The Dictionary Of Awful Music Writer Clichés
First of all, I know this is just a list and not a dictionary. At best, it’s a glossary. Let’s just pretend I’m being ironic and move on. It also grants me immunity against Muphry’s Law.
This isn’t strictly related to Irish music – and Irish critics are generally more accomplished writers than their British and American equivalents – but this has been building up for a while, as some of the people who talk to me on The Twitter Machine will know. So I’ve decided to try and compile a definitive list of awful words and phrases that are often used in music reviews and really need to die a hellish, gruesome, preferably televised death soon.
This is a list in progress, and there are probably hundreds, so feel free to make any necessary additions in the comments or on de twitters. I’m particularly interested in anything between the letters I and P. S seems to be wholly over-represented.
[You can find a few of these in the embarrassment to journalism Barry Egan tried to pass off as a Prince review in this week's Sunday Independent.]
Adverbs: Otherwise known as “-ly” words (though this isn’t always the case). You use too many of them. Trust me. They break up the flow of sentences, so only use them when they’re necessary to get your point across.
Aging Rockers: Often seen in front of “the Rolling Stones.” You’re allowed to just say “old,” you know. Or actually just state their ages. Or take the radical approach of not mentioning irrelevant and (usually) glaringly obvious details like age to begin with.
If you do insist on mentioning age like it’s some sort of inglorious affliction, please, please try to use a euphemism that actually means what it’s intended to. You know, since ”aging” is a characteristic of being alive, not of being old.
Chanteuse: See also: songbird, cherub, anything else that makes a female singer sound like a statuesque siren on a rock in the ocean. “Sexist shite on a stick,” according to @DarraghMc. Recently heard on a quiz show with the question: “what is the occupation of a chanteuse?” I don’t think my answer of “faceless, brainless female unit” would have got me the points.
Copious: You probably use this is a synonym for “a lot,” which sells a rich and descriptive word short. Also it looks too much like “coitus” for my liking.
Dictionary: Do not, under any circumstances, begin a review with the words “Webster’s Dictionary defines…” or any variation thereof. It’s the ultimate example of “I don’t know how to write an engaging opening line.” Unless you’re quoting from Dr. Johnson’s original dictionary, don’t bother. Either put it into your own words or try something else.
Enigmatic: It’s OK to use the word “mysterious” every once in a while. Just because somebody is slightly unusual, or you find him difficult to figure out, that doesn’t mean he’s an enigma. It just means he’s a bit weird. Prince is actually an enigma. Bon Iver is not, despite what 3.86 million people would have us believe.
Enter [Artist/band]: Are you a playwright? No? Glad we agree.
Ethereal: I don’t have a massive problem with ethereal in itself. It is descriptive and has a place in writing, but it’s used to often in place of words like “light” or “airy” when you should really just use the simpler word first and leave ethereal for repeats. (Hat-tip to DarraghMc).
Gambit: I’ve used this one myself and I regret it very, very much. I’ve even seen “double gambit,” which isn’t even scientifically possible. But mainly just don’t say gambit.
Italics: Don’t use italics for emphasis, or at least don’t use them as a substitute for finding a more fitting word or phrase.
Nihilism: Just because a band is a bit bleak or pissed off, that doesn’t mean their music is nihilistic. Often used in reference to punk bands, which is even more stupid because they’re the diametric opposite of nihilists.
Plethora: Save the medical jargon for the emergency room, doctor.
Sophomore: Sophomore refers to a person’s second year of college. This is a cliché so laboured that even Kanye West – the man who named his first four albums after the stages of his college career – side-stepped it.
Sophomore slump: See: sophomore. Also see: clichés.
Songsmith: Very few musicians these days craft their songs by banging metal with a mallet, Shugo Tokumaru notwithstanding.
Soundscape: This is a particularly sinister one. Often preceded by the word “lush.” I once had a band email me to politely request that I change a line in my review of their record to read “soundscape guitars,” which makes about as little sense as saying “landscape hills.”
Troubadour: There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this: it’s nice to resurrect words of yore, but it’s just become one of those default words. Interestingly, a female troubadour was a “trobairitz” – that would be an impressive one to use. (Hat-tip to Eoghan).
Uniqueness: I’ve done this myself. Unique is unique: there are no degrees of uniqueness, so the phrase “one of the most unique” or “more unique” is meaningless. “Close to unique” is a more elegant way of putting it, or just plain “more distinct.”
Up and coming: This can be a useful phrase when reviewing porn, but not so much for music. With the possible exception of pornogrind.
X-not-X (Recent example: “disco-not-disco.”) Could you be a bit more indecisive, please? Perhaps bang a “maybe” on the end?
Let’s just do the maths on this one real quick. Say we assign a value of 1 to “disco” and a negative value to “not disco.” 1+(-1)=0. Congratulations, you’ve said precisely nothing. QED.
X “delighted the crowd”: Yeah, X tends to do that. Crowds also have this tendency of being delighted by musicians they like enough to fork over their hard-earned money to see. It’s only worth pointing out if they’re disappointed or indifferent.
X (new band) = Y (old band) on Z (illegal drug): Self-explanatory. Plus in almost all cases both X and Y have experimented with Z. (Hat-tip to Adebisi Shank).
You: Unless you’re addressing me directly, don’t say “you.” When I’m write about a song, I’m describing how it makes me feel. When I’m writing about an album, I’m talking about how it affected me. Don’t be afraid to own your own opinions. (Hat-tip to Ripfork. See: detachment syndrome).