The 8 Ball 12.22.12: The Top 16 Worst Albums of 2012 (#16 – #9)
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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We come to the next stage in the Music Zone 8-Ball’s 2012 year in review this week, as we switch gears from songs to full albums. Last week we counted down the worst singles of the year and this week we continue with the bad, as a palette-cleanser before we get to the good. While 2012 has been a decent year as music goes, there was certainly no shortage of terrible LPs thrown out. Whether rock, hip-hop, pop or any other genre you can imagine, you could be guaranteed to find a musical work that fell well below even the mediocre standards of mainstream radio. This week we’re kicking off our two-week look at the worst of the year with #16 through #9. If the Mayan apocalypse came on Friday, we can at least take solace in the fact that no one else can be tortured by the albums that follow.
Caveat: All you had to do in order to qualify for this list was release an EP or LP in the year 2012 within the United States, and do a poor job at it. Pretty straight-forward.
The All-American Rejects – Kids in the Street
Our Lady Peace – Curve
Justin Bieber – Believe
Ed Sheeran – +
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
It’s difficult to be a Portlander sometimes. Don’t get me wrong; I love the fact that I was born and raised in the Rose City, and I firmly believe that it is one of the greatest cities to live in. That being said, there are some downsides. One of those is the fact that everyone seems to think that we live in Portlandia lately and, by extension, we have to love hometown groups like the Dandy Warhols. I refuse to follow that trend; outside of a rare song here and there I’ve never thought the Warhols had anything particularly interesting to offer, since they’re too busy being purposefully smarmy and ironic to focus on delivering really good music. That being said, there was a time when they would put out listenable stuff; I will admit to purposefully listening to “Bohemian Like You” and “We Used to Be Friends” forced its way into an unsteady alliance with me thanks to hearing it constantly on Veronica Mars. With This Machine, the band really shows that they have absolutely nothing interesting left to offer. Courtney Taylor-Taylor can still bring the snark, with observations like “I used to be cool” on “Enjoy Yourself,” but he does it in such a perfunctory way that you can’t even appreciate it in the way he desperately hopes that you will. The whole of This Machine is calculated and manufactured, and while that isn’t much different than many other acts out there, it tries to pretend that it’s not. You can’t have it both ways.
This is one place where I may catch some flack. Yes, I put Van Halen in the bottom sixteen and yet Justin Bieber did not. Call it an issue of expectations, or perhaps just call it what it is–while Believe may be grating, at least it satisfies its target audience. A Different Kind of Truth, Van Halen’s first album in fourteen years, fails on that respect. And I’m not even saying that I had particularly high hopes for the album. I loved Van Halen back in the day but let’s face it; it HAS in fact been fourteen years since their last album and David Lee Roth isn’t the kind of guy who gets better with age. Right off the bat the album is on the wrong foot, as Tattoo is a caustically bad song. Lee Roth meanders on about getting ink with such awkward lines as “Here’s a secret to make you think/why is the crazy stuff we never said poetry in ink?” over a song that sounds more like dated Van Halen than it does vintage Van Halen. It’s up from there for the LP, but it certainly rarely reaches any height that I would consider good; even the better songs on the album like “You and Your Blues” feel like they’re lacking in execution, as if a good idea just wasn’t gone about in the right way. I will give them credit for sounding inspired and they’re clearly enjoying what they’re doing; unlike the Warhols, this isn’t just going through the motions of what they think people want to hear. This album has garnered a fair amount of positive buzz and everyone is entitled to their own opinion; I do have to wonder if low expectations came into play because it is far from a great or even good album.
Everyone’s listened to a Train album and tapped their toe along, even if just for a moment or two. That doesn’t make the Pat Monohan-fronted outfit a good bad. That being said, they’ve been acceptable pop-rock for years and their slow slide from decent to mediocre and further down has been fairly subtle to the point that when I realized just how bad California 37 was, it was kind of jarring. The whole thing kicks off with the incredibly derivative and half-assed attempt to capture nostalgia in “This’ll Be My Year,” a song that tries to be clever but fails drastically. Among lyrics in 2012, “I stopped believin’, although ‘don’t'” ranks among the absolute worst. And that’s the song that is at least enjoyably bad. “Drive-By” provides one of the most grating pop-rock anthems of the year–“My love for you went viral,” Pat? Really? Even just writing this I find myself tempted to drop it down further just based on the lyrics. This is one of the most unholy combinations of pseudo-clever rock pretension and crass pop commercialism. Monohan Auto-Tunes his way through bland track after bland track with kitschy pop culture references until you need an Advil just to get over what you’ve been subjected to.
“Ah-ha!,” you say. “You can’t include The Wanted’s album, it was released in 2010.” Not so fast though; while the UK has been subjected to these guys as the music industry’s torture technique for a couple years, it wasn’t until this year that the band made their US debut with a self-titled EP that re-released some of the songs from The Wanted and Battleground, along with a couple of new songs. It was a way for their label to say “Hey, we want to capitalize on the last sputterings of the boy band craze before it’s too late and can’t wait for them to put out new music.” And thus mainstream US pop radio was flooded with “Glad You Came,” “All Time Low” and “Chasing the Sun” while the five-man group did their best to fly into the history books as one-half of the tail-end of the latest bubblegum pop trend. (We’ll get to the other half next week.) The only thing keeping this EP from ranking lower is the fact that as an EP it is shorter and thus ends quicker. It is exactly what you would expect from these guys; Backstreet Boys-like songs pumped up with the dance-pop beat that pervades pop music these days, but without most of the vocal talent that older boy bands have. The Wanted isn’t really a musical group any more than Milli Vanilli were; the industry has simply replaced lip synching with Auto-Tune and this is the result.
