Have you ever been put off by a bad album rating (I mean a really bad rating, rather than a lukewarm one) or review, only to find that you actually like the album after listening to it?
I know it’s stupid to dismiss music on the grounds of a bad rating, it’s just what one reviewer thinks (although there always seems to be a consensus amongst professional reviews), but admittedly I do this when it comes to discovering new music, otherwise I end up with such a long list of music to check out that I end up not bothering.
I’m listening to Wire’s The Drill (came out in 1991) which seems to have a very poor critical reception (as does that general period of their career) and I quite like it tbh. It’s ‘different’ to their other stuff, but it’s not terrible and I’m finding it an interesting listen. Then again I probably wouldn’t have even bothered checking it out if I wasn’t into Wire’s 70s (and underrated late 80s) albums. The fact it’s ‘different’ probably explains the low ratings, I’d imagine fanbases generally struggle to get to grips with bands reinvent their sound too much, in which case the low ratings have little to do with the actual quality of the music.
Not really sure what the point of this thread is. The answers I’m looking for are probably just a load of common sense, but basically, do you find the critical reaction of an album subconsciously determines whether or not you’ll bother checking it out, and have you ever been alarmed by how much you like an album that seems to be universally disliked by fans and critics. Do you have examples?
Examples I can think of:
Be Here Now
Gang of Four - Hard
David Bowie - Black Tie White Noise
Echo and the Bunnymen - Reverberation
i really like Let’s Go Eat The Factory by GBV, which has a pretty shite rating on RYM. the actual reviews i’ve seen on various sites from when it came out are more of a mixed bag though and i probably hadn’t read any or checked the rating or anything before i bought it on a whim one time.
one that i’m not sure i really enjoyed as such but i came to NYC Ghosts and Flowers by Sonic Youth on the understanding that it would be noticably utterly dreadful compared to everything else they’ve done, but it seemed pretty much fine really? it was a bit boring but no more so than some of their other later albums tbh, and What Was It Anyway was a decent track. not planning to listen to it again anytime soon though.
Other people’s numerical ratings are useless to me. Other people’s reviews MAY be of some use.
There are two components to a review. One is factual information, eg. “On album 5 the band shows a more expansive sound; the acoustic simplicity of album 4 is still present in places, but the use of strings and horns adds an extra lushness.” or “the replacement of XXX by YYY on drums gives the band a tighter but less improvised feel.” These are more or less objective facts, and it would be hard to see how one reviewer could state this and have another reviewer dispute them; they should also give you an idea whether you are likely to prefer album 5 to album 4.
When it comes to subjective impressions, with phrases like “maudlin lyrics”, “overblown themes”, you really need to get to know the reviewer. What other albums has he/she reviewed? Did they also describe your favourite progressive rock masterpiece as “overblown”, or that cry-from-the-heart album you love from your favourite artist as “maudlin’”? There is no right and wrong when it comes to these judgments, but if you can get an idea how well this reviewer’s tastes match your own, you will know how much confidence to place in this review.
Also, obviously, seek out other reviews of the product.
I usually find myself in the sort-of opposite situation, where I’ll listen to a new album from an old favorite and thoroughly love it, and then be confused (and enraged) by the negative critical reception.
The example that I think best fits what you’re talking about is Century of Self by Trail of the Dead. I forget specifically where or how, but I was led to believe that it was a very, very bad album and as a result I saved it for last in their discography (I only discovered them in 2011 through Source Tags and Codes). I finally gave it a shot last year because I couldn’t figure out what I was in the mood for, and instantly I really liked it and it’s quickly become an album I listen to a lot.
I really try not to let reviews influence me and usually try to read them after I’ve formed an opinion on the album, but realistically this only works for bands I’m already aware of. For music from new bands that I haven’t heard yet, a good or bad review will increase or decrease the likelihood of my listening to it (and I’m sure influence to some degree how I feel about it). Given how much I disagree with reviews of the later works of my favorite bands, I’m guessing I’m missing out on a lot of great music unfortunately. But as you said, it’s a way to narrow down the overwhelmingly massive amount of music out there.
Some of my favorite albums are ones that seem to be universally despised by fans and critics. It’s fortunately fairly well-regarded here, but Machina by The Smashing Pumpkins (and to a lesser but still excessive extent, Adore) is constantly ripped apart despite essentially being a masterpiece. Billy Corgan’s first solo album The Future Embrace seems to be hated by practically everyone, but I genuinely think it’s one of the three best shoegaze albums I’ve ever heard. And since they’re fresh on my mind from the other thread, I just looked up Stone Temple Pilots and am legitimately shocked to see No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da rated so low. They’re both fantastic. I also think Mars Volta’s Noctourniquet is a great album.
This just gave me the idea to look up Mars Volta reviews on Pitchfork - 4.3 for Bedlam in Goliath! 2.0 for Frances the Mute!!! Absolutely preposterous.
