A year ago, The Onion A.V. Club pored over thousands of CDs in an effort to determine the least essential albums of the '90s. This required sticking to some ground rules, which were again followed for a similar roundup this year. For example, "The Least Essential Albums Of 2000" does not necessarily break down the year's worst music, nor the easiest targets, but the recordings with the flimsiest reasons to exist (let alone be purchased at list prices approaching $20) in the first place. Every winner has to be mass-produced, and remix albums, movie scores, and obscure soundtracks (Drowning Mona, et al) are exempt. Others are omitted for reasons too obscure or specific to mention here, but if you have additions or subtractions to suggest, feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Last year, readers wrote in to contest what they felt were ill-considered slams (Blind Melon's Soup, Jerry Cantrell's Boggy Depot, Stone Roses' Second Coming, Jellyfish's Spilt Milk) and to nominate albums we'd missed. (The best entry: Chilly Tee's Get Off Mine, a 1993 rap album featuring the son of Nike CEO Phil Knight. The album includes a song called "Just Do It," in which young Travis Knight raps, "I do what my pops always told me / Just do it / Just, just do it.") But for 2000, this is our list and we're sticking to it.
Kobe Bryant, K.O.B.E.
After his first single ("K.O.B.E.") was released to deafening silence, even among those who actually get excited about hip-hop songs featuring basketball stars, plans to release Kobe Bryant's debut album mysteriously evaporated. Which is all the more embarrassing when you consider that Bryant's teammate Shaquille O'Neal, not exactly renowned for his mellifluous diction, has released several albums, scoring a few minor hits and even putting out a notoriously inessential greatest-hits collection.
Tag Team, The Best Of Tag Team
Have you ever wished that someone would collect all of Tag Team's hits on one convenient album? No? Well, that didn't prevent Bellmark Records from releasing The Best Of Tag Team, collecting everything from "Whoomp! (There It Is) [House Mix]" to "Whoomp! (Si Lo Es)," to the unforgettable "Whoomp! (There It Is) [Remix 2000]" in one handy collection. But what makes The Best Of Tag Team truly inessential is its failure to include the original "Whoomp! (There It Is)," not to mention the group's second biggest pop hit, "Addams Family (Whoomp)," or even that song's long-awaited remix, "Addams Family (Whoomp) There It Is (2000)."
Mr. Big, Get Over It
A live album from Oasis might have been a good idea in 1996, but Liam and Noel Gallagher wisely decided to wait until stateside interest in the group had reached an all-time low, their relationship had disintegrated, and most of the original members had been replaced by faceless newcomers. Hot on the heels of the group's barely remembered Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, the double-disc Familiar To Millions features Oasis performing all its hits in the inimitable going-through-the-motions style that's become its live trademark. But less essential still is Mr. Big's Get Over It (inexplicably released on Atlantic Records), which proves that while the times may change, Mr. Big certainly hasn't: It continues to churn out the sort of guitar-solo-obsessed pop-metal that hasn't been in style since the waning days of the (elder) Bush administration. It should be noted, however, that band members seem to be using far less hairspray than during their commercial peak.
Pearl Jam, Paegas Arena: Praha, Czech Republic 14/6/00
Pearl Jam made history this year by simultaneously releasing 25 live albums from its European tour. As fans quickly discovered, 24 of these were vital, must-own discs to rank beside The Who's Live At Leeds and Cheap Trick's Live At Budokan, perfect for the diehard and casual fan alike. One, however, was a crushing failure. Maybe it was something in the water, but this Prague show just doesn't cut it. A disjointed run at "Corduroy," a sub-par "Wish List," and a lifeless "Even Flow" make Paegas Arena: Praha, Czech Republic 14/6/00 a waste of time, particularly compared to such all-time classics as Spodek Arena: Katowice, Poland 15/6/00 and Spodek Arena: Katowice, Poland 16/6/00.
Eric Idle, Eric Idle Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert
Some people who might not achieve success on their own thrive in group settings. But the lure of solo stardom frequently proves irresistible to the cramped genius and the run-of-the-mill journeyman alike, often with dispiriting results. This year brought both the second ponderous solo album from Blur guitarist Graham Coxon (The Golden D) and Still Nasty, the second solo effort by lonely 2 Live Crew member Fresh Kid Ice, whose sexually explicit rhymes just get more embarrassing as he gets further from his former group's period of accidental relevance. But the year's true nadir came from an unexpected source, beloved Monty Pythoner Eric Idle, who preceded his depressingly low-rent, if honestly dubbed "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" tour with the equally unimpressive, if no less accurately titled Eric Idle Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert. Unencumbered by all those pesky troupe-mates, Idle digs up such sketch-comedy chestnuts as "Sit On My Face," "Spam Song," and "The Bruces' Philosophers Songs," which, suffice it to say, aren't improved by being robbed of their context. Nevertheless, an easy-to-please audience of Python fans giggles uproariously on the album, as if hearing "I Like Chinese" for the first time. The results are more depressing than a season of Mad TV.
