When faced with the daunting task of sifting and winnowing through 10 years and tens of thousands of albums, it's important to lay down some ground rules in determining the very least essential material. For starters, this is an unscientific assortment of ill-conceived experiments, earnest failures, and ludicrous cash-ins, but it's not a list of the decade's worst albums. It would have been easy to let loose on the grotesque excesses of the biggest, fattest, easiest targets, but this is trickier. Each album here was mass-produced and released between 1990 and 1999; compilations of material preceding 1990 don't count, nor do remix albums, movie scores, or albums on tiny independent labels. To avoid redundancy, recordings can only be nominated in one category other than Least Essential Album; that's why The Jason Bonham Band's In The Name Of My Father: The Zepset Live From Electric Ladyland is up for Least Essential Live Album but not Least Essential Covers Album. Hair metal and the last pathetic gasps of classic-rock dinosaurs are mostly left out, as is everything on CMC International Records, the label that brings you new recordings by the likes of Styx and Molly Hatchet. We resisted the temptation to pick on bands just because they flopped and had dumb names; that's why you won't see the heavily hyped, now-forgotten likes of Y'all So Stupid, Sweaty Nipples, Smokin Suckaz Wit Logic, Young Black Teenagers, Mutha's Day Out, Muzza Chunka, Fury In The Slaughterhouse, or Sweet Lizard Illtet turning up. The same goes for marginal records with amusingly ugly covers—Cheap Trick's Woke Up With A Monster , Soul Asylum's Candy From A Stranger , Cranberries' Bury The Hatchet —and such holiday favorites as Carnie & Wendy Wilson's Hey Santa! In a few cases, albums are too comically inessential not to be considered essential in their own way: Fabio After Dark (1993), in which the Italian hunk waxes romantic between tracks by Billy Ocean and The Force MDs, is the definitive example of this phenomenon, and has therefore been omitted. Others were left out for reasons too obscure or specific to mention here, but if you have suggested additions or subtractions, feel free to send them to email@example.com. In the meantime, this is our list and we're sticking to it.
Deadeye Dick, Whirl (1995)
A textbook case of an album that's more inessential than awful, Whirl is Deadeye Dick's follow-up to 1994's Different Story, which yielded the intolerable "New Age Girl." If you're going to buy an album by a one-hit wonder, why buy the one that lacks the hit? Whirl features some of the most forgettable pop-rock in the history of the world, which ought to be good for something. Judging by its presence in dollar bins across the country, it isn't.
Depeche Mode, Songs Of Faith And Devotion Live (1993)
Here's a puzzler: Depeche Mode's Songs Of Faith And Devotion was a resolutely minor addition to the band's catalog, spawning the resolutely minor hits "I Feel You" and "Walking In My Shoes." So why, six months later, did the band release Songs Of Faith And Devotion Live, which regurgitated slight variations on the album's 10 songs—in order, no less? It's not like Depeche Mode is inclined to rely on radical instrumental improvisation live. The live disc hit stores just as its inspiration hit cutout bins.
Billy Idol, Cyberpunk (1993)
Billy Idol's Cyberpunk arrived during the American media's fascination with all things "cyber," and as hilarious (and therefore not inessential) "virtual sex" CDs like Cyborgasm were failing to ignite the public's collective imagination. The miscalculations on Cyberpunk were many and varied: There was the casting of the clearly flailing Idol as a futuristic maverick, the weak single "Shock To The System," the monumentally inexplicable cover of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin," and so on. The result is as laughably dated as it is difficult to endure in its entirety.
