published: July 21, 2012
Rule #2: The bands below are great but the albums listed were letdowns. They were either an unsuccessful change in direction, a lost chance to rule the world or simply a drop in quality when compared to prior works. Some of our favorite bands and artists are listed below but as we all know, those that we love hurt us the most. These albums were, well, a little painful.
Rule #3: Want to add to the list?? Use the comments at the bottom – would love to hear about them.
10. Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist (2007)
One of the best bands of the 90’s (did any other band have a better string of records from 1991-98?) has the dubious honor of being on this list twice. Where Billy Corgan’s Zwan project and solo effort was unable to fully win the hearts of Pumpkins’ fans, it at least made up for with daring intrigue and unpredictability. As Billy stretched his arms for those 6-7 years and got his New Order songs out of his system (The Future Embrace) we were curiuos to see him put on his Pumpkins mask again. Enlisting Jimmy Chamberlain was a great step but the unsurprising losses of both James Iha and D’arcy helped make this music so punishing and one-dimensional that it caused you to seek a brick wall for your head. This album is Billy Corgan overload. Where classic albums like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness had valuable (if not limited) input from the other original band members, this one became a headache quickly and morphed into a migraine an hour later. One classic tune (‘That’s the Way My Love Is’) surrounded by some of the worst Pumpkins songs to date – and even those bad songs were spread apart several release points (Best Buy releases had some unique tracks, iTunes had unique tracks, etc). A case study in frustration for fans. Not only did you have to search hard to gather all the songs, your reward was a head-shaking admission that the former Pumpkins these were not. We weren’t expecting old-school greatness but we were expecting something much better than this.
9. Coldplay – Xylo Myloto (2011)
Coldplay follows up arguably their best album, Viva La Vida, with their strangest and most disappointing effort to date. For Xylo Myloto, sometimes it just doesn’t work to be eccentric and strange for the sake of being eccentric and strange. Album titles that make no sense and Saturday Night Live appearances that borderline on staged seizures are a dramatic turn for the worst in a career that needs to exude confidence and coolness more than eccentricity. This is when credibility starts to become a sad parody. Clearly trying to evoke the superior but odd skills of some of their more talented modern day peers, Coldplay releases a potpourri of pop glam that is just too much schlock. A sing-a-long here, a nice hook there, but in the end it says nothing and does less. Where Viva La Vida opened the door for us to peek at Coldplay and realize that they could be both odd and good, Xylo Myloto is a wasted experiment of taking it to an opposite extreme. The faithful will still follow them but this album is in need of a rush of pain killers to the head.
8. R.E.M. – Monster – (1994)
While not nearly as bad as U2’s misstep with Zooropa, Monster was a true attempt at a change in direction (and significantly so) from the alt-acoustic country rock of this album’s blockbuster predecessors: Out of Time and Automatic For the People. The final two song sequence from Automatic For the People (‘Nightswimming’ and ‘Find the River’) remain forever etched among the greatest of the all-time best one-two punches for wrapping up a masterpiece album. It was stunning. Those final 10 minutes of Automatic became their ‘A Day In the Life’. Invigorated to amp up the sound and abandon the acoustic guitar and simply rock, Monster was R.E.M.’s answer. But an answer to what? A great opening song (“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”) and a few decent tracks spread out the remainder of the album was like taking a sharp pencil to a gun fight when compared to their previous two albums. R.E.M. daringly changed direction here but we were left slightly exasperated with the results. We knew they knew how to rock long before this. We didn’t proof from Monster. They had us in the palm of their hands but let it slip away. Like Zooropa did to U2, R.E.M. would never again regain that magic they had prior to Monster.
7. Smashing Pumpkins – Machina (2000)
The return of Jimmy Chamberlain and a promise of a return to the old Pumpkins sound after the beautiful but very diverse (and divisive) Adore album was a promising recipe for something special. But it wasn’t truly meant to be. A few fans love it, most don’t. Overproduced with layer on top of layer it was a wall of sound noise festival, but not in the cool My Bloody Valentine sort of way. Gone were the beautiful guitars of Siamese Dream and Melon Collie. Instead we get deeply buried, beautiful melodies stored below a crushing onslaught of guitar, keyboard and – well, just sound. Nobody in the Pumpkins sounds particularly great on this album. While still being a very decent album it became their first eye sore in their outstanding catalog. A disappointment that was quickly wiped away with the internet-only bootleg release of the far more eclectic and interesting Machina II. But Machina is still a bummer of sorts. The Pumpkins broke up after this album and for some reason this album helped lessen that pain (just a little) and for all the wrong reasons.
6. Prince – Batman – (1989)
Long before Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, et al., the Batman remake phenomenon ruled the day in 1989. No movie was more heavily anticipated that year – complete with rock and pop’s own alter-ego icon (Prince) filling the role perfectly to create the soundtrack. But all good things must come to an end, and for Prince, this was really the beginning of that long road. Despite a horrifically received movie (Under The Cherry Moon) that followed Purple Rain in 1986, Prince’s album output was pure pop genius from 1980 until 1988. A decline in Prince’s record sales in 1988 turned the Batman soundtrack into a comeback of sorts for Prince. Everyone wanted to buy it. The album reached #1 but the song quality drop-off for the purple hero was mind-wrenching. Simply compare the opening single ‘Batdance’ to the opening singles ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Kiss’ from Purple Rain and Parade, respectively, and no further evidence is needed. The rest of the album only got worse for Prince regrettably on an album that had more hype than any Prince release before and after. An unexpected dud from an artist that dominated an entire decade. Perhaps it was just too much as Prince released an album every year in the 1980’s except for 1983 (so he could make the movie Purple Rain). He should have skipped 1989 too. Sigh.
