What follows is my review of Mark's Record Reviews which is to be found HERE.
If you love reading rock and roll record reviews like I do, you have surely surfed the web to find the best sites for this. To begin, let me acknowledge that this is unequivocally the best rock and roll review site there is, hands down. Other sites may review more cd's, have more variety and have more catchy designs, but nobody satisfies like Mark. You go to the site and you see like 500 interviews you can look at and enjoy, none of them with people you have ever heard of before, but hey, somebody has to have heard of these people. I actually found someone from a band I recognize the other day and the interview enlightened me about that band, and motivated me to hear more of it’s music.
Then, scrolling down, you see all of the bands reviewed, and clicking on any one will reveal their catalogue. This is one of the best features of the site, you can see the entire list of cd's made by the band and can thus choose which one you want to hear, which, if I understand correctly, is one of the main objectives of the site in the first place: help the reader to decide where to begin with a band. Another excellent feature, that I haven’t seen anywhere else, is how Mark allows all kinds of reader feedback on his review for each cd. As you can imagine, many of the reader comments are stupid and deserve to be burned, but the majority are great compliments to the review, you can see what popular reaction is to Mark’s opinion. Most people agree in general with the rating and review, but have a bone to pick or want to indicate something that Mark left out or went overboard on. Several people who regularly contributed to Mark’s site went on to form their own record review sites and Mark kindly puts their links on the page and encourages readers to visit them as well.
The best feature of all, of course, are the reviews themselves. Entertaining, funny, in-depth and importantly, analyzed from a musician’s point of view, they ring true. This is my main complaint about other review sites: they are wrong! You find what they categorize as a great cd and you listen to it and it just isn’t. What good does that do anybody? Mark, with few exceptions (although substantial exceptions like Who’s Next and U2’s Actung Baby), hits the nail on the head; you can trust the review. What I like about the reviews is that they focus on musical creativity, inventiveness and not on how catchy or popular anything is. He is quite adamant about this, even giving a relatively low score to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde because it breaks no creative ground! You will be constantly surprised by his ratings and reviews as most of us are used to liking music that just sounds cool or nice, but looking at it from a musically creative point of view, is pretty lipid. So, many disks that are widely given credit as an artist’s best, are demoted here to their proper place. Many mainstreamish bands aren’t given a space on the site for this reason.
One last cool thing about the site is that I am always discovering bands that are great. Favorite bands that I have discovered here are Minus the Bear, The Thinking Fellers, Unrest, Yo La Tengo, Slint, The New Pornographers, Fugazi, Flaming Lips among others.
So, why do I give this site 4 stars instead of 5? Well, life isn’t always as one would have it. First, to help people decide where to start (I guess) he has decided to give 10 stars (or whatever those things are) to only one disk per band. So, Mark, what happens when a band has more than one 10 star disk? Hmmmmm? Does it make sense to give a 10 star disk a 9 just because you decided to award only 1 per band? That only tricks the reader into thinking that it is equal to other 9 star disks. What’s wrong with a band having more than 1 perfect disk, and letting the reader decide which one to get first? Really obvious examples of this start with the Beatles and the Stones, and go on and on.
A related shortcoming is that Mark reviews disks relative to other disks. In other words, he doesn’t have established criteria to award a disk a specific mark. So, you get a bunch of really inconsistent ratings like for example when readers go berserk over the 8 given to Who’s Next and justifiably complain that he gave equal marks to far inferior disks like Pink Floyd’s Animals, Yes’ Relayer, Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, etc… although this complaint comes up in other reviews as well.
Also, for some totally unknowable, unguesable and unforeseeable reason, Mark excludes any and all music with soul from his site, except stabs at a rap band or two and Miles Davis. I know that most bands with soul don’t exactly play rock and roll, the object of review on the site, but much of this type of music is the source of all rock, it’s the foundation from which rock springs and to which it owes it’s very existence. It is not useful to make such rigid distinctions between genres when great, great music is out there to be discovered. So, Mark, diversify, yeah, go ahead.
My main complaint, and really the reason for giving the site 4 stars out of 5, is the inexplicable dependency on, the constant disgusting references to and way out of line obscenity. I don’t mean the use of swear words, that I could handle. No, he goes way overboard, going off on revolting tangents that leave your face all scrunched up and making your skip to the actual review. What’s weird is that he doesn’t use obscenity as a linguistic crutch, because the first reviews put up on the site are very clear and well written. They are not as funny and entertaining as the later entries, but at least you don’t finish them feeling like you have been subjected to seeing something that, give a choice, you would elect to avoid. The other day my Mom encouraged me to listen to the new Neil Young disk, so I naturally go to Mark’s site and copy the review to my Mom only to realize later that it is littered with outlandish obscenities, making me not happy that I sent it to my mom. So, here is my challenge to you Mark, use your amazing wordsmithing to write with decency; make me laugh at clean things. Your site would be so much more accessible and would improve vastly.
During my teen years I read Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone’s Record Review, first edition. He cannot be beaten for dead on reviews. Mark’s a lot funnier, though. So, go to Mark’s site! Yes, enjoy it and get into a whole bunch of cool new bands, they are out there waiting for you!