The Jason Bonham Band, In The Name Of My Father: The Zepset Live From Electric Ladyland (1997)
Hundreds of bands devote their artistic energies to paying tribute to favorite acts, and groups recreating the look, feel, and sound of The Grateful Dead, Kiss, and others are legitimate live draws. But when the real thing has a rich recorded legacy, do you really need to buy the imitators' albums? Drummer Jason Bonham is the son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, a family tie he's milked to varying degrees of success throughout his career. On Zepset, he and an anonymous band of friends pay tribute by recording an album of faithful Zep covers. Why would anyone want to hear the younger Bonham play his father's drum parts while someone named Charles West does his best Robert Plant impersonation? At least Kingdom Come repackaged Led Zeppelin's building blocks into new songs. What proceeds Zepset raised went to charity, but you'd be better off sending a check. (Note: If it weren't on a tiny label, Great White's Great Zeppelin: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin would qualify as potentially less essential.)
George Martin, In My Life (1998)
Aside from making about as much sense conceptually as a comedy special starring Lorne Michaels, this album of Beatles covers from Beatle producer George Martin suffers from an appalling shortage of good taste. You might think any record that opens with Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin performing an atrocious rendition of "Come Together" has nowhere to go but up. But then there's a kittenish lounge version of "A Hard Day's Night" by Goldie Hawn, Celine Dion's take on "Here There & Everywhere," and Jim Carrey hamming up "I Am The Walrus," each forcing you to reconsider your definition of the word "up." The album concludes with a spoken-word version of "In My Life" by Sean Connery, sure to be a wedding staple absolutely nowhere.
Johnny Mathis, Because You Loved Me: The Songs Of Diane Warren (1998)
Diane Warren is the hugely successful songwriter responsible for virtually every wretched, overheated power ballad of the last 15 years (each with a nondescript title like "Don't Take Away My Heaven," "Live For Loving You," and "Missing You Now"). Penning smash singles for Bryan Adams, Michael Bolton, Taylor Dayne, and so on, Warren remains a thorn in the side of anyone forced to listen to Top 40 radio. As a pop-cultural figure, she's as anonymous as her material, but the venerable Johnny Mathis considered her such an important songwriter, he recorded 10 of her songs for this treacly throwaway. It's not just inessential; it's awful.
MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob, The Adventures Of… (1991)
The Adventures Of MC Skat Kat stands as the least essential album ever recorded by a sassy animated cartoon feline, surpassing even Garfield's 1991 album Am I Cool Or What? The rapping cat, who made his debut alongside Paula Abdul on the cheesy 1989 single "Opposites Attract," got his own 50-minute album a full two years later, allowing impatient Skat Kat completists the opportunity to hear him rock the mic on such tracks as "I Ain't No Kitty," "No Dogs Allowed," and "New Kat Swing."
M.O.T., 19.99 (1998)
M.O.T. is Members Of The Tribe, the Jewish hip-hop duo of Ice Berg and Dr. Dreidle. But 19.99 is even less essential than the 2 Live Jews-style concept suggests: The endless puns—the duo is managed by Meshugge Knight—wouldn't be so bad if the product itself weren't such a blatant bit of in-joke nepotism. Ice Berg and Dr. Dreidle are high-ranking record executives in real life, so anyone interested in hearing 19.99 (friends, relatives, and so on) could score free promos. Consequently, the album sold somewhere in the low three figures, while some struggling artist on the label probably had to get cut to make room on the roster. The ultimate scavenger-hunt challenge: Find a copy of 19.99 that doesn't have "For Promotional Use Only" stamped on the cover.
Rump, Hating Brenda (1993)
Here's a puzzling little pop-culture artifact that couldn't be less relevant: a concept album, assembled by the editors of Ben Is Dead magazine, with eight songs about what a bitch Beverly Hills 90210's Brenda Walsh (played by Shannen Doherty) is. The liner notes are almost apologetic—"we feel it necessary to admit that we hate Brenda only as much as one can hate a fictional television character"—which makes sense. So why record, manufacture, and sell the album? It doesn't help that Hating Brenda's songs are dumb, forgettable genre exercises in techno, grunge, and so on.
T.D.F., Retail Therapy (1997)
An unbilled Eric Clapton goes techno on an unbelievably boring collection of anonymous, electronically enhanced instrumentals. With a name and packaging as generic as its contents, Retail Therapy has already been forgotten by even the most diehard Clapton enthusiasts.
MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob, The Adventures Of…
So inessential, you almost have to hear it. One of the most bizarrely ill-conceived albums ever released by a major label, The Adventures Of MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob is a product of clueless committee thinking and Milli Vanilli-style studio hackwork at its most cynical. Never has a mass-produced album been demanded by so few.
Carmen Electra, Carmen Electra (1993)
Ho Frat Ho! (various singles including "Ho Frat Swing," "Education," "Christmas Megamix," all 1992)
Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, Music For The People (1991)
Proper Grounds, Downtown Circus Gang (1993)
Various Artists, Dr. Dre Presents… The Aftermath (1996)
Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, Music For The People
One of the benefits of stardom is an ability to put out albums by friends and proteges who would never otherwise ink a record deal. Before she became a talent-light, top-heavy starlet and tabloid fixture, Carmen Electra found work as part of Prince's stable of talent-light, top-heavy female proteges, following in the footsteps of Apollonia, Vanity, and others. But at least she benefited, however marginally, from the guiding hand of a brighter star. The same goes for Dr. Dre's ill-fated label sampler The Aftermath, which featured the memorable single "Been There Done That" and little else of note. Dre recovered, and so did Madonna, whose Maverick label would release more notable material than its first act, the unlistenable (but very scary-looking) rap-rock-funk band Proper Grounds. MC Hammer had less luck with Ho Frat Ho!, whose upbeat, Christ-happy pop-rap can be heard on Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em and several forgotten EPs. On the other hand, the winner, Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, could be heard anywhere in the early '90s. Mark Wahlberg, brother of then-superstar New Kid Donnie Wahlberg, has gone on to become a real acting talent, so it's easy to forget just how terrible his music was. For proof, look no further than "Wildside": In perhaps the least imaginative use of sampling ever, Wahlberg simply wipes out Lou Reed's vocal track to "Walk On The Wild Side" and appropriates the rest—right down to the sax solo—for a cautionary tale about walking on the wild side.
Arrested Development, The Best Of Arrested Development (1998)
Gin Blossoms, Outside Looking In: The Best Of The Gin Blossoms (1999)
Bob Mould, Poison Years (1994)
Shaquille O'Neal, The Best Of Shaquille O'Neal (1996)
Snow, Greatest Hits (1997)
Shaquille O'Neal, The Best Of Shaquille O'Neal
It might seem unfair to lump Arrested Development, Gin Blossoms, and Bob Mould in this category, as their discs all contain respectable or even excellent work. They also pull material from no more than two albums. For the price of the Gin Blossoms hits album (assembled without the band's knowledge), a savvy shopper at a good used-CD store could purchase the band's two studio records and the Empire Records soundtrack containing "'Til I Hear It From You." Similarly, anyone buying Bob Mould's Poison Years for its five live tracks will probably already own the two solo albums from which it draws. Did someone accidentally put a plural in the title of Snow's Greatest Hits? There was "Informer" and… But the least essential hits album belongs to Shaquille O'Neal's Best Of. O'Neal benefited from production and guest-vocal assists from some of hip hop's biggest names (Method Man, Keith Murray, Erick Sermon, and so on), but as a rapper, he makes for a tremendous one-dimensional basketball player. Kicking marble-mouthed flows with the skill and precision he brings to shooting freethrows, O'Neal had the chutzpah to release a best-of collection despite having only two albums (Shaq Deisel and Shaq Fu—Da Return) and a tiny handful of marginal hits. Shaq's third album, You Can't Stop The Reign, appeared a mere three weeks later.
