On the Death of the Album Review

For reasons that can best be described as “inexplicable,” my parents subscribed to both Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly while I was in high school. Neither periodical was a particularly good fit for my already-well-developed anti-establishmentarian artistic tastes and yet this was a time (for me, at least) before easy internet access and so, with few exceptions, I read each and every issue cover to cover.

Through those readings I developed a love for album reviews, those descriptive essays that inspected the who, what, where, when and why of music and which were occasionally blown out into full-length features but were, more often than not, limited to a scant few paragraphs. Reviews—even those incredibly brief ones—were a way for me to discover new music that was completely unrelated to the bands that my friends and I already knew and, in a time before the internet made everything accessible, that ability to broaden my musical scope felt invaluable.

In theory, I could have gone into a record store and just started talking to people but … yeah, I wasn’t going to do that.

Then the internet came marching in and everything changed. A proliferation of online reviews created enormous value for review-hungry listeners like me, some of whom—yours truly included—would even start writing their own reviews and casting them into the digital void. As online reviews, defined less by their quality and more by their easy accessibility and general inclination to be totally free of charge, rose to prominence, the traditional review model collapsed. (Or at least I assume it did. I haven’t read an issue of Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly in more than a decade, so I suppose I’m no longer an expert in their wares.) The internet’s disruption to music reviews seemed to be a microcosm of the changes that free-flowing information had wrought on all schools of journalism. But it wasn’t. Music was different.

If the point of a music review was to convince the reader to either listen or not listen to a particular album, then the advent of streaming services has completely rendered that function unnecessary. In the time it would take to read a feature-length music review, the reader can now pull up the album in question and listen to the whole thing on their own. There is no longer a true need for any music review longer than roughly three words: “Listen to blank.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it isn’t necessarily a good one either. It’s simply change.

I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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