Reviewer Standard Comparisons
"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."
Coming up with reviews can be hard
when you have to deal with deadlines and multiple works to review, but music reviewers have it harder. Video game reviewers can talk about controls and graphics, film critics go on and on about acting and plot and whatnot, but how the hell do you describe music?
One way to get around the problem is to compare or contrast the work in question to other artists or albums. In itself, this trope is not bad
since it can provide an easy reference for a band's Signature Style
, kind of like how Power Pop
= The Beatles plus The Who
. However, done excessively it can get annoying (like, say, featuring the exact same comparison in every single review of albums released by a particular band), and it can also backfire if it's Wrong Genre Savvy
: comparing something to an obscure Japanese noise band will fly over the heads of most mainstream listeners.
of Reviewer Stock Phrases
Examples of comparisons to artists or albums and what they mean:
- The Beatles: Depending on what period of their career the reviewer is talking about, it can either mean that the band in question makes catchy pop-rock Silly Love Songs with lots of vocal harmonies, is a full-blown Psychedelic Rock band or is an eclectic but pretty straight-forward rock band.
- A Hard Day's Night: Aforementioned catchy pop-rock Silly Love Songs with vocal harmonies.
- Revolver, Sgt. Pepper: Psychedelic Rock Concept Albums.
- The White Album: Probably the most standard reference you can get. It refers to a really eclectic album that experiments with lots of genres, has lots of throwaway, humorous stuff and an overall "disjointed" character. Will frequently draw huge arguments over which songs should have been left off or comments that "it would be a better album if it was just edited/a single album".
- Abbey Road: a glossy Grand Finale production where a decaying band pulls itself together for one last effort that is worthy of their talents.
- Speaking of The Beatles, George Harrison's triple-album All Things Must Pass is pretty much shorthand for "first two discs are awesome, but the third part is complete shit and nobody ever listens to it".
- The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds: baroque pop album bordering on psychedelia, intricate orchestration, cool production, massive harmonies. Key difference from Sgt. Pepper is that Pet Sounds implies a more sedate pop sound as opposed to trippy rocking out.
- Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow or Public Enemy: Sampling done right.
- Big Star or Cheap Trick: They're a Power Pop band.
- XTC, Badfinger or The Raspberries are also used for comparison.
- Frank Zappa: Crazy Awesomeness, heavily experimental tunes with avant-garde leanings, complicated compositions, aversion of Common Time, quirky, Refuge in Audacity or Vulgar Humor.
- Guns N' Roses: A frequent shorthand for "this band used to be all awesome and threatening but they sold out and became mainstream", since that's what lots of critics thought happened to GN'R after Appetite for Destruction.
- Use Your Illusion I & II: A classic example of the "difficult second album" where the band totally runs wild in the studio, overproduces everything and comes out with a messy, disjointed, over-reaching work that could have used more editing (see White Album).
- Joy Division: Post-Punk revival band. Doesn't help that many Post-Punk revivalists have vocalists that sound like Ian Curtis (or, as Something Awful less charitably put it, "throat-raping Ian Curtis' corpse").
- My Bloody Valentine: Shoegazing bands, inevitably. Hell, differentiating between Shoegazing bands is basically a matter of "They're like My Bloody Valentine but (insert difference here)".
- Any Post-Rock band that is not Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky, or Sigur Rós will inevitably be compared to at least one of those. This is especially frustrating for bands such as God Is An Astronaut, who claim in interviews to have never been influenced by any of them. Even side-projects of the above artists are not immune to these comparisons. Case in point: Godspeed You! Black Emperor vs. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra.
- Any double album will either attract comparisons to classic double albums like Pink Floyd's The Wall, Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, The Beatles' The White Album or Prince's Sign O' the Times or will cause arguments that it's too long and would've been better with some songs thrown out/as a single album - double albums will inevitably be seen as either a "grand artistic statement" or "self-indulgent noodling". Double albums frequently tend to feature lots of genre experimentation and sprawling - in fact, "sprawl" in a pretty frequent term when it comes to describing double albums.
- Speaking of Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon is reviewerspeak for "Concept Album with excellent production and progressive tendencies".
- Good Progressive Rock will get compared to Pink Floyd, Yes or King Crimson. Rush may show up occasionally if the reviewer's nerdy enough. Bad Progressive Rock and long, drawn-out, endless wankery albums will inevitably get compared to Yes' famous disaster Tales from Topographic Oceans.
- Any female musician with a penchant for weirdness will at some point get compared to Kate Bush or Tori Amos (especially if she's a singer-songwriter or piano player).
- And as a corollary, any female pop/electro singer who wears outfits at all flamboyant will be compared to Björk.
- Not so much anymore. The new standard of comparison is Lady Gaga, fortunately or unfortunately.
- U2: Big echoey guitars, ambient-ish production, strident Anvilicious sociopolitical lyrics, Large Ham vocals.
- During the late 90's / early 2000's, many European reviewers insisted on comparing new UK bands to Radiohead. Unfortunately, it was often (in the case of Travis true.)
- Any progressive metal band, at all, will be called "Like Dream Theater, but..."
- The Ramones = Moronically simple, catchy Pop Punk.
- Punk Rock band? Get ready for a shitton of comparisons to The Sex Pistols, The Clash and so on...
- Metallica's Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All are often used as a standard for comparing more thoughtful, mature, hard rock and heavy metal albums.
- Any Grunge will be compared to either Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Soundgarden.
- Any G-Funk will be compared to Dr. Dre's The Chronic.
- Indie pop bands will tend to get compared to Oasis, blur, Belle and Sebastian, or Death Cab for Cutie.
- Any person of Slavic descent who writes a book with at least one funny sentence in it will be compared to Gogol. Nabokov? Gogol. Gary Shteyngart? Gogol. See also any book featuring a protagonist under 40 who's not perfectly content with society and his place in it. The author will inevitably be compared to Salinger.
- Burzum = technically simple, repetitive ambient black metal. Or indeed any kind of ambient black metal, really.
- It's common to compare any female R&B singer to Beyoncé or maybe Rihanna now. Before they came out, they were compared to Janet Jackson.
- Jam Bands tend to draw comparisons to the The Grateful Dead or Phish.
- Piano-playing singer-songwriters often get compared with Billy Joel, Elton John, Joe Jackson, Randy Newman or Carole King. More modern ones are compared with Tori Amos, Ben Folds or (maybe) Vanessa Carlton.
- Acoustic guitar-playing singer-songwriters tend to be compared with James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens or Jim Croce.
- "Neotraditionalist" country will generally be compared to Alan Jackson and/or George Strait. Basically, meat-and-potatoes, "real" country with Three Chords and the Truth, a honky-tonk beat, and fiddle and steel aplenty. If the review skews older, than Merle Haggard and George Jones are the go-to comparisons for similar sounds.
- Any metal band that has ever been vaguely melodic, especially if they use guitar harmonies prominently, will get compared to Iron Maiden.