FEATURE: The Dirty Dozen: The Most Underwhelming, Average and Just Plain Awful Albums of 2018




The Dirty Dozen


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The Most Underwhelming, Average and Just Plain Awful Albums of 2018


THERE are a lot of lists out at this time of year…


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that celebrate the best albums and heap praise on moments of brilliance! You get the odd list that does the reverse – by going after sub-par and bad albums – but not too many! I have already listed my favourite records this year so thought I would bookend things by going down the other end of the spectrum. There were albums I had hopes would be good and disappointed (Muse and Animal Collective) and some very plain and insipid ones (from Justin Timberlake and Richard Ashcroft); the awful ones (from Mumford & Sons and Fall Out Boy) to those that need to be burned and erased (Lil Xan and Machine Gun Kelly spring to mind!). Here are a dozen albums that most people will not see on the ‘best albums of 2018’ lists and occupying much headspace next year. Maybe you will disagree with some choices – and feel more ‘deserving’ albums need to be included - but here are twelve records that, I feel, either promised much and failed; left no real impact on the mind or…


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LEFT a sour taste in the mouth.            


Richard Ashcroft Natural Rebel


Release Date: 19th October, 2018

Labels: BMG/Righteous Photogenic Association

Sample Review:

The one dimensional pace omnipresent throughout Natural Rebel doesn't help matters, and by the time it does pick up on closing number 'Money Money', a close descendant of 2000's 'Money To Burn' that's heavily inspired by Let It Bleed era Rolling Stones, interest has waned to the point of no return. Which is a crying shame when all's said and done, because despite Natural Rebel's many flaws, Ashcroft's legacy as a distinguished songwriter of some repute remains. Even if his most distinguished works are confined to the past.

Nevertheless, in an era where the likes of Idles and Sleaford Mods (whose frontman is actually a year older than Ashcroft) are kicking up a storm against the political and social injustice that surrounds them, there's never been a less appropriate time to say nothing than the present. Sadly, Natural Rebel oozes magnolia from every pore, and in the current climate that simply won't do” – Drowned in Sound

Saving Grace Track: Born to Be Strangers

Machine Gun Kelly BINGE

Release Date: 21st September, 2018  

Labels: Bad Boy/Interscope

Sample Review:

In an interview recently, Eminem said: “Now I’m in this fuckin’ weird thing, because I’m like, ‘I gotta answer this motherfucker’, and every time I do that it makes them bigger by getting into this thing, where I’m like ‘I want to destroy him. But I also don’t want to make him bigger.'”

Sadly, it feels that this is just what has happened with ‘Binge’. Rather acting as an gateway to an important conversation about excess, and becoming MGK’s moment to shine, it has sadly become an EP all about Eminem and, as he raps on ‘Killshot’, a work about “who can out-petty who.” It could have been so much more” – NME

Saving Grace Track: LATELY



Release Date: 6th April, 2018   

Label: Columbia

Sample Review:

Bad lyrics don’t necessarily matter in pop-rap, and his intermittent facility for hooks means that some of the tracks succeed nonetheless – Wake Up will have you mumbling “I wake up, I throw up, I feel like I’m dead” all day – and there is some fine, gothic production from Mike Will Made-It and others. But Xan often struggles to create a unique timbre – Diamonds references XXXTentacion’s flow, while Far is uncannily similar to Post Malone – and he is shown up by his more talented guest stars, such as Rae Sremmurd, who helps make Shine Hard the album’s best track.

