Friday, August 31, 2012

DANCIN' IN THE RUINS: Forty lousy albums by forty great artists.

Sorry, slideshow. A few may merit particular discussion:

Prince - Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic
The Clash - Cut the Crap
Liz Phair - Liz Phair
Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan - Dylan and the Dead
Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks - Everybody’s Rockin
Pink Floyd - The Final Cut
R.E.M. - Monster
Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
The Rolling Stones - Dirty Work


  1. bristlesage10:03 AM

    Man, I love Monster.  Part of that is that I'm the exact right age to love it (and that I went to see that ill-fated tour), but a bigger part is that I think it's really good.  You'll have to pry "Strange Currencies" and "Crush with Eyeliner" from my cold dead hands.

  2. The Pathetic Earthling10:07 AM

    I actually take great exception to including The Final Cut on this list.  It's a lovely themidor to "The Wall." Instead of raging against the world, it seems a final effort to accept -- if not finally understand -- the death of his father.  Also, after this, he never produced anything else of note.

  3. I'll argue that Liz Phair is not so much bad as different from her prior work.  If you liked her prior stuff, you won't like this, but the Matrix songs in particular are unduly catchy.  (Much the same can be said about Monster, though Monster wasn't as much a naked cash-in effort.)

    Working On A Dream has some fine stuff on it, but whoever decided to start the album with "Outlaw Pete" needs a stern, stern, talking to, as it's so awful, unfun, and LONG that it kills the album out of the gates.

  4. Co-sign. I like Frequency, *69, Let Me In a good deal.  Now, Green on the other hand, bleh.

  5. bristlesage10:38 AM

    Yeah, I think this is the big thing with Monster--people are still angry about how different it was, it seems. 

  6. Andrew10:44 AM

    Monster is definitely not a lousy album. Intentionally very different from the amazing album that preceded it? Yes. but still a great album and far better than any of the post-Berry albums. 

    Of other albums on the list, I can agree with Pablo Honey as  Radiohead's weakest album, but as a debut album, you can see much of what the band will become and Creep is still one of the best songs they've recorded. 

    U2's Pop is an interesting album. I suspect that much of the reason that it's considered a failure is because of the ridiculousness of the PopMart tour and the giant lemon. But I think Pop is a far more interesting and exploratory album than All That You Can't Leave Behind, after which the quality level of U2's output dropped off a cliff (much in the same way that REM's work after New Adventures in Hi-Fi lost the consistency, even though there are some good songs on Up and Revel)

  7. I'll stick up for Monster too.  Sure, it was different from what came before it, but that's the point -- the songs are arguably as strong as any REM besides Automatic for the People.

    "Crush with Eyeliner" I think I could hear every day.  Or maybe just the phrase "I am smitten..."

  8. isaac_spaceman10:57 AM

    First of all, Liz Phair is not a great artist.  I yield to no one in my love for Liz Phair back in the day -- I saw her at the Backstage in Seattle when she was touring Exile (opening up: Silkworm, who were fucking amazing; those guys really knew how to build a set to a crescendo) and she didn't even have enough material for a full show.  But she had one great album (Exile) and one good album (Whipsmart), and everything after that was pure crap, suggesting that Brad Wood had a firm hand on the rudder. 

    Second, Everybody's Rockin' is only a bad album if you think that Neil Young is a brand and anything that doesn't fit the brand profile is a failure.  I don't want to get into the debate about real Neil Young fans vs. fake Neil Young fans, partly because I don't think I would qualify as a real Neil Young fan to most people who self-identify that way, but I'll say that people who have an intimate understanding of what Neil Young has tried to do musically throughout his career generally do not think that Everybody's Rockin' was a failure.  And I like "Wonderin'."  "Wonderin' if you'll come home.  Hopin' that you'll be my baby."

    Third, totally agree with TPE re Final Cut.  It's bleak, and there aren't the kind of accessible anthems/ballads you find on the Pink Floyd Classic Dorm Room Album Trilogy, but it's extremely personal and, I think, emotionally affecting.  The Final Cut is a really good song, and that gunshot gets me every time. 

