When Critics Fail To Do Their Job

The Guardian have published an interesting article on the massive hype surrounding the release of Oasis third album “Be Here Now”, and the subsequent bursting of the bubble.

The press release declared it as having the same impact as coming of Elvis and Dylan going electric. It received fawning five-star reviews in almost every publication. And then in a space of just a few days, its reputation crashed and burned once people had the chance to hear the record and realised that what they were hearing didn’t match the hype.

The mood of the country had changed since Oasis’ first two albums; Radiohead’s “OK Computer” was the record everyone was talking about, and the cool kids were forming prog-rock bands. Oasis’ combination of the least interesting aspects of indie and classic rock has become yesterday’s sound.

This pair of quotations from music journo Paul Lester and publicist Johnny Hopkins are quite illuminating.

“I was caught up in the excitement of it all,”  Lester says. “I’m so sorry to everybody for that review, but the enormity of it was captivating. We were reviewing a moment in history and staking our part in it. It was like seeing the great behemoth of a spaceship in Close Encounters. You felt awed into submission.”

“You want the record to be good because you’re into the band,” says Hopkins. “And you want it to be good because that means it’s going to sell well and that’s going to help the magazines sell well. But I was surprised that there wasn’t a dissenting voice. When a band gets to that level, there’s always someone who says, ‘Hold on a minute,’ but there wasn’t [for Oasis].”

The whole episode is a teachable moment in the history of music criticism. It marked the beginning of the end of an era in which the mainstream music press had a huge influence as tastemakers and gatekeepers. For the NME in particular it was the beginning of their long-overdue decline into irrelevance.

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5 Responses to When Critics Fail To Do Their Job

  1. Abahachi says:

    I’ve found this a bit weird; I remember all the hype, I remember thinking the first single was utterly rubbish and not bothering to listen to any more (was never a big fan to start with) – but I don’t remember all the press falling for it. Indeed, my recollection of the NME review was that it was very unimpressed. I’ve looked it up online, and my recollection is completely wrong…

  2. Tim Hall says:

    I remember being so turned off by the hype I refused to buy the album on principle, despite owning the first two. I didn’t miss much.

  3. John Hunt says:

    I remember the Observer Rock Critic at the time, Neil Spencer, who I think was an ex NME journalist,, was one of those who gave the album a glittering review, and had also given an almost as fawning review to U2′s ‘Pop’ album, earlier that year. It irritated me, because, sorry to bring Queen into it again; he was utterly dismissive, almost contemptuous about their work.
    He always emphasised how their lyrics where cliched, while failing to point out the same faults in the likes of Oasis.

  4. John Hunt says:

    Supergrass were easily my favourite Britpop band, although I didn’t get in to them properly until about 2001 They were not good tabloid fodder like the Gallaghers, and Blur ,though, which affected their popularity, but was probably why they were able to focus on making good music.
    Their 1997 album, ‘In it For the Money’, is one of the most underrated records of that year.
    And yes, I think the title was a nod to Frank Zappa.

  5. Tim Hall says:

    I think attitude towards Queen makes a good litmus test for a music critic. If they loathe Queen and everything they stand for, they don’t actually like rock music. We can dismiss their music writing in the same way as they dismiss Queen’s music.

    As for Supergrass, never really investigated their music but a fair few people I know in rock/prog circles love them. The one Britipop band I liked were Suede, who were always a bit proggy. Still love Dog Man Star, and it blows anything Oasis did clean out of the water.