Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Update: William Shatner upgraded to 'ironically brilliant'

The problem we have with Worst Of All Time polls in the music press is how they're even more reductive than the canon that commands what appears at the top of Best Of polls. A couple of celebrity efforts, a couple of covers albums, something that can be dismissed with the phrase 'hasn't dated', something knowingly controversial, never mind the quality, feel the column inches. With that in mind, let's see what Q magazine has this week named as the ten worst albums ever:

1 Duran Duran - Thank You
These days any band with a keyboard and a jacket is instantly deemed to have been heavily influenced by Duran Duran, even if, like most of them, it's Duran Duran as heard through polystyrene with the treble turned off. This was their celebrated, if not in the positive sense, covers album, featuring versions of 911 Is A Joke - and exactly how did this influence prime Duran Duran? - and White Lines that became standing national jokes for about three months as well as a cover that you or I could knock up a better version of in Paint in five minutes. It also apparently includes a retitled cover of their own The Chauffeur. The whole of musical history to go at and that's where they end up? All the same, you can't knock the feeling that this is only at number one to see how many irate letters they get. Amazon: "Customers who bought music by Duran Duran also bought music by these artists: Arcadia, Power Station, Spandau Ballet, John Taylor, Human League." What wide ranging tastes those grown-up Durannies have.

2 Spice Girls - Any of their solo albums
Right. Stop right the fuck there. Apart from a set of well-meaning cover versions, the worst music ever collected into a 40 minute or so package, according to the opinion of trained musical experts, has been made by former Spice Girls. Mel B's Timbaland-produced I Want You Back, which made number one despite sounding like a loop of a zombie playing the Addams Family theme? Unworthy of the term 'music', it says here. Mel C's Ga Ga, off her first album, which is a better Garbage song than anything Garbage have recorded since 1998? Not worth the effort. That last Emma Bunton album of knowing 60s soundalikes that included an Astrud Gilberto track and generally sounded like it had actually had a budget put to good use? Paste pearls. Are Victoria Beckham records ("one of her many attempts at career resurrection" reckons the Independent report on this, because of course nobody would ever have heard of her otherwise) in any way bad? Well, no, they're guilty by association, but we could name plenty of more actively offensive records before we get to any of hers. Including Geri Halliwell's, but there's only so far they can go. Of course they've put this in with an eye on the forthcoming tenth anniversary and alleged reformation, which constantly seem to be reported as "the Spice Girls are reforming - oh no, they'll be shit again!", followed by "the Spice Girls aren't reforming any more - what idiots they are for not wanting to revive the Spice magic, eh?" without grasping the irony. Still, more fool those periodicals that put solo Spices on their covers, eh? You know, like Q did with Mel C in 1999.

3 Various Artists - Urban Renewal: the Songs of Phil Collins
Urban Renewal? No idea on that front. This is the R&B reappropriation compilation from 2001 that when this piece is written up will contain many smirking references to Fur-Q from The Day Today, a series never broadcast in America. Actually Collins, who's always been partial to the jazz, funk and sometimes both together backing, has always been well sampled in the urban community, and who doesn't want to hear Ol' Dirty Bastard doing Sussudio? There's many worse covers albums on record store shelves, usually released on Scandinavian labels, it's just none of them allow smug writers to go "baldy!"

4 Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music
Well, obviously it is. It's not exactly meant to be great pop by its nature. Strangely, there appears to be no sign of anything else from the burgeoning in its own field noise music scene or the experimental sound wave likes of Pan Sonic. Or, for that matter, Neil Young's Arc, which is pretty much the same thing as this.

5 Billy Idol - Cyberpunk
It's called Cyberpunk, which is a bad start, and it's by Billy Idol, which is worse. There were a fair share of people blending heavy riffing, technological buzzwords and basic synths and sequencers around for a good six to eight years up to this album's 1993 release, and it's a bit rich to start accusing Billy Idol of being a cariacature of a nouveau future punk. The ironic revival can only be months away.

6 Naomi Campbell - Babywoman
House! Again, you'd be able to write the blurb for this one without mentioning the music at all - you didn't buy the book or so much as see it on sale, so why do you care who wrote it so much? - and while we don't like to think what she did with Ride A White Swan, we recall single Love And Tears (co-produced by Tim Simenon) being a swooning Massive Attack-like thing with very much passable smoky vocals, remembering that this was in the days before Autotune was prevalent and thus surely no worse than the treated seriously pop careers of Lopez, Duff, Lohan etc. Bizarrely, a lot of the US Amazon reviews include variants on the line "buy Sade instead", as if some misguided street team was let loose around 2001.

7 Kevin Rowland - My Beauty
As Dexys officially become an influence, it's been interesting to watch critical opinion on his Creation Records sinker change. At the time, while nobody enjoyed the infamous dress-wearing cover - oh, but you've all got The Man Who Sold The World - and when the sales figures were released the laughter could be heard as far as the Reading Festival, the reviews were unanimously positive, Uncut's man calling it "one of the best albums I'll hear in my life". Again, you're calling out Kevin Rowland for overemoting his vocals?

