We all make mistakes. That’s why Yikes put quirky erasers on pencils, right? Unless you’re talking about Jeff Mangum or Kate Bush — artists who opt in and out when necessary — pretty much any talented individual stumbles given a long enough timeline. Now, we don’t know any of these artists, and we didn’t prod them for answers, so the idea that any of these 20 albums are “regrettable” in their eyes is a total assumption on our part.
Having said that, we can’t help but wonder how they’d think otherwise.
20. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2
Leave it to Justin Timberlake to follow up an impressive, if rather lengthy and glossy, comeback LP with an album that’s longer, glossier, and fiercely unsexy. Outtake albums nearly always suck — let Amnesiac be the rare exception — but 2 of 2 is almost concerning in its pointlessness: the songs are not only hookless and cloying, but drag on forever, as Timberlake finds himself incapable of resisting the four-minute outro (which worked rather well on, say, “Mirrors”). That’s not to mention lyrical flops like “If you’re looking for your animal/ Hop in my cage” and cringey acoustic fodder that arrives in the form of the hidden “Pair of Wings”. But 2 of 2‘s most troubling offense is how it soils the legacy of The 20/20 Experience for years to come.
Saving grace? As far as vampire sex romps go, “True Blood” is five years too late and three minutes too long — and irresistibly catchy nonetheless.
19. R.E.M. – Around the Sun
Peter Buck didn’t hold back his feelings on Around the Sun during R.E.M.’s Accelerate press tour: “It seemed like we’d turned into one of those bands that just book like a million months in the studio and just beat it to death.” Brutal, but true. The band’s unlucky 13th album is a forced, overproduced effort with zero identity. No matter what critics may say about Up and Reveal, at least those records contain a group of songs that feel finished. For the first time, the band sounds bored. We’re bored. Songs like “Wanderlust” and “The Worst Joke Ever” appeared to be the death knell for the band after 20-plus years. Fortunately, the Athens trio would significantly cut down on their studio time during the recordings of their final two records (Accelerate and Collapse into Now), proving once again that the first take is usually better than the 92nd.
Saving grace? Some songs come to life on R.E.M. Live, particularly “The Ascent of Man”.
18. Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist
After the Smashing Pumpkins broke up, Billy Corgan experienced his share of slipups. Although many dismissed Zwan and his electronic solo venture, TheFutureEmbrace, he really tripped up on the overproduced Zeitgeist. Instead of playing the demonic Zero of Mellon Collie, Corgan called himself and the newly organized outfit “Starz”, sleepwalking through mushy rockers like “Bleeding the Orchid” and the repetitive malaise of “Bring the Light”. Similar disappointments accompanied the empty performances of these songs, which revealed that Corgan’s newly recruited young guns contributed absolutely nothing to the mix. Considering that Corgan similarly orchestrated the majority of the band’s magnum opus, Siamese Dream, Zeitgeist feels easily disposable by his standards.
Saving grace? Even though it’s corny, “That’s the Way (My Love Is)” is a fun track to bop your head to. “Doomsday Clock” gets by relatively unscathed, too.
17. Jay Z – Kingdom Come
You have to respect Jay Z for knowing full well that Kingdom Come is the weakest effort of his storied career, having ranked it dead last when he recently stacked his albums against each other. “First game back, don’t shoot me,” he quips, acknowledging the ensuing rust. Despite being one of his most profitable records and even garnering a Grammy nomination, Kingdom Come was mostly tolerated upon its release, earning middling reviews from critics. In hindsight, this was the record where we saw the businessman eclipse the musician, a byproduct of burgeoning entrepreneurial efforts in his time away from the rap game. Production by Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Just Blaze, and The Neptunes aside, Kingdom Come comes off as lyrically weak and too glamorous to sound like a genuine Jigga record.
Saving grace? The reunion of Hov and Just Blaze on three tracks (“Oh My God”, “Kingdom Come”, and “Show Me What You Got”) all stand out as songs that at least kind of sound like the old Jay.
