One thing, I think, that is vital in rock criticism is the ability to remember that one is not an observer of culture but a part of the culture. That is, when one listens to a record it seems reasonable to assume that whatever is on that record is seeking to communicate, express or share something with you.
But, nevertheless, when you review a record you’re not listening in on someone else’s conversation. You are half the dialogue. But, everyone you’ll ever have a conversation with is not, nor desires, to be your friend and a lot of the time they will say completely inane, ridiculous, bombastic, circular and silly things. Given this, insofar as a writer about records has any responsibility at all, ones responsibility is to respond honestly.
If you hate what they’re saying then , as one who entered into this dialogue voluntarily, then it’s best to respond honestly. Because if you beat yourself up inside trying to second guess their motivations and wind up treating truly awful records with kid gloves two things are guaranteed to happen:
1) The person/people/whatever that made the record will quote you in their press releases and turn what you thought could be a simple, nice way of handling things into a life-time commitment with your name plastered at the bottom. (ex: “…great rock riffs and… clever,pun-centered lyrics…”-Joe Blow/Awesome Rock Mag.) Of course, what you really said was “The Blasted Mines have plumbed the depths of great rock riffs and their clever, pun-centered lyrics make the fatal mistake of covering up their horrible music with an ‘I’m only joking’ side-step.”
(Yes, this has happened to me many times.)
2)You’re gonna feel like crap about yourself.
(As a side note, anyone who refers to onself as “rock critic” should be looked upon with suspicion. Truly, no lamer job title has ever been invented. I don’t mean no truly lamer job, just no truly lamer title.)