Or Got Hate Despite Being Very Good Or Excellent Albums (1980 – 2015)
Three and a half decades, thousands of bands and artists, tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of album releases and one non-music expect arbitrarily claiming 10 of them were more slighted than all the others because I have a computer and a wordpress account so I can. So. Yeah. This is gonna be pretty fuckin arbitrary. I’m starting in the 1980’s because it’s a lot easier than trying to take in ~65 years of rock music (as categorized by the switching of genre labels which really just served at the time as markers of “white music” and “black music”) or possibly over a century of what could be considered rock music if earlier blues and rhythm and blues are added in. I also genuinely don’t know enough about the people who created Rock music with their pure ingenuity and soul and raw musical talent. So the best I can do is a shoutout to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, T-Bone Walker, Jackie Brenston, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, and so many other of the black artists that created Rock music.
These artists not only created the genre I’m going to be talking about but also had to endure having it stolen and appropriated and their careers overshadowed by now-iconic white groups and artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Kinks, The Who, and The Yardbirds among many many others. Some of whom directly ripped off the people who made their music possible: John Lennon settled a law suit from Chuck Berry’s label for stealing “Come Together” (the Beatles were in recording during the start of the suit and added the now classic bass line to differentiate from Chuck Berry’s track though it proved to not be enough); George Harrison lost a plagiarism suit against the Chiffons’ label for his song “My Sweet Lord”; additionally Led Zeppelin has had to alter the credits of their songs, adding in artists they essentially ripped off, in tracks like “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Dazed and Confused.” So yeah, basically I’m saying all this to get the point that when you’re talking about a white rock band, saying an album or song was underappreciated is putting weight on some pretty thin historical ice, and definitely has a level of absurdity to it.
With that absurdity acknowledged, let’s get into what I’m looking for with these albums. First of all, not getting the love they deserve, or getting hate when they don’t deserve it are super vague phrases, so I get to use them super vaguely. Basically how it’s worked in practice is “what was the reception, both critical, fan base, and commercial, to this album” vs. as objectively as possible, “how good is the album.” That way of doing things automatically raises the question “does the album deserve it’s reputation (or lack thereof)?” So this can result in a fantastic album getting middling reviews being looked on similarly to a decent album that terrible reviews and commercially flopping. So to sum up: this list is completely arbitrary, the only thing it successfully does is communicate some of my opinions, and your life will be enriched in no conceivable way by continuing to read this. Here’s the list!!!!!!
10.) Mr. Bad Guy by Freddie Mercury – 1985
The first of a few solo efforts on this list. I’m sorry, but any album history that contains the fact that Freddie Mercury, one of the the greatest singers in Rock history and one of the most eccentric, dropped out of doing further duets with Michael Jackson, one of the greatest singers and songwriters in music history and even more eccentric, because Mercury was uncomfortable working with Jackson’s pet llama being in studio (P2:S5) is an album that should be cherished forever and never ever forgotten about. Unfortunately, this album was largely forgotten about, and definitely was not cherished. It was released in 1985, and while it fared a little better in Mercury’s home country of the UK, it peaked at only #159 on the Billboard 200 in the US. It’s only single to break the Billboard Hot 100 was the promotional single “I Was Born to Love You” which peaked at #76 with only 4 weeks on the chart. Even now, the A.V. Club dubs it an an album that “sent musicians scurrying back to their main bands” and specifically says of the album that essentially the only purpose the album served was getting dance-pop out of Mercury’s system and sending him back to Queen. While there aren’t many reviews from the time it came out, and the allmusic 4.5/5 stars is almost certainly due to the fact that it was reviewed posthumously, the commercial failure of it is enough to assume it was not held in high regard. So my question is, simply, why? If you listen to the tracks on the album they range from decent to excellent. Mercury is a fantastic songwriter and that didn’t change for this album. Sure he tries out some different styles, but overall this is a good album. I’d give it a solid 3/5. It certainly shouldn’t have been something that flopped and then was almost completely forgotten. A few of the tracks have some solid staying power.
