[Guest blogger Scott takes a look at the most underrated albums. I am still wrapping my mind around the fact that my favorite indie songster -- John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats -- genuinely loves the Backstreet Boys, as much as he loves Ace of Base. I mean, am I actually going to download the Backstreet Boys Black and Blue and put it on my iPod? I have been known to make decisions because I don't want to be "that guy" but Darnielle makes me feel like that is just cowardly. I also fear if my Backstreet Boys album got anywhere near my Wu-Tang, my iPod would implode.]
For the purpose of this post, I’m thinking of ‘underrated’ as not albums that are great but just unknown but albums which were viewed largely as commercial or critical failures or were made by artists who are often not taken seriously.
Here are a few of my own:
U2, Pop- much of the criticism aimed at this album has less to do with the album itself than it has to do with the PopMart tour that followed. I always have to remind people that “Yes, they rode out in a Giant Mirror Ball Lemon for the encore but the Giant Mirror Ball Lemon isn’t on the album.” Granted, the album does suffer because the band rushed to finish it (they had already booked the tour) and, as a result, the album came out over-produced. If they would have had a few more months, they might have stripped away some of the often-distracting tape loops and samples and just let the songs be themselves. They actually did this on their best of 1990-2000 collection where they stripped down “Gone” and “Discoteque.” That being said, the tunes themselves are still solid despite the slightly busy production.
Key Tracks: “Mofo”, “Gone”, “Wake Up Dead Man”, “Please”
REM, Up- Another victim of misdirected anger; following Bill Berry’s departure the band decided to try something different and, I think, it works. Unfortunately, the band would drive this ‘something different’ into the ground over the next two albums and, as a result, Up often takes the blame. I’ve always felt that the lo-fi, keyboard driven songs with just a slight hint of Pet Sounds thrown in for good measure provided a nice change of pace from the straightforward volume of Monster and New Adventures In Hi-Fi.
Key Tracks: “Lotus”, “Daysleeper”, “Walk Unafraid”, “Falls To Climb”
Hole, Celebrity Skin- This album should have been a classic and I don’t know why it didn’t take off and explode. I mean, Courtney Love was even SOBER at this point so she couldn’t sabotage its success. “Boys On The Radio” should have been the new “American Pie” and “Awful” is just about the catchiest song ever written. This is the only album that Melissa Auf De Maur made with the band and her vocal harmonies compliment the newly sober Love’s voice exquisitely.
Key Tracks: “Boys on the Radio”, “Awful”, “Celebrity Skin”, “Malibu”
Courtney Love, America’s Sweetheart- This album is a train wreck…. But it’s a beautiful one! Love was obviously a mess when she recorded this album but, oddly, it works. When she screams herself raw at the end of “Sunset Strip” singing “Rock Stars, Pop Stars, Everybody dies” it sounds incredibly….authentic.
Key Tracks: “Mono”, “Hold On To Me”, “Sunset Strip” “Never Gonna Be The Same”
Def Leppard, Slang and Yeah! – The former was called an attempt by the band to ‘go grunge’ in the mid 90’s when, in fact, it was really more their attempt to make their own personal Achtung Baby. The grunge influence only extended towards a less polished and produced sound overall, the more prevalent influence here is dance, techno and industrial music. It was an attempt by a band to try doing something different in order to keep themselves vital at a time when, no matter what they did, they were going to get slammed by critics. The latter (Yeah!) is a collection of covers of, mostly, 70’s glam-rock songs and, while the covers don’t manage to redefine the songs in any way, they do manage to update them and, at the same time, make them their own. Part of the genius of this album was the fact that, instead of standards, they went with songs that, at least stateside, are lesser known or long forgotten; as a result, the songs sound fresh and you’re less likely to be thinking of the original versions when you hear them. More importantly, I like this album because it just sounds like they had fun making it; that’s what more of rock should be about: a group of good musicians playing/having fun with the music that they love.
Key Tracks: (Slang) “Truth?”, “Slang”, “Work It Out” (Yeah!) “20th Century Boy”, “Rock On”, “Waterloo Sunset”, “Stay With Me” (guitarist Phil Collen takes over on the vocals on this one and manages to out ‘Rod’ Rod Stewart).
And, if you’re tired of everything being overated or underated, check out this Spin article, “Give Me Centrism Or Give Me Death”, where Chuck Klosterman lists the ’10 Most Accurately Rated Artist in Rock History.’ I found it to be both funny and insightful.