The least essential albums of 2014

The least essential albums of 2014

Every year, The A.V. Club digs into our promo bins, inboxes, and Twitter feeds in an attempt, agonizing as it may be, to find the year’s least essential albums. These aren’t the worst records of the year, but rather the records whose existence marks not only the decline of the music industry, but also the decline of civilization in general. They’re records that not only shouldn’t be purchased or sold, but really should never have been born into existence in the first place. So stop in your tracks, prepare your poor ears, and gird your critical loins: These are the least essential records of 2014.

Least essential album of 2014:
Pixies, Indie Cindy

The Pixies resisted temptation for so long, touring and touring and touring some more without giving in to the pressure—internal or external—to make new music. And then the EPs without real names started trickling out: EP1, EP2, EP3. None set the world on fire, because none had the fire of the earlier Pixies catalog. Then the band decided to collect those EPs—which had only been available digitally and on vinyl—and call that collection Indie Cindy. It was greeted with a shrug and damned with faint praise, and then the world went back to Doolittle and Surfer Rosa, the former of which got a well-deserved deluxe reissue this year. No one will ever do the same for Indie Cindy, a just-fine album that’s also the very definition of “least essential.” [Josh Modell]

Least essential Christmas album, Internet-famous cat-egory:
Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever: Official Soundtrack

The idea of adult-contemporary singers and cutesy indie duos recording well-trodden Christmas standards is already an inessential addition to the world’s library of music. Doing that for the album accompaniment to a Lifetime movie that’s based on an Internet meme makes Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever: Official Soundtrack so ephemeral, physical copies may as well be shoved directly into the ground as a giant “fuck you” to the Earth. The film in which Aubrey Plaza voices the frowny-faced cat, presumably as ironic performance art, receives a very sincere wassailing here from the sort of musicians beloved by young, Internet-savvy audiences—Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Brian Setzer Orchestra—alongside twee-poppers like Pomplamoose and The Bird And The Bee, who apparently had some downtime between car commercials. Their rehashes of “Jingle Bells,” “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth),” et al. are padded out by a recycled rendition of “It’s Hard To Be A Cat At Christmas”—recorded last year for charity, sold this year for punishment—plus bonus tracks of random Internet cat crap like the “Play Him Off Keyboard Cat” and “Nyan Cat” songs, to remind listeners of how their lives are slowly slipping by. Arguing for its effectiveness as a marketing tool, however, it does leave you feeling like Grumpy Cat looks. [Sean O’Neal]

Least essential soundtrack that actually makes you wish Jay Z had said, “Hey, maybe I should guest on this”:
Annie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

A contemporized remake of the classic musical overseen by Jay Z and Will Smith, Annie and its soundtrack give you exactly what you’d expect from that: a feeling of overwhelming pointlessness. What it does not give you is any hint of either of those artists, even as it seems like the entire point of Jay Z remaking Annie is so he can play his own “Hard Knock Life” 12 times in a row. Sadly, that didn’t happen here, but the album should prove indispensable to fans of noted songstress Cameron Diaz, giving them three different tracks on which to hear her tuneless bleating—including a duet with Bobby Cannavale on which he sounds a lot like Tony Bennett, singing with some woman who’s shouting at Tony Bennett. For no explicable reason, the soundtrack is also surprisingly heavy on Sia, who contributes several gushing songs (one featuring an anesthetized, nearly unrecognizable Beck) full of the kind of childlike glee and wonderment that just make you want to build those kids an orphanage, so they can sing those songs in there, behind those orphanage walls. [Sean O’Neal]

Biggest cash grab from the son of a Beatle
Julian Lennon, Everything Changes (Music From Another Room, Ltd.)

