Taste is subjective. Everyone has their own — which doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to argue about it online, of course. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m reminded of a Film Crit Hulk article where he talks about a Steven Soderbergh quote in the context of a discussion about whether King Kong (2004, dir. Peter Jackson) is good or bad: ““Try explaining it in a way that makes you all correct. Because whatever you think, that’s what the movie really is.” I read that as meaning that every reaction to a movie is a valid one and must be taken into consideration. Of course, that extends only to emotional responses — certainly someone with expertise can critique the film/book/album/whatever for the technical factors. But it’s important to remember that everyone has their own viewpoint and experiences and preferences, and they are human beings, which makes them exactly as valuable as every other human being — and therefore makes their perspective equally valuable.
In my critical writing, I try to be even-handed, but I’ve certainly done my share of hit pieces. I stand behind them. That said, my reaction to something is exactly that — my reaction. My response to the new Machine Head album, for example, is mine and mine alone. If the music speaks to someone, then awesome, I’m glad the band succeeded. They didn’t in my case, and I can only offer my informed thoughts and hope it helps others. It’s partly based off my experience and knowledge of the subject, and partly based off what I like. I can’t help it. There’s no way to be purely objective. Everything in your life to that point informs your approach. You can’t view something in a void. It’s subjective. All of it.
Also, it’s fun to write mean things.
I have friends who absolutely love the movie Red (2010, dir. Robert Schwentke). I do not. And yet, they hold it up as an example of why I have bad taste, or why my taste should be discounted. And it’s baffling to me. Still, it’s true that it does make my recommendations suspect to them — we clearly enjoy different things. And that’s okay.
The more times I travel around the sun, the more I realize that taste doesn’t change — it clarifies. My parents listened to classical and showtunes (my mom) and The Doors (my dad). I tried listening to chart rock when I was in middle school, had Hootie and the Blowfish and Dave Matthews and Alanis Morrisette CDs (I know I’m dating myself), but something always seemed to be… missing. It wasn’t until I discovered Van Halen and AC/DC and Ozzy that everything clicked into place for me. And honestly, it’s never really clicked out of place. I’ve pushed my taste in more extreme directions, but no matter how many times I listen to Morbid Angel or Cannibal Corpse, it’s just not gonna do much for me. I can have fun with it, I can appreciate it, but it’s not really my thing. I’m always gonna be a Judas Priest-Iron Maiden-In Flames guy. I just love those melodic classic rock riffs.
I receive hundreds of e-mails promising brutal, unrelenting, depressing, raw, violent, aggressive, extreme stuff — and it bores me. I don’t have any interest in underground black metal or retro death metal or hardcore or grind. I feel bad, because labels or promoters will reach out in the hopes that I’ll check out their bands with unreadable logos, and I’m just the wrong guy. I can write about the stuff intelligently, I can listen to it with an open mind, but it’s not what I reach for when I want to listen to metal. Hell, I rarely reach for metal anymore. When I do, it’s either something awesome like Striker or something interesting like Horrendous, or more often something with a sweet rock n’ roll groove. Otherwise, I’ve been delving into synth-based music, psychedelic rock, jazz; things that tap into where I am now.
Of course, as I mentioned, where I am now isn’t very different than where I’ve always been. I just know more what I like and what I feel like listening to, and I don’t feel obligated to pretend to care about the latest Blasphemy rehearsal tape. My fascination with synthesizer music and jazz goes back to my mom’s love of classical, my interest in psych rock clearly goes back to my dad’s love of The Doors, my interest in prog and trad metal goes back to my own early experiments with music. The fact that I’m listening to less metal doesn’t mean my tastes have changed. It just means I’m more in touch with what my tastes are. And that, hopefully, makes me a better writer.