“Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters.”
- Dave Eggers
If you’re reading this, the chances are that you already know I released a new album this year called ‘Each Dirty Letter‘.
You can listen to it here:
The album received many good reviews, all of which I’m very thankful for. You can read some of them here.
It also got some pretty bad ones, and in the interests of transparency, honesty and commercial suicide, I think it only seems fair to let you hear both sides of the story.
So how about this one for starters:
“A breezy collection of no thrills pop…limp and pedestrian….far too often do the songs get bogged down in sentimental slush…”
- The Skinny
Or how about these kickers:
“If you’ve lost your heart to a girl in a woolly cardigan then this album is the perfect paracetamol to add to your iPod’s pain killer collection. Otherwise, it will probably leave you cold.”
“…too many of Calamateur’s songs are stillborn acoustic meanders. Too often the tunes limp along without focus…”
- Halesowen News
“‘A Bad Friend’ sounds clunky and out of place in what is otherwise a cohesive album and ‘Sad and Lonely World’ is so slow and repetitive I defy anyone to not skip tracks through sheer boredom.”
- Red Hot Velvet
And my personal favourite:
” Each Dirty Letter is so wet that even Mumford & Sons take turns to dunk its head down the loos of Folk-Rock School. Lead single “Banoffee” is as sickly sweet as its name suggests, trotting out a whole slew of trite lines and clichéd couplets. Elsewhere there’s the James Blunt-alike “Honestly” and the none-more-grey “Testimony”….the album reaches its nadir on the frankly embarrassing “A Bad Friend”….criminally anodyne.”
- Drunken Werewolf
But wait a minute…
Red Hot Velvet think ‘A Bad Friend’ is “clunky and out of place”, while Drunken Werewolf thinks it’s “frankly embarrassing”?
But didn’t skiddle.com describe ‘A Bad Friend’ as “the strongest track” and say “It is the more personal moments like this that make Each Dirty Letter an engaging album”? And didn’t Americana UK say “the simple solo acoustic charm, and regrets of, ‘A Bad Friend’…gains strength in its sparseness”?
Red Hot Velvet also say “‘Sad and Lonely World’ is so slow and repetitive I defy anyone to not skip tracks through sheer boredom.” But Americana UK think it’s ‘masterfully restrained”, while my good friend Dave Saunders think’s it’s the best track on the album.
Both Drunken Werewolf and Crack in the Road directly compared my songs to that of James Blunt’s. Well, no one wants to be compared to James Blunt. After all, he did this:
But then the Scottish Sunday Express said “(Calamateur) belongs in that small band of clever singer-songwriters who write sharp, beautiful songs (Ed Harcourt, David Ford, Tom Macrae to name a few) but are destined never to reach the heights of stardom that infinitely less talented people like James Blunt have achieved.”
OK… so, uh, now I’m confused. Who’s right here?
When it comes to reviews – good or bad – the temptation has always been for me to let the value of my music be defined by what another person thinks of it. At my worst, I’ve allowed the value of my very self be defined by one person’s singular point of view.
So if I read a great review I would be as high as a kite, because I felt worthwhile and important. Conversely, if I read a bad review I would feel useless and foolish.
There was a time in my life when bad reviews like the ones above would have crippled me creatively and, to an extent, emotionally. Thankfully that’s no longer the case.
After all, whether a review is positive, negative or indifferent, it will only ever be one person’s opinion. Taste in music is purely subjective. I don’t believe there is such a thing as good music or bad music anymore – there is just music that you either connect with or you don’t. Music you like or dislike.
The very idea of having refined musical tastes, or thinking your taste is better than another’s is, to me, laughable I’m afraid.
Of course, there is the odd exception to the no good/bad music rule. For instance:
After having read all of these bad reviews, I realised I hadn’t actually listened to my album for a long time. So I put it on and remembered just how much I love it; how proud I am of the songs themselves, how I think everyone who played on it did an amazing job, and how Iain Hutchison pulled it all together so brilliantly.
I’ll admit it’s polished, it’s sentimental and it’s not anywhere near as rough, experimental or lo-fi as my previous outings. But that’s how I wanted it to sound. Some people will be disappointed about that but, to paraphrase my friend Steve Lawson, if you want to hear a glitchy, lo-fi, indie guitar record that all the hipsters will like… please, by all means, go and make it yourself.
So, I’m glad of the good reviews and that people are enjoying the album. And I’ll read the bad reviews carefully to see if there’s any criticism worth taking on board – a lesson I learnt after reading this recently:
“You should listen to feedback but you don’t have to take everything you hear as being absolute truth….Not all feedback is given with sensitivity, but we can still learn from it…We need to learn to listen to what those people are saying and overlook how they’re saying it. Not all feedback is given with good intentions, but you can take what is helpful and leave the rest.”
- The Heart of the Artist by Rory Noland
So what will I do next? It might be another album just like ‘Each Dirty Letter’, with the same producer and the same band playing on it. Or it might be a self-produced solo acoustic album. Or it might be a collaborative EP with Iain Morrison. Or it might a double album of acapella scat singing (probably not).
I don’t honestly know yet, but I do hope that whatever I make next is better than what went before. And while I might listen to what other people have to say about my music, and sift through it all to see if there’s anything constructive or helpful in there, I won’t let another person’s opinion define what I make, who I am or what I do.
I’ll leave you with the wise words of a man who’s been doing this a lot longer than I have:
“I’m afraid to say that admirers can be a tremendous force for conservatism, for consolidation. Of course it’s really wonderful to be acclaimed for things you’ve done – in fact it’s the only serious reward, because it makes you think “it worked! I’m not isolated!” or something like that, and it makes you feel gratefully connected to your own culture. But on the other hand, there’s a tremendously strong pressure to repeat yourself, to do more of that thing we all liked so much. I can’t do that – I don’t have the enthusiasm to push through projects that seem familiar to me ( – this isn’t so much a question of artistic nobility or high ideals: I just get too bloody bored).”
- Brian Eno