When reviewing music, a book, a movie, or a game I am loath to include some arbitrary final score. There is a tendency among readers to simply skip to the score and ignore the content; if something gets over 80% then chances are most people will like it, or if something else gets 3 out of 5, or 7 out of 10, then you may give it a try, and be pleasantly surprised or sadly disappointed. This is understandable and quite a few times I have skipped to the bottom of a lengthy review to check the score rather than drawl through the guff. I don’t give scores though, and my reviews (whilst mostly rushed and not very good compared to the other million blogs) should be quick and useful enough to help you decide whether to buy, read, or watch.
Whilst bored in work I set about ‘perfecting’ an idea which had been floating around my head for months- how to create a better scoring system for music. This came about both by my own refusal to score music, and by my annoyance at seeing a myriad of masterpieces being left out of all those ‘best of the year/best ever’ lists which magazines create. Depending on the type of publication, certain criteria are seen as all important. For example, a crappy rag while focus only on what sold the most copies in a particular time frame and what is fashionable while a more reputable company while list the albums most highly which they feel were most revolutionary- those albums which supposedly defined a generation or revolutionized a genre. Don’t misunderstand me – if an album only sells 12 copies then chances are it is unlistenable, while an album which revolutionized a genre is probably very good and worthy of inclusion on the list. My problem though is that we need to strike a balance. Sales are not necessarily more or less important than musical ability or whether or not the album will still be relevant 10 years down the line. Of course many of you will not agree with this and will argue that of course sales are more important than musical ability, but that has been factored into this unique scoring system.
I set about trying to find as many criteria as possible which define the quality of an album. I could easily think of 10- giving each category a score out of 10 for a total of 100. However, I could still think of a few more which made me change the number of categories to 20, each with a score out of 5 for a total of 100. It was difficult to think of 20 without some overlap and I’m sure there is something missing. As it currently stands though I think this is the best and most fair of accurately, objectively, dare I say scientifically scoring an album. A set of 20 categories equally weighted to 5 marks- that way music snobs and ignoratti equally cannot truly be biased when scoring, if they are scoring honestly and with knowledge. Bias and personal preference will come into the scoring naturally, musical taste is of course largely down to taste so in any given category someone biased may give a 5 instead of an honest 3, but this system should keep that to a minimum. Indeed, to try to answer these qualms there is a category specifically for personal taste, so if you’re beloved album which has only sold 12 copies, and that no-one else has ever heard of doesn’t get a five in some categories, at least it will get full marks in that one.
So, below follows the list of 20 categories with an attempted description. For a ‘fun’ experiment, take one of your favourite albums, an album you hate, and an album usually regarded as one of the best ever which you don’t know very well and try to score each objectively. Naturally this works best for an album which has been released for a while.
Sales: This one is pretty self explanatory- the more copies sold, the higher the score. The interesting part comes when you think about albums which were only released to certain markets- an album may be released in Greece and sit in their Top 10 for months, but may not have been released in the US. Or it may have been released in the UK but no one was aware of it. It’s down to you whether you value worldwide sales over national, or if your score is a mix of each.
Chart: Chart and sales are different; The higher up a chart or charts which an album reaches, the higher the score. Again it’s down to you if you base this on one particular country, or worldwide. An album which gets to number 1 may not necessarily sell that many copies over time. An album which stays at number 1 for weeks across a number of charts is set for a high score.
Critical: This is a Metacritic criteria – an album may get rave reviews from every magazine you can think of, but only sell a few hundred copies. Regardless, that would be a high critical score. The more common case is that an album will get largely average or poor scores from critics, but sail up the charts.
Originality: Self-explanatory again- how original did you find the album’s music, lyrics, content, ideas? Is it groundbreaking, or have you heard it all before. This can voted both against all other music, and against the same artist’s own back catalogue.
Influence: This one will likely take time to come to fruition. Some albums have instant copycats and then the influence fades away as all fads do. Other albums have a long-lasting influence which can still be tasted 10, 20, or 50 years down the line.
Musical Ability: Do you like long, fiddly guitar solos and virtuoso playing of other instruments? If not, tough, because this category is simply for how well the artist shows their ability to play.
Lyrics: This is one of the categories which may not fit all albums- many albums don’t have lyrics. In that case a substitute should be found. Lyrics are of course subjective but if most songs consist of ‘I love you baby’, and ‘hands in the air’, and other derivative sentiments and rhyming then a low score is waiting. If the artist has actually put in some thought and feeling, then great. If you consider there to be moments of poetic or insightful genius, then score highly.
Melody: Most great music has great melodies. Most songs are remembered and sell due to a memorable hook, melody, moment. Then again, many bands make it their quest to be anti-melody, though most of them are balls. The same melody you find beautiful may grate on another’s ears so it will be down to your preference.
Emotion: This can be sliced in two- the emotion which an album evokes in you, and the emotion which the artist displays and puts into their performance. If the band half-killed themselves creating the album you can be sure this score should be high, also if there are moments which send chills up your spine or joys through your heart. If it is a bland, overly commercial release then you’re staring at a low score.
Lastibility: How long after release/purchase have you been listening? After a quick blast at the start, does it start to collect dust, or does it come out for the odd listen? Or is it in regular rotation years later?
Vocals: Quite simple- how much do you like the vocals- if there are any that is.
Coherence: A complex one- is the album a random mishmash of singles or does it come together coherently with similar sounds, ideas, motifs used throughout? Can you tell that 1 song comes from 1 album and not another? The more coherent an album, the more likely you will continue to listen to it.
Mood: Is there an overall mood generated from the collection of songs, and what mood does the album inspire in you? If it sets out to excite, anger, depress, sadden, enrage, please, does it succeed?
Production: This can be down to personal taste, but mostly you should be able to tell if an album has been produced artfully, creatively, aptly, or if it has been badly over-produced so the songs disappear in a fog of dollars, or if it has been so cheaply and ineptly produced that vocals, instruments, and anything else clash together like a bunch of toddlers fighting a custody battle for the last piece of chocolate.
Effort: How much effort was put into making the album? Was there blood, sweat, and tears from all concerned, or was it a half-assed release to satisfy the artist’s ego, the record company’s quota, and with no regard for the audience.
Relationship: How do you relate to the music, and how does the album relate to others in the band’s back catalogue?
Genre Relation: If it’s metal- how metal is it in comparison to other bands and albums? If it’s techno, how does it relate to other techno- does it copy, tread the same waters, improve, or blow the competition away?
Authenticity: If it’s metal does it live by the metal rules? Is the artist and the music authentic, or is it riddled with lies, fakery, and platitudes?
Personal: For this score you simply give whatever you feel the album is worth out of 5.
Miscellaneous: If there is any criteria you feel I’ve missed, or for all the other things which make up an album not mentioned here- commercial campaign, artwork, Satanic backwards messages, if it’s ‘cool’, whatever.
So, try a few albums- give them your own personal score out of 100, then follow this system and see if the scores are a match. Feel free to leave comments and scores on albums you’ve tried so others can compare and see what they come up with.