Sunday, 16 September 2012

The conceptual, the lazy and the crap - disappointing albums: A movement in three parts (phase 1)

What makes a group get it so wrong? Sometimes I ask myself, much in the manner of a young John Shuttleworth! Imagine it, you are on top of the world with the women, the money, the’ve released the greatest album in the world, ever, full stop. and then they ask you to pull something else out of the bag. Tall order, but you think: 
  1. let’s get a bit more experimental.
  2. let’s do a covers album, encompassing all our old standards.
  3. give each member of the group their own space to flourish.
  4. Let’s make a concept album.
The list of possibilities for successful groups are endless and usually the more ostentatious these follow-up efforts are the worse they sound, especially to the modern day listener!

Sadly such albums don’t really get made these days, showing that even the greatest groups can get it spectacularly, laughably wrong. This is not something so plainly obvious in a world of hit factories and tailor-made music. But anyway here are my some of my favourites. 

A word of warning These are not meant to be the worst albums of all time, but a mix of greatest let-downs or indeed the most overrated albums (either by contemporary reviews or re-appraisals) of their time, so do not be disheartened if your favourite bad record is left out of the selection, it might just make it on the second phase. Unsurprisingly, all of the below albums came from the late 1970s a time when music really was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly...

Works, Volume 1 - Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1977): Any rock album that opens with an 18:29 song - especially after the dawning of punk music - could be called ambitious, but it was up to Prog rock supergroup Emerson, lake & Palmer to save the name of this dying genre and they fail spectacularly! The first word that springs to mind when describing this album is disjointed, an uncomfortable mix of music which sees the band pulling away from each other rather than coming together to make a decent record. But what makes it worse are Greg Lake’s attempts to become the stadium rocker, each of his vocal numbers sound like a re-hash of his 1974 hit ‘I believe in Father Christmas’! let’s just say £12.99 very badly spent and leave it at that shall we? 

Metal Box - Public Image Ltd (1979): Generally I regard 1979 as one of the high points of music history with a great diversity across the board, testament to the variety of great albums from this year. I go against the grain on this one for many think it one of ‘the’ great post-punk albums, I personally think it is an stolid slice of pretentious rubbish (not that they are alone in this category). The sound is unpleasant and the music is impenetrable, listening to tracks like ‘The Suit’, ‘Socialist’, and ‘Chant’ are akin to chewing on wasps whilst shoving broken glass down your earholes (or something equally as painful). Except for the shrewd marketing campaign which backed it, where this album managed to get its legendary status I will never know. However, if you can come up with any suggestions as to why this is regarded as a classic I would like to know? Answers here please! 

Mr. Gone - Weather Report (1978): For those who feel i’ve been unduly hard about PiL, then please take a look at this next example (a guilty pleasure of mine) and one that I am sure would have most feeling that they were eating broken glass and shoving wasps down their earhole! Weather report had become one of the biggest bands of 1977 with their surprise hit Heavy Weather (a truly great record, especially for a fusion jazz one), sadly the magic ended there. This release is for most an disparate mess of improvisation over the top of frantic keyboard loops...and for the most par they are right. Jazz has always coined an image of pomposity and nowhere is it more apparent than on many, seemingly endless cuts contained on this disk. The title track on its owen provokes a similar feeling to someone scratching their nails down a blackboard. However a couple of track just about made this purchase worth the £1.99 i paid for it many moons ago at the now defunct CD Warehouse: ‘River People’ and ‘Young and Fine’ showcase the late, great Jaco Pastorius (Bass) at his best but are far off from redeeming an otherwise disappointing record. 

Low - David Bowie (1977): One word that seems synonymous with these instrumental musings of a cold-turkey David Bowie is ‘impenetrable’. So much so that I think ‘Weeping Wall’ (one of the many opaque tunes contained within) is a rather apt title to describe the album in a couple of words! Regarded as a masterpiece by the critics, Low was written as an ‘experimental’ album in conjunction with ex-King Crimson founder Robert Fripp. Let me quickly add that I think both Fripp and Bowie are great musicians and released many fine records in their time, but this just isn’t one of them. I am truly befuddled by those who think so, have they listened to it? I have, and it was all I could do to keep myself from clawing at the walls out of sheer boredom, again please enlighten me in layman’s terms as to why this is such a seminal album and perhaps I might reappraise it. For now, it just sounds like a great artist who reach a ‘low’ point in his career and couldn’t really be bothered (with the exception of Sound & Vision which sounds like an outtake from the amazing Station to Station).  

Tusk - Fleetwood Mac (1979): What happens to a burnt out, drug addled band that was still riding high on the success of a seminal album? They release a series of low-grade demos and off-cuts, which go onto be rightly described by contemporary critics as disappointing but is lauded by modern day music historians as a forgotten classic! If this is the case then I’m In You (1977) (Peter Frampton’s follow-up to the chart-busting Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)) or Genesis’s Then there were three (1978) should be regarded in much the same light! But, quite rightly these albums are regarded as lacklustre, self-indulgent and rather formulaic which is what should still be ascribed to Tusk. By this stage it was money-for-old-rope for the band and it must have seemed far more tempting to cobble together session off-cuts than create another draining slicing brilliance as Rumours (1977) had been. To make it worse it’s a double album, so there’s double the rubbish to keep you entertained! 

Look out for Phase 2 next week...

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