Other Personal Review Sites

Since my page seemed to have piqued your curiousity, I'm sure you'll want to check out a few competing opinions. Here you'll find some of the best rock criticism around; the fact that all these non-professional (i.e., none of us are getting paid to do this) music fans can blow away much of the current hackwork in glossy rock mags goes a long way to proving two things: a) most rock journalists are, indeed, tin-eared hacks who can't make a living doing real writing, and b) any idiot with a good-sized record collection can make himself a halfway decent rock critic if he puts out a little effort (for example, yours truly). And that means you, too, can join the hallowed ranks of web reviewers -- once you've cohered your site into something moderately substantial, I'll make sure to check it out, and probably link to it from here.

Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews: As far as I'm aware, the first intrepid souls to plunge into the world of web reviewing, and still running strong, with new reviews coming every week. W & A set a pretty high standard that no other web sites have come close to matching, being easily the most comprehensive, largest, and well-designed review site on the web. They're consummate professionals whose rating system is almost frightening in its pinpoint efficiency (if you doubt this, consult their charts where they mathematically break down their rating statistics). The cover a huge amount of very stylistically diverse ground: David Wilson is the funk, R & B, jazz, and Latin music fan, while John Alroy covers the more whitebread, jangly alternative rock bases (it's not hard to guess which one's tastes I'm more in line with, if you've perused my site). They both share a fanatical fondness for the mainstream pop/rock from the '60s, and to a slightly milder extent, the '70s; they're not as strong on the '80s and '90s, but they do cover a hefty dose of acts from those decades, if not as many (or informed) as they are about their beloved '60s. The main drawback to W & A is that it's not a terribly exciting site; their reviews are all very short and rather dry, with the cold soullessness and accuracy of a ciphering machine (Alroy has an excuse, though -- he actually is a scientist in real life). And this attitude spills over towards the type of music they tend to appreciate -- to W & A, good albums are "solid" and "crisply professional" and "accomplished"; they place too much emphasis on technical competence and mere professionalism -- a highly recommended W & A album will always be impressive and at the least listenable, but not always non-boring. They also have an excessive fondness for the adjective "pentatonic." The other glaring problem is that W & A review way too many crap records that no rational person cares about -- really, their motto is "We listen to the lousy records so that you don't have to." This entails going into extended detail about the recorded career of Rick James and Poco, to name two examples -- W & A are intent on tracking down and reviewing every album by artists they cover, no matter how trivial or lightweight. Which does have its uses, though, if you're interested in a review site of encyclopediac depth -- W & A obviously put a lot of hard work into developing their site, and it shows.

Mark Prindle's Record Reviews: For the flip side, W & A's main rival in popularity often seems like it was thrown together late at night in a disheveled fit of drug-induced inspiration (not that I'm implying Prindle is a druggie -- from the info he gives, and he does go into detail about his personal life, it appears that the only drugs he's on are Prozac). I'll go on record and say this: Mark Prindle is the most overrated rock critic on the web. So many fellow reviewers and fans deify him as a creative genius, but what I see is a goofy, hyperactive, somewhat above average IQ music fan who goes nuts over whatever bands rock his world and doesn't give a flip about bands that don't, and says so without beating around the bush. His honest attitude is refreshing -- he doesn't qualify his likes or dislikes very much or hedges his bets like most other reviewers (such as yours truly), but simply says "This sucks," or "This rules" and that's that. But his inability (or unwillingness, whatever) to try and rationally examine his likes and dislikes -- you know, what critics are supposed to do -- becomes a serious limitation, and makes him a not very reliable reviewer; like most people, whatever music he happened to grow up with is his favorite type of music -- which in his case is generic hardcore punk and crappy '70s mainstream AOR rock, both of which he overrates wildly, without presenting a reasonable case. He's got energy and he's funny sometimes, but even his much vaunted humor is hit and miss -- too often he reflexively resorts to obscenities (endless references to his huge penis and poop; I'll leave the obvious conclusions to the Freudians) in lieu of actually writing a review. I mean, really, more than a few of his reviews are nothing more than stream-of-consciousness rants that say nothing about the actual album in question -- which, to tell truth, can be a highly entertaining style. But the real meat of the site doesn't reside in Prindle's reviews -- nay, it resides in the one stroke of genius the man had in him, the decision to make his site interactive. The countless streams of comments from readers are often more entertaining reading that Prindle's reviews -- in particular, check out the infamous AC/DC page, one of the most unintentionally hilarious and distressing (for what it says about the general state of stupidity in humanity) documents to ever grace the internet. And just to prove that, contrary to what I stated earlier, not everyone can do it, Prindle has posted a legion of reviews from outsiders under the A-OK gang umbrella -- some of them are good, most aren't, and they make you appreciate the truly inspired and entertaining reviewers out there, such as Mark Prindle.

