The least essential albums of 2010
The music industry has yet to figure out a way to reliably make money in the new millennium, but that hasn’t stopped it from releasing a bounty of thoroughly unnecessary records every year. Don’t misunderstand us: Terrible music will always exist (and prosper), but for our round-up of least essential records, we examine those with the shakiest justification for existence. As usual, we had many candidates—so many that we could write a sub-article on least essential albums released by reality TV stars. (Those Real Housewives love to sing!) For our annual traditional Least Essential Albums feature, though, we round them all up in one place, like a black hole of pointlessness.
Least essential genre exercise
Lil Wayne, Rebirth
For Young Money, 2010 was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The label put out one of the most anticipated albums of the year in Drake’s Thank Me Later, and it boasts two of the hottest rappers around in Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, who reached household-name status before putting out a single record. (The last rapper to create such a whirlwind of pre-debut buzz was Doggystyle-era Snoop Dogg.) Yet the hottest label around also released one of the year’s biggest flops in Rebirth, a long-threatened, shockingly awful attempt at a rock album by Lil Wayne, who has no business singing or banging away at the few chords he’s learned on electric guitar. Rebirth is an album of fantastic miscalculation, a lobotomized slab of ’80s hard-rock cheese from an artist who seems to have gotten most of his ideas about rock ’n’ roll from David Lee Roth-era Van Halen music videos.
Least essential monument to irony
Record Club, Yanni Live At The Acropolis
The reports of irony’s death have been greatly exaggerated. As proof, behold the Beck-fronted Record Club’s reinterpretation of Yanni’s Live At The Acropolis. Aided by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Tortoise, the album is part of a series of experiments in which the ad hoc band records a version of someone else’s album in a single day. Some of Record Club’s output—remakes of classics by Skip Spence, Leonard Cohen, and The Velvet Underground, for instance—pay earnest homage to a few of Beck’s actual heroes. Live At The Acropolis, on the other hand, is a sarcastic, jazz-fusion remake of the cheesy Greek instrumentalist’s bestselling 1994 concert. The listenability of Beck’s version is debatable; its pointlessness is irrefutable.
Least essential album by a political candidate who started and ended his career as a viral Internet joke
Jimmy McMillan, The Rent Is Too Damn High
Has anyone ever been elected to major political office on the strength of a kickass YouTube video? Not yet, and Jimmy McMillan won’t change that. The Rent Is Too Damn High Party founder made a tiny splash in the cultural consciousness this year when he ran for governor of New York, even inspiring a parody on Saturday Night Live. But it’s one of those sketches that won’t play well in six months, when all traces of Jimmy McMillan have been scrubbed from the collective memory. McMillan’s album, which features plenty of lyrics about the rent being too high, will not suffer the same fate, because it will never actually enter the public consciousness.
Least essential album that will make your kids grow up right quick
Fred, Who’s Ready To Party?
YouTube sensation Fred Figglehorn (a.k.a. Lucas Cruikshank) may have the trickiest demographic in the world, attracting small children with his rubber-faced antics and digitally high-pitched screech while also trading on young-adult gags about unrequited crushes, ADD, and alcoholic moms. His first full-length CD, Who’s Ready To Party?, suffers from that same identity crisis: It’s an album of glossy, Auto-Tuned dance-pop produced by the cynical Svengalis behind Hannah Montana, High School Musical, and other Radio Disney hits. Yet it’s all in service of songs about people who dislike mashed potatoes (“Tater Haters”), butts-and-farts-and-girls-are-gross jokes (“Girls Are From Uranus”), and the scary dentist (“Don’t Forget To Brush”). There’s a song called “Learn How To Drive,” but if your kids are old enough to learn how to drive, they’re old enough to be listening to real music—and a quick spin of Who’s Ready To Party? should age them from goofy, carefree tweens into jaded, easily embarrassed teens in just under half an hour.
