FEATURE: Strictly for the Diehards: Thirteen Underwhelming Albums by Great Artists




Strictly for the Diehards

PHOTO CREDIT: @gabriellehenderson  

Thirteen Underwhelming Albums by Great Artists


IT is inevitable that every iconic and brilliant...


 PHOTO CREDIT: @romankraft/Unsplash

artist releases a less-than-thrilling album if they put out enough work. If they are especially pioneering and popular, it can be quite a shock seeing something a little half-baked or unspectacular come into the market and change our perceptions. A lot of times, this rogue album does not derail momentum but, instead, provides an interesting anomaly. From The Beatles and David Bowie to Joni Mitchell and Arcade Fire, I have united thirteen artists who added a black spot to their otherwise (largely) incredible consistency. Rather than revel and highlight imperfection, I wanted to show that some of the best artists of all-time have had a misstep; they have not always come up to their golden level but, in the end, they always bounce back. You might have your own perception and choices but here, for your delectation, are thirteen occasions when huge artists…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @luzfc/Unsplash

FAILED to meet their high standard. 

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify/Getty Images


Guns N’ RosesChinese Democracy

Release Date: 23rd November, 2008

Labels: Geffin/Black Frog

Producer: Axl Rose/Caram Costanzo

Redemption Song: Chinese Democracy

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Appetite for Destruction (1987)


In an April Fools' review of Chinese Democracy written two years ago, Chuck Klosterman suggested that if it wasn't the greatest album ever released, it would be seen as a complete failure. Chinese Democracy needed to be a spectacle-- something that either validated its tortuous birthing process or a Hindenberg so horribly panned it would somehow validate Rose as a misunderstood genius. Instead, it's simply a prosaic letdown, constructed by a revolving cast of misfits ultimately led astray by a control freak with unlimited funding and no clear purpose, who even now remains more myth than artist”- Pitchfork

Led ZeppelinIn Through the Out Door

Release Date: 15th August, 1979

Label: Swan Song

Producer: Jimmy Page

Redemption Song: In the Evening

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)


A bit of a mess, really. As the Seventies drew to a grim end, guitarist Jimmy Page and John Bonham were increasingly debilitated by substance and alcohol abuse, forcing vocalist Robert Plant and multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones to assume control of the sinking balloon. Muddy production, perky synths, jaunty pop rhythms and an orchestral ballad make these songs barely recognisable as the heaviest band in history”- The Daily Telegraph


Release Date: 23rd March, 2012

Label: Interscope

Producers: Various

Redemption Song: Turn Up the Radio

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Ray of Light (1998)


We all know that Madonna is an extremely intelligent woman-- even if she's never been known for penning great lyrics, it's easier to take the mesmerizingly dumb lyrics of tracks like "Superstar" and "B-Day Song" as spiteful trolling rather than vapid pandering. It doesn't really matter whether or not this drivel is insulting to Madonna's audience-- the most loyal fans seem to embrace being submissive to her domineering persona-- but it is disheartening when one of the most influential pop artists of the 20th century is tossing out the world's umpteen-millionth "Mickey" retread as a lead single. She's the one who deserves better”- Pitchfork

David BowieNever Let Me Down

Release Date: 20th April, 1987

Label: EMI America

Producers: David Bowie/David Richards

Redemption Song: Day-In Day Out

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)


David Bowie broke away from the mainstream pop of Tonight with 1987's Never Let Me Down, turning out a jumbled mix of loud guitar rockers and art rock experiments like the failed "Glass Spider." While it's not as consistent as Tonight, it's far more interesting, with the John Lennon homage of the title track being one of his most underrated songs”- AllMusic

Bob DylanSelf Portrait

Release Date: 8th June, 1970                          

Label: Columbia

Producer: Bob Johnson

Redemption Song: All the Tired Horses

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Blonde on Blonde (1966)


It may not be worth the effort, either, since this isn't a matter of deciphering cryptic lyrics or interpreting lyrics, it's all about discerning intent, figuring out what the hell Dylan was thinking when he was recording -- not trying to decode a song. There are times where it's quite clearly played for a laugh -- if his shambling version of "The Boxer" isn't a pointed parody of Paul Simon, there was no reason to cut it -- but he's poker-faced elsewhere, and the songs (apart from such earthed gems as "Mighty Quinn," which aren't presented in their best versions) are simply not worth much consideration. But, in a strange way, Self Portrait is, because decades have passed and it still doesn't make much sense, even for Dylanphiles. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's worth the time to figure it out -- you're not going to find an answer, anyway -- but it's sort of fascinating all the same”- AllMusic


Release Date: 16th August, 1994                                    

Label: Warner Bros.

Producer: Prince

Redemption Song: Space

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Purple Rain (1984)


Prince-philes will already be aware of the Clinton (“Hollywood”) and Staples (“You Will Be Moved”) tracks, which appear on their most recent albums. There’s a rousing performance by the Steeles (“Color”), the return of the instrumental funk terrorists Madhouse (“17”) and “Love Sign,” a duet between (The Symbol) and Nona Gaye that is appropriately twitchy. The biggest surprise comes from Minneapolis native Margie Cox, whose “Standing at the Altar” is a buoyant single that finds (The Symbol) paying affectionate homage to the Motown hit machine….Still, no big meaning on this set. Maybe it’s a mistake to expect such things from an artist whose focus is drifting from his art and who is increasingly settling on semantic games about what he should be called. Maybe someone who has contributed so much, whose ideas have broadened the very canvas on which everyone else works, deserves to trash everything while waiting for the next inspiration to arrive. That doesn’t mean we have to suffer patiently beside him”- Rolling Stone

OasisHeathen Chemistry

Release Date: 1st July, 2002

Labels: Big Brother/Epic

Producers: Oasis

Redemption Song: Stop Crying Your Heart Out

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Definitely Maybe (1994)


The more cynical among you may suggest that things have gone desperately awry when the best song Oasis can come up with bears comparison not to I Am the Resurrection but a track from the Stone Roses' rubbish second album. The more cynical among you would be right. There is a finality about Heathen Chemistry, the band's third hopeless attempt in a row. The last time Oasis released a decent album, John Major was PM, Nick Leeson was bringing down Barings Bank and Robson and Jerome were number one. Oasis got to the top and, with Heathen Chemistry, they have finally got down. As it plays, however, you can't help thinking: there has to be a more dignified route than this”- The Guardian

Janet Jackson20 Y.O.

