Playing the Long Game…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
This Year’s Most Disappointing Albums
BLOGS and magazines are collating and marking out…
IN THIS PHOTO: Katy Perry/PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
the albums, songs and artists, they feel, have defined this year. I have seen some surprises and great albums that came out of nowhere; others that have worked their way into my subconscious; some that have hit me straight away – another brilliant year for music, on balance. There have been some records I was expecting big things from, however. When announcements were made – regarding the albums – I prepared myself for something special and impactful. The hard reality is that, when they got here, it was a bit like that computer console-shaped present that turned out to be an air purifier: the energy and happiness fade out and you are left a bit cold (albeit it with some very clear and purified air!). I have been looking at the thirteen albums I felt could have been better; were a little underwhelming – with a critical review that backs up my opinion…
ALBUM COVER CREDITS: Getty Images
Eminem – Revival
am a huge fan of Eminem’s classics – The Marshall Mathers LP riding highest in the mix in terms of albums – and realise he is one of the most dazzling and essential artists in music. His recent output has not been great so, when Revival was announced, I hoped its contents would live up to its title. Too many collaborations and a lack of real focus; lyrics not up to his genius-like standard and too many songs on the album (among the issues). There are some definite highs but Revival a record that could have done with stricter editing and wiser decisions – and more of the Eminem that struck the collective heart back in his heyday!
Release Date: 15th December
Labels: Interscope; Aftermath; Shady
“There are just too many pop stars here (Pink, Beyoncé, Kehlani) wailing anodyne hooks over glutinous beats. Perhaps the biggest problem with Revival – as with many latterday Eminem records – is the struggle of an intelligent fortysomething artist to evolve while somehow remaining true to the demands of his sniggery core audience of alienated males, one he knows he shares with Trump. Listening to Eminem trying to square this circle, it’s just one face palm after another” – The Guardian
Björk - Utopia
There are few people out there who have as much love for Björk as I do – I even wrote a piece stating Utopia (before it was released) would be the most important-album of this year. It is a gorgeous, mature and great record but one that takes a lot of time to seep in and compel. I was expecting more fire and innovation – some energy that recalled her earliest days – but the overall vibe is one of soothe, love and personal revelation. There are few of the fireworks and odd touches that have defined her legacy and potency. It is an album that, like a butterfly hibernating for winter, will reveal its true nature and colours in the weeks/months to come, perhaps.
Release Date: 24th November
Label: One Little Indian Records
“Simultaneously beautiful and befuddling, dazzling and irritating, Utopia has something of Stravinsky or Stockhausen about it. On some level, it may be a work of brilliance, but I suspect it is too far adrift from the rest of pop culture to appeal to anyone but a Björk devotee. If you can dance to it, you have bendier limbs than I. And it's hard to imagine anyone singing along – perhaps not even Björk herself” – The Daily Telegraph
Standout: Future Forever
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
This was a record I was SURE would be a big hit. I was fooled and excited by some early, pre-release albums that were five-star droolers. I heard the title-track and felt it was business as usual for the Canadian band. When the record was unveiled, and I heard all the songs, it seemed I was premature! Its best moments – Everything Now and Put Your Money on Me – are outweighed by some of the worst material they have recorded to date (Creature Comfort, Signs of Life; Chemistry and Peter Pan among them!). No song hits the heady seduce of Reflektor eponymous cut: nothing gets within spitting-distance of Neon Bible or The Suburbs, for instance. I admire the band for experimenting and adding new substances to the mix but, like Chemistry, it is an experiment that has blown up in their faces.
