How to Construct a Review
This is a quick guide for all music, media, english pupils and students on how to construct a music review. This will help to develop your media, journalism and writing skills, so please read it and try to follow our tips. For this guide we are using the Plan B album review on Rockhaq to illustrate our points on what makes a good, well-written music review. Take note!
Paragraph 1: Introduce the Artist
This is your INTRODUCTION to your review. Think of it as talking to your readers, and the people who you are sharing your review with. ASSUME that you are talking to an ordinary person, or your teacher or a friend, when you are writing your review. Try to tell them all about this new artist, band, type of music as if they do not know anything about them. You want to make your review as appealing to as many people as possible, so it is safe to assume that they have not seen this band at a gig, watched any of their videos or heard any of their music.
Look at our opening paragraph on Plan B:“Plan B, or Ben Drew, is a star. You might not have heard of him before, but let me assure you of one thing without any doubt whatsoever – this guy’s name will be well and truly etched upon the dark recesses of your musical memory well before 2010 is over and out.”
- What does this tell you? Not very much, but it assumes that the reader does not know who Plan B is. It also has a ‘hook’, something to make your reader want to read more of the review, even though they may not know who Plan B is. The ‘hook’ is – “this guy’s name will be well and truly etched upon the dark recesses of your musical memory well before 2010 is over and out.”
Paragraph 2: Start to Discuss Music
This is where you dive in to DESCRIBING the music! We don’t expect you to be a genius yet but try to use good descriptive words to tell your readers what the music sounds like. Ok, it might be loud and it’s fine to use that word, but what about others? Music students should find this easier as you will already have analysed music, but english and media students may have to get creative and try to describe sounds in other ways.
This is also where you can start to use HUMOUR – but don’t be too clever! Keep your focus on the music or artist.
Here are our next sentences on Plan B:
“One listen of album opener Love Goes Down will leave you open mouthed in shock. Since when did Drew metamorphose into Stevie Wonder? He’s a tad more falsetto, but still, the impact his voice has is incredible. Even the cheesy lyrics about undressing his girl don’t put you off. In conclusion: there’s a magical chemistry being weaved on Defamation that’s truly enviable.”
- As you can see, we have written another ‘teaser’ to get the reviewer to keep reading. There is a massive statement where we have compared Plan B to Stevie Wonder. Don’t do this unless you really believe this person sounds similar to another musical legend or can compare to them. As you will see throughout this review, we make a pretty strong case for standing by this comparison – if you can’t follow up a statement like this with concrete examples, then don’t say it.
- We have also started to describe the music ‘ ‘falsetto’, ‘lyrics’ being ‘cheesy’, ‘album opener’, which refers to the first track on an album. You don’t need to use these words, but focus on discussing lyrics, what message the artist is giving or trying to give, and analysing sounds.
Paragraph 3: Your Ideas and Opinions
This is where you continue to put your ideas forward about the music. Think about:
- Lyrics – What are they saying in their music? Is it dull or political? Angry? Do they write their own music? Are they collaborating with other artists?
- Musical style/genres – Is this a new style of music for this artist? Have they switched from grime to pop? Does it work or has it failed?
- Singing – How does your artist sing? Do they have a good voice or is it weak? Have they changed from rapping to proper singing?
- Production – Did their older music sound a lot less loud/heavy? Are they working with different producers? How do you think this may have changed their music?
- Concept – Is there a story behind the album, or a message the artist is trying to give through their music? What is it? Do you think it comes across well?
- Anything else that’s relevant – Have they won awards? Is their personal life falling apart and has this affected the music? If they are a band, do they all hate each other/are they about to split up? Have they achieved more album or single sales through this music? How does that make you feel about them?
Here is how our Plan B review continues:
“Writing’s On The Wall shifts the vibe from deep-down-to-the-bowels lovin’ to the bittersweet jangly pop of sixties Motown. Stay Too Long could’ve completely destroyed the flow of Defamation. Its raw punky guitar riff intro and thundering drums risk jarring with Drew’s falsetto, but fortunately whirling vibes emanating from a Hammond organ manage to tie it all together. Just. His rapping also works surprisingly well and ruthlessly drags the whole album kicking and screaming back into the 21st century.
Traded In My Cigarettes is a future single with it’s delectable harmonies forming a stark contrast to heartfelt lyrics about the desperate realities of prison life. When Drew hits the stripped down chorus, everything comes together with such immaculate ease that it’s genuinely moving. Prayin’ sees Drew milking the gospel soul genre for all it’s worth, holding forth about the lord, the devil, hell and angels with surprising authority.
Closing track What You Gonna Do is a rabble-rousing number that sees Banks facing his jury. It merges all the different shades of R’n’B on the album with a devilish level of sophistication and class. A brass section collides with grimey in-the-gutter rapping, drums thunder against a slick gospel choir and the whole thing comes together with startling fluidity and effortlessness.”
- Here we’ve described the music and made comparisons to other genres that Plan B has used to influence this album – motown, soul, gospel, 1960’s R’n’B, rap, punk, etc.
- We’ve also talked about the album’s concept – the fact that Plan B is telling the story of a singer who is jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, etc.
- We’ve talked about his lyrics and how they manage to successfully put across the torment of the singer while he’s in prison.
Paragraph 4: Wrap It Up
Is the music good or bad and why? Has the artist achieved anything different with their music? Try to use the information you might have jotted down in the ‘anything else that’s relevant’ section here. It could make for a brilliant conclusion. For example, if you are stating that the music from a certain band isn’t as good as it used to be and it has been reported in the music press that the act is about to split up, you could finish off by saying that you think this might be their last album.
Again, try and keep your points music based, even if you are using humour to make your points.
This is how our Plan B review finishes:
“Whereas your mum might have branded his debut Who Needs Actions When You’ve Got Words as gutter trash, she’ll probably end up nicking your copy of Plan B’s The Defamation Of Strickland Banks. And that’s where it’s true success really lies – in the fact that Plan B now has huge mass market appeal.
And showing off his voice doesn’t quite mean he’s forgotten where he came from. Defamation is slick all over and when he sounds as good as this who would be mean enough to deny Drew a flirtation with the soul genre? It’s jammed with gorgeous, velvety numbers that are wrapped up in addictive, anthemic and incredibly intelligent R’n’B. This is one album that should be heading up this year’s list of Mercury Music prize nominees for sure.”
- We’ve said that Plan B’s fans before this album were likely to be teenagers who are into hop hop and possibly the pop side of grime – but now even your mum might like his music! Because he changed his style of music so drastically for this album to a soul/pop sound, he was much more likely to get airplay on the radio and in supermarkets like Asda. What a huge change!
- This also means that his appeal is more commercial (i.e., universal) and he is much more likely to make more money as an artist.
- We have also said that he should achieve an award nomination for this album. Interestingly, he didn’t get a Mercury Music prize nomination but he did win three Ivor Novello awards for this album!
We don’t expect you to predict award-wins, but if you can, it just shows that you know what you’re talking about 😎