These are the albums that just plain did not do it for me in 2017. I really tried to listen to all of these with an open mind. I can see why other people like them, in most circumstances. Some of them are intriguing and well-crafted works of art that I just found really boring to listen to. Some are at least unique creative expressions, albeit really irritating ones. Others are shameless commercial trash, and/or sad attempts to revive a band’s long-gone glory days. In all cases, I’ve linked to the audio or video of a song that I genuinely liked, or at the very least found tolerable.
Feist – Pleasure
I guess I can’t blame Leslie Feist for instinctually kicking against the brief brush with commercial success she had back in the late 2000’s. I’ll never say that she lacks artistic integrity. And a good side effect of the stark indie folk/rock style she’s settled on is that the few moments of playful experimentation or visceral energy really stand out. I just find that I don’t enjoy all that much in between those moments. The title track to this album has really grown on me, and I hear glimpses of skewed brilliance in other tracks like “Any Party”, “A Man Is Not His Song”, and “Century”, but for an album titled Pleasure, I have to admit I don’t get much of that sensation out of listening to it.
Music Video: “Pleasure”
Linkin Park – One More Light
Some would say it’s bad form to poke fun at a recently deceased artist. And undoubtedly, the suicide of lead singer Chester Bennington has prompted many who maligned this album on first listen to pay closer attention to the lyrics and find some begrudging appreciation for the struggles he was trying to express. The thing is, the rest of this band is still alive, and a few of them like Mike Shinoda and Brad Delson were arguably more involved in the creative process than Chester himself this time around, to the point where even a few of those songs expressing the inner demons he was dealing with were actually written by other people looking in from the outside. No amount of “dead artists are better” logic can cover for this album’s shameless attempt to cash in on pop and electronic music trends that were already showing their age a few years ago. I’m not saying I hate the entire thing. “Talking to Myself” is a pretty good glimpse at Chester’s depression from his wife’s point of view, and it’s the closest to rocking out that this album ever gets. “Good Goodbye” is a mildly entertaining hip-hop send-off with Mike’s only rap verse on the entire album, plus a few guest rappers, both of whom manage to not suck. And the title track seems to have become the fanbase’s emotional farewell to Chester, which gives it the weird feeling of a man singing his own eulogy. Ut’s a work of subdued and sublime beauty unlike anything in the band’s catalogue, and I’d like to believe I would have slowly come to appreciate this track even without the sudden tragedy of losing Chester to prompt me to re-examine the lyrics. I can’t even begin to imagine what the future holds for the rest of the band at this point, since Chester was such a unique and irreplaceable personality. I just hope that if they continue to use the name Linkin Park, they don’t further sully it with mediocre output like the bulk of this album.
Music Video: “One More Light”
Matisyahu – Undercurrent
Matisyahu’s albums have always been hit-or-miss for me, and you could argue that as some who is neither Jewish nor all that knowledgeable about reggae music, I’m not really part of the target audience here. But I have enjoyed some of his more band-oriented songs in the past, so you’d think an album that drops the glossy production and the hip-hop-oriented stuff, and just gives his band the freedom to jam to their hearts’ content, would be up my alley. Instead, it’s pretty tedious, and none of the songs really had strong enough hooks or instrumentation to justify the patience required to get through all 8 of these tracks. Matisyahu should continue to follow his muse wherever it leads; I just don’t know if I’ll be tuning in next time around. (At the very least, he should hire someone who can do more believably professional cover art next time around. I mean, this looks like some sort of bad World of Warcraft fan art or something.)
Music Video: “Back to the Old”
Incubus – 8
This would be the “sad comeback album” I alluded to earlier. After softpedaling it on If Not Now, When? back in 2011, Incubus tried to get their old fans revved up again by returning to the sound that found the mainstream fame in the late 90s/early 2000s. The first two tracks are a lot of fun (despite one of them literally being called “No Fun”), but the quality level drops off precipitously after that, with a lot of Brandon Boyd’s song ideas seeming forced or stale, and the chorus hooks expected to drive those ideas home coming across as unimaginative and repetitive. By the time they get to the closing track “Throw Out the Map”, it’s a total slap in the face, because any number of the less memorable tracks on Make Yourself could have easily been the road map for that and most of the album.
