Questions about the 7 Sponge Standard of Quality
Q: Why is there a Seven-Sponge Rating System? That's a strange
number to pick!
A:Like most things in life, the answer to this is complicated.
Basically three minions debated this point and came up with the
system. Here is their discussion. It started when Tracers decided
to revise her review of Matt Suggs
after listening to the album more.
Tracers: Hey Postlibyan, knock that review down to 3.5 stars.
PostLibyan: I was reading this article on McSweeney's
about rating systems. The person in the article was debating the
merits of various systems. He did not want to rate a book 3 and
a half stars. I think he's right. we need absolute values here.
Either it's a 3 or a 4.
Tracers: I'm not sure about that -- 3 is mediocre; 4 is good. What
about something that's not really good per se, but is not "an
average album"? I like the half rating because it indicates gradiation.
PostLibyan: If it's not "good" then why isn't it average? Look,
if we really want to be wishy and washy, then we can start putting
decimal points, and well, we can rate an album "2.999999" sponges.
But that's ridiculous! Think about it, most people who look at
the review want to know really quickly where it falls -- is it
bad, average, good, or excellent. For details they read the review.
So you can either round up and then qualify in the review, or
you can round down and explain why it might be good for certain
people in the review.
Tracers: Okay then, but I still like the half rating because it indicates
PostLibyan: Using only whole sponges you have a gradation, and
granted it is a "block gradation" but there it is. The minor,
subtle points about an album are best communicated in an elaborate
description as opposed to in a numbering schema. Malimus, we appear
to have an impasse. Any opinions?
Malimus: Hrrrmmmmmm. If we all can accept the final statement
from above, namely that there are four different kinds of releases/things
in the world (bad, average, good, and excellent), then i think
we can come up with a reasonable solution. PostLibyan is a proponent
of the non-fractional grading system while TJWalden wants some
gradiant variation in the scale. Both of these functions can be
maintained with a single, 7-sponge rating system. 1 sponge = bad,
3 sponges = average, 5 sponges = good and 7 sponges = excellent.
For those in-betweeners you have the 2, 4, or 6 ratings. This
accomplishes the complexity of a Matt
Suggs-ish release which might be better than merely average
(3 sponges) but not quite good (5 sponges). But we don't have
to worry with a half-sponge icon nor do we have any fractional
in our grading system. Expanding the range from 5 to 7 gives an
extra layer of complexity, which, if we're really about honest
and truthful criticism of cultural artifacts, is probably a good
thing. Granted, most everyone else uses some variation of the
5-star system, but we don't really have to do that. Going to 10
sponges would merely rename the half-sponge increments as whole
integers, and i think that's too many sponges to be dealing with
in a single review. I like the oddness of the 7-sponge system,
myself. Or perhaps a 6-sponge system with 1-3-5 being badd-average-good
(2-4 serve as the intermediary ratings) and with 6 sponges being
reserved solely and completely for releases that, six months after
they've lost their "newness" still floor the listener/viewer.
Tracers: This I can live with. I just don't like the fact that I
have 2 ratings, then average, then good, then excellent. I like
to be able to nuance the fact that it's possible to try something
which makes it inherently different but not end up with something
good. And I've decided I like 7 -- just cause it's weird. Or is
that odd? Of course it means we have to re-do our existing reviews,
but I can live with that as well.
PostLibyan: Malimus, i think that you are missing my point here.
Basically, when you get down to it someone reading a review wants
to know, "Yes, EvilSponge tells me i SHOULD spend my money on
this" or "No, EvilSponge warns me against wasting my cash on this
tripe." Really, the only distinction we need is a purely binary
Malimus: (tsk, tsk) And thus we arrive at the root of the problem:
PostLibyan's inherit desire to write the world as a dichtomy of
1 or 0, rather than embrace the natural complexity of base reality
and it's variant dialogic nature.
PostLibyan: But Malimus, at the end, a review is binary
in a very real sense. Should you purchase or not? There is no
"purchase 3 out of 5 of the album", it's all or nothing....
Tracers: But everything isn't black and white. People only have a
finite amount of money. I recognize your point, but respectfully
disagree -- by making things so simplistic you are in essence
saying a=good, b=throw it in a blender. That's a nice way to look
at the world, perhaps, but I prefer to see my choices as which
one should I throw in a blender first? The apple, the orange,
or the grapefruit?
