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The Most Disappointing Albums of 2012

PopMatters Staff
Smashing Pumpkins

Another year, another round of disappointments. While previous years may have been more obvious in their selections, this year’s list is fairly fortuitous, blending a variety of genres and artists.

Another year, another round of disappointments. While previous years may have been more obvious in their selections, this year’s list is fairly fortuitous, blending a variety of genres and artists -- some old, some new, some pretty freaking crazy. Although Thomas Fenwick points out with his review of Ben Folds Five's The Sound of the Life of the Mind that many disappointments can be foretold, there is evidence here to suggest that disappointment can seep in from unexpected places. Lana Del Rey didn’t turn out to be the second coming that so many expected, but rather a person, and a musician, with a style that wasn’t easily predictable. The xx astounded with its debut but seemingly dropped the ball with its sophomore record. And the reigning Queen of Pop proved that trying too hard doesn’t even suit the coolest of chicks. Yes, it certainly was a year of disappointments from every which way. Enio Chiola


Artist: Lana Del Rey

Album: Born to Die

Label: Interscope


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List Number: 10

Lana Del Rey
Born to Die

“Video Games” really blew people away. The lovelorn, yearning sound took many by surprise and, consequently, raised hopes for what a full-length effort could consist of from this tortured torch songstress. Unfortunately, for those whose hopes were raised, they weren’t expecting the bizarre, melancholic self-abuse (mistaken for genuine confessional songwriting). Ultimately, the disappointment in this record comes from it being widely misunderstood; however, misunderstandings aside, it’s undeniable that the record pushed a little too hard at the limits of explicit hardcore depictions of drug abuse, masochism, and sexual proclivities. Not to mention Del Rey’s faked and affected vocal inflections ranging from a drugged out crooner to an annoying high-pitched tartlet, which left hopefuls with a bitter taste in their mouths. The lesson learned? Don’t place all your bets on how brilliant an artist is on the basis of one track. And while this author is in awe of Del Rey’s debut, it’s undeniable that this is one of the bigger disappointments of the year for so many others. Enio Chiola


Artist: Spoek Mathambo

Album: Father Creeper

Label: Sub Pop


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List Number: 9

Spoek Mathambo
Father Creeper

Nothing would make me happier than hearing a South African electro-rapper incorporate the sounds and tropes of his nation into a frenetic musical assault. Or so I thought, until the results of Spoek Mathambo’s Father Creeper came out sounding more like drab post-rock. Granted, the drabness changes every minute or so, and Mathambo’s rapping and programmed drums move along at a distractingly fast clip. But his tuneless singing lands on hooks too rarely and beauty even less, until the most memorable moments seem intent on driving listeners away. Most portentous is the single “Let Them Talk”, which morphs a rudimentary soul groove into a relentless barrage of boring alt-rock guitar. If you destroy genre boundaries but the results sound pukey, does it still count? Josh Langhoff


Artist: Green Day

Album: ¡Uno!

Label: Reprise


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List Number: 8

Green Day

Green Day always seemed comfortable being the underdog. After the landmark success of Dookie, the rat kings of pop-punk began slowly shedding away their audience by making daring, interesting moves that weren't always commercial. Although "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" became the dorm-room ballad to end all dorm-room ballads, it wasn't until 2000's Warning that they felt truly free, making epic story songs, stealing from the Kinks, etc. The colossal success of American Idiot -- a modern-day protest album landing at just the perfect time -- led to the undercooked follow-up 21st Century Breakdown. Now, with two rock operas behind them, it was time to get back to the basics, and as one song after another began leaking from ¡Uno!, something terrifying became clear: the band had lost its way. The group was going through the motions, the production completely unadorned, but nothing clicked: the blasé "Stay the Night", the tired lovesick posturing of "Troublemaker", the "ironic" dance parody "Kill the DJ", which merely painted Billie Joe Armstrong as rock music's angry old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. A straight-through listen revealed absolutely zero diversity of texture, and as a result, ¡Uno!'s unamplified electrics just blurred together into one clattering mess of attempted glory day redemption. While ¡Uno! will go down as one of the worst comeback albums in recent memory, fans shouldn't feel too bad: the snarky, aggressive ¡Dos! is much, much better. Evan Sawdey


Artist: Beach House

Album: Bloom

Label: Sub Pop


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List Number: 7

Beach House

It’s reasonable to expect that Beach House fans -- and I do know that there are plenty of them among the indie faithful -- don’t consider the Baltimore duo’s fourth full-length a disappointment. It delivers very much what one would expect from the group, further refined. What is disappointing is the effusive critical praise that’s been circulating all year for such a pedestrian record by a band that is to the Cocteau Twins what Coldplay is to Radiohead: a cleaned-up, inoffensive take-off with all the weird bits taken out. Bloom may represent a crystallization of Beach House’s potential, but it also demonstrates just how creatively limited the pair actually is. Its uniformly overlong songs (none of which are under the four-minute mark) are lazy, repetitive drifts through a same-sounding ether that hopes to make up for a narrow technical and melodic vocabulary by prioritizing atmosphere. However, conjuring a beguiling ambiance is a skill in of itself, and not only does Bloom’s vibes exhibit as much personality and nuance as a pair of khakis, but for a supposedly landmark release for Beach House, it does precious little to distinguish the band from all the other gauzy dream pop acts swirling around. AJ Ramirez


Artist: Madonna

Album: MDNA

Label: Live Nation/Interscope


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List Number: 6


Okay, I concede that MDNA didn’t re-establish Madonna as the queen of pop in the way that was initially believed upon its release. Although I do contend that the record is an example of some fine dark electronic-pop, it’s not quite the standout work that this icon is capable of. Could our blindness into thinking that MDNA was a firmly cemented stake in the ground proving Madonna the reigning queen been the result of all the hoopla around a NEW reigning queen of pop? The fact of the matter is that Madonna is and always will be a superbly significant part of pop history, regardless of the caliber of her output lately. And while we can be forgiving, it sure doesn't cushion the blow of being disappointed as she trails through some of the worst songs she's produced: "I Don't Give A", "Give Me All Your Luvin'", and the impossibly bad "Superstar". Cohesively speaking about half of the record is a disjointed mess that isn't so much ahead of the curve as five steps behind it. And for every wonderful "I'm Addicted", there's a schlocky mess like "Turn Up the Radio". On the other hand, it's still miles ahead of Hard Candy and anything Gaga's done...ever. Enio Chiola

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