Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Expert Witness: The Story Till Now

I've been writing graded capsule album reviews since 1969, mostly for The Village Voice and, after the Voice fired me in 2006, MSN Music. By now I've logged 14,000 of them, some million words worth.

These capsules were compiled more or less monthly in a feature called the Consumer Guide until 2010, when I converted to a twice-weekly blog dubbed Expert Witness, which MSN killed along with the rest of its freelance content in the fall of 2013. Now Medium will publish a version of that blog every Friday--a much looser version, because where MSN required me to produce two album reviews twice a week for a monthly stipend, Medium is welcoming whatever output I have to offer every Friday. Two or more album reviews seems like a good template, but as I get a feel for the new environment I'm sure I'll vary it. I'll usually append briefer reviews--Honorable Mentions, awarded three, two, or one stars rather than a letter grade--when they add context. Sometimes I may run all Honorable Mentions. But other permutations will arise. Sometimes I might even comment on a topic that doesn't have an album attached.

Still, what most readers want from Consumer Guide/Expert Witness is the lowdown on what I call "A records," albums and EPs graded:

A+ (the rare masterwork),
A (the meat of my leisure listening),
A– (at least two thirds the total),
and B+ (too close to deny half a cigar).

Because I was finishing a book when Microsoft shut me down, for a while I stopped grading albums altogether, but soon I found myself writing up a few for my own mental clarity. This kind of judgment is the gut and backbone, not just of my work but of my fandom--by the time I'm done writing a capsule, I know and understand the record in a way I didn't before, which readies me to revisit it in the future. This work is time-consuming, but also so much part of my life that I was thinking about blogging capsules gratis until Medium called. That said, getting paid has lit a fire under me as it usually does--I've been buckling down to a decision whenever I had a few hours ever since Medium took me on.

One reason I'm good at grading records is that I'd rather be right than first. Not right for everybody, of course--tastes differ, and should. Just for me, which is hard enough. This was unusual even in the print era, and online it's simply not done--except by me. On occasion I'll write about the same new album as everyone else. But although I make an effort to keep up with new releases, usually I won't. The way the best songs reach out and grab you is one of the great pop pleasures. But recorded music lasts, and you always listen deeper when you live with it in different moods at different times. In addition, since almost a year passed between MSN and Medium, I'll be catching up on 2014 and some 2013 releases for quite a while. Those curious about my broad but by no means all-encompassing tastes can check out what I told my MSN readers when I began there eight years ago. The link is to the highly searchable, where you can also find all of my older reviews.

Sept. 10, 2014, Cuepoint