The AV Club's Steve Hyden has an interesting blog post about grade evaluations of albums and films:
As a reader, I understand putting grades on reviews. As much as I adore my own prose, I know most people will scan it in about two seconds and consult the grade as a quick answer to the important question: “Should I pay for this or not?” But as a writer and lover of reading criticism, I hate grades. They reduce all the thought you put into trying to figure out what something is trying to do and how well it achieves it into another glib, meaningless way to keep score. Now that sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes—which I often look at and enjoy in a lot of ways—have taken those meaningless scores from every major publication and compiled them into big, monster scores, critical consensus has been quantified like box office returns. Somehow the actual stuff being reviewed gets lost in the shuffle.
At the risk of sounding like one of those high-falutin’ pantywaists, it’s the ideas in a review and the discussion they generate that matter, not some arbitrary letter or number score you pluck out of thin air. I love Robert Christgau’s pithy reviews from his Consumer Guides, but it’s the insights and one-liners I remember, not the grades. Which is why I get frustrated when readers fixate on the score in our reviews—come on, is this really all we have to talk about? If you think The A.V. Club is off-base with a review, state your case, don’t just express your utter shock—shock!—that so-called intelligent people could dare think an obvious C-minus movie is actually worthy of a B-minus. Otherwise you and your comments clearly deserve an F.
What do you guys think—am I wrong? I admit I’m guilty of perpetrating my own pet peeve at times, so my glass house is less than secure here. Do you guys read reviews, or do you tend to scan and glance at the grade? And what do these grades mean to you, anyway?
I do find criticism very useful it helps me weed out films, books, and albums that I might not like. However, I agree that it is often a good descriptive review that can push me in the direction of a particular piece of art. For example, long article on books and/or authors in Harpers have inspired me to read diverse writers like short story writer Deborah Eisenberg and memoirist/journalist Phillip Caputo (I’m currently reading his memoir about Vietnam, A Rumor of War). I’ve found book reviews in Salon, as well as reviews by Nick Hornby to be extremely helpful and inspiring for books. So, for books, it is exclusively the ideas in the reviews rather than scores that attract me.
However, for films and music, sites like Metacritic, Pitchfork, and Rotten Tomatoes can give me an overall idea if I’ll like a film or an album, but I usually read a review by one of the featured professional critics via a link to the original article. Some of the film critics I find useful are Andrew O’Hehir (Salon’s Beyond the Multiplex column writer), Heather Havrilesky (Salon’s I Like To Watch columnist), David Denby and Anthony Lane (The New Yorker), Roger Ebert (The Chicago Sun-Times), everyone at the Onion AV Club, various writers from The New York Times. I can’t really say that there’s any one music critic or site that I rely on, but I’ve gotten some inspiration from Slate, Salon, and The AV Club in general.