December 22, 2009
2009: Disappointment, Thy Name Is...
The fact is this: For something to be a disappointment, you had to have high expectations in the first pace. This is not the same thing as Worst Music Of The Year. I mean, on some level, did anyone expect the hot bikini-bound mess that is Mariah to really turn out a corker? No. The albums below were disappointments for me because I love the artists so much.
Imogen Heap Ellipse
Imogen cleverly built the excitement for Ellipse to a fever pitch via a year's worth of video blogs - vlogs! - and fairly constant Twittering. The resulting album was, for me, such a let down. Very little advancement and a distinct lack of fire (ironic given the track called Fire). The album had a run of weak tracks early on (Little Bird to Swoon) It's not all a wash, certainly, but some of the best moments, such as the final minute of Tidal, are similar to ideas on Speak For Yourself.
I put this down to Imogen trying to do too much on her own. She remodeled a house, built a studio and recorded an album that is almost a one-woman show. She has a high level of integrity and is, if you pay attention, incredibly process oriented. She loves to create. But sometimes you just want to yell through youtube (or tweet!) "Just take the easy road!"
As such, the followup promotion of Ellipse has been just sort of non existent. After one semi-bungled video - she took a wise chance on the brilliant director Es Devlin - but was publicly unhappy with the results, there have been no singles, no b-sides or vlogs. She is on tour and I've heard the shows have been solid. In DC, she played a small (900 people), but pretty venue, which she sold out, so I hope she takes it to the next level in 2010 with bigger shows and a new single.
There are some very good songs on Ellipse. If you don't have it, a solid half of the album is worthy, if not mind-bending: First Train Home, Wait It Out, Tidal, Bad Body Double, Half Life and Between Sheets.
Charlotte Gainsbourg IRM
Oh how I wanted this album to be a masterpiece. And in some quarters, it is. It's a polarizing record: many pop fans who loved 5:55 just hear a Beck record clattering out of their earbuds, while indie types are in ecstasy over an album that sounds to me like it used Joni Mitchell's The Jungle Line as its template (hear it on lala). There are indeed some wicked moments (Time Of The Assassins, La Collectioneuse), but I won't be buying the beautiful deluxe version of IRM.
Depeche Mode Sounds Of The Universe
The amazing $80 fan box was truly an exhilarating fan geek moment. As I sat on my bed and "unpacked" that box in a state of semi-rapture, I kept telling myself the album was a grower, that I'd eventually come to like it. The problem was, I didn't want to play it. To my ears, the songs are lacking in strong melodies. A few solid tunes added to the canon include Wrong, Peace and In Sympathy.
Tori Amos Abnormally Attracted To Sin
Enough said. Great album title and promising first single in Welcome To England, but this has become a semi annual event. A few good tunes does not an album make. The "visuallettes" that accompanied the album are the most tedious, pretentious work of her career: endless rotations of Tori traipsing around the world dolled up in complex outfits and heavy amounts of botox, with literally no expression her face. A couture fembot. Ironically, she redeemed herself late in the year with a decent non-Christmas album. Regardless, the decline of Tori Amos is worrying: with each commercial failure, her buying power decreases. We'll see if she can regain that next year with her musical The Light Princess.
Just Jack All Night Cinema
An epically gorgeous, emotional first single, Embers, lead one to believe a masterpiece was imminent. "We are all embers of the same fire" is one of the best chorus hooks of 2009. But followup single Doctor Doctor was a weak step backward and killed momentum. The album just did not connect. It seemed a bit halfhearted and was, in the end, rolled over by the large amount of strong new music this year.
Other disappointments: The horrific Paolo Nutini album that turned a 22 yr old into a bleeding gums 70-yr-old blues man, U2's strangely disconnected 2009 album (a record I played like twice and abandoned), Moz's latest not-so-great and -not that I expected better - Prince. I also didn't bother much with the latest Kings Of Convenience album - it just kind of lay there. Same with David Gray.
And some sad awards...
Biggest Pop Injustice is the fact that reedy, big-haired Cheryl Cole released a crap album (maybe three good singles on it, but that's it) and Nicola Roberts did not set foot in a recording studio. If there is a Goddess, She will see to it that Nicola makes a great pop record with some elegant writers producers worthy of her unique style.
Lost Opportunity Award goes to Columbia Records for their mishandling of The Gossip record in the United States, particularly the bizarre staggered release dates. In America, the CD was released 4 months after the rest of the world. So while the album cracked the Top 20 outside the States, it peaked at a lousy 164 here. The band was a pet project of Rick Rubin and seems to have been dropped through the cracks as his power there has waned. As of this writing, the album's most thrilling pop moment, the epic Pop Goes The World, has not been released as a single and there has been virtually no promotion in the US. There has also been some criticism that the sound quality suffered from a "loud" mastering, but I think the idea that The Gossip was ever going to be the next U2 was a bit far-fetched. They're just too subversive for that. The album artwork is sublime, but I wonder if it confused people? The major press is done by Beth Ditto and, for a band looking to take it to the next level, her image probably needed to be on the cover.
Worst Launch was the mishandling of Little Boots with the offensively crap New In Town video, with its dancing homeless people and writhing LA orgies. That video did nothing to introduce Victoria's visual style or persona; it just screamed, "The label thinks fans are stupid." It's like she wandered into a Ciara video! Anyway, they quickly regrouped, but I feel the end message of this story is this: Do not take a clever DIY artist and shoehorn her into a pop chart recipe. It won't work. [Note: I am now aware the Hesketh (LB) has some disdain for bloggers who second guess her choices, but I don't really care. I was a hardcore music fan before she was a zygote and I did put her album on my best-of list!]
Most Bizarro Album Flameout is sadly, Frankmusik. After a promising start with a few solid videos and a clever Live And Lost tour, another label mishandle. They killed the artist's momentum by releasing the album too late, after many leaks. The artist himself occasionally worked against his own success, but the fact is that he writes great hooks and has an amazing voice. A new album is due in 2010, but Complete Me and its spin-offs, Re-Complete Me and Completely Me, are a success in my book.
It's Not Too Late for MPHO! The leaked Pop Art album needs some work, in my opinion, but she's an artist has multiple layers. The brilliant 2009 single Box N Locks only hints at her capabilities. The great reaction to her cover of Running Up That Hill - her gold is in her singing! - should serve as a wake-up call. A little retool and this album needs to be released in 2010.
That's the end of my negativity. I suspect some of you will disagree in the comments field! Again, all of the artists above are worthy and talented. Shit happens.