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Dirty Work: Dispatch
Taking an in-depth look at the trashy "bad" albums in a great band's history and finding the gems.

 
By: Jeff Daily
Follow Jeff Daily on: Twitter
October 3, 2012
 

"I  feel like I need to briefly explain what a great “bad” record is: It’s a record where the creators are clearly not fully engaged with the project, which is reflected in the degraded quality of the songwriting and musicianship and an overall feeling of boredom, detachment, or extremely undisciplined self-indulgence that’s palpable in the music. That makes it “bad.” But instead of making the record less enjoyable, this “badness” actually makes the album more fascinating—so long as the artist in question is a genius—because it provides insight into what makes the artist’s “great” records great, and demonstrates how functional he or she is even when operating on a lower level of artistry/sobriety. That makes it great. Dylan’s infamous 1970 debacle Self-Portrait is the Sgt. Pepper of great “bad” albums; the closest to a modern master of the form is Ryan Adams." - STEVEN HYDEN, "The Five-Albums Test," -AV Club 7/19/2011

When I started this column of music exploration I had many ideas and (too) many LPs to choose from that fit my criteria for "Good/Bad." Though I feel like I could go on forever with this one subject, sometimes coming to an end before over staying one's welcome is the best way to go out. I'm not turning my back on this wonderful piece of online real estate however - no, I'm going to be diving into a more free range topical column (also titled DIRTY WORK) that will appear (not adhering to a strict timed deadline) when wild conjecture and cock-eyed ravings concerning music news, albums, songs, videos, journalism, etc get to be TOO much for me to take. Anything that happens to catch my eye and inspire me to enthusiastically crush the weakened keys of my tiny keyboard will be fair game. But that's the future...

Today, I want to use this installment of this particular thread to highlight albums that made my GB list, but didn't make the cut for full-length articles. Artists in almost every genre, if they last long enough that is, will make an album that just isn't right in the head. Artists might miss the mark of their talent completely only to regroup or comeback years down the road after releasing "dud(s)." Or they might be stepping out of their comfort zones so weirdly that in time the music made "way back then" begins to make more sense and sound downright good, if not "totally bitchin'." Here are a few albums I would like to offer up for GB re-evaluation:

Death of a Ladies Man (1977) - Leonard Cohen: Phil Spector (over)produced (and co-wrote) Cohen's most fantastic album! It may be his least critically respected LP, but damn if it isn't the set with his most tortured songs that sound as difficult to live through as to record. The wall of sound meets poetry's heartbroken singer of lust head on and it's a glorious mess. From the hilarious raunch of "Don't Go Home with Your Hard On," to the 50s vibe of the great "Memories" this is a must hear album. Even if Spector refused to allow Cohen to replace "guide vocals" the final results are ragged, raw, and amazing. Critic Paul Nelson wrote of this album (and I agree 100%), "It's either greatly flawed or great and flawed - and I'm betting on the latter."

Trans (1982) - Neil Young: Young's attempt to communicate with his disabled son confused almost everyone when it was originally released. The vocals on most of the songs are obscured by vocoder and the "traditional" rock songs such as, "Like an Inca," sound like they're from an entirely different album altogether (they were actually left over from an unreleased set). I hear the album as an admirable attempt to combine technology with rock, a concept that seems fairly obvious today since we as a society are PLUGGED in all the freakin' time! This is rocking robot music, I would recommend you "sample and hold" this wonderful failure of an LP.

Van Halen III (1998) - Van Halen: I have one word for you: guitar. Eddie Van Halen's six-string fireworks make this album extremely fun to listen to. Van Halen was in flux and introduced a new vocalist to the faithful on III. Gary Cherone took over lead vocals in the band after Sammy Hagar was ousted from the group before writing or recording this record, but to the casual listener the two singers could be clones because they sound so damn much alike. When it comes to Van Halen, does anyone really care who's singing anyway? The Cherone melodies and lyrics are maybe a small step up from Hagar's or (original and BEST VH vocalist) David Lee Roth's, but they're still clumsy. At the time Eddie claimed to have beaten alcohol addiction and found a new sense of peace within himself. This new found focus comes out in some of his most inspired solos and arrangements (he even gargles through a lead vocal on the song "How Many Say I") in years.

Son of Schmilsson (1972) - Nilsson: How does one follow up a chart-topping, Grammy-winning, career-exploding album (Nilsson Schmilsson)? Why gather a choir of geriatrics and sing about the choice of death vs. wetting the bed of course! Harry Nilsson is/was an unquestionably gifted singer-songwriter, but he lacked the determination of a mega-superstar. He enjoyed goofing off drunkenly with former Beatles. His humor and sense of the odd imbues his body of work with as many pleasures as frustrations. As a fan I've learned to celebrate his mad left turns, but as an outside observer I can also see how Nilsson pretty much tanked his career by following every sloppy whim. Son of Schmilsson is my favorite Harry album. It features such funky pop/rock as "You're Breaking My Heart" (Nilsson drops beautiful F-bombs several decades before Cee-Lo), "Spaceman," and..."I'd Rather Be Dead" (the aforementioned elderly sing a-long).

Of course I didn't mention dozens upon dozens of others and I'm sure I missed your favorite GB album. The debate will live on and reappraisals will continue long after this column is long forgotten. My advice is to go back and see if that shitty album you always hated doesn't WOW you know.

Keep the conversation going: @teflonbeast

 

 
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