George Starostin's Classic Rock and Pop Album Reviews: The web page that I currently consider my most formidable opposition, Starostin's site has rapidly expanded from its humble, not terribly impressive amateur beginnings into a force to be reckoned with. Starostin writes at an insane rate, churning out a new review nearly every day -- and these are lengthy, detailed reviews of several paragraphs long examining each album on a song by song basis, not the concise summaries of W & A or the hastily dashed off throwaway jottings of Prindle. Even more impressive, Starostin is a Russian, so I'm assuming that English is not his primary language -- I don't know how he does it (unless, of course, he's unemployed and spends all of his waking hours in the basement listening to CDs and typing reviews, then I can see where he finds all the time). Other than the fact that his reviews are generally too long, the major fault in Starostin's page is his attitude towards rock history. To wit: Starostin believes, rather controversially, that rock's golden age occurred in the '60s, and that it's been in decline ever since; he only sticks to "classic rock" bands, refusing to touch any new music that has emerged after punk (which he despises). His complete lack of interest in modern rock seriously limits his page in a way that most other review sites aren't; perhaps one day his prejudices will fall and he'll open his ears to more contemporary material, but don't cross your fingers (though he has, if you've been following his page since its inception, changed some of his opinions -- he started out claiming to dislike glam rock and heavy metal, but recently he's reviewed a number of glam and metal performers such as Black Sabbath and T. Rex). He's very keen on '70s progressive rock, an issue on which he and I disagree (though I have reconsidered my previous reflexive dismissal of prog, in light of the fact that I truly enjoy certain bands that can be considered prog-rock; I still don't think it's nearly as important as George does, however). He's probably the most reliable source for those interested in looking for recommendations on which classic rock albums to scoop up, though I have a problem with his Artist Rating system (ex., the Beatles are a 5-star band, the Doors a 4-star band, Bowie a 3-star artist, Neil Young a 2-star artist [! No, I'm not the only one with a problem with that particular rating], Traffic a 1-star band) -- it's not so much that I disagree with his assessments as with the overall idea of artistic heirarchy systems; pop/rock doesn't really work that way. But then I'm more of an album than artist oriented reviewer.

Bryan's Review Page: Bryan B. is one of the nicest fellows I've met on the web, the all too rare example of an individual exercising politeness on a worldwide web scarred by flamewars. His review site is rather humble compared to the three listed above; he doesn't attempt to be encyclopediac or comprehensive, but seems to simply pen several paragraphs of musing upon whatever consumer object he's been contemplating in the past week. This includes mainly music albums and movies, but also the occasional book, game, or web page review. His haphazard approach insures that he'll never be a serious competitor to the Titans of Web Site Reviewing, but I don't think that's his intention, anyway -- he's staked out his own unique niche, penning pleasant reviews that tell you as much about Bryan B.'s life as the object under scrutiny. Flaws? None, really, other than the fact that his web page project's rather modest in scope -- which isn't to imply that his reviews aren't lengthy, well-written, and obviously worked on. Personally, I take to his movie reviews the most of all -- his thoughts on Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samuari sum up my feeling towards that greatest of great films almost to a tee.


