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Let’s be negative – the 10 worst albums in my collection

20/10/2012

When it comes to music, I’m a really positive person. Not only do I think that all flowers deserve to bloom and thus dismiss no genres even when they do not appeal to my tastebuds (exceptfree jazz, because jesus christ free jazz), but when I happen to take a liking to an artist, it takes a lot for me to find something I’d genuinely dislike in their catalogue. This is why most of the criticism in this blog seems almost apologetic at times: when an artist I like produces weak music, it tends to result in a “meh” reaction at worst and that’s not a sentiment that really breeds hostility and critical negativity. I’m also not one to raise the alarms once an artist produces a weaker album, because these things tend to happen and there’s never a reason why they couldn’t create something better again: long discographies have an ebb and flow of quality within them. In short, peace out man, dig what you dig cause it’s all cool *peace sign*.

That said, I’m not immune to what I consider weak music and I do have the heart in me to say something is bad when something is actually bad. I’ve decided to break the flow of positivity of this blog to hop in on the caustic critic bandwagon for once and round up ten albums in my personal collection that make the bottom of the barrel and serve as the dark dredges that warn other albums that not everything deserves my love. As an additional emphasis: 1) albums, rather than collections, because I’m not sure it’s fair for a compilation that gathers early demos or ye olde early days material to really compete against weak results from fully fleshed-out bands, and 2) albums I still own, rather than random things I’ve bought on a whim that turned out to be so weak I had no desire to keep them around. So onward we go, to Flint Whinges and Complains.

10. BLUR – THE GREAT ESCAPE

Blur were (are? who knows anymore) a band who always had consistency problems: they were productive as everything, but only a couple of their albums were actually good all the way through whilst others balanced between great songs and complete filler, with some albums leaning more towards the one end or the other. The Great Escape is one of the ones where that balance tipped over towards the weaker side of things. It’s an album that feels forced and soulless throughout – a quick follow-up to the super success of Parklife, recorded by a band who weren’t sure what they were doing and whose hearts weren’t into what they were pushing out. It’s less of a bad album as it is completely forgettable, a collection of sketches, throwaway filler and some promising ideas pushed out way too early into the world. It has “The Universal” which is a bonafide Blur classic and deservedly so, but beyond that it’s genuinely hard to find anything of actual value, with the opener “Stereotypes” being one of the few other songs with some sort of idea going on behind it, however flimsy it is. It’s an album that no one working on it seemingly gave a crap about and the result is something weak enough to actually push the band towards reinventing themselves. And on top of it all, it has “Country House” which is an infuriatingly braindead song right from its cacophonic clatter of an intro – and a hit single that now haunts every gig and every compilation in the future.

9. SUEDE – DOG MAN STAR

Yes, that’s the sacred and revered Dog Man Star as the ninth weakest album in my collection. And yes I own all the other Suede albums as well. I can’t help it – I’ve never understood what people see in this absolute mess of an album. I generally have very mixed feelings about Suede, but Dog Man Star has never been a favourite under my eyes even back when I actually really loved Suede. It’s a cringeworthy, overly melodramatic, painfully over the top mess that is completely in love with itself and believes it’s working under the guidance of some great vision, never understanding just how delusional it is. People praise Bernard Butler as some sort of great visionary who’s decision to leave was the beginning of the end for Suede, but to me it’s the exact opposite: hearsay has it Butler originally wanted the painfully overlong, tedious and tripe “The Asphalt World” to be even longer than its final completely unnecessary nine minutes, and if that’s not a clear sign that Suede were better off without him, I don’t know what is. The saddest thing is, it’s the home of “The Wild Ones” and “We Are the Pigs”: the former is one of Suede’s few great ballads and the latter is one of the band’s best songs period. They deserve a better place to live in than the cringe-enducing mess of an album like this.

