(Pictured: Billy Joel strikes an out-of-the-ordinary pose, 1994.)
The other day on Twitter, Ultimate Classic Rock asked followers, “Which classic rock album actually p___ed you off when it came out?” The first one that came to my mind was Kilroy Was Here by Styx. As cold and mechanical as the robotic world it claimed to decry, it’s one of the most unpleasant listening experiences you can have, and I hated the presumption Styx showed by expecting radio stations to play such twaddle. When I went back into my blog archives, I was surprised to note that I hadn’t put Kilroy in a 2006 post I wrote about albums I really hated by people I generally like. Here’s that list, with the text edited a bit.
Fundamental/Bonnie Raitt (1998). Bonnie Raitt’s 1990s comeback was guided by Don Was, who produced Nick of Time, Luck of the Draw, and Longing in Their Hearts, with spectacular results. Bonnie tried changing things up on Fundamental, turning to the hot producers of that moment, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Well, there’s avant garde, which is what Froom and Blake purportedly were, and there’s just plain clueless, which they demonstrably were. Some of the songs are as good as anything Raitt wrote for her previous three albums, but the production is so incompetent that the album is painful to listen to. Froom and Blake sound like they don’t know how to place a microphone or run a mixer.
Time Sex Love/Mary Chapin Carpenter (2001). At the time, this was MCC’s first new album in over four years, and as a result, I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t then, and I don’t now. There’s almost nothing on this record that’s as affecting as the weakest cuts on Stones in the Road, her best album. Plus, MCC spoils the effect of the album’s loveliest track, “Late for Your Life,” by following it with a hidden outtake, which features she and the band melting down in laughter. This sort of self-indulgent piffle is why hiring an outside producer isn’t a bad thing. Unless it’s Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake.
Clues/Robert Palmer (1980). After a superb series of blue-eyed soul records that were exactly the kind of thing I adored, Palmer went new-wave on Clues, collaborating with Gary Numan, an artist I didn’t understand and could barely tolerate, and I hated the album like poison. I think maybe you have to be 20 years old to feel betrayed by an album, because I know now that Clues isn’t worth that kind of passionate dislike. And in retrospect, some of it (“Sulky Girl,” “Johnny and Mary”) really is a lot better than it sounded to me then.
River of Dreams/Billy Joel (1993). The title song of this album blew me away, and still sounds pretty good. The rest of the album is shrill and hectoring. For example, the second big single, “All About Soul,” goes on for six minutes, and by the end, you feel like you’ve been beaten over the head for that long. Even the ballads have a disturbing darkness to them. If this really was Billy Joel’s last pop album, it was a memorable exit for all the wrong reasons.
I can’t claim to have actively hated very many albums recently. Perhaps it’s a function of age, or maybe it’s the sheer volume of music I listen to—if something awful pops up on shuffle, there’s always something better coming along in a little while. Perhaps I’d rather focus on stuff I like than stuff I don’t.
Surely some artist you like has made an album that really ticked you off. If so, please share it with the whole class.