I’ve just found out that David B. Wilson has a blog. This is the David B. Wilson of Wilson & Alroy’s Record Reviews site, a megalithic compilation of over five thousand reviews, an internet institution of vintage standing, and an early and influential buyer’s guide for me when I discovered it as a student, thirteen years ago.
Reviews on the original WARR site stand out for their brevity and precision. Stubborn and opinionated as they are, David Wilson and John Alroy nevertheless habitually remain concise, sticking to rating records on their merits and demerits – as they see them – without ever being self-referential or soul-baring.
Keeping a review to under two hundred words in plain English isn’t easy, as I’ve come to belatedly appreciate. It isn’t a sign of laziness (it’s far easier to ramble on unchecked); rather, it’s both prescient (when everybody’s competing for your attention, the first one to get to the point wins – a fact which would come to be of crucial importance once the internet truly took off), and a product of skill, clarity of thought, and self-discipline.
On his blog, David Wilson grants himself a little more room, and the results are revealing. In a way, the blog contains, without explicitly meaning to, the many peripheral insights that come with decades of writing about music, which cannot be aired within the constraints of a site like WARR. That alone makes it worth reading, but one post in particular makes my day each time I see it.
It’s called Wilson & Alroy’s Forbidden Words 2011, though I suspect it’s just Wilson doing the talking for the both of them, as John Alroy doesn’t seem to write very much any more. It draws from an experiment in building a word cloud out of WARR, to show up the most commonly used words; to quote, “It’s no surprise to see words like “record,” “album,” “tunes,” “track” and “guitar” on a record review site, but I do see some words that I’m clearly overusing. So here come the Forbidden Words, which I pledge not to use in any reviews in the coming year.”
Now, this is more important than it seems, because it proves something I’ve long suspected, that, for Wilson and Alroy, writing reviews has always been an act of craftsmanship unto itself, as distinct from just expressing an opinion.
You need to care about yourself as a writer first and foremost to want to take a scalpel to your reviews that way.
In an internet flooded with babble from amateurs and part-time enthusiasts posing as journalists – with the scrambled, ill-thought-out, and poorly edited writing that is the inevitable outcome – Wilson’s little experiment stands out for its old-world dedication to quality and method. It is exactly these things which make people go back to WARR over and over again, while other reviewers complain that nobody ever listens to them.
I wish more people would learn.