The “perfect 10” ratings given to Kanye West’s new album have given many pause for reflection on the inherent ridiculousness of numerical review scores. When Metacritic lists a score of 93 on an album, it does suggest that it must be uncommonly good. I mean, that many people giving it 10/10? Really? For something to be that good, it really has to be as good as albums ever get. What worried me in this case was how few people seemed willing to really mention the music – what made it such a “perfect” album?
No album will ever be perfect, but I would expect a “perfect ten” to be strong all the way through. It would have to be more innovative than Radiohead’s The Bends, and stronger than My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was certainly inventive but was ultimately forgettable as a collection of songs. There’s plenty of great albums I just never got round to buying. You might be surprised that I’ve never bought Sgt Pepper, and I don’t really know why I didn’t, but I can’t miss what I don’t know. Many more, I’ve not owned long enough to know I’ll still love them many years down the line, or they have too many weak moments among the strong.
Pitchfork gave The Stone Roses a perfect 10, and that’s the opposite of what I’d call an “ideal” album – they were really only good for one single, and the album was ultimately quite weak and patchy, didn’t break any new ground and was – at least by me – quickly forgotten. A perfect 10 needs to do better – much better, at least, than the brief snippets of Kanye’s new record, which didn’t entice me to hear more. If I’m thinking of a “perfect 10”, it has to be something like
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Primarily influenced by David Bowie’s Low with the thematic influence of The Wall, it’s not really surprising that I would love it this much. As a varied and consistent album, The Downward Spiral is stronger than anything NIN produced before or since. Over 15 years later, Trent Reznor’s breakdown album is still an absolute pleasure to hear.