Reviewer makes an “educated guess”

Maxim recently published a review of the Black Crowes' new album, Warpaint. It didn't like it much, giving it only 2.5 stars out of 5.

There was just one problem. The album hadn't been released yet, and advance copies hadn't been made available. So how had the Maxim reviewer heard the album? Turns out he hadn't. Maxim explained to the Black Crowes that the reviewer made an "educated guess." Maxim later released this statement: "It is Maxim's editorial policy to assign star ratings only to those albums that have been heard in their entirety. Unfortunately, that policy was not followed in the March 2008 issue of our magazine and we apologize to our readers."

Nothing new here. As I point out in Hippo Eats Dwarf, reviewers are notorious for not listening to albums or reading books before they review them. As the Scottish reverend Sidney Smith famously remarked, "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so."

The Kirkus review of Elephants on Acid had me wondering if the reviewer had actually read the book. It was a pretty good review (the reviewer described the book as "One of the finest science/history bathroom books of all time"), so I didn't want to make a fuss, but in summarizing the contents of the book the reviewer gave this description:

Some of the many highlights: a 1931 test to determine whether it's possible for a chimp to raise a human baby; a 1977 examination on the validity of scratch-'n'-sniff paper; a gentleman who, in 1928, proved males could be multi-orgasmic to the tune of six ejaculations in 36 minutes;

That's all completely wrong. The 1931 experiment was to see if a chimp could be raised as a human, not the other way around. The 1977 experiment had nothing to do with scratch-n-sniff paper; it involved pretending to transmit smells over TV sets. And the multi-orgasmic male experiment occurred in 1998, not 1928. But like I said, the reviewer seemed to like the book, so I'm not complaining.


Posted on Wed Feb 27, 2008


Paul Theroux once said in an interview (I am paraphrasing) that he doubts reviewers read his (or any) of the books they review. But this Maxim example seems off the deep end....
Posted by Bruce  on  Wed Feb 27, 2008  at  11:42 AM
I hadn't heard about that "pretending to transmit smells over TV" thing before. Back in the mid-80's when I was a wacky morning drive radio DJ in Allentown, PA, I did something similar.

I pretended to be testing a system called "Odoradio" which allowed us to transmit smells over the radio. My boss said it was the stupidest bit he had ever heard of...until I started getting calls from listeners who said it was working.

It was pretty hard to keep a straight face as I listened to people's tales of putting their noses on their radio speakers and being able to detect what I was "transmitting." Ah, good times.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Feb 28, 2008  at  02:24 AM
I think this method of "reviewing" is more common than many believe. I cant begin to tell you how many concert reviews I have read in our local newspaper talking about songs that were played and they actually were'nt. Many album reviews I have read mention songs incorrectly or ones not even from latest albums. You have to wonder what certain people are payed for...
Posted by Todd  on  Thu Feb 28, 2008  at  09:34 AM
It seems like Maxim slipped up again. This time they gave Nas' new album a low rating -- and it hasn't even been finished yet. He is currently working on completing the album. Link to the article:
Posted by Cindy  on  Thu Feb 28, 2008  at  04:15 PM
Reviewers unencumbered by having read the book, heard the album, seen the play, etc., are just the most obvious manifestation of this time-saving strategy.

I've read a number of books in which the book had an introduction or foreword written by someone who obviously hadn't read the book (at least, not the whole book).

And how often have you heard someone talking knowingly about food she's never tasted, or a city he's never visited?

As in every other craft, the quality of written reviews varies from wonderful to deplorable, with stops at every point in between.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Thu Feb 28, 2008  at  04:56 PM
Hey, I think Gary just gave me an idea for a new website: travel guides to cities by people who have never been there.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Fri Feb 29, 2008  at  02:25 AM
In 2001 actor David Soul sued The Daily Mirror after a critic wrote a scathing review of a West End show Soul was appearing in. The only problem with that was the aforementioned critic didn't even watch the show, he sent a flunkie to watch it for him. Needless to say, Soul was a tad bit ticked off after finding that out. Soul was awarded
Posted by Nicolletta  on  Fri Feb 29, 2008  at  08:43 AM
Cranky, if you do the travel guide, sign me up for chapters on ... oh, Bangkok, let's say, and maybe Kalmazoo and Vladivostok.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Wed Mar 05, 2008  at  05:00 PM
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