The 8 Ball 06.11.12: Top 8 Bad Albums by Good Acts
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.11.2012
From Eminem's Relapse and Guns N’ Roses' "The Spaghetti Incident?" to Van Halen's Van Halen III and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 bad albums from good acts!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Ahh, bad albums. There is no prevention against it. Even the most brilliant, talented and creative musical artists in the history of popular music have put out LPs that deeply disappointed. Whether its classic bands like the Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, modern rock icons like U2 and Radiohead, rap innovators like Notorious B.I.G. and Dr. Dre or of course the pop icons, just about every great artist has tarnished their discography with a turkey of an album. Sometimes it's a concept album where the concept falls flat, while other times it is a band trying to try something new that is poorly-suited to them. Sometimes a band tries to cash in on nostalgia or tries to carry on after the departure of a core member of the group. And sometimes, all that goes wrong is that the act misfires on every level. This week I thought it would be a good chance to look at some of the worst albums ever to be released by groups and artists that I like. It pains me to criticize most of these groups, but it had to be done.
Caveat: This one's pretty self-explanatory; it had to be an album from an artist who I generally enjoy and feel has put out good work but was well below what their usual work was. That about says it all, right? It must be noted though, that this are not ranked in the order that I like the artists; instead it is in the order that I hate the album. In other words, I don't think my #1 choice is a better act than my #8 choice. Now that this is clear, let's get to it.
Just Missing The Cut
Metallica - St. Anger (2003)
Tori Amos - The Beekeeper (2005)
The Cure - Wish (1992)
#8: John Lennon - Sometime In New York City (1972)
As anyone who has seen my previous work in the Music Zone knows, I'm a big John Lennon fan. People talk about how important he was both as a Beatle and a solo artist to music and those people aren't wrong; in fact, sometimes it feels like Lennon's significance is understated by some. As much of a fan as I am of the man though, I can't pretend that everything he touched was gold. Take Sometime In New York City, for example. Lennon was riding high in his solo career on the heels of the incredibly successful (and deservedly so) albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine. Lennon and Yoko Ono moved to New York City and quickly became immersed in the political activism of Greenwich Village. With the help of local activist band Elephant's Memory, Lennon and Ono created Sometime In New York City, which is easily the worst album of his career. The whole thing comes off as incredibly pretentious, superficially addressing Lennon and Ono's political and social passions. The lead-off track and first single "Woman Is the N****r of the World," inspired by a phrase coined by Ono, is needlessly controversial and lyrically lacks any kind of the poeticism he's known for. Other tracks like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Attica State" are similarly trite, sounding more like half-assed beat poetry than it does words coming out of the voice of a generation. Lennon bounced back somewhat with Mind Games and then fully with Whatever Gets You Through the Night, but this is a definite black mark in his otherwise largely-impressive resume.
#7: Guns N' Roses – "The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993)
Also known as "Hey, remember when Guns N' Roses decided a cover album would be a good idea?" This was the last album released by the classic Guns N' Roses lineup, which may just make the fact that we can't get them back together all the more galling. Seriously, they can't have ended it like this, could they have? For years until Axl Rose's new GNR finally got Chinese Democracy, this was the last musical memory we had of the legendary 1990s band and that's a shame. Let's just start with the fact that the album name, an inside joke alluding to a food fight between Axl Rose and Steven Adler, is one of the worst album titles of all-time, right down to the quote marks and question mark. Fans had no idea what to make of this and it certainly didn't help the album's reputation. Nor did the fact that the covers album just falls completely flat musically. The covers, including mostly punk and glam rock songs like The Skyliners' "Since I Don't Have You" and The Stooges' "Raw Power," just doesn't seem inspired at all. Cover albums can be dicey propositions at best because you're performing songs that you don't have quite the connection to as you would have with your own material. In addition, fans of the original material automatically compare the songs to the original whether they want to or not. The group just doesn't have the proper tone on most of the songs and the result is generally an incredibly lackluster and mediocre affair.