Circle Jerks, Oddities, Abnormalities & Curiosities (1995)
Flipper, American Grafishy (1993)
The Knack, Serious Fun (1991)
The Monkees, Justus (1996)
The Knack, Serious Fun
As reunions go, the '90s proved less disastrous than the '80s, if only because audiences were spared the sight of sad '60s relics like Jefferson Airplane trying to make a go of it again in full public view. But the reunions that did take place often proved just as unwelcome. Both the Circle Jerks and Flipper albums seem more curious than inessential: A decade on from their salad days and the scene that spawned them, how could these punk dinosaurs not sound out of time? Circle Jerks' 1995 major-label debut gets a demerit for recruiting teen queen Debbie Gibson to provide backing vocals on the cover of The Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You," a blatant publicity ploy pretty far from punk. Similarly, any Monkees reunion can only be a blatant publicity ploy, so why pay attention to the group's second unsuccessful comeback attempt, a follow-up to 1987's little-loved Pool It? (Oddly, the presence of holdout Michael Nesmith only made matters worse.) But the real winner has to be The Knack's Serious Fun, the fourth album from the two-hit wonder ("My Sharona," "Good Girls Don't") that doesn't know when to quit. In addition to being unwelcome (as proved by Serious Fun's near-record passage from the new-release wall to cutout bins), it might be possible to see it as less inessential had it finally broken up The Knack. No such luck: A second comeback album, Zoom, arrived in '98, featuring ex-Missing Person Terry Bozzio on drums.
The Beach Boys, Summer In Paradise (1992)
Fleetwood Mac, Time (1995)
Genesis, Calling All Stations (1997)
The Heads, No Talking Just Head (1996)
Pink Floyd, The Divison Bell(1994)
Talk Show, Talk Show (1997)
The Heads, No Talking Just Head
Many great acts retired in the '90s. Many more should have. The prog-pop outfit Genesis and touring sensation Pink Floyd soldiered bravely on for fun and profit. Mike Love continued to beat the dead horse that used to be The Beach Boys. Talk Show, a.k.a. Stone Temple Pilots minus troubled frontman Scott Weiland, released an album of forgettable and forgotten alt-rock. But none of these albums can be seen as unexpected or bizarre. That can't be said of Fleetwood Mac's Time, which essentially reduced the band's core lineup to Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie. The indisputed champion, however, has to be The Heads' No Talking Just Head. Frustrated in their attempts to reunite Talking Heads, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Franz decided to do without David Byrne and create an album with a rotating cast of guest vocalists that included Michael Hutchence, Richard Hell, and Debbie Harry. The uninspired results more or less confirmed the musicians as what they least wanted to be: Byrne's talented backing band.
Back To Titanic (1998)
The Coach Collection (1994)
The Commitments Vol. 2 (1992)
The Heights (1992
The Simpsons: The Yellow Album (1998)
Songs From Ally McBeal Featuring Vonda Shepard (1998)
The Simpsons: The Yellow Album
Sequels to soundtracks usually prove more dubious than sequels to movies, and that's saying something. A good movie based on a great novel, Alan Parker's The Commitments, a chronicle of an Irish soul band, succeeded despite its music, not because of it. Why buy the soundtrack, much less a second volume, when you could buy the originals? Even more dubious is Back To Titanic, which seeks to wring every last dollar out of gullible fans who deserve their fate. Countless others could easily have made this list—from the cartoon The King And I to Burn Hollywood Burn to TV's Fame L.A.—but space is limited. Also based on an unsuccessful TV show: The Heights, which does make the cut for having spawned one of the decade's least essential hits in "How Do You Talk To An Angel?" But the least essential soundtrack? Was the tag "featuring songs personally selected by Hayden Fox" really a selling point for an album spun off from the sitcom Coach? Was bland torch singer Vonda Shepard dusted off to make Ally McBeal seem tolerable by comparison? Still, few soundtracks proved as unlistenable as The Simpsons' Yellow Album, which sat on the shelf for six years and should have instead been encased in cement and thrown in the ocean. With 10 predictable tracks, many of them overlong and joke-free covers, The Yellow Album didn't even seem to get the voices quite right.
