Top Ten Things to Do When Writing an Album ReviewIn case you haven't found out yet, I recently started writing album reviews on here. I figured out that my way of writing them revolves a lot around giving each record a fair chance to convince me. This happens naturally, because it’s just my style of doing things. I am an open person and when something is presented to me, I just judge it by what it is. That goes without a lot of consideration, and is ENTIRELY subjectively. Nevertheless, I thought it’d be cool if I released a list of tips for making a review that’s accurate and fair. I only added items that apply to my approach of reviewing; if you see it differently you can of course add tips that fit your style better.
The Top Ten
Listen to the album. All of it. At least 5 times. You can't judge an album after listening to it once. My biggest example on that is St. Anger by Metallica, which started as my least favorite album by them, but is now in my top 3. It only took 5 listens.
Yes! Yes! It is SO important to listen to ALL of it. I mean...if you listen to ONE song over and over again, you can only write about that ONE song. I mean...might as well just buy the ONE song on iTunes...anyone with me?
Yeah. How are you going to review an album without listening to it first?
I do exactly that!
Oh, and also another thing: give them the chance to improve and grow as an artist. Also don't make the mistake of downplaying the new found quality just because it's an artist whose past output wasn't good. Within two albums, they can improve from 1 to 5 stars. It rarely happens, but if it does, don't adjust the ratings so they fit together better.
Here is one example that most of you probably know:
Based on her previous single songs, I didn't like Cupcakke's music. In the meantime, I also listened to her album "C'm Cake" from 2016, and I still don't have a very high opinion of it - I am torn between 1 and a half, and 2 stars. But nevertheless, "Ephorize" is so far one of my favorite hip hop albums of this year, with a 4 star rating in my review. It's not just good compared to her past efforts, it's also a really good album in its genre. It's just as good as Cardi B's album, whose previous mixtape I'd rate 4 and a half stars if I'd review it.
Unless they bring it up in their lyrics, an artist’s private life does not affect their musical output. You may hate an artist for being a wife beating, racist, homophobic, holocaust denying conspiracy theorist - if they have the most angel-like singing voice of all time and craft the most touching poetry in songwriting with a Beethoven level of composing talent, that does not change a thing. Credit where credit is due. Never forget you review the album, not the person.
This is perhaps the most desired yet the hardest thing. I always try to do it, and I even apply it to my lists on TheTopTens, in that I often put in my top 10 remix songs that I personally don't like, and even put some of them higher than the songs/bands I like.
However, if I feel that I despise the artist too much, I wouldn't write a review. Why? Because I wouldn't want to ruin my reputation of a good reviewer.
(cough, metalhead versus Radiohead war, cough)
This is very important. Many people who try to review metal albums ignore this and make ridiculous reviews.
For example, how a Taylor Swift fan would review a progressive death metal album:
"No single song you can dance to. No single catchy tune. Just boring start to finish. Also, too fast. Too much unnecessary guitar playing. Is this even music? "
The problem is that pop and metal have opposite goals. It would be also ridiculous if I used the same approach to review a Taylor Swift album:
"No single sweep picking guitar solo. No double bass drumming. Not even death growls. Instead of growls there's autotuned vocal. But despite the autotune, she is still off key. Also, too slow. Too cheesy. One word: boredom! "
"What could the album possibly want to be?” is the big question you need to ask yourself. It’s absolutely no problem if you prefer an approach better than another, but it’s unfair if it works perfectly for what it tries to be. For a pop album that may be considering of 12 varied and exciting earworms, for a symphonic metal album it may be fusing graceful soundscapes of traditional composition techniques with epic, powerful guitar riffs, an emo album needs tormenting vocals and melodramatic lyrics to credibly sell angst. The records work on entirely different scales whose qualities can’t be compared, or only in the rarest of cases. Don’t make the mistake of stating the newest Björk album isn’t as good as Katy Perry’s because it’s not at all fun and catchy, or the other way around because Björk has the much more artistic and unconventional visions.
