Weekly 40-Watt #5: Coining the "replayability quotient"

Weekly 40-Watt is a feature where I listen to an album or band, new or old, for the first time and jot down some notes on it.

I’m not writing about a band or artist for the first time this week, but instead dedicating this installment of my weekly music blog to a term that I used last week in my post about AM Taxi’s Shiver By Me. The term is replayability quotient, and after a quick Google search I’ve decided that I invented it.

Going back to when I wrote reviews on AbsolutePunk.net, at some point I started attempting to factor in a record’s long-term value into my “critiques.” I remember prioritizing this at the time as a way of policing myself into giving fewer albums really high scores. AP.net was known for reviewer ratings that tended to skew high, and I was especially guilty of that, especially early on in my album-reviewing time. When you write those reviews, especially if you’re writing about a release that is not highly anticipated, it’s tempting to give something you like a pretty high score so that people who are skimming through will notice it and potentially become intrigued. I was really fallible in that regard when I was younger.

As I spent less time writing album reviews and less time caring how many people read them, my ratings started to skew a bit lower and become a bit more logical — at least, more logical to me. I started focusing more on whether I could see myself listening to this album in 5, 10, 20 years and less on how much I liked it in the moment, especially as a deciding factor on whether something was worthy of a 6 or a 7 or an 8 out of 10. This is all kinda irrelevant now, but it helps illustrate where my head was at when I started thinking more about a record’s replayability however many years ago.

here is the math you do when you’re trying to figure out what score to assign an album you just reviewed.

here is the math you do when you’re trying to figure out what score to assign an album you just reviewed.

Now being quite a bit older, I can look back and realize how few albums actually stay with me for 5+ years. Replayability is an elusive quality in an album, and it comes in different flavors. So a record’s replayability quotient should investigate the more intricate ways in which an album can present itself to listeners throughout its lifetime; for albums that have been out a good while, you can think about this based on personal experience, but for new albums, I suppose it’s a bit of guesswork.

I’ve chosen to divide the replayability quotient into a few sub-categories. Since I’ve decided that I invented this term, I also decided that I’m going to let myself nerd out about it.

  • Spontaneous replayability

  • Long-term replayability

  • Seasonal replayability

  • Physical or emotional replayability

We can dissect these pretty quick. First off, it’s important to note that any given album has some measure of all these characteristics. An album with a really high overall replayability quotient would probably score decently highly in all four of these sub-categories.

Spontaneous replayability would refer to how an album can be sort of addictive in the moment. This could be something that you obsess over for a short time, or find yourself playing really regularly over the course of a couple few months. This is where AM Taxi’s Shiver By Me would shine, I think. It’s maybe the most fleeting type of replayability, and I chose “spontaneous” instead of “short-term” because I think this can be more accurately applied over indefinite stretches of time. Like, I’ve been listening to Green Day’s Dookie a ton over the past few weeks, but I hadn’t necessarily listened to Dookie all the way through at all over the previous year. An album with a high spontaneous replayability score is one that you can “binge” on right when it’s released, or randomly at any point in the future.

(P.S., I don’t mean to imply that Dookie is strongest in spontaneous replayability over these other categories.)

Long-term replayability is as straightforward as it sounds. An album with a high score in this sub-category should be one that you can pick up and spin once or twice on any given day regardless of how long ago the album was released. This is probably the most difficult category to score highly in, since an album has to be extremely well-rounded and great overall to merit a “random listen” over music that is newer or more attuned to your current tastes in the moment. My default example for this would be Springsteen’s Born to Run — I can listen to that album in full any time at all, nearly regardless of circumstance.

Seasonal replayability is also fairly straightforward. Some records are just great when they’re accompanied by certain weather or annual events. Christmas music is an easy example here, or “spooky” music around Halloween. Even something as relatively minor as listening to Thursday’s “Jet Black New Year” on New Year’s Eve would count. Albums that you tend to gravitate toward when it’s fall and the weather is getting cooler (generally speaking, “indie rock” for me), or when it’s winter and it’s bitter cold (I lean toward heavier music, older hip-hop and instrumental music of all types), or when it’s summer and it’s sweltering (pop-punk, top 40 pop, and fast-tempo / catchy hip-hop here).

The Horrible Crowes’ Elsie is a great example of this in the fall (there are a lot of fall albums that fit the bill; here’s an old podcast episode where I talked with Jason Tate about this topic), while Direct Hit!’s Wasted Mind filled the summers of 2017 and 2018 for me. One album that breaks the mold a bit is The Wonder Years' Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing being really great cold-weather pop-punk.

Lastly, physical or emotional replayability is a sub-category that can cover a lot of ground. This can include albums that you listen to when you’re happy or sad; on a more specific note, perhaps there is an album that you listen to on every annual passing of a specific event, like a wedding anniversary or the death of a loved one. That covers the emotional ground — the physical ground is covered in a more literal sense. Albums that you find yourself listening to when you’re driving your car with the windows down, for a cliché. Or when you’re at the beach, or when you’re hiking through some forest, or when you’re with family at a regular reunion, etc. My opportunities to go to the beach are irregular enough that I find myself seeking out Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue nearly every time.

All of these factors would be considered when evaluating an album’s overall replayability quotient. Now that I’ve given this some more thought, I would expand on what I said last week about AM Taxi’s Shiver By Me. I wrote last week: “But this new album carries things forward in a solid way, and offers a good replayability quotient especially as the weather starts to warm up.” Since I think that Shiver By Me is going to get a lot of action in the first few months of its release, and since I could see myself revisiting it in spurts down the road, and since I’d see myself most likely doing that in warmer months, I’d probably score it most highly on the spontaneous and seasonal categories when considering the overall replayability quotient.

So, in conclusion, there’s that. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk about this phrase I made up.