Least essential greatest-hits collection
Dane Cook, I Did My Best: Greatest Hits
This new double-disc compilation proves that however Dane Cook’s stand-up ages, it will eternally cleave any gathering of bipeds into two camps: those who feed on Cook’s overstimulated bombardment, and those so worn down by his staccato hail of mouth-noise that their ears eventually stop trying to define his actual words. A comedy greatest-hits record is inessential on its own, but I Did My Best does Cook no favors: The format destroys whatever flow and crowd work Cook’s initial albums offered, and it unites all his most excessive, painful bits into a merciless sequence. Underneath all the grating bombast, plenty of Cook’s material isn’t half-bad, but I Did My Best only serves to reinforce the his detractors’ preconceptions.
Least essential exploitation of Auto-Tune, reality-star edition
Kim Zolciak, Tardy For The Party: The Remixes
Countess LuAnn, “Money Can’t Buy You Class”
Danielle Staub, “Real Close”
The Least Essential Music Hall Of Fame could have an entire wing devoted to the stars of reality shows, with a special section for Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. Although none of the not-very-domestic doyennes has found chart-topping success, that didn’t deter these three. Each favors generic electro-pop with cheap-sounding beats seemingly created by a D-level producer after an all-night Red Bull-and-vodka bender. Oh, and Auto-Tune—lots of Auto-Tune. (Zociak’s lack of vocal talent is a recurring punchline on her show.) Most of the Housewives do one song, then offer multiple remixes. Why? Because clearly one version of “Tardy For The Party” is not enough.
Least essential invocation of Billie Holiday
Miss Tila, Welcome To The Darkside
Welcome To The Darkside, Tila Tequila’s follow-up EP to her 2007 debut EP, Sex, at least deserves credit for sucking in a manner different than fans might expect. (By “fans,” we of course mean people who enjoy masturbating to her naked pictures.) Instead of the heavily Auto-Tuned dance-pop nonsense usually favored by marginal quasi-celebrities like Tequila, Darkside opts for moody, string-laden, vaguely cabaret-style art-pop on covers of Yoko Ono’s “Walking On Thin Ice” and Depeche Mode’s “Blue Dress.” The tellingly titled “Get Me Off” veers much closer to Tequila’s comfort zone of empty sexual provocation with a Penthouse Forum-worthy lyric that opens the song: “I spread my legs wide open for you, baby / so be a man, pump it harder inside me.” (Talk about a single entendre.) The EP’s press release compares Tequila to Billie Holiday, but we seem to remember the late icon opting for a slightly less explicit form of sexuality.
Least essential sci-fi metal opera by an alt-country pioneer
Ryan Adams, Orion
Ryan Adams made his mark as a twangy singer-songwriter in the band Whiskeytown before embarking on an eclectic—and erratic—solo career. But not even his bizarre genre-dilettantism under the aliases Werewolph, The Shit, and DJ Reggie prepared his perplexed, ever-dwindling fan base for Orion. Self-released with limited fanfare as a vinyl-only album, Orion is, according to Adams, his “first fully realized sci-fi metal concept album”—which implies he might make more of them some day. Let’s hope so. The world will be a less absurd place indeed without sequels to Orion songs like “Victims Of The Ice Brigade” and “Ghorgon, Master Of War.”
Least essential historical-fantasy metal opera by a Lord Of The Rings actor
Christopher Lee, Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross
Ryan Adams may be about as metal as Pat Boone, but he looks like a Dethklök member compared to Christopher Lee. At age 87, the venerable thespian recorded Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross, a metal album chronicling the semi-mythic exploits of Lee’s alleged ancestor, the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. To Lee’s credit, the disc’s choir-slathered, symphonic overload almost matches the gravitas of his concept and vocal performance—a melodramatic, stentorian croon that echoes his turn as the villainous Saruman in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. “It’s fascinating for me that at this stage in my life, people are beginning to look upon me as a metal singer,” Lee said around the time of the album’s release. You just keep thinking that, Sir Chris.
