In 1999, as part of an attempt to establish a holiday perennial along the lines of Charlie Brown specials and advent calendars, The Onion A.V. Club launched an exhaustive and exhausting campaign to determine each year's least essential albums. The first installment spanned the entire decade of the '90s—the lucky winner was The Adventures Of MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob—but every year since has provided a goldmine/ minefield of candidates. As always, "Least Essential" refers not to the worst music (though much of it is dreadful), but to the recordings with the flimsiest reasons to exist. Every winner must have been released nationally, and each year's thousands of insignificant soundtracks and small-scale tribute albums are generally exempt. Readers' suggested additions or subtractions are always welcome, so send them to email@example.com.
THE FABIO AFTER DARK AWARD FOR ALBUM SO INESSENTIAL IT'S ACTUALLY ESSENTIAL
Deepak Chopra & Friends
A Gift Of Love II: Oceans Of Ecstasy–Deepak Chopra & Friends Present A Musical Valentine To Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote volumes of poetry (including one verse that became the national anthem of India), took bold stands against the British colonial presence, and befriended everyone from W.B. Yeats to Helen Keller. So what better way to pay tribute to him than by changing his words (or as Chopra puts it, substituting "metaphors that are more meaningful to our lives today"), setting them to unbearable New Age music, and bringing in a grab-bag of celebrities to deliver overwrought readings? Now, that's a valentine! Chopra himself gets the party started with his vocoder-distorted reading of "Oceans Of Ecstasy," but Lisa Bonet's sleepy recitation of "Nothing Lasts Forever" really establishes the album's what-chiropractors-listen-to-in-hell tone. Marisa Tomei, Jared Harris, Gina Gershon, and others all turn up, and the recently separated Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith supply the set's twin peaks, "Sea Of Love" and "Soul Mate," respectively. "You were a goddess and I was your lover," Banderas whispers. "My body has loved your body," Griffith answers two tracks later. "Now it is time for our souls to make love."
LEAST ESSENTIAL OVERKILL
The String Cheese Incident
The On The Road Series
Everyone knows that jam bands inspire intense loyalty, but the activities of Michael Kang, Bill Nershi, and company between April 12 and July 18 are now better documented than those of Winston Churchill during The Blitz, thanks to the 38 multi-disc installments of this live series.
LEAST ESSENTIAL SOLO DEBACLE
Never A Dull Moment
Rock N Roll Gangster (tie)
There's no way to winnow this category down to one conclusive winner, not in a year when bassist Fieldy (of Korn) and drummer Tommy Lee (of Mötley Crüe and the lesser-known Methods Of Mayhem) both released turgid disasters. Each marginally talented tattoo enthusiast blurs the all-important line separating "Least Essential" and "Worst," with Lee engaging in drearily headache-inducing hard-rock dirges, and Fieldy proving himself the least gifted rapper this side of Aaron Carter.
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM FEATURING KIDZ BOPPING
Kidz Bop Kids
Kidz Bop 2
The second installment of a series familiar to anyone who likes to watch cable television when the ad rates are low, Kidz Bop 2 continues the original's formula: Take a handful of recent hits, remake them with anonymous studio musicians and singers, and pepper the result with a seemingly unrehearsed chorus of children. The joyless kidz get to sing along only on the chorus and sound disappointed, although it's probably best that lines like "I left my body lying somewhere in the sands of time" (from 3 Doors Down's "Kryptonite") get reserved for the over-18 contributors. Will the bland, Casio-accompanied singer of "Survivor" compromise her Christianity? Nope. Do a bunch of children support her decision not to give up? Absolutely. (Highlight: the bizarre approximation of Ja Rule featured on the Kidz Bop Kids' version of "I'm Real.")
LEAST ESSENTIAL CHRISTMAS ALBUM
Kidz Bop Kids
Kidz Bop Christmas
In what may qualify as a violation of child-labor laws, the Kidz Bop Kids actually released two albums in 2002. This one concludes with a version of "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" that's preferable to the group's take on "That Don't Impress Me Much" (from the series' first volume), but not by much.
