Some time back I wrote up a FAQ titled 'Writing an Album Review,' something that has definitely helped me with all the user review submissions the site has been receiving (I believe 12 were submitted today). Per my request Blake wrote up FAQ as well, this one answering the question 'What do the ratings mean?' The 'ratings' referred to are the ratings found on the left panel of an album review. I finally got around to editing 'What do the ratings mean?,' and I'll post it here until we (the staff) turn our attention to updating the AP.net FAQ page.
To many readers a numerical score is the focal point of a review. At AbsolutePunk, we try to come up with this number in the most practical way possible. Each review score is calculated based on seven categories that we have deemed most important. These categories are fairly intuitive, but a short description of each should clear up any confusion among readers.
Vocals: Aside from everything, including lyrics, this rating judges how the singer sounds. In choosing a proper rating the reviewer examines if the singer can carry a tune, if he or she matches the style of music, and most importantly, whether or not the singer hinders the listener from enjoying any other parts of the music. Note: if Vocals are rated as "N/A," the release being reviewed does not feature vocals, or vocals are used so minimally that the reviewer has chosen not to rate them.
Musicianship: This judges the band members' abilities as musicians - whether they can play their instruments well, how they mesh together, and if any members stand out in overtly positive or negative ways. Though the singer's voice can be thought of as an instrument, this score doesn't take vocals into account.
Lyrics: This is quite possibly the most subjective of all the categories, based mainly on the fact that a song’s meaning can be interpreted differently by each listener. In choosing a rating the reviewer may question the value of the words being sung; many people equate good lyrics with deep emotional connections. But that's not to say a reviewer will discount odd, vague, or humorous lyrics. To rate this category accordingly, a reviewer must have a solid feel for the record as a whole and decide if the band has achieved their sought after goal through words. Note: if Lyrics are rated as "N/A," the release being reviewed does not feature lyrics, or lyrics are used so minimally that the reviewer has chosen not to rate them.
Production: This is the sound quality of the record. “Bigger” bands will employ producers to add sonic quirks, but smaller bands will usually do these sorts of things themselves (and as cost effective) as possible. Each situation is judged based on the circumstances of the recording. Major label recordings are usually graded more harshly than a bedroom recording. Either way, if the production forces the listener's attention away from the music, something is wrong.
Creativity: Here is another tricky, highly subjective category. If the reviewer has heard this exact sound from a different band, and if the songs reek of regurgitation, the rating may be reduced significantly. But a creative record doesn't always equal a good record. This score could be incredibly high, but if the singer sounds like a yelping maniac, the music still suffers. Remember, creativity is only part of creating a solid record.
Lasting Value: This is the most difficult attribute to judge properly. Most reviews are written within a week or so of a reviewer first hearing the music, thus it is hard to know how long he or she will be listening to the music. Thus, a reviewer usually sticks to his or her gut judgment and will tack the score down about .25-.50 points from the initially chosen number to avoid a whirlwind musical romance from inflating the score.
Reviewer Tilt: This category is a favorite of reviewers, because it allows for a raw, unadulterated score of an album. Think of this as a “fan score” rather than a “critic score.” If the reviewer hadn’t just written 500 words about an album, and were only asked to give one number to describe his or her feelings, this is what he or she would say. The record may be cliché and simple, but since this category brushes aside technicalities, the score could be considerably higher (or, in some cases, lower) than the other ratings.
Final Verdict: This is where a reader's eye usually drifts to first - the average rating of the seven categories found above.
Now, let’s talk a bit about what a Final Verdict really means. AbsolutePunk tends to review positively more than negatively. This is a point of contention with some members, but it is a personal choice of the reviewers and not a policy. Members have the option of submitting negative reviews – we’re open to the idea. But we do find it counterintuitive to simply bash a band, especially one that is just starting out.
However, problems arise when people read a glowing review and see a score in the 70s alongside it. Do not think of this process as a test score out of 100 points. 50% is average. 70% is above average/good. 80% is memorable and/or great. 90% scores are somewhat rare and are reserved for the most excellent of releases. Most reviews in the 90% range will receive extra scrutiny from readers and staff alike. In much the same way, reviews scored below 50% are also rare - these are reviews that have few, if any, redeeming characteristics. Typically our readers will interpret anything in the 60s or below as overtly negative, but a 60% does not mean an album is terrible. Finally, reviewers tend to add the numeric score at the very end of the process. This allows for even further reflection and usually keeps the words and the numbers together as a cohesive pair.
Now, with all of this talk about numbers and quantities, we find it important to remind you that most of a reviewer's effort goes into the words. It takes much more time and effort to craft cohesive sentences conveying the effects of music on a person, so remember that the words should carry the most weight, and numbers only tell part of the story. Most importantly, remember that a review is one opinion, and if you disagree with a particular rating, express your opinion by rating the album yourself. If you’d like to take your opinion a step further, you are more than welcome to submit your own review of the same release.