Chunky A, Large & In Charge (1991)
Jim Belushi And The Sacred Hearts, 36-22-36 (1998)
Michael Damian, Reach Out To Me (1993)
David Faustino, I Told Ya (1992)
Brian Austin Green, One Stop Carnival (1996)
Jennifer Love Hewitt (several albums and singles, 1995­p;99)
Jeremy Jordan, Try My Love (1993)
Joey Lawrence, Joey Lawrence (1993)
Joe Pesci, Vincent Laguardia Gambini Sings Just For You (1998)
Jamie Walters, Jamie Walters (1995)
Chunky A, Large & In Charge
Television has always been a breeding ground for musical heartthrobs, but with the exception of postmodern one-hit wonder The Heights (see the nominees for "Least Essential Soundtrack"), the '90s have not been kind to TV-bred rock stars. Nerdy Caucasian teen stars David Faustino and Brian Austin Green made hip-hop albums released directly to the cutout bins, while preteen-pop-star-in-Japan Jennifer Love Hewitt recently attempted a musical comeback with "How Do I Deal," a gruesome piece of Alanis Morissette Lite that failed to turn the I Still Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack into a Saturday Night Fever-level cultural phenomenon. Meanwhile, Joey Lawrence, Jeremy Jordan, and Jamie Walters all made unsuccessful attempts to turn themselves into the David Cassidy of the '90s. But embarrassment wasn't limited to the youngsters. Jim Belushi apparently mistook the ability to open a series of clubs called House Of Blues for the ability to record blues music himself. The Young And The Restless hunk Michael Damian followed his fluke hit "Rock On" with the pallid flop Reach Out To Me. Joe Pesci, for reasons never adequately explained, released an entire album in the persona of his character from My Cousin Vinny six years after the film's release. (You haven't experienced an inessential recording until you've heard Pesci shtick his way through "What A Wonderful World" and "Yo Cousin Vinny" in English, Italian, and Spanish.) But the least essential of all has to be one-gag wonder Chunky A, an alter ego of Arsenio Hall. Designed to spoof such overweight hip-hop acts as The Fat Boys and Heavy D, A's album featured jokey material like "Owww!" and "Stank Breath," neither of which was nearly as funny as the anti-drug song "Dope, The Big Lie."
King Diamond, The Eye (1990)
Billy Idol, Cyberpunk (1993)
Wendy James, Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears (1993)
Malcolm McLaren, Paris (1994)
Nelson, Imaginator (1998)
Billy Idol, Cyberpunk
Is anything worse than a bad concept album, a collection that extends a song's worth of thoughts on a subject across an entire disc? Perfect examples: King Diamond's The Eye, an album about witchcraft (it's scary), Nelson's Imaginator, a long-delayed meditation on television from the "Love And Affection" boys (it's dangerous), and Malcolm McLaren's Paris (he likes it). Wendy James' Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears, a concept album about being Wendy James, wouldn't have been bad had Elvis Costello, who wrote every song on the album, recorded it. She may been the inspiration, but James just gets in the way of some good songs. Still, Billy Idol's Cyberpunk is in a class by itself. Idol's attempt to reinvent himself in the mold of the cyberpunk trend, it's a woefully inept electro-techno-rock collection from its dopey opening track ("No Religion") to a theoretically dance-friendly remake of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin." (See also nominees for "Least Essential Album.")
Vanessa Daou, Dear John Coltrane (1999)
Vanessa Daou, Zipless (1995)
Fabulon, All Girls Are Pretty, Vol. 1 (1992)
Me Phi Me, One (1992)
Minty, Open Wide (1997)
Rednex, Sex And Violins (1995)
Minty, Open Wide
The '90s have seen a slew of would-be trends that never came to fruition, from Me Phi Me's hippified, folky space-rap to Minty's short-lived threat to fuse glam-rock with New Romanticism, minus the catchy songs. Swedish hillbilly-techno outfit Rednex scored a huge hit with "Cotton-Eye Joe" then politely went away forever, while Fabulon created indescribable, unlistenable dance-pop. Then there's Vanessa Daou, who, under the guidance of a producer named Peter Daou (coincidence?), released Zipless, which paired trendy '70s Fear Of Flying author Erica Jong's poetry to uninspired electro-Muzak. The Daous found a more worthwhile subject of tribute for 1999's Dear John Coltrane, but the results proved equally unmemorable. Each nominee mixed genres that worked about as well together as peanut butter and gasoline, but the prize clearly belongs to New Romo chieftain Minty, whose outrageous persona and campy antics impressed Brian Eno and just about no one else.