Audio: “No Fun”
Passion Pit – Tremendous Sea of Love
The story behind album #4 is basically that the sole remaining member Michael Angelakos bucked commercial expectations and made a fully independent album and gave it away for free, because documenting his psychological journey with tracks that were made more or less in the moment and not really touched up after the fact meant more to him than turning a profit or engaging in the traditional album release cycle. In principle, that’s admirable. In practice… OUCH. This album is all over the place, and not in a good way. The instrumentals don’t really do enough to deliver on the promise of their ambiance, the few catchy electropop songs either don’t stick around long enough or overload the listener with incessantly chirpy noise when they do, and the supposed piece-de-resistance, the six-minute “Somewhere Up There”, is so comically disjointed that it features not one, but two spoken-word stretches that halt the music altogether because the audience absolutely has to hear a therapist talking about how children form attachment, and a rather blasé answering machine from Michael’s mom. (The same mom who seems to have been profoundly hurt Michael, according to the last track on the album. You haven’t shown your work here, man.) Getting through this thing was torture, despite the fact that I had the last few Passion Pit records to help me build up a tolerance over the years.
Audio: “To the Otherside”
Stephen Christian – Wildfires
Anberlin was not a “Christian” band in the traditional sense, but as the band’s lead singer Stephen Christian could sometimes address his faith in intriguing ways. Unfortunately almost none of that creative spark is heard on this paint-by-numbers, glossy pop/rock worship album that I guess is meant to represent the songs he’s been writing and performing in his role as a church’s worship director since the band hung it up in 2014. Stephen is similar to Jon Foreman from Switchfoot in that he puts out music under a few different names, depending on where the subject matter seems most appropriate, including his mellower side project Anchor & Braille. The difference is that when Foreman does a straightforward song of faith or even directly quotes scripture on a solo album, it’s generally still quite creatively performed and produced. Wildfires is predictable Christian radio pabulum pretty much all the way through, to the point where I could easily call out the lyrics ahead of time on several occasions the first time through. The fact that this record even exists is downright embarrassing for this long-time Anberlin fan.
Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues
Maroon 5’s music has reeked of desperation for a while – the ire I felt over non-album cut “Moves Like Jagger” getting way more attention than anything on their album Hands All Over was probably the turning point for me where I realized they had sold out – but at least on their last few records, I heard some semblance of live band energy here and there. Red Pill Blues is just sterile, poppy, computerized R&B, for the most part, which probably involved too many cooks in the kitchen production-wise, and not enough input from the actual band members (of which there are now seven instead of five – great way to get rich off of those residual checks, whoever you new guys are, but this can’t be a creatively satisfying move for any musician in the long run). The thing about Adam Levine is that I do like his voice and think he’s a nice guy, at least in the persona he presents aside from the band. But his lyrics usually make him out to be a pathetic predator half of the time, and a mushy nice guy trying to use his niceness to conceal his inherent sleaziness the other half of the time. It’s especially unfortunate that, in a year when sexual abuse victims are finally getting some traction as they stand up against the expected “boys will be boys” attitudes held in society which excuse all manner of douchebag maneuvers from men who won’t take no for an answer, Levine still feels the need to come up with cringe-worthy lyrics that talk about exes rather possessively and even insinuate in a few cases that he knows what’s better for a woman (i.e. getting physical with him) than she does. All on an album whose unfortunate title brings to mind the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement” that only adds more fuel to an already explosive social issue. Did I mention the sad rap features? That almost feels like an afterthought at this point, considering how adept Maroon 5 is at making the worst music of their career – they really don’t need Kendrick Lamar or A$AP Rocky phoning it in to demonstrate how low they’ve sunk.
Audio: “Best 4 U”