I have been running Tedium long enough at this point that some of my early stories are starting to look kind of like golden oldies.
And one of those golden oldies is a 2016 piece I wrote about AllMusic, the supposedly all-encompassing guide to the world’s musical output that has an internet presence that predates the Web.
I mentioned a lot of things in that piece—including how I discovered a Whiskeytown album on an AllMusic kiosk, as well as the backend software that the website uses. Since then, more changes have happened; most notably, the website is owned by a firm called Netaktion, which seems to specialize in SEO.
But one thing I did not mention is a fact that has been absolutely racking my brain in the past week or so since I learned it: Bryan Adams (who we previously mentioned here) is not in the AllMusic database, and hasn’t been for nearly a decade. Apparently, some legal beef happened between Adams and the owners of the AllMusic database, and AllMusic responded by removing basically any mention of him from the site entirely.
“Due to the request of Mr. Adams, we are no longer permitted to display his information on AllMusic,” the company’s FAQ stated.
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This happened around this time about a decade ago, and speculation was strong. Did a lawsuit lead AllMusic to have to censor its output? Did Adams’ lawyers or PR people piss off AllMusic so much that they just removed him from the database to keep him quiet? It’s most assured that the discussion happened behind closed doors and we’ll never be a party to it.
(The similarly named Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown’s still-at-it-despite-cancellation lead singer, remains active on the site, though he hasn’t received a review since 2020, despite releasing eight albums during that period.)
Longtime AllMusic scribe Stephen Thomas Erlewine probably isn’t rocking out to “Heaven” when he doesn’t have to.
Whatever the cause, it’s likely that the issue might come down to the consistently terrible reviews his records got, largely from AllMusic’s most high-profile reviewer, Stephen Thomas Erlewine. Adams had released 11 albums before he made AllMusic’s name into something of a lie. Erlewine wrote many of AllMusic’s rock reviews, and he seemed to have taken a consistent antipathy towards Adams’ work. Erlewine, based on where he worked and his reputation as an S-tier reviewer, was the guy looking at most of Adams’ albums, and for years, none of them passed muster.
From Erlewine’s 1996 review of 18 til I Die, which nonetheless calls him “a rock-solid adult contemporary craftsman”:
The sound is grunged up a little, and he appears on the album cover in a bizarrely glitzy mod suit—all meant to telegraph the message that even as Adams approaches 40, he remains a hip teen at heart. Of course, the music doesn’t prove that to be true.
Another review, by writer William Ruhlmann, stuck the knife in around his commercial nadir:
The fall seemed sudden, but it had its roots back in 1991, when Adams made a classic Faustian bargain: the massive success of Adams’ film-soundtrack ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” set him on a path of more such songs that destroyed his legitimacy as a mainstream rock album artist.
Erlewine’s take on Adams’ 2008 album 11 was no nicer:
To a certain extent, Adams’ refusal to acknowledge shifting fashions was admirable—especially for somebody who has made a name for himself in the new millennium with his fashionable photography—but 11 is such a relic of ‘90s mainstream rock that it almost feels as if it were cryogenically frozen in 1993 and unfrozen later.
The prior review also made a comment about how Adams sounded like he was stuck in 1993.
Even the positive reviews of Adams’ work by Erlewine could be read as a slight. A 2010 review of an acoustic Adams compilation, the last review before the legal battle broke out, started:
Inspiration can sometimes take a while to strike. Take Bryan Adams, for instance.
Erlewine’s point, explained later in the review, was that it took him a while to go back to the acoustic style that seemed to work for him, but if you’re someone who has been getting ripped by the same guy for close to 15 years, it might be hard to see that as a compliment—even though Erlewine gave that record Adams’ best rating on the site in about 26 years.
It’s telling, that the only great reviews Adams ever got for his studio records came in the 1980s. It wasn’t like AllMusic wasn’t way off base with their assessment of Adams’ musical skill.
As one commenter on the Steve Hoffman forums memorably put it:
AllMusic does not reveal any details from Mr. Adams’ private life. They do not distribute his music legally or make it available illegally. They’re just guilty of telling anyone that this guy made his last enjoyable album in 1984, which is an opinion they have in common with many other listeners and reviewers.
Another commenter, on Everything2, said something similar: “I’m a huge music fanatic and I’ve probably read through tens of thousands of reviews over the years, and I couldn’t see anything extraordinary about AMG’s treatment of Adams’ work. To be quite frank, I was surprised at the praise some of his works received there.”
Admittedly, AllMusic’s reviewers are human and they have opinions that sometimes break from the norm—the site once rescored Coldplay’s Parachutes, a record it slagged, after it became a massive hit, and in 2005, Erlewine gave Bright Eyes’ two most popular and otherwise most-acclaimed albums two stars, seemingly because he didn’t like the hype the artist was getting.
But in the case of Adams, it does genuinely seem like Allmusic’s stance matched that of popular culture in general.
More broadly, I want to bring up the point that we are often seeing content removed from websites in bits and pieces these days. Looking at any popular news website of the 2010s is likely to expose how images have been removed from archives out of fear that someone is going to sue. Adams complaining about AllMusic, a text content resource, is rare.
But every time something like this happens, it cuts like a knife.
L ! I ! N ! K ! S !
In case you needed any fresh evidence that internet companies should be treated as public utilities in the eyes of the law, here you go.
This clip explaining how the building at 368 Broadway has proven surprisingly influential to popular culture is a must-watch. Beyond Casey Neistat, the most-famous artist-in-residence, the building has also housed the Sadfie Brothers, Greta Gerwig, and Lena Dunham, among many others.
The developer community around the Remarkable e-ink tablet it a lot more ambitious than I was expecting. This great piece about it explains its potential renaissance as a lightweight computing technology of choice.