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.


Michael Lee Howard said...

I would actually agree whole heartedly ... especially the tori album... I am a bit worn out of 16-19 songs some so so and a lot of filler.

The DM was such drudgery to continuously listen to...and I am a HUGE fan...

The Imogen felt very slow and missing a lot ... BTW not wanting to be picky at all ... Imogen's album is actually Ellipse and not Eclipse :) just wanting to be helpful :)

Love the read :)

xolondon said...

Well, I really do know the Imogen record's name, but the fact I let spell-check alter it once and then alter my brain shows how little I play it. Thanks for catching that!

Did you like any of the Depeche songs?

Michael Lee Howard said...

I really did like fragile tension and In Sympathy but for just two songs the rest just didnt sit with me well at all I am not sure why.

DanProject76 said...

Tori needs 10 good songs on one CD with no shitty wanky video arsebiscuits.

I love Tori.

Myfizzypop said...

Love the visual. it's snazzy. Yeah, I'd take a solo Nicola career over Cheryl anyday :/ And the marketing of Little Boots has been horribly done - she looks totally ill at ease with being a pop star and actually looks (not just in the New In Town video) like she is having a crap time. Hopefully she'll sort this out soon! She's not exactly set the world alight so far...

Yuяi said...

I want that cassette!

Totally agree with your take on Little Boots. There was potential there for me, at least after some Bimbo Jones mixes, but as others have deftly stated, if I want Kylie, I'll listen to Kylie and not a watered-down imitation. And the video with her traipsing around in her swell-egant outfit amongst homeless folks and shopping carts... WTF??

Oh well, she may not get the opp to break America again.

xolondon said...

LB releases her CD here in Feb or March. I'd reviewed her US EP for the mag, so I said "No thanks" to reviewing the album. I still think it's a decent piece of music though.

jsd said...

Totally disagree about IRM. I think it's a beautiful and sublime record. Not sure what about it disappoints you. Did you really want just a slightly updated 5:55?

Definitely agree about Depeche Mode, but as far as I'm concerned, they lost all their interest once Alan Wilder left.

zen~ said...

Have to agree with you on practically all accounts there. I hate it when I zero in on a few tracks of a particular artist's album (Imogen, major case in point) and ignore the rest. Pulling together a whole and cohesive album is a major achievement in the current music climate (what, with iPod random programming and peeps being able to download just the one track). Thank goodness for albums by A Fine Frenzy, Florence & The Machine, Bat For Lashes, Bertie Blackman, Y.A.S., Miike Snow et al. The year was pretty good, imo.

countpopula said...

Spot on. I agree with most everything you said. While I think the Depeche had a few good songs, it kinda seemed like a weaker Playing the Angel 2, only missing a killer single like "Precious". Not really one to hang a luxurious box set from, yet neither was the U2 album by any stretch, and you got less with that one.

Oh Tori. I have contemplated buying the Christmas album and keep going away from it. I may break down in the end, but how many times in a row can one be disappointed? (Hello, Janet.)

The Imogen was a bit down, but what's worse? A lackluster record or no record at all? (I am looking at you, Kate Havnevik.) I realize Kate is trying to do things on her own this time, but it has been rather scattershot, no? The couple songs I've heard even sound like they were by two different artists. Hmmm...

Had the Prince album in my hands and put it back. Looked horribly cheap.

I don't think the Bertie Blackman album was released on CD, was it? I know somebody who really wants that.

It was an EXCELLENT year for music if you really searched for what was good. I feel that some of these "bad" records are merely less than what we expect from them, but not all bad. Love your visual! Haven't heard the Charlotte Gainsbourg yet...Warner is putting it out in the US late Jan/early Feb.

Mr. Will-W. said...

love the honesty as usual. i was excited to compile a 2009's best of list but in all honesty i looked back through the year and wound up picking only 8 because yes, overall it wasn't a strong year. there were standouts, yes. but overall, bleh. happy holidays!! :)

xolondon said...

I will have a favorites list next week, so stay tuned!

zen~ said...

Tuning will be interesting to see how we compare! I'm giving Florence a good punt for numero uno, eh?