12.12.2007

Not the best albums of 2007

Looking at the calendar, we are almost smack in the middle of the last month of the year. 2007 is actually coming to an end. Whee. So now we're starting see all kinds of year-end lists.

Yeah. I have real trouble making lists. I can usually pick something I liked the best, but I can't really slot things into subordinate spaces. Plus it's hard for me to remember all of the things that tickled my fancy over the course of 365 or so days, what with the head injuries and all, and especially with the music, which I can hardly even listen to if I wanted to, despite the fact I have my iPod strapped to me for a good three-plus hours every day.

There's bound to be a good debate somewhere about how useless all of these year-end lists are. I don't really have too much to say about that. Stephen King did a list of his favorite albums of the year in the last Entertainment Weekly. He might not be the world's foremost musical tastemaker, but really, how different or more unique or qualified are King's opinions than those of the A.V. Club? They both liked Sky Blue Sky, as well they should. So yeah.

Anyway. I'll have to think about my favorite records of 2007 just a bit more before I subject my verdict on you all. In the meantime, I present to you a topic that's far easier for me to pass judgment on:

Bedheaded's Least Favorite Albums of 2007.

Now keep in mind that even though I said I listen to just about everything, I don't actually in fact listen to genuinely everything. If I had to be more precise about it, I would go ahead and say that the music that I don't like is the kind of music that gets played on the radio. So that's just about everything that is played on just about every radio station. 'Cause seriously, now that radio stations are manned and programmed by robots, there's only really a handful of radio station types: classic rock (Led Zep, the Nuge, etc), modern rock (whatever kind of stuff they play between scenes on The Real World and various CW shows), adult contemporary (stuff you would hear in a dentist's office, intermixed with the latest American Idol castoffs), rap and hip hop (not my kind of rap and hip hop I would care to listen to--let's just say they aren't spinning MF Doom or El-P there), oldies (more Eagles and Steve Miller Band nowadays than Beatles or Roy Orbison), country (Carrie Underwood and garbage more wretched than her), and inspirational (I can't describe this one, because I want to vomit just thinking about it). Lately there's been a rise in stations that belligerently repeat the mantra "we play what we want," and given a single-syllable male name (in Chicago, it's "Jack-FM"; I think Bloomington has one called "Chuck-FM"); the playlist for this station seems to be an exact facsimile of a random playlist circa 1986 to 1991 from an old Peoria station called KZ-93, which all the kids listened to back in the day (you know who you are), intermixed with the odd Wall of Voodoo cut or "Lunatic Fringe". It can be entertaining for a while, but it's still run by robots. Chicago has one station that isn't run by robots, not that it does it any favors not being run by robots; I'm talking about XRT, which I described at the urging of a noted XRT critic as being like that one guy you know who's kind of cool and was into that mix you made him with Sufjan Stevens and PJ Harvey on it who still bores you with an umpteenth retelling of story about how he went to Summerfest and saw Dave Matthews Band open for Hootie and the Blowfish and how great it was. All that's left in this landscape is NPR, which is all I listen to on the radio.

Sorry. I got sidetracked there for a moment. The reason I launched into all that was to say that this list doesn't include Kelly Clarkson, or J-Lo, or whatever else kind of crap I don't even know the name of (Hannah Montana, I guess?), because I don't ever have to listen to it, and I don't bother trying. I guess that's a good reason to never become a professional music critic. I never even think about straying away from the public radio sector of the radio dial, unless it's to flip over to AM to listen to the Cubs.

So for me, the worst albums of the year have all come from artists whose previous work I've enjoyed, and from who I have come to respect a certain level of quality. They're kind of like disappointing sequels to great movies.