PostLibyan: Yes, but no amount of sponge's are going to correctly
convey the whole subtlety of "if you are a lonely, 30-year old
Cocteau Twins fan with a guitar, cats, and a beer habit, then
you will LOVE this CD; but for everyone else it is skeet". (BTW,
i estimate that we would need a 43 Sponge system to accurately
display this kind of nuance.)
Tracers: Only 43? Would the above rating constitute 26 sponges?
PostLibyan: Look, the rating system is NOT the way to convey
complexity. It is for a quick look -- "Oh, they highly rate the
Dirty Three album -- i wonder
why? I'll read the review to find out!" OR "Wow, they only give
an average rating -- i should read to find out why!"
Tracers: Exactly -- i think no-one is disagreeing on the reactions
readers will have to the ratings -- it's just how many ratings
we need to have in order to get the message across. Which review
to read first? "Hrrmmm....I see 5 reviews for bands I've heard
of....it gives the Crooked
Fingers 5 sponges, so maybe I should read that review first."
And then we can get hate mail from everyone who wanted to turn
it into skeet.
PostLibyan: Yes, and if you were really interested in using EvilSponge.org
as a filter to tell you which to buy or which to turn into skeet,
you would READ the whole review, wherein there could be a comment
like "if you are a lonely, 30-year old Cocteau Twins fan with
a guitar, cats, and a beer habit, then you will LOVE this CD;
but for everyone else it is skeet". If you just look at the numbers,
then you are going to be very disappointed -- and necessarily
so. Remember that each release is, to a certain degree, reviewed
and rated against the background of its genre. I might rate the
new Face to Face LP as a 5Sponge album, but if you don't like
Punk, then the new Face To Face isn't going to appeal to you no
matter how many sponges it's rated. You need to read the review
to see "Oh, this is a great PUNK disc. It will even appeal to
some other people, but since i only listen to alt.country, i won't
really like it!" On the other hand, when Malimus eventually writes
up his 7 sponge Praise for the new Drive By Truckers release,
it might get lotsa sponges, but that doesn't mean that Mike Ness
(or me) should go out, buy it, and expect to enjoy it. Read the
Malimus: Well, this assumes the basic idea driving the reader
is "should i buy this?" I'm not sure that's the case in all circumstances.
I, for example, often read reviews solely to decide "should i
name-drop this album in conversations and thus look spifforific
to all the little indie-rock hotties, or should i maintain an
aloof posture of casual indifference and snootiness?" Quite often
the review substitutes for the actual purchase, see.
PostLibyan: Whatever Malimus. I can't help you with picking up
chicks! However, i see the necessity for some abivalence in rating
albums: this release being more worthy than that. It just
seems that no matter what our scale, there will always be
those releases that fall in-between the integers. You just have
to take a stand and pick one! It doesn't really matter which one
you pick -- the interested parties will read the whole damn review
anyway. You should explain the rationale in the review and not
rely on the fact that this release is awarded 4 sponges "Average-Good"
rather than a 3 sponges "Average". That is my point. As to your
proposed 7-sponge rating system, i don't like this, but the masses
have spoken. Of course, perhaps we are not REALLY a democracy.
Perhaps i am just allowing you the chance to voice your opinions
and then, later, i will use my Totalitarian HTML Editing Skills
to make the grading scale go MY way.... Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! [You,
know, Stan Lee was RIGHT: power does corrupt!]
Malimus: So, are we at an agreement here? As PostLibyan has pointed
out, i have quite a few backlogged reviews to do and i'd
like to do them with whatever ratings system we're going to be
PostLibyan: We are now up to a 7-sponge Rating System:
1 = CRAP
2 = Better than crap, but still weak
3 = Average
4 = A little better than average; really for some fans only
5 = Good quality stuff
6 = Pretty damn good in fact
7 = MUST HAVE status
So there you go... if there are no disagreements i will forward
this to our "other" reviewers for thie absorption on the morrow.
The important thing is that i no longer have any "Half Brendan"
graphics running around!
Brendan: Here here!
Malimus: And in the end, isn't this the entire issue? Pragmatism,
PostLibyan: Actually, i would classify the desire to be rid of
"half sponge icons" as an aesthetic choice, not a pragmatic one.
Pragmatically, the graphic is already on the server...
Malimus: Half-sponges are ugly.
Brendan: No more ugly than those miniscule humans grawling around
on the ground, looking like the leader of The British Empire during
their fight with the Nazi's!
PostLibyan: You think babies look like Queen Elizabeth II?
Brendan: NO! Like Winston Churchill you ninny! Don't make me
PostLibyan: Sorry, Your Squishiness.