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How Mario Tarradell Is Not Good At His Job

If you follow me on Twitter — and if you don’t, why not? — you no doubt noticed that I went on a lengthy rant concerning Dallas Morning News music critic Mario Tarradell’s review of Saturday night’s Beyoncé concert (specifically) and his skill level as a music critic (generally). Here is a recap. But after thinking about it, I thought I should offer a concrete example of my problems with that review, by way of contrast and comparison with the review on the Observer‘s DC9 at Night blog. (Full disclosure: I’m friendly with the women who tag-teamed that write-up. I’m friends with a lot of writers in town. The majority of them. I’m a friendly person. I’d be doing this if the DC9 review was written by my most bitter enemy, a garbage disposal.) JUMP.

Here is Mario:

I must give her serious props on two counts, though: She had an all-female band that was pretty kicking all night. Plus, “Single Ladies” was a mash-up with “Movin’ On Up,” the theme song from the iconic television series The Jeffersons. How cool was that?

Here is DC9 at Night:

To speak to the actual music experience. Beyonce sounded as prepared for a night of belting as you imagine she would. Every note clear and in-tune, The Mama’s taking over during moments of vocal rest (by the by, great background vocalists are an obvious if overlooked solution to the controversy of vocal tracking in popular music). New arrangements of obvious hits like “If I Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies” made particular use of the band, “Diva,” got an especially grimey rendition. A Whitney Houston dedicated performance of “I Will Always Love You,” should be sentimental but worked.

It was especially exciting to hear new live versions of classic Beyonce singles like “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and “If I Were A Boy.” The former featured a jaw-dropping interlude including elements of Rebirth Brass Band’s “Feel Like Funkin It Up”, as well as a run of the theme from The Jeffersons on the hook. The latter dropped out the original arrangement all together for the instrumental from The Verve’s ’90s favorite, “Bittersweet Symphony.” It was a fresh and interesting take on what is otherwise one of Beyonce’s least exciting singles. The reinvigorated versions of fan favorites kept longtime fans up on their feet, and exceeded crowd expectations.

I know there are space considerations and all that. Mario is writing for the paper and the internet has limitless space. But look at all the details in the latter review. There wasn’t room for any of that? Of course there was. Or there would have been, if Tarradell hadn’t decided to structure his entire review around his thoughts about Beyoncé’s hair, which featured sentences constructed so oddly, it seemed like there were actual fans from the audience blowing her hair around. His review was lazy, physically and intellectually, and it had very little to do with the actual performance and more with his general feelings about the singer. Which he had already decided before he even went to the show.

I’m not saying it should have been a toothless rave. If he didn’t like it, that’s his opinion, he’s entitled to it, and that’s great. But sell me on it. Really get into the why. Not just, “oh, I don’t really think she has any good songs.” And tell me about what happened. Not just, “well, she changed clothes a few times and, hey, it was pretty cool to hear the Jeffersons theme song.” If you have limited space, don’t waste a word of it. Find the real details that matter and report them.

21 comments on “How Mario Tarradell Is Not Good At His Job

  1. IMHO, you didn’t (and probably can’t) explain why he is not good at his job. You provided us with a compelling example of how he is not good at his job, and also of how others do it better.

    But why is a deeper question — does he lack depth of knowledge of the field that he’s supposed to be critiquing? Is it just that he’s lazy? Those would be answers to the question of why.

    OTOH, Zac, kickass job on the West story. +1.

  2. Sorry to be borderline-pedantic on the how/why issue. It’s a pet peeve. My journalism teacher used to spank me with a copy of “The Writer’s Art” back in the days when female teachers doing that to their male students was considered more salacious and less felonious.

  3. I stopped following you on twitter since it seemed to only be daily pictures of you hugging some other dude with a bad beard and a tux.

  4. I think Tarradell could jump-start his creativity by finding the right hook, the right device to frame his reviews. Specifically, I’m thinking “Sack of (Toothless) Kittens.” (Or maybe the kitten have teeth, but his feet are toe-less? Now I’m confused. I quit.)

  5. Funny, how you don’t quote from the FrontRow review, which is mostly just ecstatic gush. Details? Analysis?

    “The truth is that after sixteen years, ten albums, and a baby, Beyoncé is still an experience. She’s rich in hits and in energy. The proof is in the fans’ faces, their screams of recognition, the almost church-style level of adoration, and their tears. But the proof also lies in the performance itself, which is tight from beginning to end. Everyone knows their cues: when to smile, when to step here and pop there, when to allow the French breakdance duo Les Twins to do their dance.”

    What we learn from this is that Beyonce was great, her show was great, the back-ups were great, the audience loved it and the reviewer really, really loved it. And, of course, we learn the name of Les Twins

    “Find the real details that matter and report them.”

  6. Hi Zac, love yur work. Lung time reader. Where I can find the next Toothless Rave taking place in the Metroplex city limits? Here the toothless version is really cool with teh kidz these days. Thxkbye.

  7. 1) The FrontRow review posted at the same time this went up. So I didn’t see it until after.
    2) You, blue pencil, picked pretty much the one and only section of Michelle’s review that underlines your point. There are plenty of details in the piece.
    3) I got more of a sense of what that show was really like from Michelle’s review than I did from Mario’s. I know from that, and from many of the people I talked to, that it felt more like what’s described in her review than the fairly rote and robotic performance Mario described.
    4) Michelle is a talented writer and also she is the FrontRow INTERN, and has only been at the writing game for a little bit. I’d cut her a mile of slack before I gave an inch to Mario, who has been doing this professionally at the DMN, as far as I know, for more than a decade and should know better by now.
    5) Anything else?

  8. That’s fair. I have a brand to protect, and that brand is hugging some other dude with a bad beard and a tux. There is bound to be collateral damage.

  9. Zac:

    I thought of you this morning when I read Mario’s review. I smiled when I came to this part, because I knew your head would explode:

    “Part of the problem is her songs. It becomes especially apparent in concert that there is nothing special about Beyoncé’s songs. Sure some of them are catchy-fun enough, but most are pretty forgettable. In a set that featured more than 20 tunes only about five were truly memorable. Among her best were “Love on Top,” “Crazy In Love” and of course “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

    It was during those numbers, and let’s add “Irreplaceable” in there too, that Beyoncé found her sassy center.”

    So deliciously awful. “And let’s add ‘Irreplaceable’ in there, too.” Come on, this is genius bad.

    Is it possible he’s just trying to punk us?

  10. Zac,

    Why don’t you, Tim and Nancy sell yourself to the DMN as a package that will replace your respective doppelgangers, Mario, Steve Blow and Leslie Brennen ala LeBron, Bosh and Wade?

  11. I suggest this because letting your work speak for itself vs. theirs is clearly not working.

  12. Oh, wait, oh oh oh — the original comment was a BURN. Oh, OK. Got it.

  13. Is this an inappropriate place to point out that Mario has cochlear implants? (at least that is what they look like. I met him last year, briefly) I know this comes from a place of ignorance and I am asking earnestly – does the fact he is ‘legally deaf’ affect how he hears the music he is reviewing? I know he can hear w/ the devices, but do they provide him the ability to hear tone, tune and volume? Has he ever written about this condition? If so I’d love to read that, and if not, I certainly think everyone would find that fascinating. I never really liked his reviews before meeting him, and ever since, I’ve really been interested in the idea that a music critic has a hearing impairment.

  14. Gee, I thought that was pretty good. Told me everything I wanted to know. What details were you looking for. Decibel levels? Pitch analysis? Scott Cantrell?

  15. What’s really odd is that the DMN’s restaurant critic doesn’t have a tongue, the movie reviewer is legally blind, and the lead columnist doesn’t have a brain! It’s like the DMN version of Wizard of Oz!