The Most Disappointing Albums of 2011

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

 

Artist: Bon Iver

Album: Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Label: Jagjaguwar

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/boniverboniver.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 10

Bon Iver
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.

 

Artist: Tori Amos

Album: Night of the Hunters

Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/n/nightofhuntersalbumcover1.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 9

Tori Amos
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.

 

Artist: Florence and the Machine

Album: Ceremonials

Label: Universal

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/f/florence_ceremonials.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 8

Florence and the Machine
Ceremonials

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.

 

Artist: Feist

Album: Metals

Label: Interscope

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/f/feist_1108_106.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 7

Feist
Metals

“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.

 

Artist: Beyoncé

Album: 4

Label: Sony

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/3/3473207.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 6

Beyoncé
4

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.

5 – 1

Artist: Death Cab for Cutie

Album: Codes and Keys

Label: Atlantic

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/dcfccak51bsdv8cogl._ss500_.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 5Death Cab for Cutie
Codes and Keys

How many times can Death Cab for Cutie make the same album? Prior to their major label push, Death Cab was a self-challenging, risk-taking indie force to be reckoned with. However, once they were signed to Atlantic records, every subsequent album began to feel like a retread of the one that preceded it. On the eve of Codes and Keys release, the band informed their public that this album was going to be incredibly keyboard heavy. Everyone was hoping for something in the way of Postal Service, but what they got was a paint-by-numbers Death Cab album with the occasional keyboard substituted where a guitar would be. Moreover, the album feels more like a collection of b-sides scraped together from their Narrow Stairs days, with very few tracks standing out as a great Death Cab song. The lead single “You Are a Tourist” was a solid lead-in, elevating many fans expectations. But the tired and uninspired keyboard infusion into the typical Death Cab fare dashed those hopes quickly and completely.

 

Artist: Björk

Album: Biophilia

Label: Nonesuch/One Little Indian

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/bjork_biophilia.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 4

Björk
Biophilia

After a few years of experimental music projects, Björk’s return to the traditional album was approached in typical Björk style — characteristically atypical. This time, each track would be released with a custom designed iPad app(!?). No, seriously, an iPad app, the new technological device that is owned solely by the middle- and upper-class elite. These iPad apps are the recommended optimal way to enjoy Björk’s latest. For those of you who can’t afford to shell out the $500-plus to own the hardware through which Björk recommends experiencing her album, well, you can buy the basic single-disc edition (note: the ultimate edition, with custom-made tuning forks and wooden box selling for 200€, is no longer available). With all this hype and excitement over the bells and whistles surrounding the album, Björk fans were ultimately disappointed by the lack of quality of the music itself. Biophilia is ten songs that epitomize “style over substance”. All the quirks and apps and artwork may be really cool, but the music is not near the caliber of Björk’s capabilities.

 

Artist: Fiona Apple

Album: No new Fiona Apple album!

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/fiona_apple.png

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 3

Fiona Apple
No new Fiona Apple album!

More time has elapsed between 2005’s Extraordinary Machine and this supposed “new” Fiona Apple than there was between 1999’s When the Pawn… and Extraordinary Machine. This elusive fourth(!) album — 14 years in the making… and still counting — was announced in September of 2010, with a release date tentatively set for spring 2011. Michelle Branch (of all people) tweeted about how she had just heard new tracks from this supposed new Fiona Apple album and that they were genius. That’s right, Michelle Branch has heard this album before you have. Now, almost a year after its proposed release, there is still absolutely no news about what this new album is or when it’s coming out. So, while us good little fans waited around patiently like chumps, Ms. Apple reveled in making us squirm. Do we need to start another campaign to get this one released? I’m tired of forcing Fiona Apple to give us her music already.

 

Artist: Lady Gaga

Album: Born This Way

Label: Interscope

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/l/ladygagabornthisway51khn98bn9l._ss400_.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 2

Lady Gaga
Born This Way

The fall from grace isn’t hard and fast, it’s slow and painful — which means over the course of the year in the social networking era. We are beginning to learn this with Lady Gaga. The once hailed “Queen of Pop” (sorry Madonna, but your 30+ years in the biz and 50+ chart toppers mean nothing) is beginning to lose her minions, especially after the release of this tired and uninspired train wreck of a 17-song-long dud. At least The Fame and its unnecessary follow-up The Fame Monster gave us some catchy numbers like “Paparazzi”, “Just Dance”, “Bad Romance”, and the ridiculous “Poker Face”. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was fun. Then began the trite obnoxious arrogance that she tried to pass for “art” — sorry, but Björk did it best with her swan dress at the Oscars. However, all could be forgiven if Ms. Gaga could back it up with a solid record that would warrant all the premature attention. She didn’t. “Born This Way” is an blatant rip-off of “Express Yourself” awful song that preaches tolerance over acceptance. I’m sorry, but being “born this way” isn’t the reason why queers are deserving of respect. Try the fact that they are human and are entitled to choose for themselves. Hiding behind this “born this way” bullshit undermines the value that is inherent in every individual. But alas, there can only be so much political insight in a frivolous pop song. The rest of the album falls flat with boring choruses, tired RedOne production techniques, and overall BAD lyrics. It can’t even claim what her monstrous debut claims: it’s not fun.

 

Artist: Radiohead

Album: The King of Limbs

Label: TBD

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/radiohead_limbs.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number: 1

Radiohead
The King of Limbs

It physically pains me to put this album as the Number One Most Disappointing Album of 2011, and I know I am going to hear it for this one. I didn’t vote to put it on this list, but I have to respect the semi-democratic process that helped shape this list. Still, I can definitely see why there was such disappointment surrounding this album. First, Radiohead announced that a new album was going to be released and asked its fans to pre-order it. It was to be a newspaper album. We knew nothing more. On the day Radiohead decided to let its fans download the album, many were surprised that the album contained a scant eight tracks. That’s right, you just paid full-price for two songs short of a full album. In addition to the shortened track sequence, the album itself lacked much of the punch of its predecessor, In Rainbows, which flaunted some stellar tracks such as long-time fan favourite “Nude” and acoustic rocker “Jigsaw Falling into Place”. Instead, The King of Limbs was more subdued, less chaotic, but rather disjointed at times. There were few melodic hooks that fans could sink their teeth into. Although it featured some interesting rhythm sections and a soulful Thom Yorke, which we haven’t seen in a long while, it wasn’t the album that many fans of Radiohead were expecting. However, with the kick-ass track record this band has been riding on, they were bound to produce something that would leave their fans this divisive.

PopMatters