Love You, Hate That

(Pictured: Billy Joel strikes an out-of-the-ordinary pose, 1994.)

The other day on Twitter, Ultimate Classic Rock asked followers, “Which classic rock album actually p___ed you off when it came out?” The first one that came to my mind was Kilroy Was Here by Styx. As cold and mechanical as the robotic world it claimed to decry, it’s one of the most unpleasant listening experiences you can have, and I hated the presumption Styx showed by expecting radio stations to play such twaddle. When I went back into my blog archives, I was surprised to note that I hadn’t put Kilroy in a 2006 post I wrote about albums I really hated by people I generally like. Here’s that list, with the text edited a bit.

Fundamental/Bonnie Raitt (1998). Bonnie Raitt’s 1990s comeback was guided by Don Was, who produced Nick of Time, Luck of the Draw, and Longing in Their Hearts, with spectacular results. Bonnie tried changing things up on Fundamental, turning to the hot producers of that moment, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Well, there’s avant garde, which is what Froom and Blake purportedly were, and there’s just plain clueless, which they demonstrably were. Some of the songs are as good as anything Raitt wrote for her previous three albums, but the production is so incompetent that the album is painful to listen to. Froom and Blake sound like they don’t know how to place a microphone or run a mixer.

Time Sex Love/Mary Chapin Carpenter (2001). At the time, this was MCC’s first new album in over four years, and as a result, I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t then, and I don’t now. There’s almost nothing on this record that’s as affecting as the weakest cuts on Stones in the Road, her best album. Plus, MCC spoils the effect of the album’s loveliest track, “Late for Your Life,” by following it with a hidden outtake, which features she and the band melting down in laughter. This sort of self-indulgent piffle is why hiring an outside producer isn’t a bad thing. Unless it’s Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake.

Clues/Robert Palmer (1980). After a superb series of blue-eyed soul records that were exactly the kind of thing I adored, Palmer went new-wave on Clues, collaborating with Gary Numan, an artist I didn’t understand and could barely tolerate, and I hated the album like poison. I think maybe you have to be 20 years old to feel betrayed by an album, because I know now that Clues isn’t worth that kind of passionate dislike. And in retrospect, some of it (“Sulky Girl,” “Johnny and Mary”) really is a lot better than it sounded to me then.

River of Dreams/Billy Joel (1993). The title song of this album blew me away, and still sounds pretty good. The rest of the album is shrill and hectoring. For example, the second big single, “All About Soul,” goes on for six minutes, and by the end, you feel like you’ve been beaten over the head for that long. Even the ballads have a disturbing darkness to them. If this really was Billy Joel’s last pop album, it was a memorable exit for all the wrong reasons.

I can’t claim to have actively hated very many albums recently. Perhaps it’s a function of age, or maybe it’s the sheer volume of music I listen to—if something awful pops up on shuffle, there’s always something better coming along in a little while. Perhaps I’d rather focus on stuff I like than stuff I don’t.

Surely some artist you like has made an album that really ticked you off. If so, please share it with the whole class.

9 responses

  1. I remember quite liking “River of Dreams,” and thinking how ironic it was that he quit the pop game just when he’d made a record I enjoyed.
    I haven’t heard it in years, though, and I dunno what I’d think of it now.

    Hmmm. I’ll probably think of a better candidate right after I hit Post Comment … but the record that comes to mind immediately is the Stones’ “Undercover.”
    Good walloping title track, followed by totally undistinguished material with nothing to recommend it.
    From time to time I think about taking it down off the shelf but I can’t bring myself to put it on again.

  2. The early 1990s were a particularly bad time for rock veterans to release “disappointing,” anger-inspiring records. Guns N’ Roses bloated “Use Your Illusion I & II” ruined everything great about that band, transplanting it from the grimy 1980s L.A. Sunset strip to the terribly bloated prog Midwest of the 1970s. The worst for me was Springsteen’s “Human Touch”/”Lucky Town” fiasco, where he fired the E Street Band, hired sterile L.A. session musicians, and released 100 minutes of flaccid, unmemorable pap that was a clear step down from everything done before. That double-release basically ruined the entire decade for him. I’m too young for this, but I imagine that Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” would have inspired a lot of double-takes in 1979.

    Funnily, I like 1970s Robert Palmer, but “Clues” is my favorite album of his. I have a soft spot for 1970s veterans who confronted the New Wave challenge head-on, producing some inconsistent but often interesting work (I’m thinking of Linda Ronstadt’s “Mad Love,” Hall & Oates “Voices” and “Private Eyes,” Jackson Browne’s early 1980s work, John Hiatt’s “Slug Line,” Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses,” Paul McCartney’s “McCartney II,” Neil Young’s “Trans,” etc.).

  3. We are in full agreement on Kilroy and River of Dreams. My personal list would include Sting’s Brand New Day, Bowie’s Never Let Me Down, U2’s Achtung Baby, and, most recently, Seal’s System. I could probably think of more, but why bother. As a famous colonel once said, “All that hate’s gonna burn you up, kid.”

  4. I had trouble coming up with one at first…because during the years when I was most into classic rock, I was a teenager with a VERY limited amount to spend on music, so when I plunked down money for an album, I usually did so with a pretty good idea ahead of time of what I was getting, so I was rarely angered by anything I bought.

    That is, until “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. “Wish You Were Here” was, and still is, one of my favorite albums, and when this 2-disc opus was released with so much fanfare and universal hosannas from the critics, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

    I could not believe how bad it was. I was all of 17 years old, but even at that age I found the whole concept of it juvenile and embarrassing. None of which I probably would have minded, or even noticed, had there been more than 2 or 3 decent songs on it…but the whole thing was just a bloated, tuneless, unlistenable, badly-sung, smarmy paean to Roger Waters’ self-absorption and megalomania. Take Andrew Lloyd Weber at his absolute worst, mix it with “Metal Machine Music”, add heaps of prog-rock self-important pretension, and you’ve got “The Wall.”

    But hey, what do I know. It’s supposedly a classic, though I have no idea how it came to be regarded as one. I’m puzzled how anybody could stand to listen to it more than once.

  5. My would be American Dream by CSN&Y. It’s the album Young promised Crosby he would make if he got himself cleaned up. It’s worthless. The title track is totally cheesy. The only good track is Young’s “This Old House.” The rest is a total waste of time by a band I love.

    I agree with you about River of Dreams. It has 3 good songs. Overall, it’s Joel’s only real failure of a studio disk and it was a good time for him to stop.

  6. Charlie, I seem to recall an interview with one of the members of CSN&Y where even THEY felt “American Dream” wasn’t all that great either.

  7. The brand new U2, the one they gave away free to a trillion people on itunes, has an ugly cover and an ugly sound to it. I’m just an OK U2 fan but this album almost eliminates them from Hall of Fame contention. GROSS!

  8. Cheap Trick’s “All Shook Up.” Like its predecessor “Dream Police,” there were early clues that the band was running out of gas. Almost every interview with the band pre-Budokan mentioned Rick Nielsen’s inexhaustible backlog of songs but by “All Shook Up” it was clear the well was running dry. Another clue: the celebrity producer, in this case George Martin (with Geoff Emerick), hoping to spread a little Beatle magic to a group routinely compared to the Fab Four. Sir George did give the excellent “Stop This Game” a “Live and Let Die” sheen, but only obtained a middling #48 chart position for his trouble. Thereafter all CT albums would have about two or three really good songs and lots of filler. And then came the horrid Cheap Trick songs that showed up in about every T&A exploitation film of the mid 80’s, followed by their hiring of “song doctors,” used by 70’s bands when they wanted to have a hit again in the late 80’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: