Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Poll Results - "Best 'Worst Album'"

Well, not surprised at the overall top choice. True Stories wasn't the greatest film in the world, and it got some pretty bad reviews in some quarters. But I (and many others) believe that the muted response to Talking Heads' album True Stories was due to the film's negative reception, with most people assuming that the disc was a movie soundtrack album (which it wasn't - it's a Talking Heads studio album featuring recordings of songs from the film rather than songs sung by the film's cast). Even with the huge hit "Wild Wild Life" (#4 US) on it, True Stories only made it to #28 on the US album charts, significantly lower than their previous (and in my opinion, musically weaker) album Little Creatures. There are plenty of other great songs on this disc, including one, the name of which was eventually appropriated by one of the greatest bands of the past decade - "Radio Head".

But enough of that - here are the Best Worst Albums, as selected by you all:

True Stories (Talking Heads) - 6 votes
Presence (Led Zeppelin) - 4 votes
Dirty Work (The Rolling Stones) - 2 votes
Good Stuff (The B-52's) - 1 vote
Cut The Crap (The Clash) - 1 vote
Hard (Gang Of Four) - 1 vote
One Hot Minute (The Red Hot Chili Peppers) - 1 vote
Halfway To Sanity (The Ramones) - 1 vote

And the rest, which apparently have no redeeming qualities whatsoever (0 votes):

Mad Not Mad (Madness), Around The Sun (R.E.M.), The Woman In Red (Stevie Wonder), Goodbye Cruel World (Elvis Costello), Give My Regards To Broad Street (Paul McCartney), Never Let Me Down (David Bowie), Dylan & The Dead (Bob Dylan), Total Devo (Devo), Packed! (The Pretenders)

I'm afraid to say that I own all of the albums on this List of Shame. But I must say that there are particular ones that have incurred the majority of my wrath over the years. The ones on this list that pissed me off the most, in no particular order:

- Good Stuff - The B-52's: As I've mentioned before, I was a Bee-Fives fan from waaaaaaay back. So no one was as pleased as I was when the band finally broke through in 1989 with their hit album Cosmic Thing. Sure, I was a little put out when all of those neophyte B-52's fans came out of the woodwork in its wake, shouting "Tin roof - rusted!" at the top of their lungs at every one of the band's now-packed concerts, but who generally were unfamiliar with the group's earlier songs. But that was OK - I guess when a 'cult' band goes big-time, the original fans will always sort of feel that way. So no worries there. But I was shocked to see how quickly this newfound critical and commercial adulation tore the band apart. Cosmic Thing was the first LP that the band made any serious coin on; Cindy Wilson took the money and ran, quitting the band in late 1990. With both Wilsons gone (Ricky died in 1985), it should have been time for the band to call it a day. Instead, the remaining trio (Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland and Fred Schneider) decided to soldier on, releasing Good Stuff in 1992. Good Stuff is a classic 'cash in' album, with the remaining members of the group milking their now-humongous fan base for one last big paycheck before pulling the plug. I remember buying this disc that June just before going on a road trip, so I could listen to it in the car on the way down. I thought the first song, "Tell It Like It T-I-Is", was a weak opener, but I expected the album to pick up as it progressed. No such luck. Every song on that album was weak, and WAY too long (average of 5:30 per song, with "Dreamland" clocking in at over SEVEN minutes). And frankly, the band sounded sort of worn out and jaded. It seemed that the band was going out with a whimper, instead of a bang . . .

- Cut The Crap - The Clash: I thought Combat Rock was brilliant (as I wrote in an earlier posting), so I was champing at the bit for The Clash's next release. However, I wasn't fully plugged into the whole music scene at that time, specifically the alternative music press. If I was, I would have heard more about the tensions within The Clash, specifically between Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, which eventually led to the latter's departure from the group in late 1983. You would think this would be a problem, since Jones essentially wrote all of the band's music up to that time. Undeterred, Strummer teamed up with controversial band manager Bernie Rhodes to co-write a bunch of new material, recruited a bunch of no-name musicians, and with them released these cowritten songs on Cut The Crap in November 1985. I bought this album on cassette the weekend before I headed up to the U.S. Military Academy, as part of a 7-day exchange program between the academies, ostensibly so Navy could see how Army lived, and vice-versa [quick aside: a VERY grim week there - cold and grey, in the middle of fucking nowhere. And EVERY cadet I spoke to there was hating life, rueing the day they ever HEARD of West Point . . . ]. During the bus ride from Annapolis to New York, I listened to this entire album a couple of times, and couldn't believe how bad it was. It was all just tired sounding sloganeering, a lame attempt to get back to The Clash's pure punk roots. Also remember that Mick Jones' new band, Big Audio Dynamite, put out their first album, the outstanding This Is Big Audio Dynamite, the month before this travesty came out - if Clash fans needed any further evidence as to the relative talents of Jones and Strummer, all they had to do was compare the two releases. Apparently I'm not alone in this assessment of the 'final Clash album' - the original band themselves (including Joe Strummer) have disowned this album, and its songs have never appeared on any official Clash compilation or retrospective. Cut The Crap is the Rocky V of Clash albums.