Least essential exploitation of a thoroughly inessential TV show
Jackie Evancho, O Holy Night
Lil’ sweetheart Jackie Evancho stunned audiences on America’s Got Talent this year with her knockout soprano voice, which sounds far more mature than her 10 years. Although she lost in the finals to singer Michael Grimm, Evancho has more going for her: novelty, YouTube (viewers selected her based on a much-watched YouTube audition), and pure adorability. So that makes her especially vulnerable to the Machiavellian AGT overlords seeking more revenue streams. Hence O Holy Night, an EP/DVD that combines the songs she sung on AGT with a DVD of her performances on the show, her audition tape, and an “exclusive interview” filmed the week of the finale. With a voice like that, Evancho has a bright future—here’s hoping it’s free from the tendrils of reality TV.
Least essential gathering of reggae all-stars young, old, and deceased
Various artists, Disney Reggae Club
To be fair, Disney and Caribbean riddim go way back: 1989’s The Little Mermaid featured the robustly Jamaican-accented crab Sebastian. On this new Disney reggae collection, Gregory Isaacs—who died in October—takes the little crustacean’s place on “Under The Sea.” Nor are the rest of the cast lightweights: Sly And Robbie take on Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from Toy Story, Yellowman gargles his way through “Find Yourself” from Cars, and Steel Pulse plays “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book. Dub Trio, better known for monstrous endurance-run sets that slam together dub, punk, noise, and metal, gives some tastefully gentle backing to skankin’ Hassid Matisyahu on The Lion King’s “Circle Of Life.” The question is, “Why?” None of the songs lend themselves to reggae covers particularly well, though reggae fans who want to hear their favorite artists without all that pesky alternative spirituality might enjoy it.
Least essential contribution to a category that includes “Pac-Man Fever”
Video Games Live: Level 2 CD/DVD
Video Games Live impresario Tommy Tallarico has done something amazing: He’s crafted yet another way for videogame fans to not move. By creating a concert tour centered on gaming music, Tallarico turns an interactive medium into a passive one. Most videogame compositions are repetitive and short, making this the rare album where a 30-second preview clip is more than enough. The included DVD has poorly shot concert footage and interviews with gaming luminaries like Jamie Lee Curtis, who makes a pretty good case that James Cameron got the idea for Avatar from World Of Warcraft. You may also be surprised to learn that, when played by an orchestra, the music from the various Sonic games has a ’70s TV-show-theme feel—think “Love, Hedgehog Style”—which is interesting, but not exactly compelling.
Least essential failed attempt at iconoclasm
Various artists, Punk Goes Classic Rock
Fearless Records’ long-running Punk Goes series stays afloat—barely—on the assumption that punk rock is cooler, smarter, or somehow radically different than the music it spoofs. The result is garbage like 2008’s Punk Goes Crunk, a disc that, at the very least, traffics in some sort of aesthetic friction. Not Punk Goes Classic Rock. The album collects semi-ironic covers of classics by The Rolling Stones, Queen, Kiss, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and others, as performed by a bunch of punk-lite nobodies unworthy of serving as Keith Richards’ drug mule. But here’s the most glaring disconnect: 30-odd years after the heyday of The Clash, Ramones, and X, punk rock is classic rock. Back to the drawing board, Punk Goes. Or if you’d rather not bother anymore, that’s okay too.
Least essential holiday novelty, non-singing-Christmas-tree edition
The Superions, Destination… Christmas!
To paraphrase an observation from the UK version of The Office, it’s difficult to get behind someone else’s idea of wackiness. It’s harder still when that someone else isn’t particularly committed to the wackiness, as with Fred Schneider on The Superions’ chintzy stocking stuffer, Destination… Christmas! The unmistakable male voice of The B-52s sounds like he’s suffering from a tryptophan hangover throughout the record, but even the youthful enthusiasm of Schneider’s early work with the B-52s (or even solo cuts like “Sugar In My Hog”) couldn’t elevate limp, one-joke songs like “Christmas Conga (Jungle Bells)” or “Crummy Christmas Tree.” There are some novel musical turns inside these seasonal chestnuts (a slithering spy-movie riff on “Fruitcake,” sparse trip-hop for “Chillin’ At Christmas”), but the album’s tossed-off nature makes it more “fun” than fun.
