Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews Reviewed

When I first gained access to the internet, the first information I sought out was record reviews. Before that, I’d been working blind, buying albums based on radio hits. While I rarely look at it now, the All Music Guide was a useful resource, but in the long run I got much more use out of Wilson and Alroy’s Record Reviews.
Rage Against The Machine 1992 DebutThe site’s nearly as old as the modern internet, founded in 1995, by David Wilson and John Alroy; while Alroy has been dormant for years, Wilson has kept the site active to this day. The pair complement each other well – both are classic rock fans, but Alroy delved more into 1980s college rock, while Wilson explores jazz, Latin, hip hop, metal, and R&B. I always gravitated closer to Alroy’s tastes, but Wilson covers ground that most other amateur review websites never touch.
The pair’s succinct, no-nonsense reviews certainly rubbed some readers the wrong way – their rating system is less generous than most other review sites (even four out of five stars is used sparingly), and it’s probably frustrating to see a favourite album dismissed with a single paragraph.

Rage Against The Machine (1992)
The debut of the phenomenally popular hardcore/nü-metal band. Vocalist Zack de la Rocha sounds like he really wanted to be Chuck D, but he’s not black, so he has to settle for yelling his political lyrics over snarling speed metal backing (“Killing In The Name”). He ends up with a bewildering mix of hip hop clichés, repetitive gun/bullet metaphors, and occasionally clever indictments of modern capitalist society and our compliance with our own brainwashing (“Silence can be violent/Sorta like a slit wrist”). Since he’s so angry about so many things, he rarely stays focused, shifting from topic to topic within each song, but there are a few exceptions: “Take The Power Back” about Eurocentric curriculums, “Bullet In The Head” about the Gulf War, “Wake Up” about assassinations of political leaders. But his delivery is mindnumbing. The musical backing is facile and loud, with servicable though derivative riffs; the best effort is “Take The Power Back,” where they turn down the distortion, add funky bass, and end up sounding like Living Colour with a hangover. Otherwise, the production, arrangement and instrumentation is nearly identical on every track. The band put out a few big-sellers over the next few years, broke up, and recently reformed. (DBW)

The Replacements Let It BeBecause they did most of the work on their site in the era before streaming and scoured most of their albums from second hand bins, it’s sometimes frustrating to encounter significant discography gaps, like a Replacements page which skips over Let It Be and a Robyn Hitchcock page without three of his key albums (Underwater Moonlight, I Often Dream of Trains, and Fegmania!).
While Alroy’s knowledgeable on guitar rock from the 1960s through to the 1980s, he’s only really enthused about Radiohead and The Posies from the 1990s onward. On the other hand, Wilson’s stayed abreast with modern music well enough to write Janelle Monáe a deservedly positive page.
But generally I’m enough on Wilson and Alroy’s wavelength not to mind all these minor quibbles – they’re a great resource for music recommendations, and I exhausted most of the pop and rock recommendations from their favourites list a long time ago: http://www.warr.org/5stars.html. I discovered lots of favourites, like XTC, Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson, and The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle from their site.
Have you come across this site before? Are you a fan?

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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  1. I have never heard of it but I’m checking it out seems entertaining and informative. It also definitely looks like 1990s Internet form 😀 – no frills just info

  2. Hmmm. Interesting site. i’ll spend some time exploring it. The larger question, of course, is when exactly do they dismiss a favorite album of mine in a paragraph? I hate that. That’s why I stopped – or never even really started reading – Christgau. A tremendous self-important jerk. Of course others may say the same of me. But they are peasants! 🙂

      • Heh! I’ve hated him since he said Duane Allman (number 9 on Rolling Stone guitarist list) plus Dickey Betts (number 61) equal Jerry Garcia 9 (number 46). Now don’t get me wrong, I dig Garcia. But that is just crap.

  3. Obviously CB is still living in his cave. The review on Rage is a good example on how opposite my opinion is with this reviewer. Maybe I should check out a few more takes to get a better idea. (Had a quick glance at their faves. We have some common ground on albums I dig)
    I had a few reviewers I trusted back when but for the most part my ear did the choosing or people I knew gave me a nudge to some good stuff.. The folks on this thing (blogs) we do have steered me onto some really good music. Like Jim S saying about the reviewer he noted (in his unique way), I really don’t have time for that kind of review. Doesn’t interest me. Over the years I have leaned more and more to the positive takes and why the music moved the individual. I remember some guy (ant at the picnic as Mamet said) give a review on TV on ‘Nebraska’. It didn’t bother me that he trashed (he did break the album) the record, his opinion wasn’t going to change my mind it was that he thought he was funny, insightful and hip. CB didn’t think so. I little rant.

    • I don’t really like RATM that much either – they’re a great burst of adrenaline for a song or two, but a whole album is tough going for me.
      I mostly review things I like, but I will probably hit some things like big name acts I’m pretty lukewarm about, or local acts that I’m bombarded with but don’t really appreciate.

      • Now that tittle review you just gave on Rage is not as heavy handed and I get it. Totally. They are a bit of energy drain as far as listening but like most artists I like when I choose to listen to them I’m in for the ride (usually an albums worth. Just listened to Renegades the other day).
        I like your takes, why I drop by. There is so much good music out there that giving time to the stuff you’re talking about takes listening time and enjoyment away from CB’s ears.

  4. Yes and yes. This site, more than any other, influenced my outlook on popular music and my approach to writing about it. The no-bullshit aesthetic and the focus on music over lyrics were a breath of fresh air after years of reading hoary magazine reviews.
    This is where I discovered so much of the music I enjoy. I think I have cited them in each episode I’ve done of the Discord & Rhyme podcast, because invariably their site is where I learned about the artist being discussed. In fact, tonight we are recording an episode about Funkadelic; and where else would I have learned about Funkadelic?
    I met up with David (Wilson) a few times during visits to New York in the early 2000s; and when I moved there in 2006, we hung out every few months and went to concerts together. I even inherited a big chunk of his CD collection when he gave it away a few years ago.
    I wish they were still doing what they did so well.
    Another excellent choice, Graham.

    • Yeah, I have a few more planned for sometime – Creative Noise and Disclaimer Music Review Archives are on the list.
      I’m pretty sure I learnt about Parliament from them. It would have been great if Alroy had written for a few more years – I’m pretty sure he would have found a few more things from the 1990s and 2000s to enjoy, and it would have been interesting to see what they were.

  5. Been reading these guys a lot in a long while, and to me they’re much better than either Allmusic – which is actually a terrible source of information for music prior to the 90’s (or for any non-anglicized artist or genre), with a long history of superficial analyses – and Christgau – who eventually strikes the right note, but tends to be too self-absorbed and shallow about most music to be taken as a reference. With their already mentioned concise, no-nonsense evaluations, and wide scope of musical appreciation (Wilson’s takes on Latin and Turkish music are awe-inspiring), they’re still hard to beat as a reliablie guide on post-50’s popular music.

    • Allmusic used to be really helpful, the worst issue is design – it’s so bloated and hard to read through. I also think there’s value in having one or two people write a coherent site rather than a hodgepodge of writers.
      I respect Christgau a fair bit – obviously knowledgeable and decisive on his taste, but hard to read sometimes.
      I do wish Alroy had stayed writing longer – they’re a great resource for 1960s and 1970s rock and pop, but barely scratch the surface from the 1990s onwards.

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