2010 saw its fair share of brilliantly produced and well-crafted records. Some of these came by surprise, with little anticipation. Others that were projected to be highlights fell completely flat, defying all expectation of greatness and proving that even the best musical craftsmen can deliver a dud now and again.
The disappointing album is a difficult topic to broach, especially considering the degree of expectation from one listener to the next. However, if we considered every solid opinion about greatness, there would be no purpose for album reviews at all—and can you imagine a world without album reviews? I can’t.
Below is a non-expansive list of some of the biggest album disappointments in the past year. Considering the caliber of artistry here, some of them are major disappointments, while others were simply predictable, but failed to deliver on the off-chance hope that it could have been better. There are a few albums where the necessity and social circumstances surrounding the album’s release are the main cause for its inclusion. Others are just bad when there was opportunity and prospect for brilliance.
Body Talk, Pt. 2 / Body Talk
I feel bad putting Robyn on this list, mainly because I have a soft spot for artists who 13 years into their career come back as a tour de force with powerful and significant music. Most often the longevity trend tends to see artists deteriorate into obscurity as their careers progress. Robyn made a full-throttled comeback, announcing that she was going to release her next album in 3 parts over the course of 2010. This news was even more exciting because, Body Talk, Pt. 1 was/is absolutely amazing. Robyn proved musically relevant again, incorporating so much in this small, eight-track-long record that she broke your heart and your legs all in one shot. This is why Body Talk, Pt. 2 is so disappointing. Genuine musical innovation was expected with Pt. 2, but instead it ended up being a let down with tired b-side quality tracks, similar but absolutely inferior to their Pt. 1 counter-parts. It’s clear why Body Talk, Pt. 1 had the acoustic version of “Hang with Me” on it: the fully produced version is almost identical to the superior “Dancing on My Own”. This is not to say that all the tracks on Pt. 2 are bad, just not as good. Why wouldn’t she simply compact Pt. 1 with all the best tracks from both parts into one kick-ass meta-album? Well, she did. The redundant Body Talk, which stands as the cheated Pt. 3 in this fake trilogy of albums, is simply a re-arranging of tracks from parts 1 and 2, with five new tunes. I can’t help but feel a little pumped by this hype that didn’t really deliver—Boo-urns!
She & Him
Oh Zooey, where did it all go wrong? Perhaps when I went to see you in concert this summer and was shocked to see you up on stage looking down at your audience (both literally and figuratively) as you paraded around with an air of righteousness that, after only two albums (one of which is stellar, the other, not so much), is definitely not warranted. She & Him’s formidable debut, Volume One, stood out as a refreshing mix of ‘50s AM radio girl-group music and Tin Pan Alley country. Although the entire album wasn’t brilliant, the songs that were were absolutely amazing. One need only listen to “Sentimental Heart” or “Change is Hard” to experience this. Volume Two was much anticipated, and despite every effort to get behind it, the album feels less authentic, and more stylized—forced, almost. The earnest and modest little girl singing behind her upright piano has been replaced by a movie stardom frontwoman with her über-cool indie guitarist M. Ward. It all feels a little more calculated and much less genuine.
Admiral Fell Promises
(Caldo Verde; US: 13 Jul 2010; UK: 12 Jul 2010)
Sun Kil Moon
Admiral Fell Promises
Sun Kil Moon is one of my favourite bands. However, what I’m beginning to experience more and more, ever since the musical genius that was Ghosts of the Great Highway (which goes down as one of the best albums ever), is that with every subsequent release there are a handful of stellar tracks, mixed in with some tepid mediocrity. The highlight is that those stellar tracks alone are worth the purchase of the album. Admiral Fell Promises, with all of its beautifully performed classical guitar work, fails to resonate in ways that previous efforts have. Mark Kozelek always managed to bridge the gap between sincerity and artistry, and his acoustic work is generally one of the major highlights of his massive body of work. This is why Admiral Fell Promises is so disappointing. Previous work gave every indication that a complete solo acoustic record would be a monumental accomplishment and stand out as one of Sun Kil Moon’s best records. Unfortunately, most songs here fell flat, and while the first few listens are engaging, the album has simply slipped away and is almost completely forgotten.
Saturday Night Wrist, Deftones’ amazing 2006 record, was for all intents and purposes the perfect album from an aging band working within a limited genre. They took their nu-metal positioning and flipped it on its head. It was a bold move and one that really paid off. It gave us an indication of where this band might be headed, creatively speaking. Diamond Eyes is unfortunately three steps back. It’s littered with uninspired songwriting, and sounds that mimic previous material. The album plays more like a compilation record of the band’s lesser known tracks, just worse. Everything here sounds like Deftones has written it before. Played side by side to 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist, it’s difficult to even imagine that this is the same band. What happened to the spark? What happened to the inspiration? Perhaps the fact that Deftones suffered a major blow when bassist Chi Cheng was severely injured in a crippling car accident in 2008, which resulted in them shelving their work-in-progress sixth album, has something to do with it. The band was in the midst of recording Eros, an as yet unreleased record that was described as an off-the-wall unorthodox undertaking. It was described by Cheno as having a kind of aggression that Deftones had not visited in awhile, but after Cheng’s accident, the band regrouped and recorded a different record, the resulting blandness that is Diamond Eyes. We can only hope that with the recovery of Cheng, the band will give us a taste of Eros next time around.
It’s a little odd that I’m putting this fairly good fifth release by pop sensation Rihanna on this list. Taken out of context of the goings-on Rihanna has seen in her life over the past two years, Loud stands as a solid pop effort, full of catchy melodies, pounding bass lines, and uncomplicated fun. At the same time, placed in the context of her recent life, this is also the reason why Loud is on this list. Everyone who knows Rihanna knows what happened between her and Chris Brown (remember him for anything other than domestic violence?). Shortly after that disturbing situation, when the world was doing their best to show Rihanna their support while simultaneously condemning Chris Brown and thus relegating him to music obscurity, she released her fourth and probably most personal album, Rated R. Mind you, that album wasn’t the best, but it did speak to some of the emotions and complications she went through during that ordeal. Needless to say, Rated R did horribly, producing only one solid hit (one of the only songs on the album that was not a reflection of what happened). Loud, released just less than a year later, feels like a cheap quick rush to get new, light, and fun pop music from Rihanna out there—because god knows, we don’t want to hear her griping about her abuse! Loud is disappointing more because of its necessity, and essentially what it is trying to erase. Its presence indicates that pop artists are no longer allowed to be creatively artistic, thriving from personal turmoil, but instead must pander to the mass desire to consume light, airy, and non-depressing or thought-provoking music. Perhaps the world’s rejection of Rated R was an indication of Rihanna’s inability to effectively articulate herself? In any event, we now have Loud—a blissful catchy, no-thinking-or-emoting required album—so we can now forget all the horrible things that happened to Rihanna and not have to hear her singing about them.