Steven Ward, in this brief comments thread, conveyed disappointment with Simon Reynolds for not (or anyway, for barely) mentioning music in his NYT Bowie review. I concur that it’s a problem because one simple question is never answered for me, which is why are people getting excited (faux-excited?) about this particular Bowie record now? Today, in Burning Ambulance, Phil Freeman reviews The Next Day, and fair to say, I think, that his piece exists at a 180-degree remove from Reynolds’s. That is to say, Freeman’s review is entirely, I mean literally almost first sentence to last, about what is happening in the music — the way it sounds, what various players are doing, etc. — with zero concern for the Bowie context, and indeed, little concern for any context outside of the music itself (I say “little,” because the review reads like an argument of sorts, for “feat[s] of instrumental interaction,” and Freeman does draw some comparisons to other musicians).
Freeman’s review never mentions clothes or hair. Reynolds’s review says nothing about how the drums are mixed. I find both approaches wholly unsatisfying, to be honest, though I’m hesitant to say that either approach couldn’t work. I’m curious how other people feel about all this; it’s a pretty fundamental argument, one that’s been taking place in music criticism for a very long time, possibly forever. As a reader — or a writer — do you gravitate towards one approach or the other?