In Defense of These Poorly Received Albums

There are critics who give bad reviews, then there are critics who go as far as writing reviews like this. However, as bad as an album is received by critics, you should never let other reviewers influence your opinion towards an album. It might sound cliché, but this happens all the time with music listeners.There will be people who will not even bother with an album just because either “the internet’s busiest music nerd,” Anthony Fantano did not wear his yellow striped flannel or Pitchfork scored it a zero, with a review that has nothing to do with the album. Nonetheless, even if the album is terrible, always look for something in the album you like. For example, Liz Phair’s 2003 self-titled album is the worst thing she ever released. How the hell can a prominent influential artist like Phair turn into Avril Lavigne and make music considered teen pop? But if I heard this song in an episode of Gilmore Girls, not knowing it was Phair, I probably would not mind her pleading vocals. It is okay for good artists to make bad music. However, maybe that considered “bad music” is not so bad after all. Here are six albums critics and listeners should reconsider.

6. Lou Reed and Metallica – Lulu (2011) 

Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu.jpg
Warner Bros./Vertigo Records

According to some Lou Reed and many Metallica fans, this is one of the most unlistenable albums of all time. Apparently, it is worse than Metal Machine Music (1975). As I am sure Reed has influenced Metallica, you would never think, especially so late in their careers, these artists would collaborate. Just thinking about this you would assume it would be awful; like everybody did. However, both Reed and Metallica have never gave a shit about what they have released. They are both freeform and have no boundaries. Mostly the people who criticized the album are hardcore Metallica fans. According to Reed, some of these fans apparently even threatened to shoot him due to the collaboration. This album isn’t for everybody, it is more sophisticated. Reed did not care if he released an awful album or not, he is use to the experimentation. Metallica definitely needed to try something new. They have been releasing the same sounding thrash metal albums for decades, which are not bad, but they get old after a while. As Metallica has never explored the realm of avant-garde, Reed was familiar and showed them the way.

Mostly the album consists of spoken word delivered by Reed surrounded by instrumentals from Metallica and an additional string section. That acoustic guitar at the beginning probably made some Metallica fans stop listening. Even though James Hetfield’s background vocals are unfitting when paired with Reed’s vocals, it is definitely challenging artistically. The chemistry doesn’t begin until the single, “The View” and is at its prime on “Iced Honey.” The ending of “Pumping Blood” is clever, as it reflects text painting with the instrumentals adding visuals to Reed’s intense lyrics. The messy momentus “Mistress Dread” features a stereotypical thrash riff, as Reed sings like he knows his death is near.

According to Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, the late David Bowie has referred to Lulu to be Reed’s “greatest work.”

For this album, just imagine Reed posing as John Cale and Metallica as the Velvet Underground, influencing metal rather than punk. It is 77 minutes of an aggressive and harsh sounding Reed and Metallica at their most intricate.

5. Jet – Shine On (2006) 

Jet shine on.jpg
Atlantic/Capitol Records

An album must be pretty bad when a popular music outlet gives it a score of a monkey urinating in its own mouth. It is nothing like the superb debut, Get Born (2003), but it still includes some bangers. The more striking songs such as “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” and “That’s All Lies” both hit you right in the mouth, making them unforgettable. They’re the songs that belong in an EA Sports video game series. Some of the softer pop pieces such as “Bring it on Back” and “King Horses” both try to be the “Look What You’ve Done” on the album. The title track has the band trying to sound like Oasis, trying to sound like the Beatles. The song was in dedication to the late father of frontman, Nic and drummer, Chris Cester, which explains the gospel choir featured in the song. Speaking of Oasis, “Hey Kids” sounds like if Bon Scott (AC/DC) covered “Live Forever.” Even though “Stand Up” is repetitive and sounds typical, there is grungy distortion in the bridge. It doesn’t fit, but it is appealing. The anthem, “Rip it Up” features a twisted choppy guitar riff with Nic Cester’s screaming vocals. It was the perfect theme for a WWE pay-per-view. The ending of the album (“Shiny Magazine,” “Elanor,” “All You Have to Do”) sounds like the band found unreleased Beatles recordings at a garage sale and released it.

Jet might have sounded like a heavy hitting rock and roll outfit trying to sound like AC/DC or Led Zeppelin on their debut, but they matured with their sophomore release. And for an outlet like Pitchfork to give this album such a harsh review, it is a bit hypocritical. Pitchfork gave a lot of low scores to post-punk and garage rock revival groups in the 2000’s, such as Jet and the Vines. They referred to these groups to be “unoriginal” but when Jet finally tries something new, they are condemned. Shine On may not be a classic rock and roll album like its predecessor, but it is definitely no zero.

