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Tuesday 22 November 2011

Five Star Blog?

Yesterday, i had a debate, via Twitter, about 5 star album reviews.

It all started when i happened to Tweet about an album review i had read the previous day. The reviewer had given the album in question a 5 star review. 5 stars being the maximum amount and therefore the highest accolade that that reviewer could bestow on an album.

Nothing wrong with that. After all, we see 5 star reviews, or their equivalent, all the time and i'm sure many of them are fully deserved. But, my problem came with the fact that the reviewer had suggested that 2 of the tracks on the album in question weren't actually that good and should, to use the reviewers own words, "be skipped".

Now, my question and the one that i posed on Twitter was. If there are 2 tracks on an album that the reviewer feels aren't that good, how can they then give the album the maximum amount of stars? Surely the album should only get, at the most, 4 stars?

I've always felt, possibly naively, that if an album got the maximum amount of stars, the reviewer must have felt that it was, in their view, perfect and couldn't really be improved upon. After all, if an album is not perfect, what sort of accolade could you give a perfect album when you've run out of stars?

This could, of course, apply to anything that is being reviewed. Whether it be books, movies, tv programs etc etc.

One other point i made was that i sometimes feel that certain reviewers have made up their mind about the number of stars to give an album, before they've even heard it. Some artists seem to get 5 star reviews regardless. You already know how many stars the album is going to get without even looking. The artist in question is, in my opinion, one of those. That's not a criticism of the artist, just an observation.
But, this probably a another topic for another day.

After posing my original question, one of my followers on Twitter answered: "If an Album has 12-15 tracks and 10 of them are masterpieces, you wouldn't give it a 5 star rating?"
A fair enough question and one that i answered with: "No I wouldn't. I'd probably give it 4 stars & question why they put those "filler" tracks on there".
My friend then came back with: "Even the greatest albums didn't have all perfect tracks, would you give 4 stars to Abbey Road (by The Beatles)?"
My answer was: "Good point and good album, but how about Maxwells Silver Hammer and Octopus's Garden (Both of which are on Abbey Road)?".
We continued, Friend: "The importance of an album is not in the in ideal track, it's in the music and the message and what it inspires".
Me: "Can't really disagree with that and it's all down to personal choice after all. But is it a 5 star album if you don't like all tracks?".

I do see my friends point of view and i expect that many others would agree with him. But, i'm sure we can all think of examples of favourite albums of ours, by our favourite bands that have, at least, one duff track on them.
Now, if you came to have to review that same album, how many stars would you give it? Honestly?
My guess is that many people would give that album a 5 star review. But, if you always skip "that" track, should you?

The Beatles are a good case in point and were mentioned in that original Twitter conversation.
The Beatles are and always will be, one of my favourite bands and their albums are amongst my favourites. But, even the most ardent Beatles fans will admit that there are usually "filler" tracks on their albums. I mentioned "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Octopus's Garden" from Abbey Road. But, what of "Yellow Submarine" from Revolver, or "When I'm Sixty Four" from Sgt Pepper?
Other examples are available and not just from The Beatles either.

I have many albums on which i love every single track. Albums with, in my opinion, no fillers, or duff tracks. I'll name just two examples that spring to mind:
Sex Pistols - 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and
Supertramp - 'Crime Of The Century'.
Those choices also give you some idea of my eclectic musical tastes!

So, i guess the question is. Should those favourite albums be rated higher, by me, than albums on which there are those filler tracks? Especially if, as an overall body of work,  i actually prefer the albums with the filler tracks?

Oh dear, what have i started?
Maybe, as i suggested to my Twitter friend. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference? After all, when it comes to music and anything artistic for that matter, taste is very much a personal thing and one persons masterpiece, is another persons worst nightmare.


PS: As it happens, this morning, i read a review of the "new" Amy Winehouse album.
It features demos etc that she was working on before she, sadly, died recently.
I was fully expecting this album to get the usual 5 star review. But, the reviewer was very fair and gave the album 3 stars. Because of what he felt were substandard tracks.
See, it can happen....


  1. When you were talking about albums with all great tracks, I was thinking "Crime of the Century" before I got to that line in your blog. Great example. But what the heck have you got against Maxwell's Silver Hammer? ;^)

  2. Ken: Good to hear we're on the same wavelength with COTC. It's still one of my fave albums & still sounds great after all these years.
    Sorry, but i just don't like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", but then you probably guessed that already? :)

  3. I agree, an album with two "skippable" tracks can't be given five stars if your rating is to mean something, otherwise what rating perfection? When I read a professional review, I expect the reviewer to be as objective as possible, even if he lost his virginity while listening to one of the band's songs thirty years ago. That's probably asking too much.

    Maybe music and films shouldn't be rated with stars. Siskel and Ebert started using their signature "thumbs up/thumbs down" method with movies back in the 80s. That seems a bit ruthless—shades of the Circus Maximus—but is a "damning with faint praise" three-star rating more charitable? What the Siskel and Ebert approach hoped to tell the public was whether or not, in their opinion, the movie was worth going to see.

    Your Twitter correspondent argued that "The importance of an album is not in the in ideal track, it's in the music and the message and what it inspires," with which you had no argument. I don't either, though talk of an album's "importance" always makes me leery as a consumer. I'm reminded of the record store clerk who insisted that John Coltrane's influential "A Love Supreme" was a "must have" for any serious jazz collector. It's an album I still find shrill, chaotic and hard on the ears. Am I glad I have it? Not when I think of all the other albums I might have bought and enjoyed in its place over the last thirty years. (Incidentally, I also have a copy of James Joyce's wildly important "Ulysses" gathering dust.)

    I'd give your blog five stars, Andy, but then what would you have left to shoot for?

  4. Dugal: I read something earlier from a music critic who i respect who said that he sometimes gives a 5 star review just to get attention for the album. Interesting thought.
    Like you, i'ver bought albums equivalent to A Love Supreme & hated them too. I'm sure some people pretend to actually like those albums, because it looks good :)