The worst albums of 2011 (already)
Well there's been some amazing music to kick off 2011. I've raved about lots of albums: last week it was Jamie XX and Gil Scott-Heron and also Black Dub (a 2010 album, I guess, but one I heard this year). I've also given my first five-star rave review of 2011 to an album in The Dominion Post - you can probably guess the album - but it might have been this one...
But, already, I've had to hear some turkeys. Check it out. Some of these albums were released last year, sure, but they were given to me to review at the start of 2011. So here are the ones (so far) I wish I had not heard. I can't say I'm (hugely) surprised. And maybe you're not either. But maybe you've been disappointed by an album in 2011 that you wanted to like. Or you've just had to endure some really bad music already. If so, name the duds you've heard this year already. Meanwhile, here are the ones I've sat through.
The Midnights are a soulful-sounding reggae act from the label that has been stoking the friendly BBQ fires for a decade now. Outside starts with the promise of Unsettled, giving some glimpse that the musicians have soaked up a lot of 1950s reggae and ska as well as their most obvious antecedent, Bob Marley - particularly his mid/late-70s work. From there, slowly - at times very, very slowly - The Midnights creep towards their goal. It's immaculately played but feels redundant by the middle of the album, wafting along without purpose. Just when you think it might lift - lively up itself, as it were - it heads for the fog of lazy slow grooves. Regeneration is boredom whittled down into a song and Smoke on the Street lopes along with a slow flickering fade and then, inexplicably, there's a bizarre rush of key change and tempo change - as if to remind the listener that the musicians can actually play; or maybe it's to wake the listener up, the band offering a reminder that it's time for something else.
Another week, another pop diva with hip-hop flirtations. Here we have Jessica Mauboy, with guest spots by Snoop Dogg, Iyaz, Jay Sean and Ludacris. And, really, the biggest star-turn here is the vocoder, its presence felt on most tracks, slurring the meaningless words into place, buttering up the dodgy pitch and lame phrasing and allowing it to slide in and around the big crashes of the drum machine. Mauboy is 21, she failed in her bid to be Australian Idol but, as is so often the way with these absurd competitions, she is the one with the recording contract. She's been in a series of commercials, had a lead role in the Australian film Bran Nue Dae (released in 2010) and Get Em Girls is her second album. It follows 2008's Been Waiting. She is the biggest-selling finalist in Australian Idol history. She cannot sing a note on her own - and this album is a new low, proof the major labels couldn't care less so long as they can find something that might sell. It's a stretch of the term to even call this music.
Minuit has, almost unbelievably, managed to transcend the cliché of having a quirky-voiced female singing (not-so) sweet nothings over dance beats. The band has had some real triumphs, in terms of exposure. But then, if we're being honest, a great deal of the group's work is putrid, cloying, annoying and damn-near insulting. Recent single Aotearoa was nothing more than bandwagon jumping, a tourism campaign gone wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it). But it's not music. It's advertising. Here, Minuit's two producers (Ryan Beehre and Paul Dodge) cut up and craft beats around the lyrics of Ruth Carr. It still sounds like she is singing nothing whilst recovering from a stab-wound, whispering, rasping, cooing. It still sounds like vague trance vamps are being daubed in place for moody bass to trace around to create a sound that can be found in spaces in trendy bars where the lights are low and the prices are high. And it still sounds like Minuit has blocked all calls from 1997-2001 for fear that Lamb, Kosheen or Moloko might be calling, asking for their sound back.
I've enjoyed seeing Dukes live. The band does a nice line in vocal harmonies, helped in recent times by the addition of Lauren Mitchell (who independently records and tours as L.A. Mitchell). Brothers Matt and Jo Barus write no-frills pop music. But for Still Life, the band's second album, it is a very boring set of sounds - cookie-cutter radio fodder. Opener Time Is a Train sounds like a direct lift of something (anything) by The Wallflowers. And Do You Listen sounds like the worst kind of Christian rock: those bands that would tour schools for free; you'd watch and think the musicianship was okay - then you'd hear the hidden message. And in fact so much of the album plays out that way: songs that do not stand up to repeat listens, that are empty gestures. The catchy chorus of Vampires feels like a glee-club novelty. And it's probably the best song on the album. Confounding too, when you read that the label distributing this album has suggested it for people who like The Exponents or The Rolling Stones - that's just naming names, picking bands that people have heard of. What a joke.
Die Antwoord is a hip-hop/performance-art group of pop vandals from South Africa. Their name is Afrikaans for The Answer. And their album, $O$, certainly serves up plenty of questions. Why are people taking this band seriously? Why, on the back of a viral video sensation, are so many people with taste slumming down at the shallow end of the gene-pool and suggesting that this is good because it's - at least - "something different"? And just because a bunch of people have discovered something they think is slightly less mainstream does that make it worthwhile? These are questions I cannot shake when I listen to Die Antwoord. These are questions the band does not answer, even though they claim to in fact be The Answer. It sounds like a ghastly comic-book come to life; it sounds like clown music. It sounds like the answer is to avoid The Answer like the plague.
It's hard to believe that white trash fad Kid Rock is up to his seventh album. His southern rock mixed with rap shtick has softened and this is, essentially, a country-rock album. It sounds like the more recent Bon Jovi albums - even if it is aiming towards the more recent Tom Petty albums. It ticks a lot of boxes with a great cast assembled. Helping Rock to, er, rock, are David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, Chad Smith from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. There are guest spots by Bob Seger and Sheryl Crow also; all help to align Kid Rock with the vaguely country pop-rock sound he is chasing. But the songs mean nothing and go nowhere. It all lopes along and is far less obnoxious than the normal Kid Rock music, but - and here's where you know it's bad - it feels like some rasping harmonica phone-ins, hackneyed raps and rudimentary riffs should come in. Could there be further proof that this album is dire? The worst elements of Rock's previous sound are actually what is missing.
Only One Flo (Part 1) was released at the end of 2010 and it's already been announced that Only One Flo (Part 2) will follow - sometime this year. He's attempting something similar to Nelly's Sweat/Suit suite, the difference being a staggering of the releases rather than the death knell that is the simultaneous release of twin volumes (just ask Bruce Springsteen). Flo Rida's Mail on Sunday (2008) was a breakout hit, largely due to an infectious track called Low - it was featured in a dance flick at the time too. But to hear it recut, recycled and reused (it was also served up in parts on 2009's R.O.O.T.S) shows the depth of this artist. Paddling pool pop - it knows that it's got an audience, there are some people hooked on the feel of Flo Rida's big, obvious songs. But it suggests he really does only have one flow. And you know that it will be repeated again, later this year, with Only One Flo (Part 2). Unless you want 2010's version of a cellphone ring, to replace the one you used in 2008, then updated in 2009 (all by the same artist) there really is nothing to hear here.
So, as I say, it's been a - mostly - good start to the year. But there will always be duds. And we shouldn't just ignore them. We need to warn people.
Any terrible albums you've heard from late last year or early this year that you were disappointed with - and that you feel you should warn people about?