16. Green Day – Uno, Dos, Tres
Ambitious Green Day projects were basically the M.O. throughout the 2000s. The trio of bratty power-chord slingers reached a commercial peak in 2004 with the cohesive and universally palatable punk rock opera American Idiot. They successfully followed that up with another concept album, 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, and even a Broadway adaption of Idiot. With those successes under their belt, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool released three albums over the course of four months: ¡Uno!, the somewhat winning return of “classic”” Green Day; ¡Dos!, xeroxed, phoned-in garage rock; and the self-described “mixed bag” of ¡Tre!. With so much output in so little time, it’s not surprising that ¡Uno! disappointed sales-wise, with only 139,000 copies sold in its debut week, leaving ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! to fare worse, dropping off with 69,000 and 58,000 first-week sales respectively. Doozies like “Kill the DJ”, “The Forgotten”, and almost all of ¡Dos! didn’t help either.
Saving grace? You’ll have to dig, but “Nuclear Family”, “Let Yourself Go”, and “X-Kid” are all worthy Green Day entries.
15. Pop ETC – Pop ETC
Christopher Chu’s 2012 announcement that The Morning Benders would be changing their name to Pop ETC. to eliminate any ties to a gay slur didn’t seem so bizarre at first, even if the new name came off as unfairly stale for a band gaining speed off two fine LPs. And then came the pre-album interviews, in which Chu shadily revealed something else up his sleeve, something clearly more about a calculated, smarmily anti-indie reconceptualization of his band’s image than any supposedly bold, proactive effort towards fighting hate. And then came the songs of Pop ETC., 11 of them, every bit as cheap and glittery-sounding as promised — not to mention clueless and completely debasing to the very Auto-Tune pop aesthetic Chu said he was earnestly pursuing — and complemented with some cover art apparently composed by a tween who revels in the self-righteous high of proclaiming taste in “y’know, pretty much ALL kinds of music!”
Saving grace? No word of a followup as of yet.
14. SuperHeavy – SuperHeavy
What is SuperHeavy? A midlife crisis of Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, A. R. Rahman, and Damian Marley. [See also: What happens when supergroups get preachy?; Albums Forgotten in 2011; Lame reggae; and Disturbances at Jim Henson’s Studios.]
Saving grace? Joss Stone got a paycheck.
13. Nas – Nastradamus
If Illmatic to It Was Written was a slight slip and It Was Written to I Am… is that loss of balance you get by stepping on that imaginary stair in the dark, then I Am… to Nastradamus is the long, face-first tumble at the top of an ascending escalator. You’d have no reason to attempt traveling down an upward moving escalator, just like Nas had no business pulling some of what he tried on his worst album — a rushed effort conceived after double-disc album I Am…The Autobiography was aborted following bootlegs. The unparalleled technical skill on Illmatic has been constantly notarized, but this was rap prowess coming from a somebody — a somebody with his worldview, dreams, and reality fully articulated within a succinct sub-40-minute package. Instead of that level of depth, we get “Big Girl” — in which Nas informs a lady on the hook it’s time to fuck since she’s “fully grown with your hormones now” — and the woefully misogynistic “You Owe Me”. “Yeah, owe me back like you owe your tax/ Owe me back like 40 acres to blacks/ Pay me back when you shake it like that girl,” Nas commands on the hook in one of the album’s many strikeouts. At least “Oochie Wally” isn’t on here.
Saving grace? Nastradamus helped Nas become an easy target for Jay Z on “Takeover”, which is widely considered the best rap diss ever. It’s also the song that helped reignite the fire within Nas that many thought had died right before the millennium. Queensbridge was well-represented on “Ether” and Stillmatic.
