Saturday, February 23, 2013

Diamonds in the Pebbles

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about bad songs on otherwise great albums. This week, I'd like to turn the tables. Even now and then, you'll hear an album that is putrid, utterly disposable, and deserves to be quickly forgotten... except for one track. Without much need for further explanation, what do you do when great songs happen to bad albums?

"The Only Place," The Only Place, Best Coast. Arguably the most disappointing new release of 2012 was Best Coast's sophomore effort, a disc that was part rehash of Crazy for You, part mismatch of band and producer, and overall a lo-fi snoozefest. The charm of Bethany Cosentino's lyrics somehow turned from quirky and dreamy to trite and inconsequential, and the sunny power-pop grows weary as the album goes on. The title track --also the leadoff track and first single-- is not a harbinger of things to come, a catchy single that holds it own against their previous work.

"Monarchy of Roses," I'm With You, Red Hot Chili Peppers. RHCP has a tendency to go four or five years without releasing new material, and the long wait after the commercially successful, somewhat bloated Stadium Arcadium magnified the flaws of their tenth album. Released in mid-2011, I'm With You was their first album with Josh Klinghoffer on guitar, and though he makes a valiant effort he's not John Frusciante. The album lacks a center, and most of the songs --including the #1 hit "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie"-- feel recycled. The one genuinely original track is "Roses," which leads off with a thick Afro-Pop beat by Chad Smith and never looks back.

"Ava Adore," Adore, Smashing Pumpkins. Fifteen years on, do you remember anything about the Pumpkins' follow-up to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness besides this mesmerizing track? Yeah, neither do I.

"Aeroplane," One Hot Minute, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yes, they made the list again. Once again suffering from the lack of Frusciate, not to mention battling drugs and egos, One Hot Minute symbolized the wilderness RHCP found themselves in for much of the '90s. I almost didn't put this on the list, but "My Friends" doesn't really do anything for me.

"Creep," Pablo Honey, Radiohead. Twenty years on, there's little disputing Radiohead's first album depicts a band not yet fully formed. Even though the brilliant The Bends was just two years away, many fans wish that was Thom Yorke and the boys' debut, not the underripe Honey. Regardless, the disc's angsty leadoff single was their introduction to the world, a left-field hit that meshed well with grunge-happy alternative radio.

"Blue Jean," Tonight, David Bowie. For the casual Bowie fan, it's easy to assume this 1984 hit was on his previous disc Let's Dance. In a just world it would've been written and recorded a year earlier, but this track the end of the line for Bowie's remarkable winning streak dating back to the late '60s. Tonight is mostly a rushed effort where Bowie played no instruments and relied on awkwardly chosen covers like "God Only Knows" and "I Keep Forgettin'." "Blue Jean," on the other hand was a Bowie original and deserved the success it found both on radio and MTV.

Your thoughts? I was hard-pressed to think of '60s/'70s examples.



  1. "Goats Head Soup", Star Star. The only good song on an otherwise unlistenable album. "School's Out", same title. The rest of the album a concept of filler & while I like some other songs on it, the rest never showed up on any best ofs.

    There's probably a shitload of albums in the 1960s that albums were just more expensive options for hit songs; "Smiley Smile" being one of them.

  2. There were a lot of albums with only one good song, but I tended to get rid of them and forget about them. Offhand I recall: "5D" (The Byrds) with only "Eight Miles High" worth listening to; The Verves' "Urban Hymns" with just "Bittersweet Symphony"...I could probably come up with a hundred more if I thought about it for a while.