“Disappointing” can mean a lot of things for different music fans. If you’re the type to scour every blog religiously, desperately seeking the next hit, then something like, say, Black Kids’ full-length debut could be dead on arrival. On the other hand, if you haven’t listened to anything but Top 40 radio for the past 10 years, disappointing could mean that Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes don’t compare to Led Zeppelin. Occasionally, however, the stars align, in a way that just about everyone with high hopes for an album proved to be sorely dissapointed on every level. We’re not talking about Weezer’s Raditude, or Chris Cornell’s Scream, or something like Adam Lambert’s For Your Entertainment, all albums whose failures were redeemed only by the fact that our collective faith in them had never really gotten off the floor. We’re not even talking about Electric Six’s Kill or Clipse’s Till The Casket Drops, which were disappointing but not epically so. We’re talking about the albums that taught us, again, that hope can be dangerous. Here are 10 albums released this year that were, in the end, harmed by high expectations.
A victim of the era when major labels still rewarded ironic, manly man rock party boys, Andrew W.K. overcompensated in a bizarrely big way with 2009’s truly baffling 55 Cadillac, a series of piano improvisations that sound like songs Elton John threw out 30 years ago. Even if this album is meant as a joke, it’s not particularly funny, and it’s difficult to imagine Andrew W.K. taking himself too seriously.
Asleep in the Bread Aisle
Just about every ounce of hype Universal could muster was thrown into Asher Roth this past April, as everyone knew his backstory well before Asleep In The Bread Aisle was even released. But sure enough, no amount of hype can overcome a rapper without anything interesting to say, musically or lyrically. Eight months later, in what may be the nail in the coffin in major-label flakery, the debut of what was supposedly the next great hip-hop star has yet to sniff gold.
Together Through Life / Christmas In The Heart
It’s hard to pick on a musician in his late 60s for being disappointing, but until 2009, Bob Dylan has had a remarkable string of successful new releases that goes back at least until the late-’90s. Maybe selling “Forever Young” for a Super Bowl ad jinxed him, because Together Through Life generated little enthusiasm among fans or critics. As if that wasn’t enough, Dylan’s Christmas in The Heart was a sick novelty release that got away with far too much credibility because the proceeds went to charity. Bob’s had worse years in his career, but this one wasn’t far off.
Working On A Dream
The Boss didn’t disappoint in terms of sales — this is a rare platinum release — but Working On A Dream sacrificed all of Bruce’s blue-collar charm for empty pop and even emptier lyrics. The sales may have been more of a product of Bruce’s Super Bowl appearance and the fact that he had the title track for Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.
Tongue N’ Cheek
The promise behind what was supposed to be the next great pop music style — grime and dubstep — finally started to deliver in 2007 with Dizzee Rascal’s Maths + English and Burial’s Untrue. Which made the collective shrug that greeted 2009’s Tongue N’ Cheek, the fourth album by the genre’s prime musician, somewhat tragic. Dizzee Rascal has yet to have a song come close to chart success in the U.S, and he’s lost the goodwill critics were giving him six years ago. Tongue N’ Cheek shows just how dangerous NME-style overhype — the kind that has made Dizzee Rascal a perennial chart-topper in the U.K. — can be.
Don’t call it a relapse — or even a comeback. Call it a disappointment, an attempt to cash in by a musician that everyone was looking to fill the cultural void once filled by Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, or Bob Dylan. Relapse embraced all the things that annoyed people about Eminem — namely, his self-righteousness and his vengeful streak — and applied it to no target that’s been relevant since Monica Lewinsky jokes were still funny. Not suprisingly, although Eminem was the best-selling musician of the decade, his new work this year didn’t sell as well as old, repackaged albums by the Beatles and Michael Jackson did.
21st Century Breakdown
As it turns out, the rules Green Day was trying to break with American Idiot were rules that had already been broken a quarter century earlier. If American Idiot was Green Day’s mixed-bag attempt to remake London Calling, 21st Century Breakdown was Green Day’s Sandinista!, an album that overreaches in ambition, especially for a band that was already reaching pretty far. Of course, Green Day is no Clash, and Billy Joe Armstrong should have known better than to put himself in Joe Strummer’s shoes. If nothing else, his doing so proved that when rock stars attempt to be larger-than-life influences, it’s even more fruitless in 2009 than it was in 2004.
Break It Up
Jemina Pearl was the voice and the face of Be Your Own Pet, one of the most exciting young punk rock bands to emerge this decade. The band broke up in 2008, supposedly in an attempt to avoid being put in a box by a label. Pearl is still in the confines of Universal, but it’s under the guise of Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label. So it’s unclear why she felt the need to turn herself into the kind of Madonna pop diva that Thurston Moore used to make fun of. Whether it’s Jemina Pearl sacrificing art for the pleasures of fame, or some kind of contractual obligation, this was the exact opposite of what Be Your Own Pet’s most devoted fans had to be waiting for.
For years, Muse had the reputation of being one of the best live bands in the world without an album to match that experience. But The Resistance promised to be everything Muse’s previous releases were not: a translation of an epic sound into the confines of a studio recording. After an unpredecented amount of American hype — including being on the cover of Spin — Muse released The Resistance in September. Unfortunately, it was another failed attempt to translate an epic live sound to the confines of a studio recording. All of a sudden, I realized Muse has been selling out arenas internationally with studio work that was vastly inferior to poorer bands, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the word “underrated” ever applied to Muse.
Everything Goes Wrong
Everything Goes Wrong is possibly the only album on this list to disappoint because it faced real but unrealistic expectations. Some (like me) would argue that Everything Goes Wrong was an improvement in songwriting to a debut album that could best be described as promising. Alas, then came a vast overselling of indie hype that eerily resembled the kind of crap major labels use to pull — with half the sales and budget. Everything Goes Wrong showed just how limiting lo-fi songs from a mildly interesting indie band can be when they’re stripped away from all the hype and supposed novelty. This is one case where the Internet failed music, no matter what the Vivian Girls’ primary mainstream champions would have you believe.
What albums disappointed you most in 2009? Let us know in the comments below.