Release Date: 28th July
Labels: Sono Vox; Columbia
“It's one of the album's strongest moments, matched by "Electric Blue," in which Regine Chassagne's delicate voice floats over a wistful yet hypnotic electro groove…
Much of the rest struggles to stay buoyant. On "Signs of Life," Butler raps awkwardly about increasingly empty nightlife rituals over syncopated handclaps, a thumping house kick drum and a rubbery Tim Kingsbury bass line. "Chemistry" flirts with horn-peppered dancehall reggae but never quite achieves lift-off. "Good God Damn" splashes around in slow, would-be funk and both versions of "Infinite Content" — one punky and distorted, the other slow and countryish — feel like sketches rather than finished songs. "We Don't Deserve Love" ends the album with a whimper. "Just burn it all down," Butler sings, "and bring the ashes to me" - Chicago Tribune
Standout: Put Your Money on Me
LCD Soundsystem - american dream
Did american dream (the lower-case is how it is stylised by LCD Soundsystem) mark a ‘return’ of LCD Soundsystem or awakening from hibernation?! However you view the relaunch of James Murphy’s outfit; american dream, to be fair, has resounded with critics and, largely, been met with positive reviews. It is, with me, the same case as Björk: I am a fan and loyal supporter but was expecting something a little different. call the police, american dream and emotional haircut display the sharpest wit, instinct and intuition of Murphy and are definite highlights. I found nothing else on the album that hit the same peaks. black screen, the twelve-minutes-plus finale, is not captivating enough to demand focused attention whilst opener oh baby could have been moved down the pack – one would think american dream (the song) would be a perfect introduction?! It is, perhaps, a case of disappointment of expectation rather than quality. Given the seven-year wait since This Is Happening; I was expecting a little more – a bit too much, perhaps. It is a fine album – critics have been vacillating – but, to my tastes, a little shy of what we know LCD Soundsystem can achieve.
Release Date: 1st September
Label: DFA Records; Columbia
“…Too many tracks, however, suffer from a shortfall of melodic potency, and a lack of lateral development, especially in longer pieces such as the 12-minute sci-fi musings of “Black Screen” and the declamatory nine minutes of “How Do You Sleep?”. Both use puttering beats in cavernous spaces, with synths lowering from above, but for such marathons, there’s too little narrative: it’s all vertical, with sounds simply piled on top rather than providing narrative shape; and often, the journey just isn’t worth the destination”- Independent
Standout: emotional haircut
Gorillaz – Humanz
It has been a while since new Gorillaz music really hooked me in. 2010’s Plastic Beach had some incredible offerings but one needs to go back to 2005’s Demon Days to find a consistent and always-astonishing Gorillaz album. With Damon Albarn as a songwriter and contributor; no Gorillaz album could be deemed poor but, on Humanz, there were few songs that stayed in the memory. Whilst the overall sound and tone of the album elicits response: more songs on the same line as Andromeda would have been welcomed
Release Date: 28th April
Labels: Parlophone; Warner Bros.
“…All the masks and cameos aside, this still feels like a Damon Albarn solo project, a place for him to treat the studio like the welcoming arms of oblivion, and for us to join him” – Pitchfork
HAIM - Something to Tell You
The L.A.-based trio of sisters impressed critics with their 2013 debut, Days Are Gone. That record has the shine and swoon of Fleetwood Mac (and the same knack with melodies and vocals); it has plenty of sunshine and was one of the highlights of that year. Four years on and the sophomore release contains little of that ebullience and quality. There are some great songs on Something to Tell You – Want You Back is one of their best songs – but there are too many off-kilter noises, aimless melodies and songs that do not absorb into the skin. All this leads to a rather muddled and mixed album.
Release Date: 7th July
Label: Columbia Records
“Haim pairs ultra-smooth sounds with lyrics about love gone wrong that sound more than a little samey on the title track and "You Never Knew." And while Days Are Gone had hooks for days, this time Haim's songwriting just isn't as attention-getting; production flourishes such as the processed backing vocals on "Ready for You" and "Right Now"'s artfully rough guitars threaten to overpower the songs themselves. Moments like these add to the feeling that Haim are more focused on craft than excitement. The ways they refashioned vintage pop on Days Are Gone felt risky, but Something to Tell You offers safer, smaller pleasures” - AllMusic
Standout: Want You Back
Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
Among the great Rock and Alternative records of the year (IDLES, with tinges of Punk on Brutalism, have crafted a classic) there have been some underwhelming and damp efforts – I will come to another one soon enough. I have not included U2’s maligned album, Songs of Experience, but it has not been a reliable one for Rock. Royal Blood’s second album came after a three-year wait and did not provide any distinction from their eponymous debut – aside from a few Pop harmonies here and there, perhaps. A duo who are lauded as a touring act, one thinks, would do more to evolve their sound and continue to fascinate and amaze. The fact they replicated their debut – which was not exactly world-class and ground-breaking – means it is a huge missed opportunity from the Brighton twosome. Let’s hope the guys learn a lesson for album number-three!
