The 8 Ball 12.29.12: Top 8 Worst Albums of 2012
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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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.
Our Lady Peace – Curve
Justin Bieber – Believe
Ed Sheeran – +
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
15. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
14. Train – California 37
13. The Wanted – The Wanted
12. No Doubt – Push & Shove
11. Owl City – The Midsummer Station
10. 2 Chainz – Based on a T.R.U. Story
9. Rihanna – Unapologetic
Of all the albums I placed on my “Worst of” list for this year, this one hurts the most. I mean, it seriously cuts deep. I am a big fan of Southern Rock and grew up with a deep love for the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Simple Man,” “Gimme Two Steps,” “Freebird”…these songs are an inseparable part of the soundtrack of my youth. So when I heard that Skynyrd was releasing an album this year, their first since 2009’s Gods and Guns, I was excited. I wanted to get some good, solid classic-sounding Southern rock to listen this year. Instead, I got this album. Now, it goes without saying that Skynyrd hasn’t particularly been at the forefront of the music scene for some time. Gods and Guns hit the top 20 on the Billboard 200 but it didn’t stay there long and it was the first to have done so since the band’s infamous plane crash that claimed the lives of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve and Cassie Gaines in 1977. But barely slipping an LP into the top 15 for a mere week (like Dyin’ Breed did) is not worth what they did with their sound. Much of Dyin’ Breed just comes off as depressing. Johnny Van Zant is a capable singer and the band is all fantastic, but this album sounds like a vaguely more authentic version of what Nickelback does. Let me say that again: Lynyrd Skynyrd has turned into a Nickelback for the retro-loving crowd. Don’t believe me? Just listen to “Homegrown” above and tell me if it sounds more like the legendary act who gave us “That Smell” or the group who got booed in their hometown NFL halftime show because of songs like “Burn it to the Ground.” There are moments on Dyin’ Breed, such as on the title track or the second track “One Day at a Time,” when Skynyrd seems like it is about to break free and show us why they’re one of the icons of Southern rock. Unfortunately those moments are few and far between. Nickelback can get away with being Nickelback because no one expects better of them. Lynyrd Skynyrd doesn’t get that luxury; they’ve shown us too much to regress like this.
There are people that argue that it is completely unfair to hate on Chris Brown as an artist because of his well-known personal and legal issues. They say that his domestic assault case on Rihanna has nothing to do with his music, nor do his constant outbursts in the media or on his Twitter account that display violent anger issues, homophobia and misogyny. That is a sentiment that I agree with 100%. Unlike Rihanna, Brown doesn’t tend to bring his personal life into his music, with the exception of his appearance on “Nobody’s Business” on her album. He tries to distance himself professionally from his personal life, and so when it comes to his music I don’t take any gossip fodder into account. Then why am I ranking his album as the seventh-worst of 2012? Quite simply, because it is the worst R&B album of the year. Now, let’s be clear here; Brown has never been a musical genius by any stretch. He has a solid R&B voice that fits well on club-oriented R&B tracks. The problem comes when he buries that voice, his only asset as a musician, underneath so many layers of production that it is rendered inert. Whether you look at his singles like “Turn Up the Music” and “Don’t Wake Me Up” or album tracks like “Mirage,” Brown has never seemed more superfluous to his own music. In what world does a guy like Chris Brown feel the need to Auto-Tune his voice? And it gets worse when you consider tracks like the execrable “Bassline” in which he decides it’s more fun to sing flat-out poorly and mix it in with rap. If all of that wasn’t enough, you also have some of the worst lyrics of the year. Exhibits A, B and C: “Get butt naked to my bassline,” “Can you feel my submarine?” and “I’ve got that pillow for you, baby, right here / Can you make it disappear?” The prosecution rests.