Depeche Mode, Songs Of Faith And Devotion Live (1993)
The Jason Bonham Band, In The Name Of My Father: The Zepset Live From Electric Ladyland (1997)
Ramones, Greatest Hits Live! (1996); Tin Machine, Oy Vey, Baby Live (1991)
Vanilla Ice, Extremely Live (1991)
Depeche Mode, Songs Of Faith And Devotion Live It's hard to make a live album sound like anything but a disposable cash-in, but it's even harder to make the least essential live album of the '90s. There are plenty of contenders. Seeking in vain to prolong his fame, Vanilla Ice put out a live album covering material from all one of his albums. It also featured a version of "Satisfaction" that did not, as threatened in his ghost-written autobiography, feature Mick Jagger. With all due respect to the Ramones' brilliant recorded legacy, how many greatest-hits, live, and greatest-hits-live albums did the band have to churn out before its endlessly postponed demise? Oy Vey, Baby Live served as a keepsake for the dozens who enjoyed the two albums of David Bowie's unremarkable early-'90s grunge band Tin Machine, which featured Soupy Sales' offspring on bass and drums. Winner Depeche Mode has plugged in plenty of DAT and drum machines during its live performances, thereby allowing the band to crank out note-perfect versions of its studio hits. Featuring every track on Songs Of Faith And Devotion, played live and in order, the album's live counterpart is monumentally unnecessary. (See also nominees for "Least Essential Album," which also include The Jason Bonham Band's entry.)
Jerry Cantrell, Boggy Depot (1998)
John Lydon, Psycho's Path (1997)
Linda Perry, In Flight (1996)
Professor Griff, Kao's II Wiz*7*Dome (1991)
Andrew Ridgeley, Son Of Albert (1990)
Andrew Ridgeley, Son Of Albert
One of the most hotly contested categories, Least Essential Solo Album yielded a list of especially worthy nominees. Because solo albums are generally the work of artists seeking personal exposure outside of the bands that gave them clout, the results are often insufferable ego exercises. Natalie Merchant's queasy Tigerlily is beloved by too many to truly be considered inessential (it's not nominated), but how about Linda Perry, the onetime leader of 4 Non Blondes? Nothing on In Flight is as overpoweringly earnest and shrill as "What's Up" (a strong contender for the decade's worst song), but it still belongs in this category, especially with lines like, "I believe in Jesus / Does Jesus believe in me?" Jerry Cantrell (of Alice In Chains), Professor Griff (of Public Enemy), and Andrew Ridgeley (of Wham!) all fit nicely into the sub-category of inessential solo albums by people who weren't even the most easily identifiable members of their meal-ticket bands. And John Lydon's Psycho's Path is a bizarre carnival ride of embarrassment that would have won easily had Ridgeley released Son Of Albert in the decade in which it belongs. Alternately obnoxious and nondescript, Ridgeley's cutout-bin staple features the inimitable song stylings of Wham!'s uncharismatic rhythm guitarist, racecar enthusiast, and fashion advisor.