Least essential collection of yoga music for enthusiasts seeking something edgier than Enya
Various artists, Yoga Revolution Vol. 1
The liner notes for Yoga Revolution Vol. 1 state that “artists on this CD are all Yogis” because they “created their music from a place deep within themselves.” Destined to be reincarnated as a Frisbee by Third World children wearing “Patriots 19-0” jerseys, Yoga Revolution Vol. 1 features Krishna Das’ combination of The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” with chanting, Sarah McLachlan borrowing chords from Lionel Richie’s “Hello” for “Prayer Of St. Francis,” and Guru Singh with “Seal & Friends” doing a track called “I Am.” (The chorus is “I am who I am,” so perhaps the guru is a disciple of Popeye.) Since proceeds go to charity, calling Yoga Revolution Vol. 1 inessential might be bad karma, so let’s balance that by giving $11.99 to a homeless person. Namaste.
Least essential overly generous hits collection
Enigma, The Platinum Collection
You might remember Enigma as the group that combined unchallenging dance beats with Gregorian chant to provide an eerily appropriate soundtrack to the height of the Persian Gulf War with “Sadeness (Part One).” Or maybe you remember Enigma as the group who combined a Taiwanese chant, the drum part from “When The Levee Breaks,” and still more unchallenging dance sounds to score another weirdly ubiquitous hit in 1994 with “Return To Innocence.” And maybe the haze of nostalgia might prompt you to buy an Enigma hits collection. Sure, that’s okay. We won’t judge you. But who would need The Platinum Collection? A three-disc set, The Platinum Collection contains one disc of hits, one disc of remixes, and one disc collecting 11 tracks dubbed “The Lost Ones.” Are these tracks too edgy to make the cut on one of Enigma’s albums? No, they aren’t. But as a soundtrack to a deep-tissue massage or a nice nap, you could do worse.
Least essential soul tributes by the whitest men in the universe
Phil Collins, Going Back
Huey Lewis, Soulsville
In the ’80s, Phil Collins and Huey Lewis made bland pop-rock that sounded so uptightly white, Bret Easton Ellis chose to make them favorites of Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street banker/serial killer of his novel American Psycho. It’s farfetched to theorize that Collins and Lewis, thusly ridiculed, resorted decades later to making albums of soul covers in an attempt to rehabilitate their tandem image—that is, “musicians that creepy Caucasians like.” Yet what else could explain Going Back (Collins’ album of Motown songs) and Soulsville (Lewis’ disc of Stax/Volt classics)? If anything, these matched batches of sucking soullessness make the duo seem even more anemic. At this point, even Patrick Bateman would have a hard time defending his heroes’ clear, crisp sound and sheen of consummate professionalism.
Least essential album featuring a song about an inessential consumer good
Brian Huber, Imagination Of Ourselves
We’ve never heard of Brian Huber before either, but when his CD showed up, gleefully touting a song called “Snuggies,” we immediately thought, “Least essential?” And indeed, the song proved absolutely inessential, a silly little trifle that doesn’t even take much of a stand on its subject. Instead, in a monotonous tech-pop-radio voice, Huber sings the praises of America’s favorite sleeved blanket. A cursory trip through the rest of the disc reveals that “Snuggies” is the most memorable track. File it with your novelty song about The Clapper and move on, public.