    Fourth, calling out Dirty Work is just cheating.  Anything the Stones released after 1981 was just formulaic paycheck work.  It's like saying "oh, the new Quiet Riot album is out, but it's not as good as Metal Health."  At some point, every band that refuses to break up or retire crosses over into that period of genially profitable stasis.  Paul Simon's real music career ended with Rhythm of the Saints; McCartney's at some point with Wings (don't know the chronology there), and the Stones with Tattoo You.  I realize that people think that it was Steel Wheels, but come on, that's not an album; that's just a lazy commercial for a tour. 

  9. isaac_spaceman11:09 AM

    Wait, that whole list is a fraud.  Half of the things are semiretirement albums, novelty things (I'm sure the Beatles don't consider Yellow Submarine a Beatles album, as opposed to a soundtrack to a Beatles-branded cartoon that contains some Beatles material), or other nonqualifying material (a posthumous Hendrix album full of studio outtakes that Hendrix didn't approve for use on any album?  Hard to hold that against him).  And It's Hard contains two songs worthy of inclusion on a Who greatest-hits double album:  "Eminence Front" and "Athena," the latter of which starts with an awesomely hooky first line ("Athena/I had no idea how much I'd need her").  "It's Hard" is not a bad song either. 

    I will accept and fully endorse Technical Ecstasy by Black Sabbath.  I might add Rock and a Hard Place by Aerosmith. 

  10. Anonymous11:31 AM

    I've got every REM album from Murmur to New Adventures, and Monster is definitely not the worst one.

  11. I object to your ruling Songs from the Capeman and You're The One out of the Simon canon.

    On Young, is it always my job to remind people that he was once sued by Geffen for giving them an album that didn't sound enough like "Neil Young," and that it wasn't over Trans?

  12. Green is where I started with R.E.M. (and still have THAT tour t-shirt to prove it). Pop Song 89, I Remember California, Get Up, You Are the Everything, and Turn You Inside-Out - still love 'em.

  13. Yes, You're The One is a damn fine album, and Surprise is an interesting effort to fuse Simon's songwriterly instincts with electronica, even if it doesn't entirely work.

  14. isaac_spaceman12:18 PM

    That was Trans.  I don't like Trans, but I know several Neil Young die-hards who do.  But the point is that he's trying different things, experimenting with music and with himself as a musician.  That's why he sometimes works with Crazy Horse, sometimes with Booker T & the MGs, sometimes with CSN, and sometimes with others. 

    I don't know from You're the One, but Songs from the Capeman is paradigmatic Second Career/Semiretirement.  It is a Broadway show!  Just because it is one of the few post-semiretirement works that turns out good (and I'm not qualified to say whether it is, not having listened to it enough) doesn't mean that isn't the product of an artist who has given up being a working musician and taken up the occupation of being an occasional artiste.  Kind of like Steve Martin in his banjo phase.   

  15. Adam C.12:25 PM

    WoaD is, for the most part, a romantic pop album, and so as a whole album it is unlike just about everything else in Bruce's catalog.  But it does have its share of hooky, relistenable stuff, like "My Lucky Day," the title cut, "What Love Can Do," "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Kingdom of Days," and "Surprise, Surprise."  I'm fond of "Queen of the Supermarket," in which Bruce fills his f-bomb quota. It also includes a moving tribute to the late Danny Federici ("The Last Carnival") and "The Wrestler," the title cut to the Rourke film. That's a pretty decent collection.

    That said, "Outlaw Pete" does. not. work.  I have a good sense of what he was shooting for (sprawling tongue-in-cheek Western epic, not unlike early-Bruce rarity "Santa Ana"), but Matt is exactly right about its bloat and its placement on the tracklist - not that placement matters as much in the shuffle age, but still.  And in concert?  Hooo-boy, was that ever self-indulgent.  May be a coincidence, but he changed producers after WoaD.

  16. Four thoughts:

    1. Love "Monster". Still play it all the time. Surprised they picked it instead of the usual REM punching bag "Around the Sun", an album that I think is actually underrated, even if it probably is the band's weakest. (Unless they think the 3-person REM isn't "real REM"...)

    2. "Liz Phair", a typical punching bag. But listen to "Little Digger" or "My Bionic Eyes" or "Love/Hate", and tell me there's no worthy material on that album.

