10 Terrible Albums by Great Bands
Even the best rock bands have off nights, not to mention bad records in their catalogs. The following 10 albums are examples of excellent bands with generally great track records somehow going astray and creating terrible albums. Whether one clunker is enough to damage a group’s overall legacy is open to debate -- we’re inclined to say, “Hell no!” – but that doesn’t make it any easier to listen to these monstrosities. We can’t recommend checking them out, even for a laugh, but we’re not going to stop you. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Following the July 1999 theft of a truck containing the band’s entire arsenal of the custom-modified guitars – instruments that had become so integral to their sound -- Sonic Youth went back to the drawing board. Adding indie scene vet/bassist/synth player Jim O'Rourke to their lineup brought an electronica edge previously unexplored, and the extra member also freed up bassist Kim Gordon to focus on singing and occasionally even picking up the guitar. But more than anything, ‘Ghosts & Flowers’ comes off as a band trying to recreate its past triumphs, at times even verging on self-parody.
The first album R.E.M. recorded after the departure of longtime drummer Bill Berry, ‘Up’ takes on a definite moody and melancholic feel. Burying their trademark guitar jangle behind layers of synthesizers and subtle drum machines, the group lets muted melodies and abstract soundscapes dominate the record. But the whole thing comes off a bit aimless, too self-conscience and forced, as if they weren’t quite sure what to do without Berry in the mix. Consider it their “Rock is dead” album -- which of course, should only be listened to on headphones, if at all.
Rivers Cuomo proved his power-pop mettle with the band’s first two albums – their self-titled debut and ‘Pinkerton’ were both instant classics -- but each subsequent catalog entry has shown diminishing results. Really, hardcore Weezer fans would tell you that pretty much any one of the six discs Weezer have issued in the last decade (nobody said they’re not prolific!) could be here, but we picked ‘Ratitude’ for its shocking lack of anything memorable beyond the lead single, ‘(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.’
Widely considered one of the preeminent bands of the post-punk movement, politically charged British outfit Gang of Four released a string of massively influential albums in the ‘70s and ‘80s (most notably ‘Entertainment!’ in ’79 and ‘Solid Gold’ in ’81) that even managed to dent the British charts. Their ‘90s output (the respectable ‘Mall’ and ‘Shrinkwrapped’) was a little less crucial, but it was their return to the studio for last year’s ‘Content’that was the serious misstep. The performances are uninspired and the production overly dense, taking the edge off the band’s signature angular guitar work and making them sound more like the endless number of imitators they spawned.
The final album released by the Pumpkins before splitting in 2000, 'Machina/The Machines of God' finds frontman Billy Corgan fully embracing his religious muse – and in dire need of someone to tell him “no” when he takes things too far. Billed as "the true follow-up to ‘Siamese Dream’” and "a return to form,” ‘Machina’ in fact sounds like more of the New Wave-y, goth-tinged detour that made ‘Adore’ such a poor seller -- but with overwrought lyrics that make you long for the golden days of ‘Gish.’
U2 really challenged themselves on this disc’s effective predecessor, ‘Zooropa,’ but ‘Pop’ just takes the experiment too far, and it ends blowing up in Bono’s face. U2 downsized their grandiose rock ambitions, trading in their earnest and epic selves for a mega-dose of pop irony. But the songs themselves aren’t up to the band’s own high standards, with missing hooks and lyrics that are only worth repeating to make a point. “You know you're chewing bubble gum/ You know what that is but you still want some/ You just can't get enough of that lovie dovie stuff,” Bono sings on ‘Discotheque,’ tongue firmly in cheek.
Elvis Costello may be a sharp dresser, but “slick” is not a good look for his music. Produced by ‘80s British hitmakers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ was bogged down in over-stylized studio wizardry and a distracting glossy sheen that played directly against his strengths as a thoughtful and compelling songwriter. At least he had a sense of humor about the matter. The liner notes to the 1995 reissue of the disc start with the statement, "Congratulations! You just bought the worst album of my career."
Oasis issued some excellent albums over the years, but ‘Be Here Now’ just wasn't one of them. It’s not that the disc, which followed the massive commercial success of ‘(What's the Story) Morning Glory?’ wasn't itself a big seller. In fact, ‘Be Here Now’ moved cool million in America alone. It’s just that it suffers from some major delusions of grandeur, as mounds of drugs and mountains of adulation made the brothers Gallagher believe every single idea they come up with was a winner. How else to explain the 45 seconds of skronky guitar feedback, backwards vocals and Morse Code samples that kick off lead track ‘D'You Know What I Mean?’ -- which, with a running time of seven-plus minutes, is the album’s first single.
After cutting Mick Jones from the lineup, the Clash tried to live up to this album’s title with a return-to-roots approach on what turned out to be their swan song. By ignoring several albums’ worth of masterful musical evolution and instead trying to churn out simple, short and fast punk fare – but mucked up with cheesy synths, for some reason -- this version of the Clash (which found two guitarists, Nick Sheppard and Vince White, taking the place of Jones) sounds just like a watered-down and ineffective version of its former glorious self. Cut the crap, indeed.
Rock critics often sound a bit smarmy when talking about great bands possibly destroying their legacy by reuniting to release terrible albums -- and this is exactly what they mean by it. Proto-punk legends the Stooges offered up the perfect album trilogy (‘The Stooges,’ ‘Fun House’ and ‘Raw Power’) before disbanding in ’74, only to reunite three decades later, hit the road playing the hits and eventually issue the completely unnecessary, totally ill-advised and near-universally panned ‘The Weirdness.’ Sure, given the classics it was bound to draw comparisons to, this album could only disappoint -- and it certainly did, over and over again.