Release Date: 16th June
Label: Warner Bros. Records
“In summary, this is an album which is trying to be lots of things for lots of people. The sadness being that where Royal Blood appealed to so many because of its abandoned musicality and aggression, How Did We Get So Dark? may run the risk of losing its soul and beating heart in order to please the masses. It will be interesting to see where Royal Blood go from here” – Drowned in Sound
Standout: Lights Out
Beck - Colors
I am not expecting – like a lot of critics and fans – for Beck to return to the genre-fusing, kaleidoscopic pioneer of Odelay! Many expect artists like Beck to preserve themselves in liquid nitrogen and remain a Peter Pan-like presence. Colors is a natural evolution but one that aims too hard for the mainstream. Produced alongside Greg Kurstin and Cole M.G.N.; there is a lot of trial-and-error and patchy (disorganized) quilt-work. It is a big, shiny record that aims to replicate the energy and excitement (Beck felt) on the road – the songs, however, lack great nuance and memorability. Dear Life, that said, is one of the best songs of the year: sadly; the remainder of the album does not hit the same (giddy) peaks...
Release Date: 13th October
“At times, it seems as though Beck is grasping at something, anything, to add conflict and tension to this rather effusive album. But all he comes up with are the most well-worn of sentimental platitudes, as in the tropical-inflected “No Distraction,” where he vaguely refers to “what we went through” and “everything that I know went wrong.” In giving no concrete shape to genuine obstacles that he feels he’s had to overcome, Beck fails to give his euphoric, outsized sense of liberation much emotional heft” – Slant Magazine
Standout: Dear Life
Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold
Another Greg Kurstin-produced muddle – the man does know how to helm some brilliant records, mind! - and signs of a band struggling to breathe new life into their music. Concrete and Gold’s uninspired, lazy title is reflected in the music that does not do justice to the potential and talent of the band. For every fired-up bomb like Run there are forgettable cuts like La Dee Da and Sunday Rain. I was hopeful of a sort of return-to-glory from Dave Grohl’s crew but, like 2014’s Sonic Highways, it is an unremarkable album – in a year when we need Rock idols to step up and lead the way.
Release Date: 15th September
Label: Roswell Records
“…But Grohl’s music has cried out for, well, coloring and shaping for so long that it matter more that he’s finally sculpted an objet d’art, rather than Another Foo Fighters album. More than just about anyone in the genre, he’s free financially and creatively to do anything he wants. Maybe next time he’ll sing something political — In Your Honor was about campaigning for John Kerry, not that you’d know from listening to it. Maybe he’ll even sing something controversial. It’s about time the guy took a risk” – Consequence of Sound
Standout: The Sky Is a Neighborhood
Katy Perry – Witness
Many might scratch their heads and wonder why I’d include a Katy Perry album in a feature that expressed mild disappointment – contrasted against high expectations and hopes! It is less a reflection on my desires but that of the mainstream: one of its strongest and most-inspiring stars should be producing epic, solid work. Perry has crafted exceptional music in the past – 2010’s Teenage Dream had its highlights – but Witness is an album produced by a singer-songwriter at the end of her creative avenue. There are none of the bangers and chart-ready songs that made her such a star. Sure; there is that big production and energy a-plenty but none of the songs remain in the imagination and will add anything new for her loyal fanbase – who might flock the way of Taylor Swift for new guidance and inspiration!