4. Genesis – …Calling All Stations… (1997) 

Genesis - Calling All Stations.jpg
Atlantic/Virgin Records

Genesis went through many stages throughout their career. They were one of the most astonishing progressive rock bands in the early seventies, thanks to frontman, Peter Gabriel’s theatrics. When Gabriel left in 1975, Genesis did not really alter their sound, with drummer, Phil Collins, ironically continuing Gabriel’s vocal approach. During this transitional period, Genesis released some of their finest albums including, A Trick of the Tail (1976) and Wind & Wuthering  (1976). After guitarist, Steve Hackett opted-out in 1977, Genesis, now a trio, had founded new sound. They hopped on the progressive pop bandwagon and became commercially successful throughout the eighties, especially with Phil Collins attracting much attention to the group due to his successful solo career.

Following Collins’s departure in 1996, keyboardist, Tony Banks, and guitarist/bassist, Mike Rutherford kept the Genesis name alive and released one last final studio album.

Ray Wilson, previous frontman of the influential Scottish grunge group, Stiltskin auditioned soon after Collins left. Wilson’s dark and dramatic vocals fit the glowing atmospheric synths and bass. This was evident on the worldbeat single, “Congo.” Wilson’s vocals fit immensely and even sounds a bit like Gabriel. His vocals become stronger on “Not About Us” when the instrumentals are all balanced. It is no wonder why this album is similar to Genesis’s …And Then There Were Three… from 1977. Both albums include the band as a trio with shadowy ambient instrumentals and stirring lyrics.

Like many late albums in a band’s discography, this album was ignored by fans and critics. Some must have assumed it was going to sound too awfully modern due to having young lead singer. This was also happening at the same time when Van Halen hired their third lead singer, Gary Cherone, to record Van Halen III.

Maybe what is bad about this album is that it sounds like a Tony Banks solo record with Wilson’s vocals. Banks’s synths completely dominate the entire record and sound repetitive. On “Alien Afternoon” there is a guitar solo occurring in the background from Rutherford, which is extremely overshadowed by Banks’ synths. Not to say, that makes this a bad album, but it is understandable why some people stayed away from it.

3. Kiss – Music from the Elder (1981) 

The elder album cover.jpg
Casablanca Records

Music from the Elder came in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some say, this is when Kiss truly hit rock bottom and lost their place in music.

In 1981, the music world was changing. Power pop, new wave, post-punk, and hardcore punk were at its peak, while hair metal was on the rise. Progressive rock bands lost the battle to punk bands. Many legendary progressive rock bands such as Yes and Genesis, changed their sound to pop, appealing to mainstream audiences.

There was major pressure on Kiss as they were transitioning into the eighties. They weren’t releasing quality albums such as Destroyer (1976) and Love Gun (1977) like they were in their heyday, which meant poor record sales. And the firing of drummer, Peter Criss, impacted the group especially guitarist, Ace Frehley.

They needed to release something big for a comeback to regain their stardom. In an effort to recover their hard rock sound, the group thought (mainly Simmons and Stanley) to release a heavy progressive rock concept album. With as cool as that sounds, this style of music was completely unrelated to the mainstream and was not connecting with listeners as it once did. The album irritated their fanbase and label and soon, disappeared quickly from the charts.

This is also, where the group’s drama was at its height. Producer, Bob Ezrin, was on a roll, after producing Pink Floyd’s The Wall in 1979. However, he was battling a cocaine addiction during the sessions for Music from the Elder, which impacted the album. Frehley was absolutely disgusted by the domination of bassist, Gene Simmons and singer/guitarist, Paul Stanley and expressed anger with the album before going into recording.

Despite all the drama and negativity that was going on, this album wasn’t exactly a huge blow. Even though the concept of the album sounds like a low-budget 1980’s fantasy movie that tells a story of the enlisting and training of a boy who is recruited by the Council of Elders, to fight evil, the album is rebelling to what Kiss is supposed to release.

“The Oath” opens the album, with a booming bass and dominating guitar riff. Stanley sings in falsetto, which is cringworthy live with Simmons backing him. However, it doesn’t sound as bad on the album version. Stanley uses this vocal technique on several tracks of the album, which most likely didn’t sit well with fans since he hardly sung with his original roaring voice. Stanley’s best vocals come up on “Odyssey,” where he does his best imitation of Peter Gabriel, from the early stage of Genesis. The Medieval-esque “Under the Rose” with its chanting harmonic backup vocals is one of the most stunning pieces Kiss ever recorded.

Yes, this album is completely dominated by Stanley and Simmons, in which every album to follow is, but Frehley still upstaged his bandmates. He only sings lead vocals on “Dark Light” which includes African beats in accompany to an unfitting, but excellent guitar solo. Frehley later shreds like he has never before on the instrumental track, “Escape from the Island.” Frehley probably knew it would be his last recording with Kiss and his riffs sound like they were expressed through rage and frustration.

It is weird to imagine a shock rock group working with an orchestra. This definitely isn’t their best album, nor is it their worst. It is a safe album for a group, that was going through one of the most ugliest periods for a rock band in music history.

