Once upon a time, the wise-beyond-her-years Miley Cyrus masquerading as Hannah Montana said, “Nobody’s perfect.” She mostly stopped saying good things after that, but the line still stuck. That sentiment applies to every person to ever create a piece of music, as there is bound to be a dud in every artist’s discography. It’s not easy to admit, but it’s part of being an objective music listener, rather than just a blind fanatic. (Which, if you are, that’s cool too. Ignorance is bliss.) As traumatizing as it might seem at first, acknowledging the worst album by your favorite artist can be a cathartic experience, and perhaps deepen your appreciation for their body of work as a whole.
Ignacio — Titus Andronicus, “Local Business”
Breaking the sophomore curse, Titus Andronicus managed to reach the upper echelon of punk with their second full-length album, “The Monitor.” A loose concept album centered on the Civil War, “The Monitor” was epic and grandiose. On their third full-length effort, “Local Business,” however, Titus Andronicus appeared to be taking a step back.”The Monitor” was replete with recordings of historical speeches and isolated-sound vocal filters that the band knew would not be for everyone. Meanwhile, the cleaned-up production and the demystification of frontman Patrick Stickles’s grizzly vocals on “Local Business” sounded like a band that was, for once, compromising on its art.
Rachel — Belle & Sebastian, “Storytelling”
Don’t let the red cover fool you: “Storytelling” comes nowhere close to “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” one of Belle & Sebastian’s best albums. Filmmaker Todd Solondz commissioned “Storytelling” for the soundtrack to his 2001 film of the same name. The heavily censored film turned out to be one of Solondz’s weakest works, and only six minutes of Belle & Sebastian’s original score ended up in the movie. That disconnect is reflected in the album, which is a jumbled mess of aimless instrumentals and interruptive dialogue segments from the movie. The parts of the songs that actually feature singer Stuart Murdoch’s vocals — the best of which is probably “Wandering Alone” — are recognizable as Belle & Sebastian tunes, but they lack any connection to the film or the rest of the album.
Jim — The Strokes, “First Impressions of Earth”
There are only a couple truly bad Strokes tracks, and they’re all on “First Impressions of Earth.” Yes, this is the record that gave us classics like “You Only Live Once,” “Juicebox” and “Heart in a Cage,” but those are only the first three tracks. That leaves you with just under 50 minutes of a band trying its best to not record another “Is This It?” clone. We end up with a country song (“On The Other Side”), a piano ballad (“Ask Me Anything”), a waltz (“15 Minutes”) and a whole heap of mediocrity. True Strokes diehards know that the band recorded “First Impressions” at the height of the band’s battle with creative differences, and it shows. Frustratingly, some of their best, most insightful lyrics are also present, but not even that can save the overlong musical hodgepodge that nearly broke up the band for good.
Tess — The Strokes, “Angles”
There are few times when a band sends their fan base a direct signal that things are falling apart, which is exactly what the Strokes did when they released “Angles” in 2011. Following a five-year hiatus, “Angles” represents the group’s worst attempt at trying to pretend that things were alright. The album starts with the strong one-two punch of “Machu Picchu” and “Two Kinds of Happiness,” but everything after sounds forced and directionless — which is basically how you could describe the overall vibe the band exuded at the time. Even worse was the PR that followed the album release, with the members openly admitting that making the album was an awful experience. “Angles” sucks not just because the songs were mediocre, but because it’s a body of work that the band was not proud to release. How can you love (or even tolerate) an album that represents your favorite group on the cusp of throwing in the towel?
Amy — Justin Bieber, “Journals”
Justin Bieber has more than proven himself as a great pop artist with his new album, “Purpose,” but most people forget about its predecessor, “Journals,” his messy 2013 record full of sleazy R&B tracks and one too many slow jams. The album does contain a few gems like “Confident” and “All That Matters,” but the vast majority of it feels whiny and sad. Bieber also released one song off of “Journals” every week in a series called “Music Mondays.” As someone who likes to sit down and listen to albums as a whole, I was not a fan of this method. Week after week, the songs felt rushed and sloppy, and they failed to reflect the lyricism and production of which he is capable. Bieber was in a dark place when he made “Journals,” following a series of arrests for drag racing and driving under the influence. Still, even those public screwups can’t justify “Backpack,” a track with Lil Wayne on which Bieber befriends an alien and pleads for it to stay on Earth with him. He seems to be in better mindset now, and it shows in his newer music. We can only hope that he continues to progress in this direction, because I personally can’t handle another song about an alien.
Amanda — Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
Arcade Fire was always notorious for giving us those shout-out-loud choruses and climactic crescendos on every album. Then something got weird, and “Reflektor” happened. To say “Reflektor” is too strange would be a lie, because Arcade Fire has successfully embraced the weird on previous releases. It just isn’t anything special, when compared to the band’s earlier works. The tracks are long and hypnotic, often feeling like one repetitive song that lacks substance. “Reflektor” moved away from the carefree airiness of previous albums and adopted a futuristic vibe that either puts you to sleep or drives you insane, but definitely doesn’t stick. Since it is their most recent album, one can only hope they were just experimenting with a new sound and will revisit the past next time around.
Bryan — The Beatles, “Yellow Submarine”
I almost wrote about “Let it Be” (if you want to argue about that you can DM me on Twitter later), but then I remembered that “Yellow Submarine” exists. Apparently, it wasn’t enough that the title track kept “Revolver” from being a flawless album. The band felt the need to dedicate an entire album to their bad ideas. In reality, only the first six songs are legitimate Beatles cuts (side two was composed entirely by George Martin for the film), and they split the difference between noisy psychedelia (“It’s All Too Much”) and plodding rockers (“Hey Bulldog,” which does benefit from a stellar guitar solo). Of course, the Beatles couldn’t go long without producing a timeless anthem, and they do so here in the form of “All You Need Is Love.” Unfortunately, I can’t hear it with clean ears if I play this album front to back, because I’m still distracted by “All Together Now,” which is the sonic equivalent of a bunch of multicolored blobs with goofy smiles bouncing up and down in pairs. “Sail the ship, bompa bom, chop the tree, bompa bom, skip the rope, bompa bom, look at me.” What’s happening? I don’t know. I’m upset.