12. Eminem – Relapse
Marshall Mathers himself admits on “Not Afraid”, a single off his aptly titled 2010 album, Recovery, that Relapse didn’t showcase the best Eminem he could be. He raps, “Let’s be honest, that last Relapse CD was ehhhh/ Perhaps I ran them accents into the ground/ Relax, I ain’t going back to that now.” Even though his contemporary, Tyler, The Creator, has publicly sung the album’s praises, Relapse feels like a haphazardly xeroxed attempt at getting back to his Marshall Mathers LP-era form. There’s the shock humor, the welcome return of his Slim Shady alter ego, but with few notable exceptions, the songs feel lifeless, especially the single “We Made You” and the regrettable “Bagpipes from Baghdad”. To make matters worse, Em uses a punchy, staccato-heavy accent that’s as baffling as it is obnoxious. While 2004’s Encore signaled the beginning of Eminem’s artistic decline, Relapse was the bottom. Fortunately, Em’s Recovery brought things back to normal.
Saving grace? Despite the misfires, Eminem is still one of the best rappers alive. Even though there are rehashed themes and that extremely grating accent, songs like the Dr. Dre-assisted “Old Time’s Sake” and the closing “Underground” are still worthwhile.
11. Madonna – American Life
Confusing and cluttered, Madonna’s American Life attempted to capture the pop sensation at her most political. Instead, her ninth studio album polarized fans and critics, and produced a disappointing series of singles that paled in comparison to anything on 1998’s Ray of Light or 2000’s Music. She raps to George W. Bush on the title track, delivers an insipid James Bond theme with “Die Another Day”, and acts like she’s not a part of “Hollywood”. What’s more, the smug way the former Material Girl criticizes the American Dream and lambastes traditional pop sensibilities she once constructed herself fractures any credibility her awkward rock pop concept attempted to own. Let’s just be glad she found disco again in 2005.
Saving grace? “Love Profusion” is pretty great.
10. Metallica – St. Anger
Metallica could have been in worse shape in 2003, but not much worse: Frontman James Hetfield was struggling with alcoholism, and the Los Angeles-founded group were making an album without recently departed bassist Jason Newsted for the first time since 1986. For St. Anger, the followup to 1997’s Reload, producer Bob Rock stepped in for Newsted and did fine, just fine, but that’s not the extent of the change. The hooks are few and far between, and there’s no soloing. We’re glad that Hetfield was compelled to vent as clearly and openly as he did, but in accordance with the internal turmoil of the band itself, his lazy employment of the f-bomb and (to borrow a term from Brent DiCrescenzo’s Pitchfork review) “Bruckheimer emo” verbiage underscored that the band was a little rusty compositionally. It’s no wonder that fans at the time were so quick to hail upstart thrashers like Orlando’s Trivium “the next Metallica.”
Saving grace? The title track, one of six songs to top seven minutes, is a stop-and-starter with the album’s most combative Hetfield vocals.
09. Weezer – Raditude
You can’t help but question Rivers Cuomo’s bizarre logic. Following a string of disappointing albums, Weezer had ample opportunity to reclaim their composure amid a steady but growing dissent. Instead, they seized their decline with Raditude. Marked by cringe-worthy, juvenile lyrics and awkward collaborations with Lil Wayne and Jermaine Dupri, their seventh studio album is the antithesis of everything their classic self-titled Blue debut symbolized. They started as sensitive underdog protagonists, but on Raditude, they celebrate the debauchery of teenage partying. Cuomo invokes an apparent midlife crisis on “In the Mall” by detailing the escapades of joyriding elevators and buying pretzels. And, in the vapid and pointless “The Girl Got Hot”, he longingly pines for his junior high crush who… got hot. Throughout, Cuomo sounds like a man deep in the throes of an awkward rebellion against adulthood and leaves the listener feeling vapid and hallow. Sadly, the album offered nothing but a stark reminder that Weezer’s pre-millennium glory would not be restored.
Saving grace? “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”, despite having the same percussion as “Daves I Know”, is one of the most addicting post-2000 Weezer tracks.