Band reunions were all the rage in 2012. Everyone from 98 Degrees and the Beach Boys to Girls Aloud, the afore-mentioned Van Halen, the Monkees, the Spice Girls and more got back together for a little nostalgia ride. And of all the bands that reformed in 2012, not a single one put out a worse album than No Doubt. With Gwen Stefani having finished up her solo career and deciding she was ready to come back after some family-raising time, the ska-pop band re-assembled and tried to recapture their old magic with Push & Shove. Unfortunately, what they (and we as listeners) found out was just how far the industry had passed them by and with nothing new to offer, the band created an LP that had one foot in their old sound and another in the current pop field. To say that the two didn’t mesh well is an understatement; the album only has brief moments where it even sounds strongly like No Doubt and many of the tracks feel like they could have been performed by any group. I give No Doubt more leeway than many do; I enjoyed swaths of both Return to Saturn and Rocksteady. But there is little for anyone who enjoyed any of the band’s work before their hiatus to enjoy on this one.
Many of you may not recognize Owl City by name, but I’m sure if I mention “Fireflies” you’ll have an immediate (and possibly repulsed) reaction. That song was one of the most irritating-yet-catchy songs of 2009 and 2010. The group is basically Adam Young’s pop version of “Nine Inch Nails” in that the band is basically just him with a group of touring members. “Fireflies” came off the album Ocean Eyes which was not a particularly good album, but not horribly bad either considering the genre. Since then his music has seen consistently diminishing returns; 2011’s All Things Bright and Beautiful was impressive only in how mediocre it was as a synthpop disc and then came The Midsummer Station, which would consider “impressively mediocre” as a compliment. Young brought in composer Emily Wright to homogenize his sound for a radio audience and produced what may be, in a market flooded with sanitary pop, the squeakiest of them all. For one of the biggest hits of the album Young collaborates with Carly Rae Jepson on “Good Time,” a song that makes “Call Me Maybe” seem like lyrical and musical genius by comparison. The other single, “Shooting Star” is one of the worst examples of overproduced and underwritten songs of the year and it doesn’t get any better with the non-single tracks. With this album Owl City officially went from one-hit wonder to pop music plague.
Was there anything worse to be inflicted on rap music this year than 2 Chainz? (The answer is yes, but more on that next week.) The man more or less came out of nowhere to explode into the hip-hop scene in the worst way…and I really do mean the WORST way. He appeared as a featured guest artist on no less than fourteen tracks this year and that’s not even getting into his own album. None of his guest appearances were particularly good and most of them were terrible; I would listen to an album full of them before I put Based On A T.R.U. Story on “Play” again though. Even the most enjoyable track, his collaboration with Kanye West on “Birthday Cake,” is enjoyable only in how bad it is. Other efforts, such as “No Lie” featuring Drake, are downright embarrassing. Chainz has no sense of passion or style to his lyrics or his flow; where at least acts like Lil Wayne can claim style over substance, Chainz sounds like the eventual progression wherein a human voice is perfectly created out of nowhere resulting in the perfect mimicry of a person without any sense of a soul. He raps with all the talent of an adult film star reading a dramatic monologue, making Based on a T.R.U. Story a miserable experience for anyone, rap fan or not.
Rihanna is such an omnipresent personality in the pop culture and music scene that any kind of criticism toward her works, whether positive or negative, is going to provoke an outcry. Between her constant presence in front of cameras and the controversy of her personal life combined with her willingness to get down and dirty as a substitute for artistic maturity, there is no way that you can safely say anything about her without someone calling you out for it. Thus, when she released Unapologetic, her seventh LP in seven years, any attempts to seriously discuss it were doomed. Part of that is because she displayed a willingness to cash in on the controversies of her personal life for professional game, both in publicity and in the content of the album. And that, along with clear creative burnout on her part, is what dooms the album itself. It is one thing to use one’s music career to explore the emotional issues of one’s past, but it is another entirely to play the media game to stir those events in one’s private life for record sales, which is what was done on the LP. Whether her duet with Chris Brown titled “Nobody’s Business” or songs where she talks about being “struck down by love,” you can’t think of her as a musical artist without thinking of the rest because she won’t let you. And even if you put all of that aside, what remains is the fact that her frenzied pace to keep hits constantly flowing has left her creatively bankrupt. Just listen to tracks like “Phresh off the Runway” or “Right Now” and you’ll see that she’s throwing everything at the wall in the hopes that something will stick. Unfortunately nothing really does, leading to the now-evident fact that it time for Rihanna to take a break, as she has clearly run out of new things to say.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
It being 12-21-12, I would be at least somewhat remiss if I didn’t make some kind of pseudo-clever attempt to comment on the end of the world that (if you are reading this) didn’t happen. So here you go with one of my favorite songs about the apocalypse, by virtue of R.E.M.:
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.