Least essential Christmas single, cock-rock division
Buckcherry, “Christmas Is Here”
Hard-rock bottom-feeder Buckcherry has apparently wanted to drop an original Christmas song for ages, but never managed to fit it into the schedule. Well, the drought has finally ended, as the guys holed up in the Bastard Ranch (!) to write “Christmas Is Here.” The band worships at the altar of T&A, and the cover of “Christmas Is Here” naturally features a nude hottie with a Santa hat apparently PhotoShopped on her head. Sadly, as much as we’d hoped for “Crazy Christmas Bitch,” “Christmas Is Here” is a simple, completely wholesome Christmas song about stockings, snowball fights, and holiday cheer. It’s actually pretty sweet. Guess we’ll have to wait for the Buckcherry Christmas album for something dirtier.
Least essential long-lost record by a band with a terrible name
Mr. Mister, Pull
Aside from a shout-out in that awful Train song, “Hey Soul Sister,” Mr. Mister may not ring bells in 2010. But the band had a couple of hits in the ’80s that people would probably recognize if they heard them (“Broken Wings” and “Kyrie”). By the time the Mr. Mister recorded 1990’s Pull, its heyday had long since passed, and the band broke up after RCA rejected the album. Twenty years later, the group has resurrected Pull and reissued albums by its members’ pre-Mr. Mister band. We’re sure some people are pretty psyched about this, but its rapturous 2,600-word press release—which quotes Train at the top—is a little much.
Least essential reminder that modern rock will never die
Paper Tongues, Paper Tongue
What would a radio-ready rock band that dubiously denies it is Christian and is managed by American Idol’s most unctuous judge, Randy Jackson, sound like? Pretty much exactly what that description brings to mind: Charlotte, North Carolina’s Paper Tongues is the kind of band so clearly eager to do what it takes to make it to the top of the modern-rock heap (aim high, guys) that it’s almost puppyish. The septet’s self-titled debut has such an unnatural roundedness that it sounds like it’s been pumped full of collagen. Frontman Aswan North is destined for Broadway—he does everything with equally alarming vigor, from wailing, drippy ballads such as “Love Like You” (“Your heart is like a castle in my sky”) and “Strongest Flame” (think Bono at his most bathetic) to “rap,” on the jaw-dropping “Ride To California.” That song’s chorus rhymes “to California” with itself for four consecutive lines while North’s bandmates approximate Linkin Park—only nowhere near as good.
Least essential crowd-sourced remix album
Marcy Playground, Indaba Mixes From Wonderland
This is one from the deepest recesses of the Least Essential rabbit hole. Fondly (?) remembered for the 1997 hit “Sex And Candy,” Marcy Playground has somehow carried on releasing albums, most recently 2009’s Leaving Wonderland… In A Fit Of Rage. Though not a hit, it had a second life at Indaba Music, an online virtual recording studio that invited users to remix the album. Hence Indaba Mixes From Wonderland, a collection of remixes from 13 Indaba users. It’s a second chance to hear an album you never heard from a band you barely remember sounding nothing like you’ve ever heard them sound before. Funny thing, though: While it remains blazingly inessential, Indaba Mixes is kind of interesting. In its original form, “Star Baby” is beyond bland. But a cappella in the “Star Capella Baby” remix? That’s at least something new.
Least essential album of 2010
Santana, Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time
All that time people spent worrying about Y2K in 1999 should have been spent worrying about the precedent set by “Smooth.” That misguided, extremely popular Santana/Rob Thomas collaboration stormed the charts and made Santana commercially viable again, setting the stage for this year’s Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time. From the opening strains of the first cut, “Whole Lotta Love” as screeched by Chris Cornell, it’s an hour of dispassionate wailing that only gets worse and more grating as it goes along. The hits keep coming with an abysmal Rob Thomas take on “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” inexplicably featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a woozily underwhelming Gavin Rossdale on “Bang A Gong,” and worst of all, a Scott Stapp assault on “Fortunate Son.” (Fans have to pony up extra for that last one, as it’s only on the “deluxe” release.) The whole record is set off with farty guitar, tons of absurd conga drumming, and an absolutely abhorrent absence of taste.