08. The Stooges – The Weirdness
One of my least favorite record shopping experiences goes back to 2007, when, like an idiot, I opted for The Weirdness over Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. “No man, I gotta hear this,” I told my friend at Best Buy. “It’s the fuckin’ Stooges.” Driving back, I flipped through each track of the band’s first album in over 30 years, looking for their trademark scuzz and intensity as my friend teased me with his little Arcade Fire flip-book of synchronized swimmers. Blame it on pride, but I trudged through the first few tracks, silently grimacing and kicking myself not only for buying it, but for acknowledging the damn thing’s existence. Everything sounded so tacky, polished, and uninspiring… like some anti-Raw Power. I made it to “ATM”, Iggy’s geriatric snore of a lyrical experience, before deciding the track captured the album’s spirit altogether: a forgettable errand that always manages to fuck up your day.
Saving grace? Fuck you.
07. Bruce Springsteen – Human Touch and Lucky Town
By the 1990s, Bruce Springsteen had waved goodbye to the E Street Band, as well as New Jersey, his home state and muse, only to move to California. Obviously, Springsteen is best with the E Street Band, and Human Touch and the more substantial Lucky Town prove this. Following Guns N’ Roses, who released Use Your Illusion I & II a year prior, Springsteen released both Lucky Town and Human Touch on the same day, bringing each album down. Human Touch is layered with saccharine production complete with poorly aged synths — case in point the not so timely “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”. Lucky Town has more welcome rough edges, but it doesn’t live up to his standards. If the best songs on those albums were combined to make a slimmer, better record, it would still rank as a middle-of-the-road album for Springsteen.
Saving grace? The title track off Human Touch is nice enough, along with “With Every Wish”. Plus, there are some good songs off Lucky Town, like “Better Days”, “If I Should Fall Behind”, and “Souls of the Departed”.
06. Neil Young – Everybody’s Rockin’
As a record, Everybody’s Rockin’ is lackluster and goofy, but as a practical joke, it’s hilarous. Following Trans, Neil Young’s weirdly compelling techno outing, and an aborted country effort that later surfaced as 1985’s Old Ways, Geffen requested a rock ‘n’ roll album, the story goes. So, Shakey served up this mind-numbing novelty letter to 1950s rockabilly, complete with period covers, a mystery “Shocking Pinks” backing group, and gated reverb so thick you’ll cough at the stench. As a genre exercise, it’s a winking, but maddeningly goofy project that ironically winds up sounding far more fake than the electronic LP it follows. Of course, Young’s audience wasn’t in on the joke, and neither was Geffen; the label sued him for $3.3 million in November of the same year.
Saving grace? Hidden amidst the shlock is “Wonderin'”, a nifty tune that dates back well over a decade prior and can be found in livelier form on Crazy Horse’s 1970 Live at the Fillmore East recording.
05. Bob Dylan – Empire Burlesque
After making a well-received return to secular tunes with post-Christian album Infidels, Bob Dylan sought to contemporize his sound. So to help give his ’85 LP a more modern sheen, he recruited vogue DJ/producer Arthur Baker (New Order, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen). Unfortunately, the result was Empire Burlesque, a contrived and awkward offering that stands as the most regrettable of Dylan’s 55-year career. Buried beneath glitzy synths and obtrusive drums, the singer-songwriter’s lyrics are barely audible. Bob probably just wanted folks to think he was hip, but Empire Burlesque feels artificial and dated. Dylan’s voice is croaky and the instrumentation sounds bloated; we’re forced to endure nine overproduced songs before he finally unplugs on stark closing cut, “Dark Eyes”. For an artist whose persona is wrapped up in integrity and mystique, this cheesy, indulgent offering was a major misstep.
Saving grace? Dylan saves the best for last with “Dark Eyes”, so just skip to the end.
