I’ve had two friends of mine ask me independent of each other over the last week how I come up with my reviews and rating systems.
When I review a CD, I require myself to give it a few days and a few listens. One of those listens must be as I’m walking because that’s when I’m most able to concentrate on what it is about the music that stands out and is worth focusing on, whether it be the music, lyrics, vocals, production, etc. If it stands out in a good or bad way, it’s a starting point for me. I also try to incorporate something positive in anything I write, although not necessarily must there be something negative. I think there are some records that are flawless and have nothing on them I’d fix. But I figure that if I can’t find a redeeming quality about something I either don’t understand it or am unable to see it for what it is. I’m the type of person that believes that every piece of music released has an audience and a purpose and nothing or nobody would risk putting money and effort into something that lacked any redeeming value. There’s SOMETHING good about everything. I think it’s important to keep an open mind.
As for my rating system, I do that on the overall final product. It is what it is vs. what I think it could have been. I listen for what’s there and then imagine or listen for what isn’t there. What’s missing. What could have been included (or removed) to make it better. I think expectations also play a role in how I rate something. If I expect certain aspects of an album to be a certain level, I’m either going to be disappointed or pleased. If I’m disappointed, I focus on why but then also focus on other ways that the record made up for that. If I’m pleased, I try to decide if there are aspects that are lacking. The perfect record, for me, is something in which I don’t think anything can be done to improve upon it and as a whole, is just awesome. The purpose of said album was set out and surpassed.
I don’t believe in saying something sucks based on non-existent potential in something that can’t be rated. I’m not going to take away credit from an album that lacks good lyrics if it’s meant to be a straight-up dance record anymore than I’m going to take away points from a comedy film that didn’t scare me. You have expectations on things before you review them based on what you’ve been set up with beforehand based on previews or other information released. The job is to determine whether they’ve been met, exceeded or failed. If they were met, what could have been improved upon. If they weren’t, what was missing. And if they were exceeded, what is it that makes it impressive overall.