Okay, those are the four sites that I consider the most major, listened generally in order of preference. Below are smaller, but worthy sites, listed in completely random order. Hopefully, some of these sites might blossom into great ones -- but they need fans to encourage them, so visit these sites and mail your comments today!

Pop Kulcher: Very infrequently updated (except the reader comments section) and not very large, Mark Fagel's page is worth stopping by for his 50 Greatest Rock & Roll Albums of All Time list -- his tastes seem to coincide with mine 2/3 of the time (more than any other web critic), his pages are probably the best formatted of web reviewers', and his reviews are invariably intelligent and well-written. I just wish he'd write more of'em. Such lists are guaranteed to not completely satisfy anybody, and the reader comments section of suggestions and alternate lists makes for good browsing, too. In particular, I admire Fagel's thoughtful grasp of rock's timeline -- unlike certain reviewers (not to name any names, George Starostin) his list doesn't stay stuck in one era, but gives equal weight to '60s icons and '70s new wave punks and '80s alternative heroes and the latest '90s whippersnappers. A great album is a great album, no matter what year it was released. I'd love to see Fagel develop his site into something more substantial, but he's one of those 30-something adults with two kids and a real job, so I can see why he doesn't have the time.

The Internet Homepage of John Paul George Ringo the Second!: Less a review site than a collection of insane rantings from this weird Latvian kid (an objective opinion), Tommy Joyce (not his real name) haphazardly moves from one subject to the other, covering personality types, bad jokes, album reviews, his favorite movies, essays, and his poetry. It's not updated regularly and is a very small site, so it's not exactly urgent to surf there now; and Tommy's writing style is rather manic and paranoid, though clearly the work of an intelligent, if undisciplined, mind (and another thing -- he's an obvious Prindle disciple, imitating him a little too closely in places). There's not much to say about this site considering its size, except for one particular essay: Joyce's "socioudrowsiness review of Political Correctness", which truly shocked me when I read it. I've corresponded with Joyce before, and I know he's much too bright to truly believe the bigoted nonsense he spews forth in that essay; I'm assuming it's simply his attempt to shock, the result of speaking without thinking about what you're talking about.

Cosmic Ben's Record Reviews: Another nice little site that will hopefully grow into something more substantial in the future; there are only a handful of reviews (mostly of classic rock, with a few alternative bands) and Ben hasn't really found his own distinct voice yet. The only real knock I have against the page is that Ben's insecurity is rather obnoxious, verging on the passive-agressive. He seems to spend as much time on his online journal about his personal life as much as his reviews (let's hope he finds the girl he's looking for). And while I hope this doesn't come off as too vain on my part, his style seems to be heavily influenced by mine (I didn't really notice this until he admitted it in his link to my page, though -- and he subconsciously mimics Wilson & Alroy and Mark Prindle, too, though not as much). I'm flattered.

Music Junkies Anonymous: A collective of music reviewers organized by Nick Karn (there are 6 contributors so far), this site really has some potential. It's constantly expanding, with around 600 reviews so far, and with more than one person writing, it's sure to become a huge site within a short span. There are the drawback of inconsistencies in quality of writing and points of view one has to do deal with when there's more than one cook stirring the pot, though. And the writers haven't truly found their voice yet, lacking the stylish flair of the better web reviewers out there -- though I'm sure they'll improve (I know I've certainly gotten drastically better since my early reviews). They cover a lot of metal, and a lot of mediocre mainstream '90s rock, in case you're interested in more contemporary stuff than covered at most of the other major review sites; they're pretty skimpy on pre-'80s and '90s music, however. It'll be pretty interesting to see them learn more about rock's history, whenever they get around to more vintage material.

The Authoritative CD Review Archive: Nowhere near as comprehensive as its hubristic title suggests, in fact this is one of the smallest review sites out there, consisting only of 26 reviews so far. The reviewer mainly covers the beloved '80s new wave music of his youth, though he throws in one surprising anomaly, a positive Johnny Cash review (!). Seems like a pleasant enough fellow; his review of Paul Westerberg's 14 Songs is worth a quick laugh.

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