece. And it’s ok to acknowledge that, too.
I’m not even saying that whatever you choose to listen to has to be CLEVER… I’m just stating that you owe it to yourselves to at least listen to something GOOD.
You want an example? Well – CONTROVERSY ALERT – you know what’s a really good, not-at-all-clever, but really well-put-together album that doesn’t require any excuses? Significant Other by Limp Bizkit.
No, it’s NOT exactly as creative or ambitious as Still Life or Master of Puppets or The Destroyers of All, but it’s not trying to be. It’s just very good at being what it is, and it makes no claims or pretensions to being more than that.
Albums like that… you shouldn’t need to be ashamed of enjoying them. You don’t need to make excuses for them. You just enjoy them for what they are.
The problem comes when people start trying to justify them with all sorts of lame excuses.
Now, before we get too deep into the hippy-dippy, live-and-let-live communal hot tub, let me stress this – I genuinely do think some bands, and some albums, are… well… crappy. Inexcusably so.
And, although you might enjoy them, I’m hoping that some of you agree with me.
Still, I have observed an odd trend where even the mildest criticism of a band/album/song leads to a major backlash – prompted, I am sure, by a general dissatisfaction with the echoing wind-tunnel of negativity that the internet so often appears to be — to the extent of seeming to stifle all criticism or discussion.
There’s another famous phrase, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”, that’s often applied here… but that’s actually a phrase that doesn’t really sit right with me, at least in this context.
To my mind that sort of attitude is what leads to homogeneity — of opinions, of sounds, of voices… it’s the sort of thinking that throws the baby out with the bathwater, removing all the benefits of criticism (at least, when it’s constructive) in favour of a blandly patronising approach that ultimately sets everything on the same level, without any sort of discrimination or selection.
You know where I was saying that I’m not insisting that every album you listen to be a 3-track, 2-hour-long, progressive symphony? Well I’m also NOT saying that all albums are equal, and that you should be able to listen to anything and everything without criticism or comment. Nope. I’m afraid not.
Sure, it’s your opinion, and your musical taste – but other people ARE free to question it. That’s just the way things work. If you can defend it, all the better.
BUT – if you’re self-aware enough to listen to something that you KNOW generally isn’t considered particularly great… or even if you’re listening to something and you KNOW it’s not all that good… then surely you should be prepared for other people to call you out on that?
But the best part is – and here’s the kicker – if that’s the case, all you need to say is “I just like it”. That’s all. You don’t need to amp up the hyperbole to justify it. As a matter of fact, it’s often ok to acknowledge that it might not be that good overall, despite how much you like it.
We CAN have differences of opinion. We WILL have differences of opinion. You don’t have to like what I like, and I don’t have to like what you like.
Just don’t piss on my neck and tell me it’s raining, ok?
Im not a major fan of the “if you dont like it, dont say anything…why are you even here anyway” way of thinking.
Yes, I get it, you think the sun rises and sets on this band, album, musician, and thats fine. Honestly I dont begrudge anyone liking anything I dont…no matter how bad I may think it is, but there really are no sacred cows when it comes to music, and someones like is no more valid then someone elses dislike.
I think the problem comes when people cant discern the insult to the music from an insult to the person. If I think Limp Bizkit sucks (they do), thats a perfectly valid opinion, and while I may look at Andy like hes got two heads, hes welcome to his personal tastes…but too often that gets twisted somehow into Andy sucks for liking Limp Bizkit, which is not the same thing.
I dont always succeed, and I acknowledge that, but I do try to limit my feelings to the music, not the person who listens to the music
strangest internet behavior; people who get upset, even angry, when i say i like a particular song/album/band/genre and then proceed to try and tell me why i shouldn’t like it. as if i’m going to change my mind because of they’re stellar reasoning, which almost always involves rock solid logic such as “no, this is not good. it’s horrible, beyond horrible. it’s not even music”, etc.
because you know the only reason i like the music i like is because nobody has every pointed out to me that it’s bad.
i take it back. that’s not “strange” behavior. it’s just fucking stupid. tell me you don’t like what i like. but down don’t try to tell me why i shouldn’t like it. because if i said i like something, that means i’d rather being listening to it over your stupid whining.
^^^ This. At least we get very, very few comments along those lines in the comments of our site. It happens every now and then, and it always just perplexes the hell out of me why anyone uses their time in such ways.,
Yes, NCS is most definitely a unique environment free of most of this kind of obnoxious behavior. Just one of the many reasons I love this site 🙂
I’ve gotten way, way better at ignoring the various kinds of negative replies to my comments on other blogs, but once in a while I still lose my cool. The trolls catch me in pissy mood occasionally.