8 Mick Jagger - Primitive Cool
We'd never heard of this before but it turns out to be the one with Let's Work on it, which surely has to place it higher in the critical spectrum if only for that Top Of The Pops of it performance where he utilised every stage in the studio, a load of kids following most of his moves.

9 Westlife - Allow Us To Be Frank
As Word once pointed out, one of the single worst album titles of all time, and they didn't even have the good grace to go with a recreation of the celebrated Rat Pack Sands Hotel shot on the cover. (In fact there were two covers, the other suggesting Christopher Dean had joined the band) The whole jazz-lite revival that spurred this on was one of the most hateful moments in modern music, surely only superceded by the current thought that the vast tenets and strictures of opera can be represented by Russell Watson and the fat lad out of G4, and given Robbie Williams, who probably had the cheek to think he could sound like Holmby Hills was his spiritual home after all, didn't manage it four balladeers in artfully unknotted bow ties were never going to. But who was the Joey Bishop of the group?

10 Tin Machine - Tin Machine II
"So which one of you is Dave?" It's possible from this distance to see what Bowie was up to here, just about, as this period bridged the pseudy, overreaching Glass Spider tour and the rediscovery of musical satisfaction and experimentation over his 80s commercialities. (This doesn't fit easily with ChangesBowie, the legend re-establishing hits compilation that was the second album we ever bought, and the accompanying hits tour, but never mind). Bowie apparently wasn't overly keen on the project by now and this was released independently, but it introduced him to drum'n'bass era cohort Reeves Gabrels and, you imagine, surely can't be all that bad. Never Let Me Down, on the other hand...


Chris Brown said...

Nobody bitten on this one?
OK, I'll have a go:

1. It's a bad idea done badly. Perhaps that's what's worst about it - the fact that they should have known better. Even though they were Duran Duran.

2. I don't entirely share STN's enthusiasm for some of those records, such as it is, and I can't quite help taking Victoria Beckham's solo records as a personal insult. But I'm absolutely on side with the general thrust of the argument here, especially since putting them all together generically looks so lazy. And 'I Want You Back' was good.

3. Phil Collins might well like funk, but that's not quite the same as being any good at it. And from what I recall Brandy & Ray J's attempt at 'Another Day In Paradise' made Jam Tronik's look definitive. But I can't believe this album was made with a totally straight face.

4. Not sure why I'm defending Q here, but I suppose it's the idea of him releasing that as a Lou Reed album that they object to - when you buy Pan Sonic you know what you're getting. It's a good point about Arc though - maybe they tossed a coin.

5. I believe this is the album where he covers 'Heroin' by The Velvet Underground. So it's a bit of a sop to Lou then.

6. I sort of recall 'Love & Tears' but the idea of the album being any cop is a bridge too far. It is funny that they pick on someone who failed to shift albums on the back of their celebrity instead of one who succeeded.
At least Caprice never got to release an album.

7. How many people have heard this anyway?

8. Surely not the worst Mick Jagger solo album for a start - remember Goddess In The Doorway which sold in Kevin Rowland-style amounts and featured Rob Thomas?
What about She's The Boss?

9. One good thing about that title is that I can do that gag: "No Westlife, allow me to be frank. Your record is shit."
One good thing about the record is, er, um.... they didn't release any singles off it.

10. Perhaps one of those records that seems to exist more for the makers' benefit than ours, but you'd think that Tin Machine Live - Oy Vey Baby! would beat this for the title alone.

I saw a copy of Vinnie Jones' album in a charity shop yesterday. They missed a trick there.

Simon said...

Of course, we're not exactly arguing any of these deserve ranking alongside Revolver or OK Computer (well, it is Q), but this was more a reaction to the idea of a new canon of badness, no questions asked. They can't even argue that it's albums the artists doesn't know are bad because it's not as if Metal Machine Music was sold as great songwriting.

On the subject briefly broached of Celebrity Makes Album, Thinks Musical Career Is Serious, is Matthew Marsden Featuring Destiny's Child the greatest single artist billing ever? After No No No but before their pre-eminence, true, but...

Chris Brown said...

Yes, I did agree with the general idea. Q used to do something called "Beware Of The Dog" covering bad records by great artists which I reckon is much more fertile ground - oddly enough they featured Neil Young once, but not with Arc. Perhaps you're supposed to be greatful that he's not singing? (Sorry Neil Young fans!)

I remember Matthew Marsden & DC too - in fact every time they put another record out it sprang to mind, although somehow they forgot to include it on their hits compilation. Presumably some Sony Music employee was able to persuade Beyonce's dad that what their career really needed was to be associated with a British soap actor. Of course, his album never came out, although I think a few copies escaped - I saw one in a Soho basement a few years ago (err... I should probably clarify that it was a record shop, shouldn't I?)

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