8. THE CRANBERRIES – TO THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED

I love “Zombie” as much as anyone else but by god did we make a mistake by publicly showing our love and turning it into a huge hit. This seemed to inspire The Cranberries to drive their car right into a wall with the following To the Faithful Departed. The band ended up turning Zombie’s powerchord-laden rock direction as their main style, which is fine in small doses but considering this is a band who are at their element with sugar-sweet, melodic jangle rock, it was never going to be a direction that would work for them. Worse than that though is Dolores O’Riordan suddenly deciding that Zombie’s anti-war statement was the way to go and that she was going to be the spokeswoman of the generation, tackling serious issues and speaking her mind about them. This was a bad, bad, bad decision because O’Riordan isn’t the greatest lyricist, to put it kindly. You can marvel at eg the anti-drug message of Salvation or the absolute nadir of lyricism that is I Just Shot John Lennon for why this is the case. The result is a near-embarrasingly cringy album where the band run out of ideas by the third song and the vocalist arms herself with lyrics so bad it’s actually a bit painful to go through. It’s an album borne out of good intentions, but which came out completely wrong. On the bright side the beforementioned “Salvation”, bad lyrics and terrible video and all, is a genuinely fun rocker.

7. U2 – HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB

Regarding U2, I’m one of those people who stand between the border of the two sides of the “best band ever/worst band ever” civil war. I can easily see both why their fans adore them and their detractors loathe them, and my general attitude is that for all their bad sides they’ve done enough great songs to have a place within my realm. If you were to look at their 00s works only though, you’d be pondering why – after being a great singles band in the 80s and growing into a surprising and rather good albums band in the 90s, the new millennium has turned them from a once reliable entity into a somewhat questionable act that doesn’t really seem to know what they’re doing anymore. Every now and then they produce a great song but the albums leave a lot to be desired for and sometimes are actually a bit baffling. “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”, most so. It’s really quite weird how a band who had a drive to change and do the unexpected for so long could sound so stuck in a rut. Atomic Bomb is the very definition of dad rock or a mid life crisis album, an album that tries to hard to sound all youthful and energetic and ROCK AND ROLL but ends up being a pale imitation of whatever it tried to imitate. It has no life or imagination to it, the entire band sound like they’re completely out of inspiration and simply churn out old and tired U2-isms to try and cover it. It’s so sapped out of any blood beating through its veins it’s actually a hard album to listen through, at best boring and at worst a chore (admittedly I have a soft spot of sorts for “Vertigo” but that’s in spite of itself). The best thing in the album is how my used copy actually smells unpleasant, like a literal representation of how the album stinks.

6.THE ARK – IN FULL REGALIA

Even though it’s around halfway through the list, this is probably the greatest personal disappointment for me in this list: an album so disappointing I was actually somewhat relieved when The Ark announced sometime after its release they were quitting. Who could have blamed them – In Full Regalia is such an antithesis of everything The Ark was that it was clear they couldn’t continue after it. The first two Ark albums are brilliant showcases of amazing music, amazing performance and amazing lyrics and while the subsequent two albums had a decline to them, they still had an element of all that greatness to them even if they rarely reached the old levels. In Full Regalia has none of it: the once colourful vibrancy and wildness that beat in The Ark’s heart have been switched to gray, dull music devoid of anything that ever made me excited about them. Ola Salo is a fantastic frontman as ever and it’s his performance that offers the sole saving grace of In Full Regalia, but when his lyrics have devolved into sweet nothings and the music has lost its edge, his singing does little to save the ship. Unlike most of the entries in this list, the weak quality of In Full Regalia doesn’t make me bored or annoyed, it makes me disappointed because of how little it sounds like the band that used to be so much.

5. BECK – MELLOW GOLD

Short and snappy: “Loser” and absolutely sod all else. Beck is much like Blur in the sense that his wild productivity only occasionally results in solid albums, but there’s a far wider gap between Beck’s best and worst, and this is because Beck seems to often think of a sound first and song second. He’s a very production-driven artist, famous for his chameleon-esque dabbling in numerous styles and often making those sound changes the main point of his albums.  Mellow Gold is precisely that, an album based on the idea of mixing Beck’s early alt folk ramblings with hip hop beats where it seemed to be more important for the sound to be point on than the songs. “Loser” is fantastic but it’s a complete fluke: the rest of Mellow Gold is dull and dreary. In another world this would have become one of those famous one hit wonder albums alongside the likes of Babylon Zoo’s debut, but in the one we inhabit Beck lucked out and struck gold later on.

4. CMX – KOLMIKÄRKI

This is one I’ll chalk up entirely on the genre the album represents and my tastebuds clashing: the general consensus seems to be that if you’re into hardcore punk, this isn’t actually that bad of an album. I, unfortunately, am not a huge fan of said genre and the reason I love CMX is because of their later works, from the 90s alt rock to the 00s prog rock tendencies.  Kolmikärki, simply put, gives me absolutely nothing to enjoy. The production is bad, the songs are weak, the genre’s not really to my liking anyway and none of it has absolutely anything to do with the band I love. Of all the entries in this list, this is probably here for the unfairest of reasons. As such, I have little of anything meaningful to even say about it.

