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I Think I Smell a Rat!

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I've lost count of the number of artists who loftily claim that they do not read their own reviews. Only last week Daniel Sloss (comedian) was asking why anyone should "care about what one bitter twat who gets paid to have an opinion...thinks?" Daniel is right, of course. Such an attitude is enviable and, as a method of self-preservation, it is beyond reproach, but I do wonder why curiosity hasn't got the better of him. Perhaps, like me, he is simply wary of openly admitting that he spends more time surfing the internet for pictures of himself than for more obviously salacious material.

For the purposes of this article, I am prepared to be uncharacteristically candid: I compulsively read my reviews and, what's more, I naively look at all the public comments. We all know that these comment forums are bastions of cruelty for anonymous cowards, but I can't help myself! Let's face it, who can honestly raise their hand and pretend that they have never Googled their own name? The truth is, we humans are obsessed with ourselves; it's part of our evolutionary make-up. If we weren't, how could we have possibly survived the natural selection process?

I do not indulge in this sort of narcissism because I love myself - a reasonable accusation - but because, depressingly, I do care what people think about me. Artists who say otherwise are either lying, emotionally stunted, or an aspiring contestant on Big Brother. I mean, surely people who partake in reality television have lost any semblance of self-respect.

On the morning of a release, I gallop to my local newsagents on all-fours like an ungainly gazelle. Aside from running up escalators and lifting pints, this is the only exercise my undernourished body receives. Once I have located and purchased a magazine that is sufficiently alternative to feature Kites (my band), I realise, pitifully, that I alone am probably responsible for significantly increasing its sales that month. Ultimately, it matters little whether the review is favourable or vitriolic - Kites will neither profit nor suffer, so why should I care?

Moreover, reviews that have a much greater readership often seem equally pointless, in that they are usually misinformed or not genuine reflections of the views of society. Take Kim Gavin's Olympic Closing Ceremony as an example; the press were, overwhelmingly, gushing in their praise for a spectacle that anyone, who hadn't undergone a lobotomy, could see was a national humiliation. It was clear that the critics concerned had either not seen the ceremony, or were still intoxicated from Team GB's victories in the previous fortnight. That's not to say it was all bad but 'theatrical vitality' -as the Guardian proclaimed - it was not.

So, what relevance do reviews actually have? I asked the peerless Amy Lamé, fresh from a month-long run of Unhappy Birthday at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for some desperately needed wisdom on this matter:

"Some of the worst reviews can be gifts in disguise. One teenage reviewer said Unhappy Birthday was "performance art at its worst". That's the only quote I'll ever need to ensure the success and longevity of my showbiz career."

I like this outlook. It seems to me that, occasionally, reviews are simply just jolly good fun to read. In fact, it would be churlish to expect much more from a discipline that, in its very nature, is mostly subjective.

On a basic level therefore, reviews provide the reader with a way into a subject and, unintentionally or otherwise, they serve to establish a dialogue and a vocabulary around that subject. True, most of the language one finds on a Youtube comments board would scandalise a particularly inarticulate sailor but, broadly speaking, it would be wrong to say that all bloggers were mean-spirited trolls. In any case, artists have, throughout history, been at the mercy of their public. If good work is marginalised, its failure usually doesn't have much to do with the quality of the reviews.

So, without further ado, please feel free to write your comments on my psuedo-journalism below. Be as profane, disgusting and contemptuous as you dare. Don't worry, I'm surprisingly self-aware; I realise how objectionable I appear. I will read, I will weep, I might even retire but, frankly, what difference does it make?

On the eve of the release of Kites' new single - This Jumped-Up Boy In Livery - I've developed elephant hide to cope with this backlash. Go on, do your worst if you think you're hard enough.

Kites - www.wearekites.com
Amy Lamé's 'Unhappy Birthday - www.unhappybirthday.net