Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Soft adjectives are the sign of the reviewer who doesn't mean what he's writing

A data analyst called Gavin Potter has examined hundreds of reviews of wine and found that while the use of very specific words like pencil, graphite, cherry and smoky often indicates wine of high quality, the pursuit of soft, inexact words like rounded, fruity and well-balanced will tend to lead you to the mediocre ones.

I'm sure he could do the same with music reviews. Unspecific expressions of mild approval such as tuneful, lively or well-produced mean that the reviewer isn't particularly enthusiastic but neither does he feel like saying anything downright negative, either because he's got something to lose or, more likely, he doesn't have a great deal of confidence in his own opinion.

This must also be how the wine business works, with the additional complication that here price is a quite good indicator of quality. The reviewer can't say what he really thinks of the wine the supermarket chain is offering at a moderate price and so he restricts himself to moderate adjectives.

People like to think that reviewers err on the side of negativity. The opposite is actually the truth.


  1. Good point David, but - good chaps and all that they are - it's hard to see The Silver Seas, faves of highly influential types such as yourself and Danny Baker, as anything other than, well, nice, rounded and tuneful. Nothing whatsoever wrong with that of course, but...

  2. Not sure it's anything to do with the group. It's about the intensity of feeling for the group. You might just hear well rounded and tuneful. I also hear parades, wind through sunlit trees, awkward conversations at bus stops, possibly a bit of graphite as well.

  3. Like Charlotte Green reading the football results.

  4. Maybe, like wine, we should all pay more for higher-quality albums.