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM NAMED AFTER A CLAIRE DANES TV SERIES
Lollipop Lust Kill
My So Called Knife
From the creepy, blade-wielding tot on the cover to band members with names like DeadGreg to the creepy spoken-word album intro "The Open Door," Toledo's Lollipop Lust Kill knows how to put together a scary album. But My So Called Knife? That's not scary at all. That's just stupid.
LEAST ESSENTIAL OSBOURNES CASH-IN
The Osbourne Family Album
No fewer than three albums have been released to capitalize on the runaway success of MTV's reality-TV series The Osbournes, but only one of them includes The Cars' "Drive." (The others: Ozzy's umpteenth concert souvenir, Live At Budokan, and Shut Up, the surprisingly enjoyable singing debut of daughter Kelly.) The Osbourne Family Album doesn't even make much sense as a soundtrack: Though it inspired the version heard during the show's opening credits, Pat Boone's "Crazy Train" isn't played anywhere on the show, while selections of family favorites–like Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" and "Drive," the latter a hit with no-show daughter Aimee–are of interest to virtually no one outside the immediate Osbourne family.
LEAST ESSENTIAL GORILLAZ CASH-IN
Spacemonkeyz Versus Gorillaz
Laika Come Home
There's nothing wrong with Gorillaz, the (literally) animated supergroup featuring Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, Blur's Damon Albarn, and others. But while the single "Clint Eastwood" is terrific, Gorillaz's self-titled debut doesn't exactly stand as a timeless classic. Nevertheless, fans got a double dose of unnecessary cash-ins in 2002: G-Sides collected remixes and a few rare and/or import B-sides, while Laika Come Home found the mysterious Spacemonkeyz remixing the Gorillaz album in dub. Neither album makes a compelling case for its existence, but the latter, while inoffensive, is especially flimsy.
LEAST ESSENTIAL SEQUEL
Abigail II: The Revenge
Remember Abigail, the stillborn baby who haunted Jonathan LaFey on King Diamond's 1987 concept album Abigail? No? Well, Abigail came back for a sequel this year, and King Diamond returned to tell the tale, in several different octaves. The album includes a family tree so the easily confused can keep the characters straight, while the lyrics sheet, as always, makes it clear which guitarist is responsible for which solo at all times.
LEAST ESSENTIAL PACKAGING
From, say, 20 feet away, Play looks like yet another midriff-baring, back-arching, hair-flinging, all-girl Swedish dance-pop trifle, complete with shiny "retro" logo. Appropriately, the group's self-titled, seven-song debut also sounds like the work of yet another midriff-baring, back-arching, hair-flinging, all-girl dance-pop trifle, complete with a stomach-churning cover of "Hopelessly Devoted To You." But look closer: Play's members were all born between 1987 and 1989, and the cover art makes them look younger yet. One thing remains creepier than sexualized pubescents, though: the anime-style drawings that grace Play's liner notes.
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE
Roy Jones Jr.
Round One: The Album
Following in the footsteps of Least Essential legend Shaquille O'Neal, boxing champion Roy Jones Jr. released Round One: The Album, giving self-indulgent vanity projects a bad name. Not familiar with Jones' boxing career? Don't worry: On "Ya'll Must've Forgot," the rap-happy pugilist helpfully recounts each of his major victories. Jones managed to rope Mystikal and Scarface into participating in his little rap fantasy camp, but this is amateur hour all the way. At 74 minutes, Round One is sure to provoke weary cries of "No Mas!" from anyone within earshot.