Last week I had The Wanted at the middle of the first part of this list, calling them “one-half of the tail-end of the latest bubblegum pop trend.” This is the other–and frankly, far worse–half. At least The Wanted can approach inoffensively bad at times. One Direction, an unholy alliance of commercialism and ratings that was formed out of The X Factor UK in 2010, never even rises above ear-splittingly awful. They have half the singing skill of The Wanted and no amount of Auto-Tune can fix that fact; they are so digitally manipulated that you can actively hear it in many tracks. While Up All Night was technically first released in 2011 in the UK, it didn’t make its way to the US until March of this year and it was quickly followed up by a second studio album, Take Me Home, that hit worldwide in November. Both albums are so mind-numbingly terrible that I literally couldn’t distinguish between them and kind of consider them to be two parts of a double album straight from the fiery depths of pop hell where a red-skinned, horned Simon Cowell reigns supreme. These five guys seem very nice, but as a musical act they are completely without merit. You could have achieved the exact same result by pairing any random five good-looking UK guys together and turning the production value up to the point that tweens wouldn’t be able to realize what they’re paying for. For once I’m actually pulling for Taylor Swift to really carry through with a relationship as she’s gotten involved with Harry Styles, one of the guys in the group. My hope is that she pulls a Yoko and the most toxic British pop invasion salvo of all time breaks up.
I almost feel like hating this album doesn’t need explanation, but I’ll give it anyway. Listen, Ke$ha is what she is. I have said it before and I will say it again; I think that she is a lot smarter than she lets on. She clearly understands exactly how the music industry and pop culture works, and she is adept at playing the game. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make her music tolerable. There were songs off Animal and even Cannibal that I had very, very mild affinities for, though not enough to outweigh how much I disliked the rest of the albums. On Warrior there is no such saving grace. One of her defenders a while back claimed that there is little in the way of Auto-Tune on this album, and that is true. It doesn’t mean that she sings well; it just means that she doesn’t try and fix it up. Instead she does her irritating sing-rap over songs that are almost direct rip-offs of other songs not even a year old. Her much-discussed collaboration with Iggy Pop is a half-assed effort on both of their parts; it feels like it could have been something if they had actually tried. The rest of the album is filled with aural crimes like “Warrior” or “Die Young.” The crowning achievement of the album though–its ultimate nadir–is “Supernatural.” This is the song in which she gets down with a ghost…yes, you read that right, I’m not making it up. With an irritating, generic beat and a musical track that sounds like something akin to bees being put through a blender, she hacks up lyrics like “Come, take me in the night/I feel it in my blood/Want the darker side/Baby, when we touch/Look me in my eyes/Poison me with love/I’ll bring you back to life.” Unless I’m misinterpreting this incorrectly, she is implying that her genitals, like the mythological Black Cauldron, have abilities of resurrection. Yeah, anyone wanna question why this is on the list now? Didn’t think so.
Nicki Minaj buried the lead on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. By that I mean she starts off with what is quite possibly the second-worst track on an already-terrible album. “Roman Holiday” was debuted to the world at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in February in one of the most bizarre and awful live performances that ceremony has ever seen (and that’s saying something). The studio version isn’t quite as bad, if only because it doesn’t feature the wacky Exorcist rip-off segment. It still has Minaj rapping in a variety of terrible accents that make her borderline unintelligible for most of the track…probably a good thing, since lyrics like “Had to put the pressure to every thug I knew/Quack quack to a duck and a chicken too” are best not when not actually heard. I wish I could say it goes drastically up from that track but the truth of the matter is that while the rest of the album is indeed an improvement, that doesn’t make it anything even remotely approaching good. Minaj either alternates between her attempts to capture the breakout success of her poppy “Super Bass” with “Starships” and “Right By My Side”–both annoying in the extreme–and her bizarre attempts to channel alter ego Roman. It is a concept album in which she doesn’t commit to the concept for the full length, which even ruins any value it had on that respect. Meanwhile we have two of the worst songs of the year in “Beez in the Trap” and “Stupid Hoe,” the latter of which tops out “Holiday” for worst track on a truly awful album. Minaj has shown us that she has talent, but unfortunately nothing she did in 2012 supports that notion.
