With another year comes another slew of hopeful album releases from our favorite new and old artists. How many of you can remember the feeling of anticipation when Radiohead announced they were releasing a brand new album, in less than a week no less!? And, as with every year and with every hopeful new album, there is the inevitable let down when you realize, only after a few listens, that the album you were eagerly anticipating didn’t live up to your expectations. Like last year, I have compiled a list of the ten most disappointing albums for the year. However, unlike last year, this year’s list comprises predominantly choices from PopMatters staff in addition to researched choices that received mediocre to bad critic reviews and fan reactions. Because some of these choices were voted onto this list, I cannot take full responsibility for the inclusion of albums that may also appear on the best albums list—especially the most disappointing album of 2011, which is, for the record, one of my favorites of the year.
These albums aren’t necessarily bad albums. In some cases, the albums weren’t what fans were expecting, and in others, they were exactly what they were expecting; some albums developed such hype prior to their release that they were doomed to be disappointing upon their release; some albums, released from some of the most brilliant artists of our time, were just too bizarre or ludicrous for many to get on board with; and, with one album in particular, we waited patiently all year only to realize… well you’ll see. So without further ado, the Top Ten Most Disappointing Albums of 2011! Compiled and Written by Enio Chiola
Bon Iver, Bon Iver
I’m not entirely sure why this album is on this list, as (like my number one) this was one of my favourites of the year. However, upon reading reviews and fan reactions to this record, I am beginning to understand why, for many, this was a disappointment. In 2009, Justin Vernon, better known to you as Bon Iver, released the critical darling For Emma, Forever Ago, a careful retelling of a doomed relationship ending, which moved many listeners. That album’s magnificence grew beyond itself in that many suspected that there was really no way Vernon could recapture the purity and serendipitous quality of that first record. So, upon the release of Bon Iver, Bon Iver, with his demons already expunged, we get Justin Vernon, the musician. A sequel of sorts to his debut, Bon Iver was, perhaps unfairly, set up to not produce something as magnificent as his debut. The emotion, the catharsis, the sparse production and musical approach, the vibrant yearning and regret in his vocal delivery—of course all these things could never be completely recreated, because, after all, how many times can you sing about the same thing? Ultimately, Vernon did what he knew how to do, what was expected of him from fans of For Emma—and it’s this expectation that ultimately leaves Bon Iver (at least for those fans) disappointing. It was what they thought he would deliver, but were secretly hoping that he wouldn’t.
Night of the Hunters
It’s no secret that some Tori fans have been disappointed with what this child prodigy has been producing now for over ten years. However, when the exciting details of Ms. Amos’ 13th studio album emerged, many started to envision the possibilities that this project could bring. The album was supposed to be many things: it would be classically inspired; it would be very piano heavy; there would be no other instruments other than piano and strings; it was going to detail the deterioration and resurrection of a marriage. Although Night of Hunters was all these things, it didn’t quite come together in the way that many fans were hoping. There were some high hopes that the complex melodic structures of classical music, combined with Tori’s fiery piano playing, would make for a mind-blowing experience. Although for some this was what Night of Hunters was, for others the album failed to evoke the kind of catharsis they were hoping. There was some information about the overall concept of the record (shape-shifting foxes moving through worlds of fire or whatever), many hoped that this ridiculous narrative, which was meant to stand as a metaphor for a deteriorating relationship, would be downplayed. We were wrong. Although the album itself isn’t horrible, it definitely didn’t meet the (perhaps unfair) expectations that many of her fans had for this album, which was to see her “return to form”. It’s overblown concept was simply too prevalent to overlook.
Florence and the Machine
We were all hoping that Florence was more than that one note. You know that note, the one that borders between belting and wailing. She leans on it far too much, and though its use in one or perhaps two tracks is impressive, it can get very grating, very quickly. Fortunately for her, Lungs was deftly balanced to showcase Florence’s range of talents. On Ceremonials however, this range is squeezed down from both sides so that all we get is her already characteristic rhythm-heavy sound with shouts and wails and belting at every turn. It’s like listening to an album of American Idol performances oversung. Hopefully, Florence will be able to bounce back from this monotonous sounding album and give us something as dynamic as her persona and stage presence suggests.
“1234” introduced many people to Feist’s sophomore album The Reminder, which in turn rocked their world. The Reminder was filled with delicately crafted tunes that redefined how singer-songwriters approached the folk/pop/rock genre. Because the album was so good, expectations were exponentially high for her follow-up, plus the confidence that Feist fans had in her abilities left many hopeful. Those hopes were met with head-scratching when the lead single “How Come You Never Go There” was released—a track that could easily have been a b-side from The Reminder. Hopes were then dashed when Metals leaked three weeks before its release. Although occasionally stunning, Metals failed to capture the hearts of Feist fans in the way that they were anticipating, leaving them ultimately dissatisfied. Probably because not a single tune breaks 80 bpm. Metals might have been better received as a fifth or sixth album, once Feist established herself as a versatile talent, but as a follow-up to a masterpiece, it feels flatter than it actually is.
4 is an album that you want to like more than you do. Although I Am Sasha Fierce wasn’t met with the warmest reception, Beyoncé herself is a soul superstar who can turn almost anything into gold, so very few doubted that she wouldn’t be capable of bouncing back from that fumble. Then “Run the World (Girls)” was released and was an instant flop—well, a flop by Beyoncé standards. Her record company rushed to release two more singles from her forthcoming album, but neither managed to capture the hearts of the pop music buying public. When 4 was finally released many fans (and some non-fans) couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Was it an early 90s R&B album? Was it a psychedelic soul/funk record? Or, was it simply a traditional pop record? Well, it was kind of all three. Although it was more musically sophisticated than previous efforts, it was often times too dizzying to follow, and it never quite packed the punch that it promised.