Friday, November 14, 2008

When Good Artists Go Bad

By Scott

[I am in a bit of a rush right now, but I will come back around and comment more fully on this tomorrow. -- Geoff]

If you have a favorite artist (whether it be in music, film, comics, etc.), chances are you have been let down by them at one point or another. No matter how great the artist, they always have their moments (or periods) of mediocre or, at times, just flat out terrible work. Even the Beatles are not immune to this fact, Jason and Neil have discussed the quality of “All You Need Is Love” at great length on this very blog [Ed. note: it was Jason and Neil right; Scott and I cannot remember and I cannot figure out how to search comments for key words]. Many Beatles fans (and the Beatles themselves) see ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ as the band’s greatest failure and I myself have always hated the song “Hello, Goodbye” (granted, the album did give us “I am The Walrus” but, even that, was intended as a bit of Louis Carollinian absurdity). So, when have your favorite artist broken your hearts?

Here are some of my top offenders:

The Who- ‘Face Dances’

When people ask me if the Who’s recent ‘Endless Wire’ album is any good, my response is usually, “It could have been worse. It could have been ‘Face Dances.’ While the album does have the band’s last great single, “You Better You Bet”, and the worthy “Another Tricky Day”, the rest of the album is embarrassingly bad. Songs like “Did You Steal My Money” and “Cache Cache” are almost laughable in their awfulness. It’s no small wonder that Rolling Stone would give the much better but hardly note worthy follow up, ‘It’s Hard’, a 5 star review a couple of years later. In comparison to this, it was a masterpiece of a comeback album.

REM- ‘Reveal’

“Imitation of Life” is one of the band’s best singles but the rest of the album just really left me flat. Unlike ‘Face Dances’, this album isn’t TERRIBLE it is just so incredibly bland; plastic is a word that comes to mind. Their previous album, ‘Up’, had used ‘Pet Sounds’ as a sort of template upon which to play to the bands own strengths, this was an attempt to continue that idea but it sounds quite often like they tried too much to sound like the Beach Boys (see “Summer Turns To High”) rather than sounding like REM. Many consider the follow up, ‘Around the Sun’, to be the band’s artistic low point but, for me, ‘Reveal’ was so bad that I actually considered ‘Around the Sun’ an improvement (this is also the first time I can remember the band, typically critical darlings, getting, not necessarily bad, but mediocre reviews).

Bruce Springsteen- ‘Human Touch’/’Luck Town’

Why would Bruce Springsteen ever endeavor to make a rock album WITHOUT the E Street band? It just doesn’t sound… right… again, like ‘Reveal’, these albums aren’t terrible just terribly mediocre. This also might be a case of a double album (or, in this case, two separate albums released simultaneously) that might have worked better as a single album.

U2- “Instant Karma”

About a year ago, U2 covered this John Lennon classic for a tribute/benefit album. This is one of those covers that looks great on paper but ends up poor in execution.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (George Lucas)

I don’t have to explain why this is bad to anyone but, at least I got something out of this: as a result of this movie my expectations were so lowered that I was pleasantly surprised by the other two prequels (especially Episode III).

Zac and Miri Make a Porno (Kevin Smith)-

Ok, ok… I know what you’re thinking… How could I be expecting anything after Jersey Girl? But, for the record, I happen to like Jersey girl. I also liked Clerks II (c’mon, you have to at least admit it was funny… my sides hurt from laughing after the ‘Donkey Show’ scene). Hell, as stupid as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is… I have no problem because that’s EXACTLY what that movie was supposed to be. My problem with Zac and Miri (as mentioned in last weeks Free Form Comments) is that it is a romantic comedy where I have absolutely no emotional investment in whether or not the two leads end up together. Overall, this was just sloppy.

Chuck Palahniuk- ‘Snuff’

The transgressive fiction genre does rely heavily on shock value and its ability to offend but, ideally, the purpose is to make you think. Here Palahniuk forgets that latter part and pretty much spends 200 pages trying to gross us out and not much else. I’d figured out the twist within the first 20 pages and then the twist on the twist about halfway through. To date, his weakest work (granted, maybe I’m being more harsh to this book than I normally would be as it is the follow up to ‘Rant’ which I consider Palahniuk’s masterpiece).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez- ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’

I consider ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ to, quite possibly, be the greatest novel of the twentieth century so I was sorely disappointed with how boring I found this novel to be. I guess it isn’t all that bad but, I imagine, it would be like having your first exposure to Star Wars be The Empire Strikes Back and, then, you immediately follow it up with, not Episode I, but Episode II.

F. Scott Fitzgerald- ‘This Side of Paradise’

Many times, we can go back and appreciate the earlier work of an artist as much or even more so than their most well known work; ‘This Side of Paradise’ is not one of those times. Its Fitzgerald’s first novel and he has yet to develop into his ‘mature’ style yet. It also follows that ‘child-to-young-adult’ model that I find so annoying (the ‘David Copperfield kind of crap’ so to speak). I gave this to a friend and said “Hey, you like Fitzgerald, right? If you ever feel like not liking Fitzgerald, read this!”