LEAST ESSENTIAL LYRICS
Tribe Of Judah
There are plenty of reasons to avoid the debut album by former Extreme and (briefly) Van Halen frontman Gary Cherone's new band Tribe Of Judah: the terrible title, the terrible band name, the shots of Cherone threatening suicide on the cover, the fact that it's an album featuring Gary Cherone. There are even more reasons not to listen more than once, including his attempts to fuse accessible heavy metal with electronic influences, unspecific world music, and God knows what else. But the words speak for themselves. From "My Utopia": "Desoaltemple sits high on a pedestal / exalting a royal subjective / postulate piety / me myself idolatry / hallowed be my name / from womb to tomb / the placenta of attention."
LEAST ESSENTIAL PRODUCT OF AN EIGHT-YEAR CYCLE
Every other mid-term election year means another Boston album, so following 1994's indifferently received Walk On, Tom Scholz returns with Corporate America. (He doesn't like it.) The album does bring back departed vocalist Brad Delp for some old-fashioned Boston-style arena rock, but only on some tracks: What's up with "With You," a mostly acoustic track written and sung by someone named Kimberly Dahme? Where did the walls of guitars and keyboards go? On the other hand, the album art, featuring a guitar/spaceship hovering over Earth, is awesome as always. Maybe Boston should focus on album covers and forget about music.
LEAST ESSENTIAL MINI-ALBUM BY A BOY BAND THAT SHARES A NAME WITH A FAMOUS STEAK SAUCE
Who said all the good names were taken? If you listen to this album while enjoying a steak, you can totally hear the tangy mixture of citrus and soy products.
LEAST ESSENTIAL "ESSENTIAL" COLLECTION
The Essential Kenny Loggins
Columbia/Legacy's Essential collection has produced smartly constructed two-disc sets of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Leonard Cohen, and others, but does anyone need 35 tracks by Kenny Loggins? No collection would be complete without "I'm Alright (Theme From Caddyshack)," but "Nobody's Fool (Theme From Caddyshack II)" is another issue altogether.
LEAST ESSENTIAL MADE-FOR-TV CONSTRUCT
Apart from Least Essential Album itself, no category offered stiffer competition than this one. Remainder bins will long be choked with 2002 albums conceived in an attempt to cash in on brief television phenomena, from the slapped-together American Idol compilation (looking to save EJay Day's cover of "I'll Be" for posterity?) to Causing A Catastrophe–Live, a concert souvenir by VH1 Bands On The Run winner Flickerstick. But least essential of all has to be All Sides by LMNT, a boy band whose members lost to O-Town in the Making The Band reality show. (Who'd have thought that O-Town's long-delayed new O2 would be trumped in a category so tailor-made to its talents?) If Making The Band rejects are getting record deals, just imagine what will come of the next category.
LEAST ESSENTIAL CATALYST FOR INESSENTIAL ALBUMS IN 2003
American Idol: Greatest Moments
Ill-conceived record deals have followed much less exposure than that generated by the train-wreck TV talent show American Idol: If four photogenic young men can get a record deal based on their failed attempt to win Making The Band (see above), what's to stop an opportunistic Svengali from trying to sweeten the limited vocal range of Nikki McKibbin or Ryan Starr? Even the best American Idol contestants were just competent interpreters of melismatic pop and R&B cheese, so expect some brutal bottom-feeders to emerge in 2003.
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM WE NEGLECTED TO INCLUDE IN 2001
Sketches Of My Culture
Every year, The Onion A.V. Club pores over thousands of albums to determine the least essential, but a few major contenders invariably evade notice. That was the case with 2001's Sketches Of My Culture, celebrity academic Cornel West's not-so-def spoken-word poetry jam. Sketches finds West paying tribute to blacks' rich cultural and musical legacy with cheesy smooth-jazz arrangements, ponderous spoken-word pieces, and anemic R&B crooning. But West doesn't just dole out props to his cultural heroes: On "3Ms," he samples Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evars, three civil-rights giants who had the good sense to not record terrible spoken-word albums. Seldom have good intentions gone so horribly awry.