5. Pink Floyd – The Final Cut (1983)
Everyone knows now this should not have been a Pink Floyd album. It’s a Roger Waters solo album from front to back with David Gilmour and Nick Mason simply guesting. We didn’t know that fact back then (it was 1983 after all) but we know it now and have for a long time. In the early 80’s, Pink Floyd hated each other and by 1983 they couldn’t work together. Where 1980’s The Wall was met with huge success and cult status due to ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2’, The Final Cut became Water’s ego-centric farewell. A plotline that began with The Wall (which was Waters’ concept) found fruition with The Final Cut. What it didn’t find were great songs. A bummer for Floyd fans as one of the most interesting, stunningly innovative and successful bands of the 70’s died a quiet death – only to be unnecessarily (if not successfully) resuscitated twice by David Gilmour later in 1987 and 1994. For a band that had talent that was rivaled only by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, the Floyd ended their career with a sad thud, where as those Beatles ended it gloriously with Abbey Road.
4. Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)
A 5-year gap following the biggest LP of our time was simply too long. If you didn’t live through the Thriller experience of 1983 (the year it peaked) then you’ve never seen a more singular focused level of stardom such as what Michael Jackson owned over this planet. Only the Beatles, Jesus and Elvis could compare, and nothing since. Not Bieber. Not Britney. Not Cobain. Nobody has ever come close. By the time Bad was released in 1987 Michael had fallen back into the shadows thanks to three worthy counterparts: Prince, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. Couple that with a mediocre Jacksons brothers reunion album and tour, and the fervor for the release of Bad wasn’t what it would have been in say, 1985. The slick, glossy pop tunes – produced again by Quincy Jones were merely paint-by-numbers hits with Jackson’s stunning voice. The title track didn’t hold a candle to ‘Billie Jean’ and the videos were those of a man trying to top something (Thriller) that couldn’t be topped. Despite its big sales, it was the beginning of a 20+ year decline for the King of Pop. Everyone likes this album, but it’s hard to love it. Following up Thriller had its own curse, and this album was symptom #1.
3. Oasis – Be Here Now (1997)
We don’t need to even write this one – Noel Gallagher has done it for us. Taken from his interview with Chuck Klosterman of Grantland, Noel sums it up very well (like he always does):
“At the time, I was taking a lot of fucking drugs, so I didn’t give a fuck,” Gallagher says. “We were taking all the cocaine we could possibly find. But it wasn’t like a seedy situation. We were at work. We weren’t passed out on the floor with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. We were partying while we were working. And when that record was finished, I took it back to my house and listened to it when there wasn’t a party happening and I wasn’t out of my mind on cocaine. And my reaction was: ‘This is fucking long.’ I didn’t realize how long it was. It’s a long fucking record. And then I looked at the artwork, and it had all the song titles with all the times for each track, and none of them seemed to be under six minutes. So then I was like, ‘Fucking hell. What’s going on there?’ But you know, those were just the songs I wrote, and we recorded them to the best of our abilities. When we had recorded (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, nobody from the label bothered us, and we hatched the Golden Egg. So the label was like, ‘Don’t bother those guys. They’re geniuses. Just let them do what they want.’ The producer was really just the recording engineer. There was nobody around to say, ‘These songs are too long.’ It was a good wake-up call, to be honest. I really wonder what would have happened if Be Here Now had sold like Morning Glory. What would we have done the next time? Just imagine if that album had sold 30 million copies. I probably would have grown a mustache and started wearing a fucking cape.”
And Noel is right. This record of bombast single-handedly destroyed the growing myth about Oasis and the band never caught up again. Every subsequent album after Be Here Now would be called “Oasis’s best work since Wonderwall”, but none of it really was. Quite a shame honestly because hidden in the albums following Be Here Now and the even worse Standing on the Shoulders of Giants was some tremendous material, but by then no one (fans and critics alike) really gave a shit like they should have.
2. Pearl Jam – Vs (1993)
Pearl Jam’s greatness is without question. But as is the case with everything Pearl Jam has recorded, said and released since their fist-pumping, grunge epic debut Ten, they really don’t give a fuck what you expect from them. This album’s switch to an alt-punk style was rather stunning to the grunge crowd that adored them and a whiplash change from the musical style they were integral in creating. While we can only praise their attempts at changing styles and alienating anyone with a preconceived notion about them musically, the songs were hard to love. And so was Eddie Vedder. The passion and heart is there but the appeal is not. For every fan that Ten created, Vs took three of them away. Another band with a chance to become rulers of the world, they opted away from success. That deserves full props for its daring motivation – we just wish the albums would have been a little better. Vs was a painful, head-scratching listen on the heels of the uncompromising juggernaut before it.
1. U2 – Zooropa (1993)
A rapid-fire release hot off the heels of the masterpiece Achtung Baby. Zooropa should have been a free handout to those that attended the Zoo TV tour. Evertything about this album exudes laziness, or perhaps just hastiness and the feeling of being rushed. You listen to it and you sense that creatively speaking U2 only put 10% into this album after putting 110% in Achtung Baby. Zooropa was resented as new material even though it was little more than B-side throwaways. It’s an embarrassing glitch on an otherwise pristine catalog up until that point. What was marketed as a new U2 album quickly went back down the charts (and with critics) faster than the plunger in your toilet. One lovely song (‘Stay’) a great album this does not make. At a time when U2 and R.E.M. were ruling the pop/rock/alt-indie world this clunker was rather devastating. Aside from a snazzy iPod commercial a decade later U2 never recovered from this serious misstep. Not even close. They went from ruling the world to becoming just another above-average part of it.
referenced article above: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6937414/noel-gallagher-oasis