A four-disc set featuring three—count ’em, three—versions of his latest album, Everything Changes, and a documentary about its creator, Julian Lennon’s new box set pretty much defines the nonessential. Only 1,000 copies of the £99.99 ($155) box set were made, and each comes complete with “a signed certificate from Lennon,” a token that screams, “Look, I know you’re only buying this because I’m John Lennon’s son.” “Too Late For Goodbyes” is an okay single, and Valotte is an okay record—but both of those came out 30 years ago. Everything Changes (Music From Another Room, Ltd.) could have been another okay release, but its format makes it seem so damn icky. [Marah Eakin]

Least essential soundtracks receiving their first vinyl pressing:
Clerks
Dumb And Dumber
Forrest Gump

Both Death Waltz and Mondo Records have proven there’s an audience for artfully crafted film scores pressed on vinyl, but that success has influenced others to imbue lesser soundtracks with equal reverence. In the case of Shop Radio Cast, the label has taken that to mean every movie soundtrack is deserving of a deluxe vinyl pressing, even if it’s just a random collection of songs all tossed together. This year alone the label has taken on Dumb And Dumber (a double LP with a surprise D-side etching!), Clerks (a double LP, also with a D-side etching!), and its magnum opus, a triple LP release of Forrest Gump with a triple gatefold sleeve pressed on red, white, and blue vinyl. While each release is remarkable for the label’s attention to detail, each one proves as necessary as a 20-year-late sequel to one of the films themselves. [David Anthony]

Least essential solo album from a one-hit wonder (that includes a new version of that one hit):
Katrina Leskanich, Blisland

You’d be given some leeway for thinking Katrina Leskanich’s last name was actually “And The Waves,” given that her band’s only real hit—“Walking On Sunshine”—was the defining point of her musical career. But one hit is all it takes to make a career, however modest, and Leskanich returned this year with Blisland, an album of new material that naturally closes with a version of the 1985 smash, though this time it’s dubbed “Walking On Sunshine (Borderline Blues),” for reasons you can probably guess. (It’s bluesy. And blah-sy.) [Josh Modell]

Least essential Christmas album by both original Dukes Of Hazzard:
John Schneider and Tom Wopat, Home For Christmas

Tom Wopat made this list last year with his all-covers album I’ve Got Your Number, on which the onetime Duke Of Hazzard tried to make a play for seriousness by wearing a tux. This year, Wopat has re-teamed with his TV cousin for Home For Christmas, a hokey album of holiday tunes that may redefine the word “cheesy” for generations to come. You can almost see their forehead veins bursting as they make wacky chit-chat and wrap their velvety voices around “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Johnny, It’s Cold Outside.” (Yes, that’s what you think it is.) [Josh Modell]

Most essential least essential comedy album:
Gallagher, I Am Who I Pretend To Be

At some point in his career, Gallagher went from being the silly watermelon smasher to the cantankerous government-smasher that we all know and fear. (And ridicule.) Unfortunately, the comedian’s supposedly final stand-up album, I Am Who I Pretend To Be, is neither hilariously good nor hilariously bad—it’s just pretty much what you’d expect from a old crank who once had a massive fan base. There’s some mild racism (“there’s Orientals everywhere!”), some talk about everyday foibles (“those little hangers you get with new socks!”), and a sideways look at the American justice system, which provides no justice at all. In a just world, according to Gallagher, his comedy and his ideas would rule the world instead of exist in the margins. He’s as relevant and offensive at this point as your half-senile great uncle, which is to say, not at all and only if you listen, respectively. [Josh Modell]

Least essential ‘00s tweener star reinvention:
Jamie Lynn Spears, The Journey EP

Jamie Lynn Spears followed in older sister Britney’s tweener-TV footsteps, appearing in the Nickelodeon shows All That and Zoey 101, before pausing her career to have (and raise) a child. However, she caught the country music bug after a move to Nashville, which explains this year’s The Journey EP. While completely pleasant and inoffensive, the five songs on the EP are also utterly bland ripoffs of Carrie Underwood’s tart twang-pop and Taylor Swift’s wispy early songs. There’s no shortage of interesting, insightful women making engaging country music in 2014. Sadly, this milquetoast EP does not qualify for the latter category. [Annie Zaleski]

Least essential confounding, countrified Mötley Crüe tribute:
Various Artists, Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute To Mötley Crüe

Mötley Crüe is on its victory lap, playing one legally binding last tour before calling it quits. And while the hair-metal band is certainly worth celebrating in some sense, Nashville Outlaws is the most confounding way for that to happen. A 15-track tribute LP featuring Crüe classics covered by acts like Big & Rich, Darius Rucker, and Rascal Flatts, Nashville Outlaws attempts to mine the commonalities between Crüe and the hard-drinking, truck-driving fans that buy so much country music these days. It’s not a bad idea in (loose, loose) theory, but in practice, it’s just awkward. [Marah Eakin]