Aaron Carter, Aaron Carter (1998)
Jordy, Pochette Surprise (Surprise Package) (1992)
Raven-Symoné, Here's To New Dreams (1993)
Jordy, Pochette Surprise (Surprise Package)
There's something inherently bizarre about child stars, even those of unquestionable talent. Take a step back and the sight of a pint-sized, pre-adolescent Michael Jackson singing his heart out to "I Want You Back" is really no less disconcerting than anything Jackson does today. But for every wunderkind musical prodigy—Stevie Wonder, Jackson—there are dozens of Raven-Symonés. Released when the latter-day Cosby Show star was eight, Here's To New Dreams failed to make inroads in the already sketchy sub-genre of underage hip hop. At least Symoné has an acting career to fall back on. Pity poor Aaron Carter (the younger brother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter), who scored a big hit in Europe with his cover of The Jets' "Crush On You" before he turned 10. From Carter's web site: "It was around  that Aaron began to really concentrate on perfecting his craft, [spending] numerous hours with a vocal coach." All that and he still sounds like a whiny little boy working with second-rate pop producers, not to mention hip-hop near-sensation 95 South. In five years, when the novelty of his age and famous brother will no longer be selling points, think how dim his future will be. Then there's the NAMBLA-friendly packaging of Carter's self-titled album, the cover of which finds him leaping spread-eagled in the air with mouth agape and tongue protruding. Still, nothing quite tops Jordy, the four-year-old French techno star who scored a hit in 1992 with the song "Dur Dur D'être Bébé! (It's Tough To Be A Baby)," which addresses such hot-button issues as nose-picking, teeth-brushing, and grandma. Like the single, Pochette Surprise (Surprise Package) integrates samples of Jordy spouting off in French about various topics (television, his little sister, something called "the thumbsucking dance") to uninspired dance beats. It would probably count as some sort of child abuse if it weren't Jordy dishing out the punishment.
Arrested Development, Zingalamaduni (1994)
Blind Melon, Soup (1995)
Crash Test Dummies, A Worm's Life (1996)
EMF, Stigma (1992)
Gerardo, Dos (1992)
Jesus Jones, Perverse (1993)
Spin Doctors, Turn It Upside Down (1994)
Technotronic, Recall (1995)
Ugly Kid Joe, Menace To Sobriety (1995)
Arrested Development, Zingalamaduni
In hindsight, it's not especially surprising that follow-up albums by Blind Melon, Gerardo, Crash Test Dummies, Jesus Jones, EMF, Spin Doctors, Technotronic, and Ugly Kid Joe proved fruitless. Not every Lou Bega shows its stripes right away; sometimes one- (or two-) hit wonders aren't immediately apparent. But Arrested Development? After a half-masterpiece debut that promised to take hip hop in new and interesting directions, the group that brought together Native Tongues attitude, political awareness (if not savvy), and the still-nascent sound of the not-so-dirty South dropped an underproduced, tuneless bomb with a comically cumbersome title. The same critics who wrote fawning knee-jerk reviews when it came out in 1994 cursed Zingalamaduni for what it was by the end of that year.
Porno For Pyros, Good God's Urge (1996)
Red Hot Chili Peppers, One Hot Minute (1995)
Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Doggfather (1996)
Stone Roses, The Second Coming (1994)
Stone Roses, The Second Coming
Perpetual overachievers Dave Navarro and Flea had the privilege of being on not one but two of the decade's least essential long-awaited recordings, turning up on both Porno For Pyros' flaky second album—when did Perry Farrell sell his soul to the pixie-sprites and become the male Tori Amos minus the talent?—and Red Hot Chili Peppers' little-loved follow-up to Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Tha Doggfather proved that Snoop Dogg could do poorly by himself, exchanging Dr. Dre's classic work on Doggystyle for nondescript beats by DJ Pooh. But no album was more of a letdown than The Stone Roses' ironically titled The Second Coming, which found the Madchester favorite abandoning irritating little things like catchy songs and charming hooks in favor of hippie-jam noodling and endless guitar solos. The group failed to become the Allman Brothers of the '90s and disbanded.