04. Chris Gaines – In the Life of Chris Gaines
From 1989 to the present, Garth Brooks has 6 “diamond” status records (ten million-plus copies sold) and has become the third best selling artist of all time behind Elvis and the Beatles (as well as second best solo artist behind Elvis). Brooks was one of the biggest acts in the world during the ’90s. Every album he released turned to gold — or platinum or diamond in most cases. Until he decided to switch things up, that is. In 1999, Brooks got weird, and recorded and released …The Life of Chris Gaines, a rock concept album about his alter ego Chris Gaines — an apparently already established rock star who fell from grace. The album was supposed to accompany a movie about Chris Gaines starring Brooks, but the album’s poor sales killed that before it started. While Brooks did have the chops to pull off the rock, his unshakable character work just confused everyone — as did the uneven album of schmaltzy pop rock.
Saving grace? In spite of the weirdness, the album still went double platinum, so Brooks didn’t lose too much footing. Also, tracks like “Main Street” and “That’s the Way I Remember It” showed that Brooks had the talent to crossover wherever he wanted. There was also that Saturday Night Live appearance.
03. Black Flag – What The…
The Black Flag “reunion” of 2013 will live on in the annals of punk rock history as the most unnecessary, embarrassing, and outright insulting reboot of all time. While one cannot be disappointed by what was expected to be terrible, Greg Ginn and Co. managed to make the sullying of the band’s hallowed legacy absolute with the release of What The…, a 22-track abomination that can be critiqued using only the titles of its songs. “No Teeth”, “Give Me All Your Dough”, and “You Gotta Be Joking” make the point well enough for us to conjecture that maybe the entire thing — the tour, the album, the lawsuits — were an elaborate commentary on the state of punk rock in general. The album itself, a languid and cartoonishly rendered collection of Black Flag-esque punk songs, will forever serve as a shining example of why sometimes bands really are better off dead. At least we still have Crass.
Saving grace? We’re not the only ones who hate it. Ask the lead singer. Who is it now?
–David Von Bader
02. The Velvet Underground – Squeeze
Squeeze is the final album released by “The Velvet Underground,” a term used loosely here, as Lou Reed contributed nothing to the record, and neither did any of the other original members. Instead, this ship sank under the disorderly leadership of new captain Doug Yule and slithery agent Steve Sesnick, who devolved hip heroin chic into a messy Rolling Stones wedding band that specializes in Beach Boys B-sides. How does Squeeze compare to the legendary group’s previous offerings? Let’s just say barring an inexplicable appearance in The Grand Budapest Hotel, you won’t be hearing any of these songs in a Wes Anderson picture. Nor in a jukebox. And certainly not on a greatest hits album. What’s the lesson here? Never give unchecked cash advances to unscrupulous management and then act shocked when you’re delivered a shit sandwich with extra suck sauce.
Saving grace? Canadian house group Azari & III paid tribute to Squeeze’s masturbatory album cover with their self-titled 2011 release. Except here, New York’s Empire State Building was replaced by Dubai’s equally phallic Burj Khalifa.
01. The Clash – Cut the Crap
The Jones and Strummer partnership had already begun unraveling when the Clash put out Combat Rock in 1982. With Joe Strummer wanting to take the band back to its more punk rock roots (hence the album title) when they regrouped in ’83 to record what would become their final album, Cut the Crap, tensions were already high, and Mick Jones’ newfound interest in synthesizers didn’t help matters. After firing Jones, Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon replaced him with two new guitarists, apparently forgetting that it wasn’t Jones’ guitar as much as it was his songwriting that helped make the Clash what it was (Jones wrote the majority of the music, Strummer the lyrics).
The final album of a group once labeled “the only band that matters” not only fails to achieve the initial goals set upon by the two remaining founding members, but it almost borders on self-parody, only the band isn’t in on the joke. To add further insult to injury, when the Clash released its super-mega-everything-under-the-sun box set, Sound System, last year, a collection that for all intents and purposes collects virtually everything the band ever did, including rarities, non-LP singles, remixes, and the group’s five albums, Cut the Crap (album No. 6) was nowhere to be found.
Saving grace? Nah.