Magazine article The Spectator

People Power

Magazine article The Spectator

People Power

Article excerpt

If this column has any overarching theme, it's that critics know nothing and shouldn't be trusted. (Which obviously applies to me as much as to anyone. ) But this intransigent suspicion of mine does create difficulties. In the never-ending search for the next fantastic record I didn't know existed, I will look anywhere and consult anyone for advice, which in practice often means scouring the reviews by punters on Amazon. Book reviews on this website, as all writers know, are usually contributed by our friends, our rivals, our enemies and our agents, but the record reviews are much more varied and informative.

Fans write in crazed superlatives, or occasionally in rueful disappointment, although the most entertaining reviews are often by people who thought they were buying one thing and turned out to be buying something else. Here, expressed in a handful of splenetic and often misspelt sentences, is the rage of the person who heard a song they liked on the radio, bought the album it came from and realised almost instantaneously that that was the only decent track that artist has ever recorded and will ever record in his or her otherwise pointless career. Or who read a review in a magazine that said that this was the only album you'd ever need, and actually believed this, as we all do, because we desperately want to believe, because we are essentially gullible idiots who buy far too many CDs.

Or do we? According to all newspapers every week, the music industry is in permanent crisis. Global music sales, it seems, have fallen 5 per cent year-on-year, and that includes sales from downloads. Last week the splendid but clearly overstretched Fopp record chain went down the drain, and HMV announced 'disappointing' profits.

The consensus is that the CD is a dying format, so fusty and out-of-date that the simple act of buying one seems like an absurd act of defiance, like riding to work on a unicycle.

But as the editor of Music Week pointed out in the Guardian, the CD still accounts for more than 90 per cent of the market in value terms. 'The perception that the CD belongs in the dark ages is totally wrong.' As surely all true music obsessives would agree. CD sales are in long-term decline around the world, but in the UK we keep on splashing out on the things, brandishing our overburdened credit cards, our eyes wide with consumerly optimism, hoping as we always hope that this album will be The One. …

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