Incubus, Fungus Amongus
Incubus hit the new-metal jackpot this year with Make Yourself, which combines trendy rant-and-roar hard rock with the also-trendy scratchings of an in-house DJ. To capitalize on what will likely be fleeting success, Epic Records released Fungus Amongus, the band's, uh, formative 1995 debut. From its cover painting of a mushroom to arrangements that alternately thrash and jam, Fungus Amongus stakes out Incubus' place as some sort of aggro-hippie-funk hybrid, which won't likely do much to boost the group's street cred.
Samantha 7, Samantha 7
Always a competitive category, the Least Essential Attempt To Recapture Past Glory award goes to the self-titled, (inexplicably) major-label debut of Samantha 7, the trio led by raspy-voiced, drug-damaged Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille. The album faced a stiff challenge from the likes of the anarcho-dance-pop collective Chumbawamba (whose WYSIWYG is awful, yet doesn't exactly reveal a desire to recapture past sales glory), the depleted Duran Duran (whose commercial fate was sealed when it chose to release Pop Trash on the floundering, Disney-owned Hollywood label), The Spice Girls (whose Forever flopped even more predictably than Master P's Ghetto Postage), and the Chuck D-led rap-rock group Confrontation Camp (whose weary-sounding Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear would top any list of 2000's most dispiriting records). But Samantha 7 takes the prize: It's far from the year's worst, benefiting from brevity (11 songs, 29 minutes), a few ham-fisted hooks, and a general lack of pretension. But it's as far as you can get from essential, and anyone who's heard DeVille's speaking voice in recent years should have a good idea of his prowess as a singer.
Hampton The Hampster, Hampsterdance: The Album
What could be less essential than a major-label album by a fictional character whose shtick centers on his inability to achieve success? How about an album like that that takes itself seriously, as The Mad Rapper's Tell Em' Why You Madd does on one unforgettably misguided track? "They Just Don't Know" relates the soul-crushing pain of being a fictional character with lyrics like, "I need cash, I don't care if you love me / Took the wrong road maybe 'cause Moms didn't hug me." Even less essential is Hampton The Hampster's Hampsterdance: The Album, a spinoff of the hypnotically annoying web site. Building on the techno-gone-hillbilly aesthetic of Rednex (somebody had to, eventually), Hampsterdance features 14 Hampster-themed songs, from the romantic "Even Hampsters Fall In Love" to the sorrowful "Hampsters Get The Blues" to "The Hampster Party," the definitive hamster-party anthem of the new millennium. Don't worry, lyrics are included, so the whole family can sing along. From "The Hampster Party": "We came to party / So where's the party / Come on let's party / We wanna party / You wanna party / Let's start the party / Party with the Hampsterdance."
S Club 7, S Club S Club 7, 7
One of the joys of soulless, mercenary, trend-surfing pop records is how quickly they can seem not merely decades out of date, but as though they were released on another planet. The Onion A.V. Club's selection for Least Essential Album Of The '90s, The Adventures Of MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob, is only about 10 years old, but it's hard to imagine a time or place in which anyone could have contemplated purchasing a record by a rapping cartoon cat. The music of S Club 7—brought to you by Simon Fuller, who masterminded The Spice Girls—is so head-slappingly insipid, it's entertainingly surreal, even self-satirizing. The group's two albums released this year, S Club and 7, make Up With People sound like Type O Negative, with subject matter ranging from partying to the importance of believing in oneself. The only factor keeping these albums from sailing into a two-way tie for Least Essential Album Of 2000 is the fact that they're almost hypnotic in their inanity. When S Club 7 informs you that there ain't no party like an S Club party, you'd best believe it.
Jeff Bridges, Be Here Soon
An underappreciated actor of tremendous range and depth, Jeff Bridges has accumulated enough good will from his primary occupation that a mediocre musical side project—à la Kevin Bacon's The Bacon Brothers or Keanu Reeves' Dogstar—wouldn't even merit comment. A truly terrible musical side project, on the other hand, demands mention. Not (to put it mildly) a great singer, Bridges has a hard time wrapping his voice around Be Here Soon's nine songs (seven of them self-penned), from the half-hearted reggae-isms of "Movin'" to the Tom Petty-inspired ballad "2 White Roses." Questionable collaborators such as Michael McDonald don't help, nor do Bridges' limitations as a songwriter. One title, "Buddha & Christ At Large," pretty much tells you everything you need to know; that it opens with the line, "We got a sexual president" tells you a little more.