LEAST ESSENTIAL REMIX ALBUM
This Is The Remix
The year's long list of remix albums featured bestsellers (Jennifer Lopez's J To Tha L-O! The Remixes) and collections that weren't as appalling as they might have been (P. Diddy's delusionally titled We Invented The Remix, Linkin Park's Reanimation). Amid all that heavy-hitting competition, pneumatic white-bread pseudo-strumpet Jessica Simpson released This Is The Remix, a four-song, seven-track mini-album that disco-fies a small slice of Simpson's eminently forgettable oeuvre. (Note: If S Club 7, LMNT, or A*Teens ever release a remix album, the vortex of inessentiality it creates will knock the planet off its axis.)
LEAST ESSENTIAL NEW REMIX ALBUM THAT'S NEITHER NEW NOR A REMIX ALBUM
The Benzino Remix Project
When is a new remix album neither new nor a remix album? When it's Benzino's The Benzino Remix Project. Benzino co-owns the hip-hop magazine The Source, a fact he kept hidden for many years, although it could be inferred from the fawning coverage the magazine gave never-was Benzino and his group Made Men. In 2001, Benzino used his connections to corral Pink, P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Bobby Brown, Fabolous, and many other once and future Source cover stories into appearing on his solo debut, The Benzino Project. The album tanked for Motown in 2001, but, ever the optimist, Benzino had it reissued independently a year later as The Benzino Remix Project, even though it contains only three remixes. In other words, it's a new low.
LEAST ESSENTIAL COVERS ALBUM
Through The Looking Glass
Who's that reproducing the riddims of Bob Marley's classic "Could You Be Loved" at the opening of Through The Looking Glass? Why, it's Toto, the blowsy '80s standby known for such hits as "Africa" and "Rosanna"! For those who love Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, and Bob Dylan but are constantly complaining that their songs could be more Totofied, Through The Looking Glass is as good as it gets. Everyone else should panic and flee, trampling loved ones if necessary.
LEAST ESSENTIAL BAIT-AND-SWITCH
Sign Of Things To Come
"Hey, this is Steve Harvey, everybody. The name of this album is called A Sign Of Things To Come. I chose that because music has got to take a turn. Y'all got to be tired of all the madness that's been goin' on in the music world, so I done gathered together a bunch of my friends, and I came out with an album that I thought said it all. It's about love, it's about feeling, it's about partying, it's about a good time. So let's just go on and get this thing started. We gonna kick it off with a hot one. This is my man Dave Hollister, Lord have mercy." There went 33 of the 202 seconds on Harvey's debut that actually contain the affable comedian speaking–the rest is filled out with decent R&B, hip-hop, and gospel music, with an emphasis on artists who happen to record for a certain record label. That said, Nine20, Morrison Slick, B.L.A.C.K. Experience, and DeJure have indeed become "the next major stars."
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM
Pop 'Til You Drop!
In 2000, the year's Least Essential Album was A*Teens' The ABBA Generation, a collection of note-for-note ABBA covers by a group of photogenic Swedish teenagers. In 2001, A*Teens released Teen Spirit, which replaced the ABBA covers with unbearably sugary originals, thereby proving the existence of something less essential than a soundalike tribute band's collection of faithful covers. (Due to an arbitrary and since-discarded one-year term limit on the title of "Least Essential Album," Teen Spirit was given the copout prize for Least Essential Album By An ABBA Tribute Act.) So, what does 2002 bring? Why, it's Pop 'Til You Drop!, another collection of non-ABBA-related material, culminating in a cover of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" that trumps Michael Jackson's antics in the battle to be named 2002's most morbid music-related atrocity. How? Well, not only does Cooper himself guest on the tinny dance-pop desecration of his song, but he also allows a lyric change–;from "school's been blown to pieces" to "I'm bored to pieces." Coming in 2003: an A*Teens cover of Nirvana's "Rape Me" called "Date Me," with disco beats punctuating a sampled Kurt Cobain wail. Really, how much lower can the bar be set? It may be redundant, but nothing else can touch Pop 'Til You Drop!'s claim to the hotly contested title of 2002's Least Essential Album.