3. THE SMASHING PUMPKINS – ZEITGEIST

It’s not that Corgan decided to resurrect the Pumpkins name to start a new chapter in his life that bothers me. Quite frankly, the whole “does he have the right to use the name or not all by himself” matter is so multi-faceted and arguable that even I do not know where I stand on that. I think my main annoyance in that respect is how the Pumpkins ended with such a stylish, classy and most of all final way that coming back really feels awkward. But what actually bothers me is that Corgan decided to bring back the Pumpkins name only to completely tarnish it. His more recent material under the name has been a bit more enjoyable, even if not very Pumpkins-esque in nature, but starting this new chapter with Zeitgeist felt like him effectively taking a crap on the band’s legacy. There’s very little that is even remotely good in Zeitgeist and it even feels like it actively takes the piss out of the Pumpkins to an extent. It’s a badly produced album that thinks the only thing you need for a song is eleventy billion layers of generic chugga-chugga guitar riffs. It’s one thing that Zeitgeist bares barely anything in common with The Smashing Pumpkins and Corgan seems to have forgotten the entire reason why they were great, but the fact that the material itself is so weak is the real killing blow. Strip away the Pumpkins connections and Zeitgeist is still a really, really crap album by itself. It’s mindblowinly tepid, utterly tiresome and infuriatingly boring. If Smashing Pumpkins were always effectively Corgan’s band, that’s cool. But when Corgan himself sounds far off from Corgan’s own talents and instead creates music more in line with a teenager’s tribute band, you’re bound to have problems.

2 + 1. – JOHN FRUSCIANTE – NIANDRA LADES AND USUALLY JUST A T-SHIRT / SMILE FROM THE STREETS YOU HOLD

Indeed, both top slots are held by not only the same artist, but by subsequent releases from the same period. My past writings may have revealed that I hold Frusciante quite high in my rankings; he’s an artist I have immense love for and whose talent in both Red Hot Chili Peppers and his solo career has produced a number of albums I hold close to my heart. What all those releases have in common is that they’re from the John Frusciante who cleaned out of drugs and in the process found a whole new realm of inspiration. There’s also the John Frusciante who first joined RHCP and worked with the rather good Mother’s Milk and rather fantastic Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Between those two periods is a Frusciante who had quit the band, become a recluse and spent his days doing drugs, nearly dying in the process. A Frusciante who was a shadow of a human being, a man whose body and mind were completely destroyed and who barely held on to life. That’s the period these two albums, his first two solo albums, cover. They were largely released not because of artistic reasons, but so John could get some more money for drugs. This… isn’t a good starting point for music.

Niandra LaDes and Smile are kindred albums that largely operate under the same rules but with some major distinctions. Niandra LaDes is from a period when John still had some of his old self left: it actually tries to make some sort of musical statements and tries to be an album which has a reason to exist. The sad thing is that tries but its creator is far from being in a good enough shape to actually do it. At best, Niandra Lades’ stripped down, lo-fi guitar rambling (and I use the word ‘rambling’ for a reason) results in boring faffling about; at worst, it sounds like a tortured man hitting his guitar at random and wailing whatever comes to mind, in the worst possible way you could imagine. Or the second worst, because Smiles falls completely down that hole. It’s a dark, tortured album that’s less of a musical statement and more a snapshot of a drug victim desperately trying to do something. It’s a genuinely painful album to go through because Frusciante sounds like he’s in pain and barely conscious every single second of it. It’s haunting in a really off-setting way. And, bluntly stated, it’s really bad musically with songs barely making any sense. Here and there you’ve got an element of a structure and notion of an actual song trying to push out but the results always feel stillborn.

These albums do have a fandom of some sorts but I’ve never been able to find any light from them. At times they’re too painful to actually take in and when that’s not the case… the music is shit. It’s not the work of a creative mind, it’s the work of someone who can’t think straight. Part of me wishes they didn’t exist at all because they’re such a dark patch on an otherwise fantastic career – a career helmed by a man who’s more or less living a second life, with no attachments to these two albums. I’m glad I own them for the sake of completionism but it’s one part of my collection where I’ve given up all hope and actively avoid.

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