    3. Madonna's "American Life": again, a typical punching bag. But if you think it's Madonna "at her most shallow", you're clearly missing the point. It's a dark record and you can't dance to it, and the released singles were probably the weakest tracks on the album. Its reputation as a failure is unfair, and it's still one of Madonna's albums I go back to the most.

    4. Yeah, "Working on a Dream" is pretty much a dud.

  17. Benner1:01 PM

    And yet Lou Reed ends up on the list twice, with one album on the list solely because it does not include Lou Reed.  

  18. Anonymous1:40 PM

    I don't think Monster has aged particularly well, but I still kinda like it. I also was a fan of Strange Currencies and Crush With Eyeliner. I do think What's the Frequency Kenneth got old in a hurry.

  19. StvMg1:40 PM

    I was the last guest

  20. StvMg1:43 PM

    I agree with you on It's Hard. I remember really liking that album when it came out. I also liked Eminence Front and Athena, and I recall enjoying A Man Is A Man as well. 

  21. isaac_spaceman2:45 PM

    My favorite part is where the band comes in in the background with the chorus ("Eminence front/Eminence front") and Pete Townshend ad-libs over them "It's just an eminence front," so his "eminence front" comes in late, and it becomes total nonsense and sounds like this: "ih-nuh-mih-nuh-mih-nuh-mih front."  Cracks me up, anyway. 

  22. isaac_spaceman2:46 PM

    Crap, I always get that wrong.  Anyway, the point is that there is nothing wrong with ER. 

  23. Watts4:19 PM

    You don't want to know how many years I listened to "Eminence Front" before I realized those were the words they were singing. I thought they were "living in huts"

  24. Paul Tabachneck4:59 PM

    Yeah, I'll tell you what, I was at the Monster stop in Pittsburgh, and MAN was that show awesome.  I can't stand rain, and I was soaked by the second hour but in pure heaven.  Monster fails on a lot of levels, but it's way better than some of their post-Berry work.

  25. Paul Tabachneck5:10 PM

    WHOA.  WOAH. WAHOAHOO.  They panned "Brutal Youth?"  Elvis Costello's "Brutal Youth?"  The comeback of the Attractions, the inception of the Impostors?  Thirteen Steps Lead Down?  SULKY GIRL?  STILL TOO SOON TO KNOW?!?  ALL THE RAGE?!?!?!?

    ...whoo!  Sorry.  That's disturbing.  That album is one of my favorites of his, and marked a comeback for him in the US, so it's very difficult for me when people just rip on it for no reason.  Yes, the songs are less complex than his characteristic work, but there's an intricacy to his pop material that transcends.  All the Rage is such a great song!

  26. bill.5:20 PM

    Duran Duran, "Thank You." I wouldn't call them a great band (I'm not a fan and this is the only Duran Duran I own) and this isn't a great album, but it's damn fun. 911 is a Joke is a brilliant funky reconstruction that ignores Public Enemy and has more emotion than Flavor Flav's mushy monotone. I love both versions equally.

  27. Tosy and Cosh11:55 AM

    I thought it was universally acknowledged that Goodbye, Cruel World is Costello's worst.

  28. Uncle Spike7:56 PM

    See, I thought Monster fell flat. So they wanted to put out a full-out rock record, and I'll give them props for stepping outside their comfort zone and rocking as hard as they did. But only "Crush with Eyeliner" and only the first 10 seconds of "Let Me In" (oh, okay...and "Bang and Blame" to some extent) really hit me as hard. I will say this, though: Monster laid the blueprint for an awful lot of worthy stuff that came after it.

    A trip down Memory Lane: I remember actually playing "Strange Currencies" at a college coffeehouse during the day when it wasn't open, and intentionally trying to make it sound as awful as I could to mock the song...untuned guitar, overpronouncing words and sounding as whiny as I could. To my deep chagrin, someone came in and said he thought I sounded great. Oh well.

  29. Paul Tabachneck12:45 PM

    Actually, GCW is his most inaccurately-produced record: the demos from it are amazing, and there's great songwriting there.  Most EC fans point to Mighty Like A Rose or Painted from Memory, but I like both of those way more than Momofuku.

  30. Paul Tabachneck12:47 PM

    Trans made me so happy.