Aaron Carter, Aaron's Party (Come Get It)
Even without a NAMBLA-friendly, phonebook-size press kit, prepubescent Aaron Carter's second album Aaron's Party (Come Get It) would still be troubling on a number of levels. The album's title is unsettling enough, but it pales in comparison to the dreamy mini-poster and saucy pin-up photos that litter the liner notes. Its musical content is equally creepy, with a cover of "I Want Candy" (turned into a jail-bait classic in the early '80s by Bow Wow Wow, whose Annabella Lwin was a comparatively ancient 15 at the time) serving as the nadir for a sickeningly sweet collection of bantamweight funk and anemic pop. Eleven interludes, featuring Carter sassing grown-ups and peers, push the album past the all-important 37-minute mark, running the gamut from juvenile (a prank call) to the merely puzzling (Carter being asked out on a date), to the highly unnecessary (the second-long "Let's Go!").
Kennedy/Jaz Coleman, Riders On The Storm: The Doors Concerto
Tribute albums, almost by definition, are nearly always inessential, but even by the genre's lax standards, Stoned Immaculate is worse than most. Recorded largely with the participation of the surviving members of The Doors, it loses a couple of points for its lineup of questionable talent (Days Of The New, Creed, and so on), and many more for much of said talent's decision to pay tribute to Jim Morrison in the form of karaoke-style impersonations. But Stoned feels like a Carl Sandburg elegy compared to Riders On The Storm, ex-Killing Joke keyboardist turned genre-flouting renaissance man Jaz Coleman's widely advertised pseudo-classical variation on Morrisonian themes. A sequel to 1994's Symphonic Music Of The Rolling Stones and 1995's Us And Them: Symphonic Music Of Pink Floyd, Riders teams Coleman with mononymical violinist Kennedy (formerly Nigel Kennedy) for results undistinguished in any genre. "Kennedy's violin made me think immediately of Jim Morrison's voice," raves Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek on a cover blurb, and that's good news, given the appalling lack of actual recordings of Jim Morrison's voice. Coleman dedicates the project "to the memory of those who fought in the Vietnam War." You can almost hear those voices joining together in a cry of, "No, thanks."
Various Artists, Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas (Featuring Vonda Shepard)
Never mind the Vonda Shepard numbers, even her duet with a surprisingly throaty Robert Downey Jr. (who, it must be said, does just fine by the all-but-uncoverable Joni Mitchell song "River"). It's either Lisa Nicole Carson's "Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney" or Calista Flockhart's not-so-sultry take on "Santa Baby" that makes A Very Ally Christmas a soundtrack that should find its way into no stockings this year. Considering its competition—including a soundtrack to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and a whopping two horrible cash-in companions to Survivor—A Very Ally Christmas' win means an awful lot.
Least Essential Album Released In December 1999, After The Onion A.V. Club's "Least Essential Albums Of The '90s" Went To Press
George Michael, Songs From The Last Century
There's an unwritten rule in the music industry that you should never release albums after Thanksgiving. After all, you miss much of the crucial holiday shopping rush, and critics won't have a chance to consider your music on their theoretically important year-end Top 10 lists. It's not, however, such a bad time to sneak out duds: You won't make any year-end worst (or inessential) lists, and no one is going to buy them anyway. Tommy Lee's terrible rap-rock combo Methods Of Mayhem, for example, released its self-titled debut on Dec. 7, 1999, too late to really be considered for inclusion in "Least Essential Albums Of The '90s." But the clear winner in this category is George Michael's Songs From The Last Century, a jaw-droppingly inessential collection of milquetoast covers ("Brother Can You Spare A Dime," "Miss Sarajevo," "Roxanne"). Remember when fans and the media lamented Michael's contractual unwillingness/inability to release music? Between Songs From The Last Century and 1996's moldy Older, he hasn't released more than a song or two worth hearing since his high-profile emancipation.
A*Teens, The ABBA Generation
No album this year defined inessentiality quite like The ABBA Generation, a collection of note-for-note ABBA covers by a group of comically attractive Swedish teenagers. It's not that the album is terrible or hard to listen to—it's neither—but that it has no conceivable reason to exist. If you love the joyful, overdriven dance-pop anthems of ABBA, why in God's name would you want to hear them re-envisioned as virtually identical, if slightly more contemporary-sounding, covers? The worst album of the year (take your pick) inspires hatred and discontent. But the least essential album of the year? Who could hate a bunch of cheesily harmless, utterly useless ABBA covers? Congratulations to A*Teens: It was a hard-fought battle for 2000's Least Essential Album, but you couldn't be denied.