Art is subjective. Everyone has different tastes, and that’s not a bad thing. Your favorite song is someone else’s least favorite, and vice versa. Despite that being the nature of music, music critics have seemed to create a consensus on what makes a song or album “good”. For the most part, I agree with what they’ve decided. Technical ability, innovativeness, good mixing, and tonal cohesion are all cornerstones of a classic album. And, although somewhat controversially, many modern critics are beginning to factor in the broader context of an album. Just because Lil Pump’s self-titled mixtape doesn’t have much substance that doesn’t mean it’s a bad album (Yeah I just linked to my own blog. Deal with it). Even with all this progress, there is one key factor I think most critics are ignoring: listenability.
Art is meant to be enjoyed. It is an outlet for the artist to express themself, and it’s designed to evoke an emotional reaction from the viewer/listener. So why do critics ignore the reaction a song or album garners when they review it? Listenability isn’t the end all be all by any means. Formulaic pop songs have been enjoyed for decades because they are designed to be easy to listen to earworms. That doesn’t mean they’re good, in fact their soullessness is a legitimate reason to dislike them. But it is something that needs to be considered. Sadly, this same bias against enjoyment is carried over to great albums as well. There are a few prominent examples. Again, these are all great albums, but think about them in terms of which you would want to listen to more.
The Velvet Underground and Nico or Loaded?
To Pimp a Butterfly or good mid m.A.A.d city?
Remain in Light or Speaking in Tongues?
I know that I’d pick the second options in that list, and I feel like most other people would too. However, because the first group is more meaningful, inventive, etc., they are almost universally considered better albums. All of that is important, but at the end of the day music is about listening to and enjoying it, and everyone in the music industry would be better off by keeping that in mind.
In summation: good albums should be fun to listen to. And yes, this was all just an elaborate way for me to have a chance to say that Speaking in Tongues is objectively better than Remain in Light. I will die on that hill.