#6: Van Halen - Van Halen III (1998)
Here is another terrible album that was the last we had from a band for years. After David Lee Roth's much hoped-for reunion with Van Halen in 1996 fell apart due to various issues, the band settled on Extreme frontman Gary Cherone to be the group's lead vocalist. I enjoy Extreme to a certain extent, but with all due respect to Cherone he is no David Lee Roth or Sammy Haggar and it very clearly showed on this, the one album he did with the band. This album's title referred to the fact that this was supposed to be the third incarnation of the band but weak riffs, tepid melodies and completely uninspired rhythms joined in with Cherone's attempts to mimic Haggar to create an utter disaster. This was supposed to be a new direction for the band, but it just felt like more of the same but with incredibly diminishing returns. Bassist Michael Anthony has said that Van Halen III seemed like a solo Eddie Van Halen record to him, and while it may not be entirely the case it certainly underwrites the problem with the album, which was that the band had just lost their inspiration. Their 2012 release A Different Kind of Truth isn't brilliance, but it is a welcome return to some kind of form for the band and at least washes the taste of Van Halen III out of the mouth.
#5: Eminem - Relapse (2009)
There are some who say that Eminem was on a downward slide ever since The Eminem Show. I am not one of those people; while it is admittedly true that the man's Marshall Mathers LP is still the pinnacle of his work, I thought that Eminem Show and Encore were both very good LPs. After Encore dropped in 2004, it took Em another five years before we would see his next one and in that time he took a break from his music career to focus on himself, which included rehab for sleep medication. His return to the rap scene came with 2009's Relapse, which frankly was a bit of a disaster. Anticipation for the LP was incredibly high, and yours truly was among those who were very much looking forward to seeing if he still had what it took. Right from the get go the first tracks we heard were worrying; "Crack a Bottle" was a weak track in which he relied too much on his two guests and "We Made You" sounded like he was desperately trying to force another "Just Lose It" or "The Real Slim Shady." Relapse's biggest sin is that Eminem was trying to do what he'd always done before without being in that mindset. "3 AM" isn't a bad track per se, but it is clearly an attempt to step back into the horror rap of "Kill You" or "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" without wanting to actually offend anyone like his ex-wife. The problems intensify with the non-singles; "Bagpipes from Baghdad" is an attempt to try and manufacture a feud with Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon and the Paul and Steve Berman skits reek of "been there, done it better." Luckily Eminem realized the error of his ways, and even referred to such on his 2010 LP Recovery, so he's back on top but this was just flat-out bad work.
#4: Elton John - Victim Of Love (1979)
Disco was a hard time to be a rock star. It just wasn't an era that played well with rock and roll and unless you were inventing your own genre like Black Sabbath did with metal and other groups did with post-punk, you were kind of screwed. No one illustrated that more clearly than Elton John did when he made Victim of Love in 1979. The problems with this album are many and varied, but they start off with a disco cover of "Johnny B. Goode." That's right, a disco over. That runs eight minutes long. If you haven't turned off the album at that point, you are both a strong man in mind and spirit as well as probably a bit of a masochist. But if you didn't (or were just smart and skipped ahead to the next track), you found out that the rest of the album isn't any better. Elton, who is responsible for some of the most iconic pop songs of all time, got together with Pete Bellotte--best known for Donna Summer's biggest hits--and just sang. That's right, one of the foremost song writers of pop-rock didn't write a single lyric, nor did he play a single note. He just sang. The result was absolute dreck like "Warm Love in a Cold World" and the titular track, as well as the rest of the overproduced mess of an album that just frankly makes it clear that John didn't care at this point; he just desperately needed a hit. John and Bellotte didn't even care enough to make this a full-length album; at seven songs and thirty-six minutes, it's almost EP length. That's the one saving grace though; for people trying to endure this mess, they didn't have to endure long. Thank the gods for small mercies.
#3: U2 - Zooropa & Pop (1993 & 1997)
You call it a tie or cheating; I call it one long, indistinguishable period of U2 suckage. Coming off the backs of three unbelievably successful studio albums in The Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby, Bono and company were more or less untouchable. Everything they did turned into gold and they had helped usher in a new era in rock. Then the early 1990s hit and they decided to go in a different direction, which we all suffered for, deciding that the electronica touches that worked in Achtung Baby needed to become much more prevalent. The result was Zooropa, which was so rushed into being released that it wasn't even done by the time they resumed their Zoo TV Tour. Despite a generally poor album with only a couple decent tracks, audiences and critics seemed to give them the benefit of the doubt and it was moderately well reviewed and sold decently. This is why you never encourage mediocrity, because then you get something like Pop, which came out in 1997. The album was once again rushed and wasn't finished by the time the supporting tour kicked off. The band themselves weren't happy with the result and have re-recorded and remixed several songs since the album's release. While I sympathize, I don't give them a pass. Both of these albums show what happens when you try to rush and experiment at the same time, with the results being generally disastrous. Pop was enough for me to give up on the band, at least until they went back to their roots three years later with All That You Can't Leave Behind to everyone's relief.
#2: Metallica and Lou Reed - Lulu (2011)
Come on, you had to know this one was coming. Metallica and Lou Reed are both incredibly talented acts. Putting them together should have been a work of genius. However, we got the classic lesson here that just because two great acts get together to collaborate doesn't mean the end result will be worth listening to. But come on, admit it. The warning signs were there the second we heard that it the LP would be a collection songs based on two plays written by a nineteenth-century German man. But it was just intriguing enough that it might work. Sadly, it didn't. And I mean that it really, REALLY didn't. Listen, I get what they were going for and it's great that there are like, seven people out there in the world that like this album. More power to you all. I'm firmly on the side that wonders if Metallica and Reed were just trolling their fans here. (It wouldn't be a stretch; Reed has been previously accused of such with Metal Machine Music.) I didn't love Death Magnetic myself, but it was pretty decent. Lulu, on the other hand, was one of the worst albums of the 2011...and I need to point out for perspective, 2011 was a year that included Puddle of Mudd covering freaking "Rocket Man." Ouch. This is one that didn't make me hate the metal band or Reed; sometimes you try unique stuff and it just doesn't work. So I'm looking forward to whatever else they might put out next. But you couldn't force me to listen to Lulu again.
#1: Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns (2010)
Okay people, take a breath. Look back at the caveat where I said that I don't think the #1 choice is a better band than #2 or even #8. Truth be told, Linkin Park is my least favorite band among these eight. That being said, I do enjoy them. They aren't pioneers and they aren't creating great works of musical art that will stand the test of time, but they make enjoyable music that I don't mind listening to at all. At least, they did until 2010 came along and they dropped this festering lump in public. A Thousand Suns is Linkin Park doing what U2 did with Zooropa and Pop in terms of trying a new direction. However, there are three differences. The first is that at least U2 can use the excuse of being rushed and ultimately not able to achieve exactly what they wanted; Linkin Park had their absolute vision realized here, as sad as that is. The second is that while U2's change of direction still sounded like U2, this one was so different as to be whiplash-inducing. The third is...well, A Thousand Suns is just flat-out worse. And LP knew it, too. The fact that "The Catalyst" was the first single was no accident; it is the most Linkin Park-sounding track on the album and was trying to ease people into it. But even that song is a step or two down from the band's usual work and the rest of the album is nigh-unlistenable. I've never gone from enjoying an artist's work to completely dropping them off my radar so quickly, and I'm very cautious about their upcoming album as a result of this. Hopefully they've learned their lesson, but you never know. Just in case they haven't, I certainly have.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
In honor of Liam and Noel Gallagher reportedly mending their fences and talking again, I have retired the crazy Gallagher quote of the week because...well, it just won't be as fun when they aren't smack-talking each other. So instead we bring back the Music Video A-Go-Go. This week we go with comedy, as we take a look at the Key of Awesome's parody of Maroon 5's "Payphone" focusing on the awesomeness that is Game of Thrones. There are some spoilers in here if you have not caught up through the second season, so be warned:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.