Rock music criticism is alive and somewhat well on the Internet.
The earliest rock critic was probably John Milner, the surly grease monkey from “American Graffiti”: In one scene he shuts off a Beach Boys song in disgust, grumbling, “Rock’n’roll’s been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died.” Real-life rock critics have been composing variations on that lament in the 40 years since, and even though the form is long past its 1970s peak, there are still plenty of places on the Internet to spout off about pop music, and to read the spoutings of others.
With the great Addicted to Noise no longer in existence (the site’s columns don’t even seem to be archived anymore), the best outpost for rock criticism is, naturally, RockCritics.com. The site is almost quaint in its affection for this most ghettoized of nonfiction writing, containing interviews with leading critics, links and reprints of notable essays, and Top Five lists submitted by readers. If the state of music criticism is of interest–and you don’t mind a whole lot of navel-gazing on the subject–this is the place to go.
Then there are the best-known names in the field, most of whom have a substantial Internet presence. Dave Marsh was once the true king of rockcrits, bringing the passion and knowhow of a true rock’n’roll believer to his writing. His monthly newsletter, Rock & Rap Confidential has been around for 20 years now, and he also writes regularly for the political newsletter Counterpunch. Marsh’s recent work shows that these days he would much rather lecture than enlighten, let alone entertain. If you can’t separate music from politics, he still has value, but it’s a shame to see how Marsh’s writing has been swamped by increasingly shrill polemics. And shouldn’t someone tell this self-appointed ethical watchdog that he should probably stop lavishing praise on Bruce Springsteen as long as his wife is Springsteen’s co-manager?
A contemporary of Marsh’s is Greil Marcus, who’s as professorial as Marsh is didactic, though maybe not quite as prone to unconscious self-parody. Marcus has material on a site that’s seldom updated; the best place to find him regularly is on Salon come to think of it, some of the most thoughtful criticism (and music-industry coverage, thanks to Eric Boehlert) around is on Salon. A similarly rich (if New York-centric) source for criticism is the Village Voice.
One voice that’s impossible to miss when digging for rock criticism on the Internet is that of Lester Bangs–a fact that wouldn’t be remarkable if Bangs hadn’t been dead since 1982. Bangs had one of the most passionate critical styles anywhere in the past 40 years, and as a result has inspired a vast posthumous following. The Web is full of tribute sites, reprints, interviews, and dissections of Bangs, and RockCritics.com’s archive is a good place to start.
Of Bangs’ many disciples, one worth mentioning is Jim DeRogatis, who published a notable biography of Bangs. Much of his best writing is archived on his site, but for a full measure of DeRogatis’s substantial bluster, skip over to Sound Opinions, “the world’s only rock’n’roll talk show,” which DeRogatis hosts with Greg Kot on Chicago’s WXRT-FM. A listen to one of the archived programs reveals these two as the Siskel and Ebert of rock criticism, only much louder. In any case, their animated discussions are often more entertaining than the music they play.
Finally, for the lay point of view, scroll through the user reviews on Amazon.com and CDNow.com. Most of the pearls on these pages are on the order of “Well, I really think that Limp Bizkit used to be a good band, but somewhere they got the idea that they were better than everyone else” (an actual review), but occasionally an amateur will really put on his or her thinking cap and come up with insight that nicely trumps the work of the professionals.