Lil Xan serves a purpose. At the risk of sounding like a funky supply teacher earnestly preaching from a flipped-around chair, rap is America’s folk music, constantly taking stock of the nation. Some rappers vocalise its troubles, but others, like Lil Xan and his SoundCloud brethren, reflect them – their violent misogyny, torpor and inarticulacy reveals as much about a rudderless generation as, say, Kendrick Lamar does. But that doesn’t mean it’s good to listen to. Like the much-memed Simpsons quote from Principal Skinner, it’s tempting to say the children are wrong about this” – The Guardian

Saving Grace Track: Betrayed

Fall Out Boy MANIA


Release Date: 19th January, 2018   

Labels: Island/DCD2

Sample Review:

Instead of making Fall Out Boy seem fresh, these electronic inflections wind up hinting at the group's age, as this frenetic music never seems to come as easily as the familiar amped-up blue-eyed soul and heady punk-pop. That transparent sense of labor does indeed make M A N I A seem manic, with Fall Out Boy not so much chasing trends as demonstrating that they know something is happening, they just don't know what it is. All this feverish digital desperation makes the already clamorous M A N I A feel positively cacophonic: it may only be 39 minutes but it's one long ride” – AllMusic

Saving Grace Track: Champion

Vance Joy Nation of Two


Release Date: 23rd February, 2018   

Labels: Liberation

Sample Review:

But a little of that naivety goes a long way, like a supermarket trifle, and the triteness of the metaphors grates. On Crashing Into You alone he offers “I was a bird, you opened my cage”, “You light up my days, my personal sun” and “you made me feel new”. It’s Hallmark greetings-card verse as song lyrics. Still, that’s better than when he tries to get thoughtful, on Lay It on Me: “Some things are simple and hard to ignore, they say, hmmm mmm, the truth is like that.” Which things are those? Who are they? Why is the truth like that? Expect to hear every track, everywhere, all through spring and summer” – The Guardian  

Saving Grace Track: Saturday Sun

Imagine Dragons Origins


Release Date: 9th November, 2018

Labels: Kidinakorner/Polydor/Interscope

Sample Review:

However, love is deemed to be the cure for all of the world’s problems, from apathy to violence, on the listless Love.  “It’s been a long time comin’, feel like we’ve all been runnin’, feel like the Wild West gunnin’, listen to our elders shunnin’, flippin’ on the news be talkin’, all about the problems shockin’, we put on our headphones walkin’,” he sings, calling out our modern-day sins over a rolling beat before rushing into the handwringing chorus of “Where did we all go wrong?” A very valid question.

Misery finds a home on Origins and, while societal problems are laid bare, the solutions – like simply turning off our phones on Real Life if the constant bad news gets you down –  are as lacklustre as the songs.

For a band so concerned with losing their identity among the masses (or the charts), Origins fails to deliver anything distinctive; but, for a band that regularly sells out arenas and stadiums, the nothingness of their lyrics will be drowned out by the rest of their noise” – The Irish Times

Saving Grace Track: Natural

Justin Timberlake Man of the Woods


Release Date: 2nd February, 2018  

Label: RCA

Sample Review:

Tunes-wise, Timberlake’s return to his roots is partial, as standout songs like Sauce and Filthy gyrate persuasively around Princely funk and bombastic, lubricious R&B. Midnight Summer Jam is the sort of busy party production that Timberlake has specialised in for years, abetted by the Neptunes (who produce again here).

From here on in an uneasy fusion ensues, however, in which Timberlake “gets his flannel on” (Flannel) and mostly fails to combine the rural with an edgy digital aesthetic – a particularly gnomic duet with country star Chris Stapleton (Say Something) is produced by Timbaland. Sometimes, though, new ground is broken. Wave is , blithe, downright ear-pricking ska just on the “yes” side of “what?” – The Observer

Saving Grace Track: Man of the Woods

Greta Van Fleet Anthem of the Peaceful Army


Release Date: 19th October, 2018  

Label: Republic

Sample Review:

Blame it on GVF's desperate desire to hit their marks precisely. The group is so intent on recapturing the majestic lumber of Zeppelin at their peak, they dare not miss a step, letting the riffs pile up so they suggest epics. Sometimes, guitarist Jake Kiszka, bassist Sam Kiszka, and drummer Danny Wagner do work up a head of drama -- no swing, of course, because it's harder to replicate John Bonham's beat than approximate Jimmy Page's guitar army -- but they're undone by Josh Kiszka, a singer who is intent on singing with velocity that he can't muster. Josh may be the weak link, but he merely reveals how the whole band seem to have learned their moves from watching late-night concerts on Palladium while buying pre-worn vintage-styled T's at Urban Outfitters. For the band and audience alike, Greta Van Fleet is nothing more than cosplay of the highest order” – AllMusic

