Some music can affect an individual so powerfully that it can seem as though the people making it are somehow supernatural—and a listen through the discographies of many of those bands often supports that idea. But even the greatest artists have moments when they lose the plot and prove they’re indeed human. This week we look at a eight lackluster albums released by great bands.
8. Angles — The Strokes
Though most Strokes fans aren’t very kind 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, which is admittedly a step down from the band’s first two albums, I’ve grown to like its creative guitar work and stylistically diverse songs. Angles was the first Strokes album that really felt like a letdown: The production was ‘80s-sounding and overly glossy, a far cry from the raw garage sound of the band’s early work, and singer Julian Casablancas gave up nearly all control over the music, leaving the writing responsibilities to his bandmates, resulting in an uneven, scattershot listen.
7. Coda — Led Zeppelin
Of course it makes sense that Coda is Led Zeppelin’s worst album. It’s quite literally an afterthought: It was released two years after drummer John Bonham’s death and comprises a bunch of outtakes and leftovers from the band’s recording sessions throughout their career. Naturally, there’s not much to write home about, as it’s apparent the eight selections on Coda were initially rejected from Zeppelin’s proper albums: They’re largely indistinct and forgettable, offering little the band hadn’t done better elsewhere.
6. Love Beach — Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Progressive rock titans Emerson, Lake & Palmer were not only virtuosic players but had a knack for carving intricate, otherworldly albums that were as bizarre as they were ambitious, not to mention consistently challenging listens. Suddenly 1978 came and ELP were stuck in a contract with their record label for one more album even though the group’s chemistry had begun to unravel. Thus Love Beach was born, a slickly produced, glib set of pop songs and an utterly bored attempt at a progressive suite. The album cover really says it all — the trio looks more like the Bee Gees than an art-rock band.
5. The Soft Parade — The Doors
With Jim Morrison descending deeper into drug and alcohol abuse and withdrawing from the band to focus on writing personal poetry, guitarist Robbie Krieger took on a much larger songwriting role during the making of The Soft Parade, a confounding bump in the road between The Doors’ early psychedelic phase and later blues-rock phase. The album is a collection of relatively weak pop songs inflated with Phil Spector-esque brass and horns — aside from the catchy “Touch Me,” there’s hardly a song worth mentioning.
4. Around the Sun — R.E.M.
R.E.M. stopped being alternative rock leaders and transitioned into being craftsmen in the mid-’90s, a role that suited them well for a while as the group leisurely added subtle new dimensions to their established sound. But Around the Sun was undeniably flat, something even Michael Stipe and company acknowledged and made a point to reverse on the energetic follow-up Accelerate. But here the elements that had once made R.E.M. so potent — the hazy vocals, cryptic lyrics, experimental flourishes — were absent, and the band filled the space with plenty of bland, stale ballads. Bassist Mike Mills hardly even sings backup vocals; instead Stipe overdubs his own harmonies, giving Around the Sun a strangely static quality.
3. A Momentary Lapse of Reason — Pink Floyd
By 1987, Pink Floyd’s colossal stature had imploded in on itself, resulting in a bitter falling out between its members that eventually led to a legal battle over the band’s very name. After the dust from all the turmoil settled, former bassist and leader Roger Waters went off to release a terrible solo album, Radio K.A.O.S., and guitarist David Gilmour carried on as Pink Floyd to release the equally terrible A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Both albums suffered from overblown, “of the moment” production in an effort to sound current. Of course, that means A Momentary Lapse now sounds horribly dated and far less relevant and timeless when contrasted with The Dark Side of the Moon. To fill the sizable void left by Waters’ departure, Gilmour hired outside writers to help write the lyrics and music, resulting in a calculated, very safe listen that sound like a poor simulation of Floyd’s past heights. One thing Gilmour did right was name it A Momentary Lapse of Reason — the most fitting title this album could possibly have been given.
2. Pablo Honey — Radiohead
Every band’s allowed a pass if their first album isn’t up to snuff with their later work, and Radiohead, who are now one of the unquestionably great modern bands and haven’t released a bad song in years and years, are no exception. Though all the band’s subsequent releases have considerable merit, their debut Pablo Honey sounds generic and anonymous — its combination of grunge and U2 could have been written by any number of British alt-rock groups. Even Radiohead’s follow-up album The Bends, which was still very much a rock album, carried a much more focused, expansive quality that Pablo Honey lacks. Songs like “Stop Whispering,” “How Do You?” and “Anyone Can Play Guitar” are cookie-cutter as Radiohead has ever sounded, with only “Creep” and “Blow Out” offering any hint of the massive stylistic transformation that was to come.
1. Metal Machine Music — Lou Reed
Lou Reed’s nightmare concept album Metal Machine Music has become a legend in its own infamous way. Consisting of no songs and no discernible melodic or rhythmic elements, Reed constructed a double album built from noisy, unpleasant guitar feedback that can be seen as either an incredibly avant-garde noise piece or a smug joke on the pretentiousness and meaninglessness of avant-garde music itself. Reed himself has been ambivalent about his motives behind making Metal Machine Music, but regardless of his intentions he never released another album so defiantly anti-musical and impossible to enjoy in his long career — yes, even including the most recent Metallica collaboration/debacle Lulu.