Pitchfork’s (Middle-Aged) Girl Problem


Liz Phair has a new album out, and Pitchfork gave it a 2.6 out of 10. That’s bad. Dismal, even. In April, Courtney Love’s resurrected band Hole didn’t do much better with

— their album scored a 2.9. We know the music criticism website is infamous for having high standards, but these grades seem outright punitive.

Perhaps we’re paranoid, but does Pitchfork have something against women over 40? Has a blend of ageism and sexism crept into their reviews, or are they just brave enough to spurn complacent records and give them the grade they deserve? To indulge our suspicions, we compared some of Pitchfork’s album reviews of artists in this demographic with the averages found on the review-aggregate website Metacritic. Check out our findings, along with Pitchfork’s harshest criticism leveled against each member of this random group of mature women, after the jump.

Artist: Courtney Love, 45 Album: Hole’s Nobody’s Daugther Metacritic’s Rating: 55/100 = 55% Pitchfork’s Rating: 2.9/10 = 29% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “What we’ve gotten instead is a forgettable collection of fairly generic, overproduced rock songs that feel, oddly, like a put-on — despite her public meltdowns, Love remains preoccupied with posture and pose.”

Artist: Madonna, 51 Album: Hard Candy Metacritic’s Rating: 65/100 = 65% Pitchfork’s Rating: 5.3/10 = 53% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “Her vocal training and singing lessons in the ’90s broadened her range but she’s never sounded as hungry since, and her phrasing on Hard Candy is frequently dreadful — words so evenly spaced and emphasized that it sounds like she’s reading aloud to a class.”

Artist: Laurie Anderson, 63 Album: Homeland Metacritic’s Rating: 82/100 = 82% Pitchfork’s Rating: 8.3/10 = 83% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “‘Only an Expert’ makes a pervasive, subtle theme momentarily explicit: How shared illusions about security and plenitude perpetuate a predictable cycle of cultural, environmental, and existential crises. But this threatens to make the album sound punitive, when somehow, Anderson’s wrath feels compassionate.”

Artist: Tracey Thorn, 47 Album: Love And Its Opposite Metacritic’s Rating: 77/100 = 77% Pitchfork’s Rating: 6.9/10 = 69% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “It’s not especially clear how much self-aware [sic] Thorn’s hammy singer-songwriter character is, because if you don’t suspend a bit of disbelief, then ‘Singles Bar’ and ‘You Are a Lover’ seem more a stilted narration of an unhappily independent woman inhabiting Lilith Fair’s second stage.” [Emphasis ours: Ouch!]

Artist: Sharon Jones, 56 Album: Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings’s I Learned The Hard Way Metacritic’s Rating: 81/100 = 81% Pitchfork’s Rating: 8/10 = 80% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “But there’s more to their sound than a nostalgia trip — it’s an affirmation of the validity of working in specific styles, even ones most people stopped exploring decades ago.”

Artist: Lucinda Williams, 57 Album: Little Honey Metacritic’s Rating: 72/100 = 72% Pitchfork’s Rating: 5.7/10 = 57% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “While Williams generally sticks to her strengths and suppresses most of her more unsavory musical habits, she maintains her curious reliance on tacky AABB rhyme schemes and lyrical clichés like ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ (on the otherwise excellent ‘Circles and X’s’).”

Artist: Patti Smith, 63 Album: Twelve Metacritic’s Rating: 65/100 = 65% Pitchfork’s Rating: 2.7/10 = 27% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism:Twelve, on the other hand, is nothing but a big comedown, a placeholder in a career that’s long been about soldiering forward, not stumbling backward. It’s not an album to get lost in. It’s an album you listen to once, then lose.”

Artist: Alison Goldfrapp, 44 Album: Goldfrapp’s Head First Metacritic’s Rating: 68/100 = 68% Pitchfork’s Rating: 6.6/10 = 66% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “Just don’t expect to remember many of the details when it’s all over. You might be the best-dressed person at ’80s dance night, but if there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about you otherwise, nobody’s going to recognize you out of costume.”

Artist: Juliana Hatfield, 42 Album: Peace and Love Metacritic’s Rating: 60/100 = 60% Pitchfork’s Rating: 3.9/10 = 39% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “With its acoustic strums and coffeehouse intimacy, Peace & Love sounds like that stalest of ’90s relics: the unplugged album. In fact, it seems to be defined by Hatfield’s limitations rather than her strengths.”

Artist: Sade Adu, 51 Album: Sade’s Soldier of Love Metacritic’s Rating: 79/100 = 79% Pitchfork’s Rating: 7.0/10 = 70% Pitchfork’s Harshest Criticism: “It’s a tricky thing to praise, the kind of competency that’s always just a few steps from blandness.”



With the exception of one, Pitchfork gave each album a lower rating than Metacritic. Pitchfork’s average rating for the above 10 albums is 5.7/10 (57%) while Metacritc’s is 70/100 (70%). (Interestingly, one blogger tracked Pitchfork’s scores for all of 2009 and found that 7.0 was most frequent, with half of reviews falling in the 6.1-76 range.) So, what do you think? Does the site have a bee in its bonnet about middle-aged ladies?