“Reviewers who talk about notes…”

I have read some posts or reviews that contain this statement or a similar one, and not in a positive way. That is, the person is registering a dislike of reviews in which the author discusses the listed notes, but doesn’t seem to really know much about the scent in question. In some cases it seems to be that a “shill” is at work, because he or she will say something like, “the Calabrian bergamot is especially charming.” Such people sound like those who have never actually worn the scent in question, but who have imagined that it is wonderful because their paychecks depend upon it. Sometimes they sound like people who don’t wear scents at all !

On the other hand, there are some reviews that do not sound like shills, but more likely newbies. In some cases, it sounds like they are trying to convince themselves that they smell all the notes listed. In still other cases, it seems like the person liked or disliked the scent and talks about the notes because he or she is seeking an explanation for his assessment, which could be as simple such as, “I don’t like lavender.” Also, the person might want to make his or her review look like it is thorough, but doesn’t have much to say, and so talking about the notes in a superficial way seems like their solution (in terms of how the review appears).

What do I seek in a review? The first thing is to get a sense of how much emphasis is placed on fleeting top notes. This is a phrase I intend to use from now on, in order to distinguish those notes that are strong at first but only last several minutes, at most. If the top note is not fleeting, then I would say that it is part of the “opening” of the scent. With most scents, beyond the opening is what I call the drydown (and in some cases the “far drydown” is quite different), the point being that I try to get a sense of how the reviewer perceives the scent’s development. In some cases he or she only seems able to detect the fleeting top notes and/or opening, and is clueless about the drydown.

Another thing I look for early in the review is a sense of how “tight” the scent is. In some cases, the notes are quite obvious, whereas in other cases the notes are sort of massed together. One example of the latter case is Romance for Men by Ralph Lauren. This does not mean that I can’t “loosen it up” after several wearings, but I generally don’t want to bother with these kinds of scents, unless it’s got something special to offer. Romance supposedly has pistachio leaf, though I have yet to clearly experience it, as well as pine in the base, which is not that common, at least with the strength it’s got in this scent. Since I am always interested in a scent that has a strong but not irritating pine note, I’d be curious to sample this one, despite the rather poor reviews online (I may write up a review of it within the next month or so).

“Naturalness” is something that is very important to me, but it seems that unless the scent is a terrible “chemical soup,” impressions can vary greatly, and my perception of this quality certainly has changed over the last several years. Therefore, I don’t concern myself too much with this claim in reviews (and with a strong oud note there likely will be claims about how “synthetic” it smells). I’m more interested in the strength and quality of the notes. For example, while I am generally interested interested in scents with clear pine notes, and would like to try Norne by Slumberhouse, there are a few reviews that suggest there is a strong eucalyptus-like or camphorour quality, and so I would not spend any money on even a sample of it, because I seem to be very sensitive to that quality, and dislike it intensely (unless it is very weak).

As to the quality of a specific note, there are leather scents. What I’ve found is that there is a kind of burnt wood leather, a soft leather, a “hard,” sort of dried-out leather (English Leather is an example), and a kind of fresh, newly created leather (such as you find in Cereus #7). I’m not a fan of the first, but if it is used to play off other notes I might enjoy it. The second type is my favorite, and is common in vintage scents (Gomma is an example). The last kind is one that generally don’t find that interesting, because it seems to either “take center stage,” and in some cases after doing so it soon departs and becomes no more than a kind of background hum. In any of these cases, I want to know what the other strong notes are. For example, I’m not a huge fan of floral leathers – those two elements don’t seem to work well together, at least for me.

Perhaps the most important element that usually gets little or no attention is the texture, which I find rather strange. For example, if a scent lists amber, this can have a syrupy quality or it can be combined with something like a wood note, and that can have an entirely different texture (much “harder”). If a scent goes too far in one textural direction, there is usually a loss of dynamism, and since dynamism is very important to my enjoyment of most scents, I hope to get a sense of this quality when I read reviews. It is perhaps most important to know about texture if there are strong Wood notes, I think because the more texture the note has, the more dynamic it is, that is, the better it plays off other notes.

Sweetness, or lack thereof, it important to me, but the thing about it is that the other notes seems to play a significant role in determining how the sweetness is perceived. With A*Men, for example, the tar note seems to distract some of us from sensing how sweet it is. Thus, it may be more a matter of how much of an emphasis is placed on the sweetness (or dryness) rather how much ethyl maltol, for instance, is used. Getting a sense of these things seems to help quite a bit, but a major concern of mine is the lack of depth in recent releases, including niche, so for the most part I just assume thee will not be as much depth as I’d like. Richness is common in recent niche scents (and a smaller percentage of designer ones), so that is something I think about when reading reviews about those scents.

Lastly, a few reviewers seem to know quite a bit about some of the aroma chemicals often used in these concoctions. So, if someone states that an awful lot of dihydromyrcenol was used in a particular scent, I would be a lot less interested in sampling it than I otherwise might be. I don’t mind this aroma chemical in small amounts, but in some scents it just seems to take over completely, creating a sort of irritating chemical haze. A Basenotes.net member named Dullah seems to be good at identifying these chemicals, yet even if such a reviewer is very good at identifying when a certain aroma chemical is used in large amounts, tastes can differ. For example, he prefers Cereus #4 to Cereus #7, apparently because he really dislikes the chemical used for the violet note in #7. I don’t mind that usage but in #4 there is a chemical used for the papyrus note that really irritates me (see my last note for more on this subject). Lately, I’ve been layering an older scent that seems highly natural with a new one that has a bit too much of an aroma chemical, to see if I can somewhat tame certain chemicals. I intend to write up a blog post about these experiences at some point.

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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

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