2. The Beach Boys – 15 Big Ones (1976)

15BigOnesCover.jpg
Brother/Reprise Record

Summer in Paradise (1992) is surly the worst thing the Beach Boys ever released. Yet to some, 15 Big Ones is right there too. After the soul and blues era, which featured guitarist, Blondie Chaplin and drummer, Ricky Fataar from the South African group, the Flames, the Beach Boys were lost. They did not have a creative direction and did not know how to compete with the corporate rock take over of the seventies. They needed their leader, Brian Wilson back. Bringing Brian back, meant big things in marketing for the group. A media campaign, “Brian’s Back”, was designed to promote Brian’s return as a touring member and active producer for the band. This was Wilson’s first time exclusively as producer since Pet Sounds (1966). And after a live album and four compilations, the band owed their fans something big.

Brian wanted to record a doop wop and rock and roll record, but brothers, Dennis and Carl Wilson opposed. However, this what the album came out to be. Half the album was filled with rock and roll covers for nostalgia, the other half was original material. Mike Love and Al Jardine wanted the album out as soon as possible because they wanted to resurrect themselves in popularity. Dennis and Carl meant to cover songs as a warm-up for Brian to get back into the process and did not anticipate the album would be half of covers. This didn’t please fans, nor did it please Dennis and Carl Wilson, who were embarrassed and ashamed.

There are reports where after Brian recorded a song, he just wanted to call it finish and release it, which contradicts his recording values. This is the same man that once recorded a single, using 90 hours of recording tape.

This album may not live up to the hype which preceded it, but it is still not as bad as people refer to it as. Their hard-hitting cover of Chuck Berry’s “Rock & Roll Music” is just as good as the original, which should’ve pleased listeners mostly for the backing harmonies. Yes, Love’s nasally voice is present on tracks like “Had to Phone Ya,” but some of his best vocals come on the original written “Everyone’s in Love with You.” The best track is the stirring and catchy “That Same Song,” which features buzzing synths alluding to the synth pop association with their followup release, Love You (1977). The group expresses their goofiness in the opening of “T M Song.” Being short and simple, Jardine drives vocally in both intensity and coolness, along with a smooth saxophone and organ underneath. People like to bash “Susie Cincinnati.” Lyrically, it may be idiotic, but the instrumentals and backing vocals are incredible. Their cover of Freddy Canon’s “Palisades Park,” features some moving synth lines that are Spongebob-esque and a spinning psychedelic organ section similar to the one featured in “Amusement Parks U.S.A.”

The more you listen to this album, the more it grows on you. You can say that about any album, but here you catch things you did not hear before underneath all those sweet harmonies.

1. The Velvet Underground – Squeeze (1973)

vu squeeze
Polydor Records

First, people who dismiss or criticize this album have never even listened to it. It does not feature any of the original members of the Velvet Underground; it was the end of the Lou Reed era. Second, this is only a VU album by name. It is solely a Doug Yule solo record.

After Lou Reed left in 1970, guitarist, Sterling Morrison, abandoned the group while on tour, to study at the University of Texas. The group’s manager and presumably VU villain, Steve Sesnick, received permission from Polydor Records to record one final VU album. Sesnick was also was making the environment toxic, which is why Reed left the group. After touring Loaded (1970), the remaining members were dismissed by Sesnick, and the album was recorded only with Yule. There were outside members including Deep Purple’s drummer, Ian Paice, that came and gone throughout the sessions. Since Yule is a skilled multi-instrumentalist and played a significant role on the group’s last album, Squeeze is just a continuation of that. What’s different is Yule does not echo Reed’s vocal style or satire like he did on past tracks like “Who Loves the Sun” or “Lonesome Cowboy Bill.” The album was an approach towards the mainstream, which didn’t allow any of the original VU traits, which is what Sesnick’s main intention was when he started managing the group in 1967.

Yule sounds like he is imitating the Grateful Dead at some moments, particularly on the opening track, “Little Jack.” The grooves pick up on the electrifying “Caroline,” which sounds like it could have been a classic Beach Boys song. Not because of the name, Caroline, but because of Yule’s own backing vocals and surf rock guitar strings. The track “Dopey Joe,” is a bit ridiculous, but it features sensational backing vocals from a few unidentified female singers and it is accompanied by a peppy saxophone. However at the end, there is a guitar solo in the background, that the saxophone upstages, which sounds like the one featured in “Rock & Roll” off Loaded (1970). The catchy “She’ll Make You Cry” features a Joe Walsh-esque guitar solo. This song is the highlight of the album, which should make listeners re-evaluate Yule’s impact in the group.

Even though this album leaps in different directions, where he tries to be original, but sometimes tries to sound too much like the Beatles, the songs are repetitive. The instrumentals are predictive, especially with the guitar solos. It is typical. Not that there’s anything wrong with recording a normal contemporary album that fits the standard early seventies sound for commercial value. However, the problem is it is under a name that has broken boundaries and has been one of the most innovative bands of all time. Sadly, this record did not kick start Yule’s solo career, it deemed him as being one of the worst things to happen to the VU. Maybe if it was a stand-alone solo effort from Yule, it would be treated better.

 

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