Release Date: 26th September, 2006                           

Label: Virgin

Producers: Various

Redemption Song: So Excited

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: The Velvet Rope (1997)


Well, it beats Damita Jo. The dirty talk that helped sink that 2004 Janet Jackson disc is dialed down from 11 to 8 on the raunch meter. And co-producer/beau Jermaine Dupri’s electro-crunk, which dominates 20 Y.O.‘s first half, nicely complements the quiet storminess favored by her old standby producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, in the second. But sharp production can’t mask the absence of any standouts likely to be remembered 20 months from now — a big minus when the title intends to remind you how well her ’86 break-out, Control, has held up after 20 years”- Entertainment Weekly

The BeatlesYellow Submarine

Release Date: 13th January, 1969                                  

Label: Apple

Producer: George Martin

Redemption Song: All You Need Is Love

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Revolver (1966)


Naysayers have their own reasons to why Yellow Submarine is a weak Beatles effort, and in some ways they might be right — after all, The Beatles only contributed six of 13 songs (two having been previously released). However, as a whole, Yellow Submarine is a delightful album, even if it’s still a less-than-acceptable inclusion in the Beatles canon. In its defense, every single Beatles track is solid and encompasses the listener with joy and chaos, quantity notwithstanding. If this were a review of solely the Beatles EP portion, four and a half stars could gloriously stud the page, which is what should matter. However, the soundtrack as a whole stands on a weighted three and a half, bogged down by a wonderful yet overbearing score that, with all due respect to Martin, should have been sold separately.

Yellow Submarine is not the red-headed stepchild; it just never had the disc space and necessary LSD to display its true colors. Our guess is that all went wasted toward the filming of Sgt. Pepper’s (perhaps the walrus ate it all)”- Consequence of Sound

Arcade FireEverything Now


Release Date: 28th July, 2017                                          

Labels: Sonovox/Columbia

Producers: Arcade Fire/Thomas Bangalter/Steve Mackey

Redemption Song: Everything Now

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Funeral (2004)


On “Creature Comfort,” Butler sings about someone attempting suicide while listening to Funeral. In the world of Everything Now, it works as this shocking, bemused moment of interconnectivity. The way he sings it—almost in passing—fits with the dazed and dead tone Butler conveys through his lyrics. But in the world outside the record, it’s callous and obnoxious, unpacked without grace or taste by a band who are historically committed to helping out those in need. Is this who they fear they’ll become, or is this who they have become? It’s a question the album fails to answer”- Pitchfork

Bruce SpringsteenHuman Touch

Release Date: 31st March, 1992                                     

Label: Columbia

Producers: Bruce Springsteen/Jon Landau/Chuck Plotkin/Roy Bittan

Redemption Song: Human Touch

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Born to Run (1975)


The reaction was exacerbated by the drawn-out release schedule that by 1992 had become common to superstars: this simply wasn't the record Springsteen fans had waited four and a half years to hear. Though at nearly 59 minutes it was the longest single-disc album of his career (which is not even counting the fact that a second whole album was released simultaneously), and though it contained several songs that could have been big hits -- the "Tunnel of Love" sound-alike title track, which actually made the Top 40, "Roll of the Dice," an AOR radio favorite, "Man's Job," and even "Soul Driver," which belonged on the next Southside album -- Human Touch was an uninspired Bruce Springsteen album, his first that didn't at least aspire to greatness. Springsteen may have put out the more substantial Lucky Town at the same time in recognition of the relatively slight nature of the material here”- AllMusic

Joni MitchellDog Eat Dog


Release Date: October 1985                                           

Label: Geffen

Producers: Joni Mitchell/Larry Klein/Thomas Dolby/Mike Shipley

Redemption Song: Good Friends

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Blue (1971)


Joni Mitchell here turned to guests like Michael McDonaldThomas DolbyDon HenleyJames Taylor, and Wayne Shorter, continuing to straddle the worlds of California folk/pop and jazz fusion. Musically, it worked, although as a lyricist, Mitchell again took off after abstractions (one song railed against "The three great stimulants of the exhausted ones/Artifice, brutality and innocence"), such that, even when you could figure out what she was talking about, you didn't care”- AllMusic

Michael JacksonInvincible

Release Date: 30th October, 2001                                 

Label: Epic

Producers: Various

Redemption Song: You Rock My World

The Artist’s Album Masterpiece: Off the Wall (1979)


Ultimately, it is Invincible's quest for regularity that is its undoing. Jerkins's contributions aside, it expresses its normality through utterly anodyne music. Jackson emerges as strange and sinister as ever; this time, he sounds like a strange, sinister man who has made a boring and very long album. Tedious ballad after tedious ballad pile up over 16 tracks. Jackson strains away (on Speechless he even feigns tears), Carlos Santana pops up for a guest appearance, but the songs are unmemorable, not a Scream or Billie Jean among them. After 76 unremitting minutes, you're left in no doubt: like its creator, Invincible has simply gone too far”- The Guardian