This is a really, really good post.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a reviewer presents an opinion as an indisputable fact and then has the additional nerve to not even bother to explain. (“But unfortunately, “______” is a completely forgettable song that goes nowhere over the course of its bloated length”, etc.).
Pitchfork is truly horrible with this.
I quite like the reviews section on Amazon. If there are a significant number of different reviews, it’s usually possible to browse through them and get an idea where each reviewer is coming from in relation to where your tastes lie. In particular I like the fact that you can recommend a review if you found it useful; I always do this if I think the review has genuinely helped my decision. It’s a way of encouraging people to write informative reviews rather than just “This album is fucking amazing!” or “This sucks”.
Pitchfork gave Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison’s debut solo album Travistan 0.0. The fact that it has Represent on it makes that rating insane. It’s a cheesy album and definitely a disappointment after The Plan’s Change, but there’s no way it deserved 0.0. That review effectively killed his solo career as it was back when Pitchfork at the peak of their influence I think. It came out before the album did and then a bunch of lazy other reviewers just gave it one star citing similar criticisms.
I agree that the direction to more ‘quirky’ Ben Folds style material wasn’t what I liked either, but it’s not a bad album of that type. The Word Cop is a great Joe Jackson esque tune. It’s a particular shame as Travis had been releasing some tracks online before it’s release which didn’t make it on there like Chequers And Chess and these were weird fucking songs. Made me think the album could sound like anything. Him using some songs that the D’Plan had been playing live didn’t help either. The live versions did sound better.
I’d have given the album 4/10 personally, and felt bad giving it such a low score as it’s more about taste than anything. If it weren’t for that Pitchfork review I think it would have gotten mostly 6’s & 7’s.
Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous comes to mind. The album that got me into them. Daft review. Great album.
Yeah, to the Future Embrace - firt time I’ve heard someone rating it well!
Is this like how all you idiots think Electioneering is bad but I know it’s a top 5 Radiohead song?
Reviews are just one persons opinion really. Use them as a guide to see if the music may appeal to you but wouldnt ever be put off completely
If it’s an album I’ve been waiting for release I won’t read any reviews until I’ve listened to it a good 4 or 5 times. However, something that really annoys me about myself, once I’ve read a luke warm/bad review, is (sometimes) how easily I can go from thinking very highly of an album to picking holes in it, feeling that it’s some how tainted or less worthy because one or two other folk don’t think it’s up to much. Hate how impressionable I can be in that respect.
As for digging into a bands back catalogue, if I like it Iike it and I’m not even slightly bothered to even look for reviews let alone read any.
Arcade Fire’s latest album is another album that springs to mind.
I genuinely thought it was a decent album when I heard it, frankly I liked it more than the last one. I was really quite shocked by the Pitchfork score and RYM to find most people gave it 5/10, although it seems to have a polarised reception. I think that’s another album that suffers from being different compared to what the fanbase is used to. Interestingly this seems to happen whenever bands move towards slight ‘pop’ territory - it’s the same with Gang of Four’s Hard, and I’d imagine probably Genesis’s 80s stuff. The fanbase seems to control the reputation.
The thing that really bugs me is when I discover an album I like…then look into it further only to find there’s 0% interest in it. No reviews, ratings, interviews or anything. Not enough to stop me listening but it can be disheartening.
I’m a big Let’s go Eat the Factory fan too. Album reputations are alot of ‘group think’, a few trendsetters decide which albums are the classics or the shit ones and then most agree.
I pretty much ignore reviews. Most the time the reviewer is just worried about what liking or disliking an album will say about them as a music critic. Also more recently they’re more worried about getting clicks than giving a fair review. So sensationalized greatness (10/10) or scathing “this total shit” (0/10) reviews get more traction than 5/6/7/8 out of 10 reviews.
I often find I really like albums that are supposed to be duds of an artists output. The aforementioned ‘Let’s go eat the factory’ and The Fall’s ’ Light User Syndrome’ are examples of this.
I actually thought of doing a thread where I would ask for suggestions of these type of albums and listen with fresh ears. A good starting point would be St. Anger. Never listened to any Metallica but I know this album is hated with a passion.
How about really GOOD reviews? Have they made you re-evaluate albums? Or make more of an effort with an album? I’ve hated things, then seen a 10/10 on Pitchfork or wherever and thought “Hmm. Maybes it’s me. Maybe the album IS good”.
Ironically, no-one takes much notice of Pitchf**k nowadays. I’d give it a 6 myself and Hey All Y’ll a 7. Also, although Uncanney Valley was something of a disappointment, the songs sounded much better live and getting to see them again was a fucking joy. I’d be happy to hear more from him if he ever gets the urge again.
A really good review may cause me to investigate an artist I have not bothered with in the past, or perhaps investigate an album by an artist who I thought had lost the plot, in the hope that maybe they have found it again. I’ll still have a couple of listens on Spotify or Youtube or somewhere first, though, before handing over cash.
I checked out “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective, on the strength of a 5-star review. While I found it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I can understand why someone might want to give it 5 stars.