Release Date: 9th June
“For about half of Witness, Perry appears to be striving for meaning at the expense of catchy choruses. On the other half, it is as if she has lost her nerve and been persuaded to sing choruses that have no meaning. Witness is the sound of someone trying to cover too many bases. Perry has probably done enough to keep the box office machine rolling but it might be time for her to shrink her budget and make that little arty offering that really comes from the heart” – The Daily Telegraph
Standout: Swish Swish
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Damage and Joy
Another established band I hoped would bring some magic and quality to 2017 – that failed to materialise in The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Damage and Joy. Those enamoured of the band’s unique charms and dynamics will not balk: their latest record does not stray too far from a familiar path and contains songs many will already be familiar with. Maybe that is where the split comes: anyone (like me) asking the Scottish band to progress and deviate are short-changed; fans will bond with the business-as-normal sounds. There are some pleasant highs from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s 2017-work but I was not motivated to come back to any of the album’s tracks – it all feels a little plodding, predictable and routine.
Release Date: 24th March
Label: Artificial Plastic
“Also, any Mary Chain follower will be grateful to hear a new batch of downer-pop from the Brothers Reid just as they’ll be relieved at their ability to reconcile (unlike another former Band of Brothers). “War on Peace” features a blazing, arena-ready uptick in percussion and a chorus of “ooooh, ohhhhh”s, and it’s a pleasure to hear the long-missing Ferreira sing “Yeah, it’s just a bitchhhh” on the prettily dour “Black and Blues.” It’s all very nice. But that’s all it is: nice. The Mary Chain never moves beyond that in terms of lyricism or arrangement. The lack of any real verve on Damage and Joy actually makes their I’ll-be-replaced fears on “Amputation” something of a self-fulfilling prophecy” - Paste
Standout: The Two of Us
Morrissey - Low in High School
His latest scandal – there have been so many over the years – surrounding comments made to a German newspaper about reviled figures Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein have seen many raise eyebrows in the direction of Morrissey – wondering if he should keep his opinions to himself! One could forgive a certain carelessness if the music is stunning and on-point, Morrissey’s latest record, Low in High School, does not hit the same strides as Years of Refusal (2009) and Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006). There is, mind, a few choice cuts that remind us of what Moz can do – Spent the Day in Bed, I Wish You Lonely and All the Young People Must Fall in Love are exceptional and hint at what the album could have been. Directionless anger, overly-suffocating snide and a lack of killer tunes (aside from the aforementioned) mean for all the build-up and promise: Low in High School is a misfire that should see Morrissey banished to the ‘naughty step’!
Release Date: 17th November
Label: BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited
“‘The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel’ is an unbearable cha-cha-cha; ‘Who Will Protect Us From The Police?’ is lumpen electro; and least listenable track ‘Israel’ sees him deliver political polemic via the dubious medium of a piano ballad. Moz has become pop’s greatest troll in recent years, and here he’s exhaustive in goading you to hit the ‘off’ button. It’s enough to make you put your head in your hands. Or, indeed, your lap” - NME
Standout: Spent the Day in Bed
alt-J - RELAXER
I may be slightly biased when I say I have never really been a fan of the Leeds band: this lack of excitement is based on quality (lacking) rather than expectation. The boys of alt-J have always been synonymous with experimentation, big, sweeping songs and sound unlike anything else out there. Unfortunately, on their third outing, they sound too much like themselves: a group still lacking any solid identity. Despite RELAXER being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize – their second nod – it is a record that has only a couple of great tracks in the batch (Deadcrush and In Cold Blood are worth closer inspection). Maybe their music is reserved for particular tastes and clans but I was genuinely ready to love and absorb the album – I was left a bit deflated and apathetic.
Release Date: 2nd June
Label: Infectious; Atlantic
“It would have been easy for Alt-J to continue making albums that followed a standard pattern, and in that regard, Relaxer represents ambition and a willingness to take chances. The downside is that it finds the band in a state of confusion, pulled in all directions and sacrificing a sense of cohesion. Alt-J’s first two records were built off of their comparisons, and on Relaxer they work to forge their own identity. They just haven’t figure out what that is yet” – Consequence of Sound