Friday, November 20, 2009

Making Lists and Ranking Music – Sad or Sound?

Around this time of year, magazines and websites heavily feature music lists, discussing albums of the year and the like. It’s especially prevalent this year as we examine album of the decade etc. But the question is : is the concept of ranking music fundamentally flawed? Who is to decide that, for example, Gillian Welch is ‘better’ than Interpol?

In my view it’s a question of mood. It might seem obvious, but the albums that suit a winter’s evening seldom work on a Friday in summer. Also psychological factors come into play, sometimes one might listen to celebratory music but other times we need something to give us solace from the desperation we feel. Different albums to do these disparate jobs.

The concept of ‘star rankings’ or marks out of 10 for albums is slightly different. The reasons for giving Gillian Welch 8 out of 10 will differ from giving Interpol 4 stars out of 5. However what’s important in my view is getting a high or low score, far too many reviews award the ‘on the fence’ score of 3 stars out of 5. What does this tell as about the reviewers opinion? That he or she didn’t notice the album playing? Or if they did, that it didn’t move them in any way? Doesn’t the most innocuous, inoffensive music actually fail completely due to its inoffensiveness?? (It should be noted that none of my reviews contain ratings – double copout by me?)

Anyway, back to list-making. I have to be honest and say that, allowing for my previous reservations, I love reading these meaningless music lists. Checking through the Top 50 and seeing which albums I own, looking for vindication, and identifying the overrated perennials. The lists also act as a reminder of overlooked gems which I already own, but haven’t listened to in a while, and also a signpost of future purchases.

All this article is really doing is making a long-winded excuse for me to predictably follow every other magazine and website and list my personal favourites of 2009, and also of the decade. I can feel the internet buzzing with anticipation.