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Bad words put to good use

The withering put-downs of esteemed critics are always fun but these provocateurs also help guide us to the best cultural and culinary experiences around.
Robert Bound

Do you enjoy reading negative reviews of films, restaurants or records? Sure, there’s a thrill, a tingle in the gut as if you’re watching a fight. But the bad review is more instructive than its headline of prurient bitchiness may often reveal. Recently, in the newspapers I read at the weekend, my favourite critics and columnists were all in reflective mood. You could say that they were down on things. But you’d be wrong because they are better than that and our coins, handed to the newsagent, are worth more.

I read fewer negative reviews nowadays, perhaps because the music press (always the best at bitching-out the lettuce-limp singer-songwriters or the cock-rock baboons) no longer exists in all its colours-strapped-to-the-mast judgemental glory and maybe because the food pages send critics to review fewer restaurants owned by famous absentee landlords doling out swill at eye-watering prices. So it was a pleasure to read these reviews because a bad review exercising good judgement proves precisely why critics are necessary: these pieces are valid and high-quality journalism that take business to task, reveal shoddy practices and speak truth to power.

One reviewer dealt with a Mexican restaurant in London where the cooking was bad, the prices high, the service sloppy and, when criticised, sulky as well as forgetful. It wasn’t a little local joint dishing up burritos for the after-footie crowd for under a fiver but a Mayfair swank-parlour charging the Earth and seemingly demanding much respect for doing so. So when you read, “The first thing you notice when you walk in are the hysterically uninterested girls behind a computer screen, who squeamishly take your coat and dispose of you through a heavy curtain,” you feel they have it coming to them. The place scores a solitary star. Thank you, AA Gill.

The well-connected, mostly respected, often bowed-and-scraped-to London restaurant critic might seem an odd choice to use as a bastion of journalistic principle but no: part of their principles are judging if things are worth spending your time, money and no little element of belief on. Whether that’s a film, a play, an album or lunch, the same rule applies. Done well this is good advice in sexy strides; this is doing you a favour dressed up in fancy pants – and all the better for it.

Where rock stars’ managers boot vibe-killin’ journos off the tour jet, chefs moan that they can be put out of business by a bad review. That’s sad but in some instances perhaps as it should be. Chances are it’s not a bad review but a good review of a bad place. Those critics, challenged by blogs, working in a city in which the notion of value is often scoffed at by another set of absentee landlords and scolded by publishers wheedling to advertisers, those critics are your friends.

The close-up

WHO
Heino is one of the best-selling German singers to ever walk the land of the Teutons, selling more than 50 million records thanks to a deep baritone voice, clear enunciation and folksy tunes recast as schmaltzy pop hits. His hair is white-blonde and he always wears dark sunglasses, the latter to hide eyes that bulge slightly due to a thyroid condition.

WHERE
Born in 1938 as Heinz Georg Kramm, Heino has appeared on German stages since the early 1960s, first singing with the OK Singers then making a name as a soloist entertaining dirndl- and lederhosen-clad fans on German TV. Heino’s most recent triumph (a big comeback after a few fallow years) is a 2013 album covering hits by acts such as Die Ärzte and Rammstein, which has seen the old-timer in studs and black leather, touring the country in a skull-festooned Mercedes.

WHY
Apparently 99 per cent of Germans recognise Heino (that’s more than Merkel), a testament to the singer’s mass popularity despite accusations that some of his politics skew right. And hey, his songs are kinda catchy.

ACT THREE Released in December 2014, Heino’s newest album Schwarz Blüht der Enzian includes a heavy-metal cover of his 1972 alpine polka hit “Blau blüht der Enzian”. The song’s Spinal Tap-esque video proves he can head-bang with the best. — kb

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