Wednesday, 8 September 2010

How To Write An Album Review

A question I have been asked, by quite a few people quite a few times is how to write an album review. I absolutely love music, and, for me, there is nothing better than getting my hands on the latest album from my favorite band.
This actually happened to me recently (as you can see below) when I got asked to review (and sent 8 tracks from!) Maroon 5's up and coming album Hands All Over, for VenusZine. I had such a lot of fun writing the review and I was 100% in my element - it's one of the best assignments I've ever had. However, as you can also see below I had to review another album, this time a record that I absolutely unconditionally hated. I showed you this, because I think it's important that (unless you're reviewing albums for your own blog) you know you won't always be writing about music you love!
So starting off with an album that, at first listen you really like, where do you go from there; the initial listen? Before you think about doing everything else, you need to make notes on the album that you can work from when you are writing your review.
I tend to do my notes for all articles I write in my moleskine notebook, and album reviews are no exception. These are my notes from the Maroon 5 review once I have listened to the album/ tracks made available to me at least 5 times (yes, 5 times. I usually put them on my iPod so I can listen to the album over a couple of days while I'm walking to and from places) I listen to each track through a again listening closely scribbling down how the songs mae me feel, what they remind me of, and how they are similar different to the rest of the album/ the artists earlier work.
Once I have these initial (usually messy!) notes I write them up again into a set of bullet points for each song. These bullet points are what I work from when I'm writing the review.
Next I suggest if you're writing a review for publication on a blog or a website you read quite a lot of reviews in this format (preferably of the same genre of music an if you can from the same publication) or if it is for a magazine read magazine music reviews, also preferably printed in the publication you're going to be writing for.
The most common format is that of the two reviews I've had printed above; an introduction, a line or two on the album as a whole, talking about a couple of individual tracks then a conclusion.
The introduction is generally withe something witty or clever (see my reference to Jane Eyre in my Songs From The Red Room review) or something clever (see Lake Geneva in the Hands All Over) review.
When you are taking about the album as a whole try and sum up the whole sound, what makes similar tracks on the record that fit together well meld? That's the glue that holds the whole album together and that's what you ned to be taking about here. Try Googling or checking out the bans website to see if they have done any interviews taking about their feelings when they were making the new record, or what they have said their influences were; this information acts as the perfect springboard to start writing; especially if you don't particularly like the album and you're not sure what to talk about!
When you are choosing the tracks you will actually name in your review, it's usually best to choose the first single from the album as that's the song that people will have probably already heard, talk about that, then choose one or two more tracks that you think will be the next singles, or sum up the whole sound of the album quite nicely. Talk about lyrics, sound or vocal hooks; whatever it was that made the track stand out and make you want to single it out. Also, if there is an interesting collaborative track (as there was on the Maroon 5 album, their duet with lady Antebellum) make sure to mention it and why its special (if it is!) This track, and whoever the album artist is collaborating with may encourage people who are not regular fans to take a listen and perhaps discover their next favorite band, or for fans of the album artist to be introduced to new artists.
Finaly, when you come to write your conclusion try to sum the album up again; one liner always work well and give a sense of closure; winding the review up nicely and bringing it back to the point where you started.
You actually apply the same formula when reviewing albums you dislike or even can't stand, but remember you have to write a fair and balanced review. You'll have no problem finding and giving justification for why you love albums you've enjoyed listening to so much, but you have to justify why you dislike albums you hate so much. When you're making your initial notes bear this in mind, and also try to find some redeeming qualities for the album; no record label would sign a band and fund them to put out an album that no one can say anything at all good about!

Alternatively, if you are writing for your own blog or website you can make the format up as you see best; for example I like to run through most or a couple of the tracks and talk about them individually on this blog!

Which up and coming (or just released) album would it be your dream to receive to review for your favorite music magazine?


  1. very good, puts me at ease. old post, i know, but it's you who came up as like the 4th result on google search (nice one!)

  2. Hey, found this post so helpful. Just starting out in the blogging world, and thinking of trying my hand at some reviews, feeling instilled with confidence and inspiration having read this. If you like check out mine, Thanks again, Joanna.

  3. This is so useful for me, thank you. I was however wondering what you'd do if you technically know an album is excellent but you personally hate it. A positive review regardless, of your opinion?

  4. I like to go for balance in these situations. If I can find things that are technically good in it I like to put those forwards first, then comment that I did not personally enjoy it at the end.