Least essential acoustic career deep dive:
Trapt, The Acoustic Collection

Trapt is easily mistaken for any number of rock-radio bands that crawled out of the woodwork after rap-rock’s influence waned—mainly because the California band had just one mega hit (“Headstrong”) in 2002. Just three years after releasing a collection of re-recorded hits, remixes, and live songs—called Headstrong, perhaps because the album contains five different versions of that song—Trapt unleashed an entire collection of acoustic tunes. Surprisingly, this album only has one stripped-down take on “Headstrong”; even more surprising, the collection omits some of the band’s biggest radio hits (“Still Frame,” “Stand Up”) in favor of album tracks culled from their entire catalog. For Trapt superfans, that’s great news; everyone else is likely just shrugging with indifference. [Annie Zaleski]

Least essential de facto New Age sequel:
Yanni, Inspirato

PBS pledge-drive staple Yanni has kept a lower profile in the last decade and a half. (Then again, after doing concerts at places such as the Acropolis and the Taj Mahal in the ’90s, almost anything would be a retreat.) He’s also changed up his signature sound slightly—most notably on 2009’s Yanni Voices, which featured vocals on his songs (both old and new) for the very first time, as well as new melodies. Inspirato is cut from the same cloth: The album boasts vocalists such as Renée Fleming and Plácido Domingo warbling over new versions of previously released Yanni songs, complete with freshly written lyrics. As a result, the album feels like a Yanni record in name only—although he clarifies that Inspirato “is not opera, but it does use many of the most beautiful operatic voices in the world,” these powerful vocalists dominate the music. While his willingness to let others reinterpret his music is admirable, it’s also missing his musical stamp and feels like idea recycling more than anything. [Annie Zaleski]

Least essential collection of whale sounds from some classic rock legends:
Pink Floyd, The Endless River

When the remaining members of Pink Floyd announced earlier this year that they’d be using tracks from 1994’s Division Bell to put together a new record in tribute to the late Richard Wright, the idea seemed sweet enough. They miss their friend, after all. But the resulting record, The Endless River, is mind-bendingly boring and brings the group’s existence to an end with a whale-sized whining whimper rather than the complex bang it deserved. [Marah Eakin]

Least essential ‘90s nostalgia:
Dave Matthews Band, Under The Table And Dreaming reissue
Spin Doctors Pocket Full Of Kryptonite reissue

In a year that saw plenty of expanded reissues of classic ’90s records, it’s only logical a few bands tied too closely to their original moments of glory would try to get in on the fun. Dave Matthews may have grown a devoted legion of jam-band fans since his original breakout, but a $40 vinyl reissue of Under The Table And Dreaming reads less like the fulfilled desire of Dave devotees and more like an artist trying to make a quick buck off his past work. Similarly, the Spin Doctors are happy to reissue a $30, colored-vinyl reissue of an album that can be had for pennies in any used record store. Unless these releases have been willed into existence solely to remind people of their miserable adolescent taste and the existence of truly abysmal scatting. [David Anthony]

Least essential use of fictional nobility:
Various artists, Christmas At Downton Abbey

For a show that hasn’t even been on the air for most of 2014, it’s a little presumptuous to think Downton Abbey devotees need a Christmas album this year, much less 45 Christmas songs. (Yes, forty-five.) Still, Julian Fellowes and company compiled traditional carols from the Budapest City Orchestra, the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and more—so many more—so that you can get that English royalty Christmas right at home in the U.S. suburbs. There are a few Downton connections, with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa appearing on a few carols—you might recall her playing opera singer Dame Nellie in one of the most devastating season-four episodes—and even Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) makes an appearance in two songs, though her anachronistic phrasing is jarring against the traditional sound of the rest of this very long album. But mostly this is just an excuse to slip a two-part Downton Abbey “Christmas suite” into a bunch of songs you can hear on the 24-hour Christmas radio station. [Laura M. Browning]