Here they are in no particular order:

  • Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
    • I don't dislike this this album, but I don't feel like listening to it too often, which wasn't the case with Funeral, which I listened to for a couple of weeks straight. I think it's a case of trying to follow a classic, near-universally revered record with one that couldn't possible live up to its predecessor. And this doesn't really say anything about this record or this band, but the amount of hype surrounding them has drained some of my interest for them; I mean, I love David Bowie, and really like Bruce Springsteen, but I think it's still premature to start trying to shove them into your category, great as their first album was, and OK as this one is. Part of it also had to do with seeing them play Lollapalooza a couple summers ago, at the peak of the Funeral hype, and being put off by the showiness of their performance. I got real sick of the one guy whose whole job in the band seems to be monkeying around on stage and beating up the other guy in the band who looks like Napoleon Dynamite. I thought at the time that they had reached a point where they were going to have to do more by way of playing their instruments than banging them around in order to prove that their fame had more to do with the music than hype. And when Neon Bible came out, I saw a bunch of reviews that trotted out the old saw about them being more of a "live" band than a studio band--hence, you get more out of bloated, overblown anthems when you see a guy beating the crap out of Napoleon Dynamite. See, that stuff doesn't last forever, but it might get you in the hall of fame. This isn't a bad record, but they sound like they've gotten puffed up on richer meals than they could previously afford and the hype that comes along with being David Bowie's favorite band, which by the way, did nothing to prevent The Pixies or Grandaddy from breaking up, and didn't do much to sell their albums either.

  • Interpol - Our Love to Admire
    • I have to admit that I didn't even finish listening to this one. The formula doesn't work anymore. And "The Heinrich Maneuver" doesn't have a thing to do with a point guard for the Chicago Bulls, who coincidentally doesn't have "it" anymore either. This one bums me out, because I loved their first two albums.

  • Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
    • This one wasn't much of a surprise, because I hated Good News for People Who Love Bad News. They say that this band is better because Johnny Marr is in it. I'm not the biggest Smiths fan in the world, but can anyone point out exactly what Johnny Marr adds to Modest Mouse? He's regarded by some as one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived, but all I can hear is Isaac Brock.

  • Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
    • Like Neon Bible, I don't really dislike this album, more that it's hard for me to listen to it and wish it was more like its much better predecessor. It may grow on me eventually, but any more something has to grab me right away before I want to move on the tons of other stuff on my iPod that I haven't listened to yet.

  • The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
    • Not so much bad as just disappointing. Other than the single, "Phantom Limb," which is stellar and will easily be the third or fourth best track on this band's eventual greatest hits album, the whole thing to me sounds fussy and overproduced. A band that relies on hooks as much as The Shins is in a sorry state when they produce an album with minimal hooks. Put it this way: when they appeared on Saturday Night Live in support of this record, they played "Phantom Limb" and "New Slang," which was a highlight on Oh, Inverted World and the Garden State soundtrack. You could say it was an attempt to kindle interest in people who didn't know the band but remember them as the ones with that one song from that one movie, but what does it say about the album they were supposedly on SNL to promote?

  • The New Pornographers - Challengers
    • This was a huge disappointment in my eyes. The whole thing just drags and drags and drags, until Dan Bejar shows up and tries to inject a little of his mojo. But it's too little, too late. Call me a lazy fan, but I don't care who you are: it's OK to change the formula (see Kid A et. al.), but the material has to make it worth your audience's time to try and get used to your "new direction". And if you've got Neko Case on the clock--in my opinion, the finest vocalist working anywhere in recorded music right now--don't beat around the bush and make her a glorified back-up vocalist. Sheesh.
So that's my opinion anyway. What were your least favorite records of 2007? Was it the kind of stuff that gets played on the radio? 'Cause I don't know about that stuff. Snark away, I implore you.

2 comments:

Paul said...

Yeah, we have that Jack-FM shit here as well; they believe themselves to be such "mavericks" because their random shuffling system has the audacity to follow a Missing Persons track with "Desperado". Balls. I totally miss my KZ-93 T-shirt.

I'm so lame that I haven't sampled any of the albums on your list. Though "phantom limb" is a good song.

Bedheaded said...

See? Robot radio stations. The Jack in Chicago actually lured a prominent morning talk radio guy over to them recently. I imagine him sitting around in some radio with a bunch of robots and blinking lights who say "this is Jack. We play whatever the fuck we want" while he twiddles his fingers.