Marc Caputo said...

Over at my blog (shameful plug, though I'm not ashamed)

I invite people to title a theme playlist and I'll create it solely out of my iPod.

One of the suggested lists is "15 Terrible Songs from Otherwise Great Albums"

One bad song is worse than one whole bad album, since it's a good sign that the band needs to pay more attention.

I'll add - Prince, "Diamonds and Pearls". People may say it's not terrible, but it was more than 1/2 mediocre. Even though mediocre Prince may (or may HAVE) eclipsed others' best, the fact that he started accepting mediocrity from himself was the sign of his apocalypse.

Jason said...

Since it's my thing, can't help but look at 1980s Claremont, the time I think he did his best work ... I'd pick out X-Men Annual #8 as his most dismal, depressingly misconceived issue of that era.

Alan Moore -- just about anything he wrote connected to the "Spawn" franchise (except the Violator miniseries; I found those pretty funny).

Midnight Oil -- "Poets and Slaves," the last song on their last album. I'm glad it exists: It's proof they quit at just the right time.

The Kinks -- Low Budget, their 1979 album. Not their only misfire by a long shot (they did a lot of abysmal work in 1980s), but certainly the time that they were the farthest away from what made them great -- and there's something so poetically harsh about the fact that it was the highest-selling album they ever made (and they made dozens!!!) [Sidebar: Their best album, Village Green Preservation Society, was their lowest selling. Crazy.]

Fnord Serious said...

Almost any new album by a favorite band is initially a bit of a disappointment. It is only after several listens that I can enjoy it as it's own work and not in comparison to previous albums.

One that remained a disappointment was Factory Showroom by They Might Be Giants. They were my favorite band for years and years, and this was the first album that didn't grab me. It wasn't awful, but it felt like some sort of magic was missing. I'll still love all their previous work, but I don't feel compelled to seek out any of their albums since Factory Showroom.

I think it is the same for me with any band or writer. I have an initial infatuation, then I figure out what their trick is and get kind of bored with it, then after a while I come back to it with a new appreciation for their craft in utilizing that trick.

scott91777 said...


How about four on a single album?

"Excitable", "Run Riot", "Don't Shoot Shotgun" and "Love and Affection" off of Def Leppard's Hysteria. Otherwise, it is a masterpiece of pop rock. It's also notable that of the 8 remaining songs, 7 were released as singles (6 were top 20 hits).

If I had to choose one, though, I'd go with "Excitable" the intro is just dumb or "Love and Affection" which is just too saccarine.

For a more perfect version of this album, cut those four and then add the songs "Ring of Fire" and "I wanna Be Your Hero" which were initially relegated to b-sides but were actually much better songs.


"Ask Me Anything" off of The Strokes "First Impressions of Earth"

Any of the Noel Redding songs off of the Jimi Hendrix Experience albums.

"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" off of Abbey Road (also despised by John Lennon I believe)


You also make an interesting point, I was initally disapointed with U2's last two albums but, over time, have grown to love them as much as any other album

I also think that, with our favorite artist, we have to deal with the burden of expectation: It's never going to be as good as we would like it to be. For me, I really wanted How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb to be an album full of "Vertigos"... and, my initial disapointment was overshadowed my appreciation of what the album actually was.

Jason said...

Fnord, I LOVE Factory Showroom! That was my favorite TMBG album for a long time! It might be still. (See what I did there?)

Re: The bad track on the great album ... Oingo Boingo's 1994 album "Boing" is pretty awesome except for a nine-minute meander in the middle called "Pedestrian Wolves" that I typically used to skip when I listened to that one.

"Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" is an anomalous, over-long, over-played track on the otherwise effortless-sounding Village Green Preservation Society album by the Kinks (I can't stop talking about that one!)

The Kinks' 1969 album "Arthur" is a real treat for the ears, except for the fairly obnoxious track "Mr. Churchill Says."

Fake Pat said...

You're not even remotely being too hard on Palahniuk in regards to Snuff.

A truly, truly awful book.

Kyle said...

On The Pixies "Doolittle," I initially loathed the track Silver, but I can now appreciate its rockin' guitar. I'm sure some other track has taken its worst-track-on-favorite-album status.

Madd_Hadder said...

I have two movie director picks:

David Fincher with Zodiac. I have loved everything else of his, but this one bored me and worried me that he has lost it.

David Cronenberg with Eastern Promises. I was with him as he shifted genres with History of Violence, but Eastern Promises just had nothing going for it. It was boring and there were so many things that just felt rushed.

ba said...

Hey, glad someone else thought Rant was one of his better books. I thought he was on kind of a slide after Choke and Survivor (lullaby and diary never really resonated with me, and haunted was awful). Snuff just seemed like he wrote it in a weekend; it's neither bad nor good to me.

Anonymous said...

Never heared such nonsense

Face Dances is pure pop masterpiece. One of the best records Townshend ever made. YBYB is one of the weaker tracks on itt record and still a classic..

Oh well, everything is subjective...