Saving Grace Track: When the Curtail Falls

Sting & Shaggy 44/876


Release Date: 20th April, 2018  

Labels: A&M/Interscope/Cherrytree

Sample Review:

Perhaps the only shocker is that this Tommy Bahama shirt of an album isn’t even fun to laugh at. Sure, Sting drops awkward reference to “my good friend, Shaggy.” “Just One Lifetime” reggae-fies Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus And The Carpenter.” One track is called, with no apparent self-awareness, “Sad Trombone.” (It’s about a sad trombonist.) But mostly, 44/876 is just unremarkable, limply competent reggae lite, designed for Sandals resort lobbies and Sting’s office” – The A.V. Club  

Saving Grace Track: Don’t Make Me Wait

Muse Simulation Theory


Release Date: 9th November, 2018

Labels: Warner Bros./Helium-3

Sample Review:

Take a step back from the ins and outs of the record and ‘Simulation Theory’ stands as a ridiculous, bombastic stab of maximalism from one of the world’s biggest stadium rock bands. The chugging intro of ‘Algorithm’ is perfect for walking out to at a sold-out Wembley Stadium to, and it’s clearly been written with exactly that in mind. Single ‘The Dark Side’ is a suitably groovy aside from the album’s relative lack of danceability, and by the time you’ve stopped laughing at the frankly jaw-dropping robotic intro to ‘Propaganda’, you realise you’re toe-tapping to its ‘80s-indebted verse without even realising.

The highlight is ‘Get Up And Fight’, beginning with hints of tropical house (stay with us) and skipping along with confidence before throwing out the best chorus the band have written in a decade. ‘Something Human’ is almost admirable in its absurdity - the lawsuit from Atomic Kitten’s ‘Whole Again’ is in the post - and if a Muse album isn’t meant to make you laugh, gasp and double-take in its ridiculousness, then we don’t wanna hear it” – DIY

Saving Grace Track: Pressure

Mumford & Sons Delta


Release Date: 16th November, 2018

Labels: Gentlemen of the Road/Island/Glassnote

Sample Review:

Perhaps this had a liberating effect on Mumford & Sons, allowing them to jam and create in ways both familiar and new, but it's hard to hear a kinetic spark on Delta. Rather, it's a measured and subdued affair, proceeding at a deliberate pace and unfurling at a hushed volume; even at its loudest moments, it seems quiet, even muffled. This kind of well-manicured production, when paired with a series of songs focused on internal journeys, ultimately has a lulling effect. There is a pulse, but it's soft and turned electronic. There is emotion, but it's been intentionally encased in a digital cocoon, one that flattens the group's bold accents (such as an embrace of vocoders) and turns Delta into soft, shimmering background music, ideal for any soothing setting you'd like” – AllMusic

Saving Grace Track: Guiding Light

Animal Collective Tangerine Reef


Release Date: 17th August, 2018

Label: Domino

Sample Review:

Tangerine Reef is described as a “visual tone poem”, which goes some way towards explaining the droning gurgled vocals sounding like spoken word being read underwater. Through experimental sound sculptures of disorienting free-flowing tempos, wildly contrasting pitches and timbres, Tangerine Reef gives a musical voice to these alien coral creatures and their aquatic world. If only it were a more mellifluous voice.

Strip away the warped vocals and heavy reverb to reveal occasional glimmers of beauty and unnerving dissonance, and it could be a film soundtrack – part horror, part nature documentary. But the most beautiful thing about this is by far the luminous fluorescence of the swaying coral creatures of the accompanying film” – The Independent

Saving Grace Track: Hair Cutter