- Total Devo - Devo: I was as big a Devo fan as anyone, back in the day. But I can tell you quite frankly that Devo was D-O-N-E by 1982. Their first trio of albums (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Duty Now For The Future, and Freedom Of Choice) are pretty much unassailable, and even New Traditionalists, while somewhat weaker than the first three, is still a quality album. Their fifth album, 1982's Oh No! It's Devo, with its near-total reliance on synthesizers, was the first Devo album to completely splash the bowl. The follow-up, 1984's Shout, was another synthy stinker that ended my Devo fandom. But still the band soldiered on, essentially becoming embarrassing parodies of themselves. Some band members were smart enough to realize that the ship was dead in the water and sinking rapidly - longtime drummer and stalwart Alan Myers left the band around this time. He was replaced by former Gleaming Spires/Sparks drummer David Kendrick, who manned the kit for the next release, 1988's Total Devo. This album is crap, crap, crap, with Devo still concentrating on an electronic sound that had run its course five years earlier. There were no memorable songs or moments on this disc, which barely entered the Billboard Top 200 before quickly fading away. Even with the public making a loud and clear rejection of the band, Devo STILL had the gumption/wherewithal to release one more album, 1990's Smooth Noodle Maps, before the band finally, mercifully collapsed.

And so much for that. Thanks again to all who voted. I'll try to think of another poll question soon.

. . . Well, hell - since I brought this album up, I might as well have the damn thing available here; here's True Stories, released in 1986 on Sire Records. Bon appetit!

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  1. Funny, I really loved the film True Stories (mostly because John Goodman can't do any wrong). I have tried my darnest to love the album, but just can't. Don't get me wrong, "Puzzlin' Evidence" and "Hey Now" are excellent tracks.

    And no love for Little Creatures? That album has gotten such a bad rap. I'll admit that it's a vast distance from their New Wave days, but they sounded so wonderful as a gospel-country-esque group! But then again, it was also as mainstream-sounding as they got. So, that is a valid complaint against the album.

    Glad to see you posting again!

  2. I liked the film too.

    I think my issue with Little Creatures is that it came after seven strong years of some pretty brilliant and cutting-edge stuff: the Eno albums, Speaking In Tongues (IMO, their mainstream commercial breakthrough) and the Stop Making Sense film/soundtrack. Like you said, Little Creatures was, for me, a real departure from the solid foundation Talking Heads had painstakingly built up over the previous seven years. And self-conciously so - it was like they said "let's do this gospely/country thing to show everyone how versatile we are!" While they somewhat pull it off, a lot of their efforts on that album ("Creatures Of Love", "Stay Up Late", and "Walk It Down", to name a few) seem contrived, and frankly a little weak compared to some of the stronger cuts on that album (like "Television Man" and "And She Was"). In my opinion, Little Creatures was the first Talking Heads album that had obvious filler on it, and it was jolting. After all of the "A" and "B+" albums they put out, I thought this one was their first "C"; bonus points for trying, but not enough to push it to the level of their earlier stuff.

    A long-winded answer, I know. Thanks for your comment, though! And thanks for your thanks - I'll be trying to post more later this week.

  3. As for The Clash and "Cut The Crap" it shouldn't be hung up on "talent" - Joe Strummers later releases clearly show he had plenty of it (even compared to B.A.D.'s records) - a lot of it, I think, was a result of the situation: deaths in the family, regrets about Toppers fate and a lot more. By the way, the album was recorded in a Munich "Schlager" studio (Weryton in Oberföhring) where I also recorded, just weeks before The Clash who did it incognito and were hardly ever there as a band - it was mostly done with machines. Anyway, thanks for the (unsettling) memory.

  4. Yes, you're right regarding 'talent' - I don't think I put that point very well in my original writeup. I loved Joe Strummer's work, and his later output as a solo artist and with the Mescaleros is proof enough that his talent was at least the equal, if not superior, to that of his erstwhile bandmate. But I'll make the same statement for Jones and Strummer that I made regarding the members of Van Halen - the two together were much greater than the sum of the two apart. The Clash, as a band, achieved greatness due to the combination of their individual strengths - without them working in tandem, the Clash was simply not the Clash (as was proven definitively on Cut The Crap). Strummer would have been better off retiring the "Clash" name after Combat Rock, and releasing this album under another moniker - at the very least, it wouldn't have sullied the overall band legacy, as I believe it has.

    I'm very interested in hearing more about your own recording history - sound VERY cool! Until then, thanks for reading and commenting, and please keep coming back!