The state of music journalism: is BuzzFeed to blame?

In an age of clickbait, has music journalism been reduced to unimaginative glib lists? We review critic Everett True’s 101 Albums You Should Die Before You Hear, a subversive takedown of aural sacred cows.

Coldplay perform in Abu Dhabi on New Year’s Eve, 2011. The British band are subject to some healthy criticism in 101 Albums You Should Die Before You Hear, edited by critic Everett True. Delores Johnson / The National.
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Lists. In the internet era, it seems that a large swath of music coverage has been reduced to a single format. Call it the BuzzFeed phenomenon. You know the sort of thing: “20 1980s pop stars who got fat – you won’t believe No 18.”

Among the pointless chatter, however, one dissenting voice has just been published: 101 Albums You Should Die Before You Hear. It's edited by the well-travelled British music critic Everett True, with a diverse cast of writers disassembling a variety of albums by aural sacred cows, from seemingly untouchable classic artists such as the The Beatles and Pink Floyd through to contemporary big-sellers Ed Sheeran and Robin Thicke, with plenty of cult bands in between.

The title is fairly self-explanatory; a cheeky riff on music journalism’s contribution to list culture and its propensity for hyperbolic canonisation.

In keeping with the convention-testing ethos, insightful criticism is punctuated by (sometimes deeply) personal stories, cartoons, a stack of haiku and an unrepeatable curse-laden rant about Coldplay.

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The book also seeks to address another fading star: since the dawn of music as a commercial entity, criticism has been an important check to press-release hype and rabid fandom, but with jobbing journalists now fighting for scraps of an ever-shrinking pie, sticking one’s head above the parapet with an honest opinion can sometimes be counterproductive to future job prospects. “[The book] was an idea originally gestated several years ago when I was becoming acquainted with Twitter: the idea of creating dialogue via juxtaposition, simply through listing myriad and numerous albums that I considered none too good, with no explanation whatsoever. People responded well,” says True. “There is too much mindless positivism on the internet about music.

“There is too much mindless conformity in life, in general.”

True has seen much during his three decades in music journalism. He's a veteran of once-revered British music publications such as NME and Melody Maker, becoming almost synonymous with the rise of the grunge and Riot grrrl movements in the early 1990s.

The story goes that it was True who introduced Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and his future wife, Courtney Love. True subsequently left the mainstream music press, and started two magazines of his own – first Careless Talk Costs Lives, followed by the logically titled Plan B – that found acclaim in the United Kingdom and beyond.

He went on to run an online magazine in Australia, before moving back to his native England last year, and forming a publishing company, Rejected Unknown. 101 Albums is its first fruit.

“None of the takedowns in this book are gratuitous,” he says. “They have all come about because the writer felt a personal connection with the music or community – a connection that was then later betrayed. They have come about because the writer cares passionately about music.”

And that certainly shines through, although don’t assume that means that the scribes pull any punches.

Jeff Buckley's Grace is painted as whiny rich white boy music and a forerunner for Sam Smith; Dizzee Rascal's The Fifth is likened to Benny Hill; The Doors' LA Woman is derided as music for middle-class hippies; "life is too short" to listen to a single second of Mumford & Sons' Babel; U2's The Joshua Tree is dismissed as "another symptom of the capitalist ego"; and Nick Cave's wisdom on some Californian rock leviathans even gets a tangential look-in ("I'm forever near a stereo saying: 'What the **** is this garbage?' And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.").

True describes the book as a “not-for-profit, gender inclusive” project – “two concepts that seem to run contrary to the state of commercial music criticism”.

There is already a second volume in the works. But while getting a wide spectrum of writing voices heard is a laudable side result of 101 Albums You Should Die Before You Hear, its real victory is refusing to pander to the notion that some artists or records are just too big to take to task, while flying in the face of music criticism's troubling trajectory.

For more information and to order 101 Albums You Should Die Before You Hear, visit

Adam Workman is a production journalist at The National.