It’s high time someone cut Robert Hilburn some slack. For years, The Times’ distinguished pop music critic has endured no end of criticism from irate readers who claim his reviews lavish praise on boring artists, are obsessed with meaningless numbers and rankings, and generally suffer from a hyperbole that could only be defined as large. Every whiny, nit-picky anti-Hilburn reader makes the same all-too-common assumption: that Hilburn actually writes his reviews. In reality, he stopped coming up with new reviews about a decade ago, when he developed a highly sophisticated computer spreadsheet system that uses the bare minimum of information to compose infinite variations on the same theme: the artist overcoming adversity to deliver important rock to the people.

Why, see for yourself! Just fill in the blanks of this sample opening paragraph with elements from the corresponding numbered lists. You’ll have your own “Robert Hilburn Review” in no time.




There was a sense of [1] in the air as [2] took the stage before a packed house of nervous, hopeful fans. The superstar beloved to millions as [3] hadn’t played locally in almost two years, and in that time the pop scene had changed considerably. Some observers had even begun to question his/her relevancy to anyone besides [4]. Could [3] still exhibit the [5] that once made him/her the most [6] [7] in/of [8]? But all questions were laid to rest after a stellar set that covered most of his/her most [9] songs, as well as a healthy dose of new material that proved surprisingly [10] and left no doubt that [2] remains [11].

1: tension, urgency, celebration, excitement, mystery, doubt.

2: Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, 2Pac, Trent Reznor, Michael Stipe, Bruce Springsteen, Courtney Love/female flavor of the month.

3: The Boss, The Boss, The Boss.


4: out-of-touch critics, hard-core fans, him/herself, white men.

5: strength of purpose, clarity of vision, connection with the common man, piercing insight into the human condition, sinewy command of the stage.

6: celebrated, acclaimed, enticing, captivating, exciting, sensual, powerful, important.

7: figure, act, singer, songwriter, singer-songwriter, artist, female artist, female singer, female songwriter, female singer-songwriter.


8: pop, rock, alternative rock, the ‘90s, the ‘80s, the ‘70s, Generation X, the nation, the world, my dreams.

9: crowd-pleasing, rousing, celebratory, popular, familiar, cherished, acclaimed, defining, impassioned.

10: fresh, stark, dark, spare, introspective, socially conscious, brilliant, really brilliant, really really brilliant, really really brilliant with sugar on top.

11: the most important mountain on the pop landscape, a vital voice for a generation adrift, a refreshing reminder of the cleansing powers of rock, at a perfect 100% on the Hilburn Scale of eligibility for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.