If I ever tell you that I don’t like an album, you, as a good person have a responsibility: you have to ask me why. If I say “because I didn’t like it as much as their other stuff,” you have another responsibility: call me out on my BS.
Whenever I say “I didn’t like it as much as their other stuff,” that’s almost always Stephen-code for “I haven’t heard it.” Example: We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes by Death Cab. Truthfully, I’ve never heard the thing. I’ve heard fragments of “Something About Airplanes” and “The Photo Album” – not enough to pass judgment on them, though. But I couldn’t even tell you the title of one song on We Have the Facts. Yet, I’ve often stacked it under Transatlanticism as Death Cab’s best album. I do that ‘cause I’ve read it in lots of places. But do I know? Sure don’t. I could like We Have the Facts more than Transatlanticism if I tried it, but I just haven’t.
Another example: I often claim that MeWithoutYou is one of my favorite loud bands, and when I review post-hardcore I often name-check them. I know their sound well enough that I can tell when someone’s trying to yank their shtick. Honestly, I haven’t heard a full album by them. This would be somewhat acceptable if I were just a casual listener, as it is out of style to listen to entire albums, but as a critic I feel I should hear whole albums.
This need to hear whole albums often kills my attempts to listen to a band – I’m not content to just hear a song or two by a band, and thus reserve listening to anything (except possibly radio singles) until I can hear the entire album. This is why I haven’t heard the new Modest Mouse album yet. This is why I haven’t checked out The Fratellis yet. This is why I don’t know much of anything about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, except Californication and radio singles (which some people say is enough, but hey, that’s a different column).
That’s one of the reasons that I don’t check out bands. But the reason I occasionally obscure the truth around how much music I’ve heard is due to this whole critic ego thing I’ve got going on. When someone asks if I’ve heard “debut album” by x band, I get miffed if I have to say, “No, I haven’t ever thought to check it out.” It’s silly, for sure, but I’m a critic – I’m supposed to know what’s going on in the music world. It hurts people’s opinions of how good a critic I am when I say “nope, never checked ‘em out.” That’s the downside of working in such a huge field as popular music.
So yes, feel free to call me out if you hear me waffling over whether I’ve heard an album or not. I probably just haven’t, and you should tell me that I’m a poser for lying about it. I need that every now and then.