Sometimes I even experience a brief loss of my sense of humor and unload on undeserving targets, as my good friend Andy can attest. I’m only human 🙂
i find NCS the most respectful and mature/serene ambient for discussing music;
– although i sometimes in the past used to repeat my one man army comments; nobody engaged with me in a useless kiddy fistfight over that
– although i repeatedly and relentlessly expressed my adoration of St. Anger (without making any EXCUSES); never was i once blamed for it, and this is a real miracle.
but for the record: someone once got real mad at me for liking Turisas; after all, may be he did good doing so, but i still like them
I’m not a fan too about that way of thinking, just for the benefit of homologation by the way. Good or bad sometimes are just opinions, some other times are facts but I think is awful to insult a human being for his personal music tastes and annoying when a constructive criticism is deemed a lack of respect. The voice of Dani Filth is awful, this is true, no emotion in his vocal range that remains always unchanged, not even a real scream or growl because he takes the air he needs in while to have a sound you have to exhale, if you don’t believe me, try to listen Travis Ryan, Nergal, Randy Blythe and Trevor Strnad. A work of lungs, wise way to use your breath, knowing what are your limits and learn how to overcome them, they are good singers, these are facts, not opinions but if somebody likes Dani filth and his band, well, no matter to me, I just choose to keep my mouth shut, is all that I can do!
Andy mentions the phrase “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”, and although I know he was discussing it in a different context, it actually does represent the guiding philosophy I had for this site going back to the very beginning. And we’ve stuck to it pretty closely. I’m certainly not saying everyone should apply that in a way that avoids critiquing music or alerting fans to stuff they should avoid, and in private conversations, I’ve certainly been known to express opinions that certain bands or albums are terrible. I just didn’t want the writing on our site to go in that direction, for all sorts of reasons.
Thank you for the answer, I know your philosophy because when I found out your site I read it and is a smart choice actually, it is better to be focused on music that grows in you and share what you feel with your readers, I mean, I don’t like Cradle of Filth for example and maybe you don’t like them too for some reasons, in this case there is no real need to write something about them indeed, even if the criticism is smart, my “I’m not a fan too that way of thinking” is just to clarify that criticism is not a problem to me and I care to say that I’m glad to your approach, I think that I can understand why you do it in this way, you know, Islander, I like Black Metal, how many people is disrespectful towards this genre and who loves it but that’s ok, this is the world in which we are living, the main reason about my love for this site is because of your coherence, the music and the transparency!
..Umm..just to prove a point in action, I dont think its a fact that Trevor Strnad is a good vocalists..Id say the exact opposite as I find his growl be average at best and under powered at worst. On top of that, the high screechy vocal style he uses far too often is like nails on a chalkboard.
Well, maybe not a fact, maybe is more correct to say that I like his voice, I know, he’s not the best Death Metal singer in the world but tastes are subjective, seems not bad to me, probably this conversation will never see the end!
Exactly…and in the spirit of the article…please dont think I take issue with you or anyone else who likes the band. Listen to whatever appeals to you man…Ive just got a different take on them as a band
Don’t worry mate, I’m a quiet person, I do not felt tackled sincerely and you have the right to say what you think in the first place, very wisely you said that you have a different take on them, I’m sorry If I cropped the conversationt in this way!
Not at all brother…we’re good all around 🙂
Wouldn’t it be nice if all Internet disagreements – actually, make that all disagreements – were handled like this?
That’s why I love this site, nobody here wants to fight but to discuss exchanging opinions! without a reason to start a useless virtual war! 🙂
I like Cradle of Filth, along with Cattle Decapitation, Behemoth, Lamb of God and The Black Dahlia Murder 😉
ain’t nothin wrong with that
The positivity in the culture of this site was one of the first things that drew me to it. Even when disagreements occur, they don’t devolve into prepubescent flame wars. There are plenty of sites where we can find that. We can (and should) have differences in opinion and share those. Sometimes I enjoy intricate and complicated metal of the more progressive variety. Sometimes I want something that doesn’t require me to think or feel at all. I agree that the excuse of “I just like it” iis completely valid.
Interesting, I always believe that whatever kind of music people enjoy, metal or non-metal, there’s gotta be some reason(s) behind that anyone is entitled to express or defense. But I guess Andy’s point is that not all reasons for preference are worth prolonged discussion with the potential hazard of turning into mutual trolling. In the end, it all comes to down what kind of music we are talking about, the initial purpose of the artist to create that, to entertain or to stretch their artistry limit. You have your 50 shades of grey and you have your unbearable lightness of being, apples and oranges.
Andy’s words on “only when I’m drunk” kind’a reminds my of my own words on Deathhammer:
I’ll defend myself by saying that sometimes you want something extra violent when your drunk, and you just want to go on a fucking frenzy, just as there’s music best enjoyed in a specific mood, state etc.; tired, sad, angry, happy, summer ‘n’ BBQ, winter ‘n’ snow etc. (Also, I never listen to Prodigy or Primus unless I’m way stoned).
With that said, the best metal is that what you want to listen to always, and music that is enjoyed only in a certain mood can only be subjectively good to a certain degree.