I know I created many lists myself in which I ranked albums of different genres, for example my year end ...more
Once you decided what the album might be, decide how close it comes to perfection on its respective scale. Does it get the most out of its style or does it settle for less and feels uninspired? Do you have the feeling there are many fillers? Does it get repetitive? Does it add something new to the premise or does it only deliver the very basics that many other records have delivered before? Try figuring out why it may feel the album isn’t as good as others of its kind.
Now, this is a bonus one you will most likely do automatically. If it’s the first album you heard of a group that has already released dozens of albums in the past thirty years, from which all the fans say it’s a complete mess while you personally think it’s a very good piece of music and can’t understand why everyone around you despises it so much (I’m looking at you, “Lulu”), this will be tough for you, and you are maybe better off by stating that you are a newbie before. However, if you happen to be one of those fans yourself and already know the artist’s other albums, it’s always nice to comment on their evolution. Have they improved? Did they stay the same, whether that means something positive or negative? Or has their quality decreased dramatically? A neutral style change may also be worth mentioning. Now, sometimes it happens that a change of genre feels like a step back within the artist’s body of work while at the same time they are better than most ...more
Even with all the other points being said, music is art, and to a further extent, it’s also always entertainment. A lot of your impression is based on subjective taste, and that’s a very good thing! After all, your preferences are part of your personality, and there is no such thing as absolute objectiveness. There is, however, fairness. A very entertaining album that brought you a lot of fun during the listening also deserves credit for that, and maybe it will bring the same pleasure to others.
Depending on how important it is to your listening enjoyment, decide whether the album is both homogenous and varied. If an album’s songs are all over the place, with an RnB ballad about being in love following a hard rock song about slaughtering people, the record feels like a mess that constantly snaps you out of the mood you were in, even though the individual songs may be good in their respective style. However, if all of the songs sound exactly the same, have the same melodies, beats, moods, tempos, etc., it may come off as boring and can be challenging to listen to. The ideal album settles for a common sound but adds as many different stylistic influences and facets as possible while maintaining the basic premise. This way, the album plays fluently while always unfolding new and exciting soundscapes.
Like Hopeless Fountain Kingdom goes really well together with all of the songs!
Sometimes one element of the album bothers you so much that all of its efforts to work out are useless - the album simply isn’t pleasant to listen to. It can also be the other way around: you realize its flaws, but it does sound great for one thing. It is up to you to judge how strong the individual aspects are in the whole context. There’s no “good” or “bad” per se, it’s just people valuing and weighing different aspects differently.
Before I begin, I just want to say that this is one of the best lists I have seen in a long time. Great job, Martin. I voted for this one because I have learned that reading about an album's background changes my perspective on it. For instance, many great albums (such as A Night at the Opera, Tommy, 2112, and Workingman's Dead) were recorded at a time of great financial crisis for the artist, and these albums were their "do or die statement". It can explain an artist's desire to change their sound, such as David Bowie's restlessness with changing his sound and image. It can also explain why an album is not good, due to factors like writer's block, alcohol and drug abuse, fighting between band members, struggles between artist and manager, or changing tastes towards an artist's style. It's not supposed to be the catch-all thing to judge an album by, but it does help to understand the album.
You're welcome. I didn't even bother to think about the production values or writing process, but you are right! Learning about writing and production does help explain the history of an album.
This is entirely optional, but it can add some depth to the music, or even change your view on an album, if you know what were the circumstances that lead to a record, or some songs on it. But as I said, it’s optional. And don’t confuse this with judging the artist as a person - we are talking about the artistic background here
Yeah! Don’t just make up stuff about the album!
While you may feel more comfortable with just writing whatever comes to your mind, it’s also a good idea to jot down some notes so you won’t forget something. It’s also good if you don’t constantly switch between positive or negative aspects, but devote an individual paragraph to each. Oh, and don’t just start off straight with the direct reviewing of music. Maybe start off with some thoughts or problems you had, or how you first encountered the album, or give a preview of your overall impression.