Some people were shocked when I rated Global Warming as poorly as I did upon its release in November. They said that I was taking the album too seriously and that it was a “party rap album” and that I should take it as such instead of being critical. Party rap album it may be, but it was a pretty terrible one. A single song here or there from the Miami-based rapper is perhaps acceptable when it falls along the lines of “Give Me Everything” or “Feel This Moment,” the latter of which is off this album. Hearing him do one song about being “Mr. Worldwide” and discussing all the countries he goes to and all the clubs he’s ruling is fine in radio rotation. But a full album needs to have some sort of variance and not just focus on the same story again and again. Even with that complaint aside, I don’t know anyone who can defend crap like “Don’t Stop the Party” which is a nigh-unlistenable combination of overdone club beats and lyrics so generic as to sound like they’re being repeated over and over again. Pitbull isn’t being a legitimate rapper on this track; he’s just putting a puzzle together made up of beats and themes. That’s not a song, and this isn’t an album. I don’t care how much of a club rapper you are; thinking that lines like “I want your tchu tcha tcha tchu tchu tcha/tchu tcha tcha tchu tchu tcha” add up to actual lyrics is laughable, much like most of this album.
When I did my worst songs of 2012, someone commented and said that I must not be a big fan of rap music. I would counter that no one who enjoys Something ‘Bout Kreay and the tracks contained within should be commenting on other people’s tastes in music. Relax, I’m being somewhat joking about that. You can like whatever you want to like; just don’t expect me to understand why someone would like this unlistenable LP. Kreayshawn appeal as a musical artist is baffling to me. Once you get past the “white girl rapping” aspect, there is nothing of value here. Throw any aspect of her music at me and I just can’t see anything of quality. Her nasally voice is like nails on a chalkboard and she has a lazy flow to her rhymes. Her lyrics are lazy in the extreme, coming across as little more than word salad most of the time. Some have praised the production value and I don’t get that; it sounds like bargain basement-level production which may be the intent. If their intent truly was to sound like cheap trash, then they accomplished it. Whether you’re looking at her irritating breakout hit “Gucci Gucci,” her embarrassingly bad “Breakfast” with 2 Chainz, her attempt to emulate Eminem with “Left Ey3” or any other track on this album, I don’t honestly see how you can give it a pass.
The fall of Queensryche was one of the most depressing stories of 2012 for me. A once-great band who produced some of the my favorite hard rock of the late 1980s through the early 1990s exploded this year when their lead singer, Geoff Tate, had what can only be described as a meltdown of Sheen-esque proportions. He physically fought with his bandmates, trashed an audience during a live set and not long after was fired from the group along with his wife Susan, who was acting as manager. A very ugly legal battle ensued that has still not been resolved, with both sides claiming the rights to the Queensryche name. Tate also released this album, which is not only the worst album of the year but one of the worst albums by a major artist that I have ever heard. Tate’s voice has never sounded worse than it does here; he sounds largely like a complete mockery of his earlier work. This may be why, instead of singing his way through the whole album, he turns to rap on one of the tracks. Yes, you heard that right. Geoff Tate RAPS. Or rather, he does a pale imitation of Kid Rock, right down to the “Can I get a mic check?” at one point.
And if the concept of Geoff Tate pulling his own little half-assed attempt rapcore doesn’t turn you off, don’t worry…he’s not done there. He plumps the lowest depths of music such as turning words into letters for song titles in “Say U Luv It,” in which he gets down and dirty–by which I mean, disgustingly creepy–and intones hilariously bad lyrics like “Would you like something thick?” and “Would you take my pain/Take the pain.” It is meant to be sexy; instead, it sounds like the kind of song that Buffalo Bill would write. And the rest of the album follows suit. The whole thing feels like a fifty-two minute and something-odd second attempt to troll fans. I can’t come up with any other explanation.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
One of my favorite YouTube acts is the Barely Political/Key of Awesome guys, who have been skewering pop music for quite a while now. Here they present an explanation of what’s wrong with Ke$ha more brilliantly than I ever could with their mocking of “Die Young”:
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.