Fishbone, Give A Monkey A Brain And He'll Swear He's The Center Of The Universe (1993)
Debbie Gibson, Body Mind Soul (1993)
Hammer, The Funky Headhunter (1994)
Vanilla Ice, Hard To Swallow (1998)
Vanilla Ice, Mind Blowin' (1993)
Jellyfish, Spilt Milk (1993)
NKOTB, Face The Music (1994)
THE WINNER: Vanilla Ice, Mind Blowin'
When what made you famous doesn't work anymore, why not become someone else? It worked for David Bowie and Madonna, after all. But it didn't work for Debbie Gibson, who appeared as a stripper in a 1993 video, Fishbone, who replaced its dizzyingly nimble horn-fueled soul with watered-down hard rock, Hammer, who reinvented himself as a gangsta with a hard-on before unveiling a more pious image the next year, NKOTB, who came back as bewhiskered New Jacks (with some cred-assistance from the gangsta-ass killers in Nice N' Smooth), or the cultishly adored Jellyfish, which followed its wonderful pop breakthrough Bellybutton by returning as… Queen? But the title belongs to Vanilla Ice, whose Korn-inflected Hard To Swallow proved only slightly less embarrassing than his blunt-toting Mind Blowin', an album that inspired almost no one to roll up the hootie mack, as instructed in its first single.
Neil Diamond, The Movie Album: As Time Goes By (1998)
Duran Duran, Thank You (1995)
Guns 'N Roses, The Spaghetti Incident? (1993)
George Martin, In My Life (1998)
Johnny Mathis, Because You Loved Me: The Songs Of Diane Warren (1998)
Skid Row: B-Sides Ourselves (1992)
Various Artists, Legacy: A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1998)
Wreckx 'n' Effect, Rap's New Generation (1996)
George Martin, In My Life
No stopgap measure reeks of desperation quite as much as the covers album. Duran Duran failed to do justice to songs by Sly And The Family Stone and Lou Reed on 1994's Thank You. But that album's nadir came during an atrocious cover of Public Enemy's "911 Is A Joke" that, along with Barenaked Ladies' "Fight The Power" (from the Coneheads soundtrack), set white rap back nearly a decade. Skid Row and Guns N' Roses put out time-wasting covers albums that failed to brand their versions of classic songs into the public's imagination (though GNR did record a classy cover of a Charles Manson song). Neil Diamond huffed and puffed through two discs of obvious soundtrack staples, including Titanic's "My Heart Will Go On," on The Movie Album. Such groundbreaking stars as Matchbox 20, Duncan Sheik, Jewel, and The Corrs each pay reverent tribute to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours on Legacy; good and obvious advice would be to listen to the original instead. Wreckx 'n' Effect squandered what little goodwill (and popularity) it had accumulated from the fluke hit "Rump Shaker" by releasing a disposable album of such old-school covers as "Planet Rock" and "Da Vapors." An alleged tribute to hip-hop history, the album forever ensured Wreckx 'n' Effect's place as the group behind "Rump Shaker" and nothing more. Johnny Mathis and Sir George Martin, both finalists for "Least Essential Album," outclass the competition with their inexplicable concepts. But which is less essential? Mathis may be singing lousy Diane Warren songs (far, far less essential material), but Martin's record still takes the prize (far, far less essential performances).
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY A CORNERBACK: Deion Sanders, Prime Time (1995)
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY A MUPPET: Rowlf, Ol' Brown Ears Is Back (1993)
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY A GUY TRYING TO BE INESSENTIAL: Pat Boone, In A Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy (1997)
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY A VIDEO GAME SYSTEM: Various Artists, Nintendo: White Knuckle Scorin' (1991)
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY AN IMPRISONED THUG TRYING TO UPSET DR. DRE: Various Artists, Suge Knight Represents: The Chronic 2000 (1999)
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY A BAND TRYING TO FREE AN IMPRISONED THUG: Holy Gang, Free! Tyson Free! (1995)
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY ACTS KISSING UP TO A LITIGIOUS CORPORATE MONOLITH: Various Artists, Simply Mad About The Mouse (1991)
LEAST ESSENTIAL ALBUM BY A NARCISSIST CELEBRATING HER EXTRA-SPECIAL LOVE OF JAMES BROLIN: Barbra Streisand, A Love Like Ours (alternate title: Our Love Is Better Than Yours) (1999)