9.) American Spring by Anti-Flag – 2015
Now, to be fair, Anti-Flag, no matter what any punk gatekeepers say, have always been and still are a punk band. What that means in this particular instance is that traditional methods that I’ll use throughout this article like Billboard Charting and RIAA Certification and critical reception, don’t exactly apply in the same way they do for mainstream bands. Punk bands almost never have the kind of success that, say, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Weezer or more recently The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, or Panic! at the Disco can enjoy. That being said, it can be hard to say if an album really “flopped” in the band’s terms, or if it just maybe didn’t do quite as well as their most well received work did. So that’s one bing long disclaimer before I do my darndest to give some evidence for this entry.
So American Spring is the ninth studio album from Anti-Flag. Of those nine albums three of them charted on the Billboard 200. Now, before you think, “oh well maybe those were their early albums and this is way removed from that,” their first album to chart was their fifth release The Terror State in 2003. Their next release, their sixth, For Blood and Empire, charted as well and was released in 2006. Their final release to chart was their eighth release, released in 2009, The People or The Gun. So while American Spring was indeed a good 6 years after their last charting release, it was by no means so far removed that it should’ve been expected not to chart. The album did chart at #17 on Alternative Albums remaining there for just its debut week, and and at #5 on Hard Rock Albums. The Group has one Alternative Songs charting single, though that was “The Press Corpse” from For Blood and Empire (2006). Additionally American Spring failed to be certified Gold, although to be fair, none of their albums and singles have (yes I just linked to to what is essentially a “page not found” message, no I’m not going to apologize).
So what what can we get from all of that mess? Well. Not a whole lot. I suppose we can conclude that Anti-Flag is a group that has the ability to have brief commercial success, though not sustained enough to rack up any Gold or Platinum records. Essentially what I see in that is that American Spring did underperform, but so far there’s not enough evidence to say it was disproportionately shunned. So let’s try looking at reviews, another fairly flimsy measure, but when compared to their previous efforts we might begin to see a little more. First off, American Spring earned an aggregate 54 out of 100 on Metacritic. That’s bad. I mean like it may seem like it’s right in the middle because it’s in the fifties, but think of it as if it’s the American 10-point grading system. That’s a flat out F. To give you some perspective, Metacritic only has one album in their entire database that got an aggregate score below a 30, and that was Kevin Fucking Federline with a 15 (he still got 15 points!!!). Additionally, to give you a better sense of scale, only 113 out of the current library of approximately 9,900 albums have a score worse than 50 (a rate of about 1.14%). So yeah, a 54 is pretty fucking bad.
But how does it compare to their other albums? Because there are those bands that critics just don’t like. Well, that doesn’t exactly seem to be the case here. With the three other Anti-Flag albums in Metacritic’s database, they’ve notched a 74 (The People or the Gun), 69 (The General Strike), and a 63 (The Bright Lights of America). While it is not their lowest user-scored album, its 5.5 is a far cry from The People or the Gun’s 9.0. The tagline for Pop Matters’ review is “Anti-Flag have been in the game for quite a while. On American Spring they show it may be time to throw in the towel.” Ouch. The review rips the album, not for being outside the mainstream or not catchy enough, but for pulling punches in their politically charged lyrics and not being aggressive enough, ending with “Anti-Flag may still have a good album or two in them, but this is certainly not it.” The Pop Matters review is especially important to me because it’s the same publication that gave what is essentially an Anti-Flag greatest hits compilation a 7 out of 10, ending with the incredible praise, almost unheard of for a compilation album, of “Even fans who have heard all of this material previously should enjoy this total package of excellent songs and deep insight into this important but too often underappreciated band” while American Spring received a 3 out of 10 and was seen as a career-ender. That, to me, is the biggest sign there could be that this album is not at all appreciated even by people who love the group.
So how is this album, really? It’s true that as the Consequence of Sound review put it, “they’re not landing punches here as cleanly as they used to.” I would be lying if I said American Spring had the punk energy and compact social critiques of The People or the Gun or their debut Die For the Government. It’s a fundamentally different album, which is why I learned a while ago to be cautious when comparing an artist’s albums to each other. Artists evolve, their motivations change, the way they get across their message changes, and perhaps most essentially, they’re in fundamentally different places while writing as the years go by. So let’s try to see American Spring for what it is, not for how it stacks up to previous albums. As most post reviews point out the album kicks off on a furious note with “Fabled World” with socially poignant lyrics like “lock up, mass incarcerate / the new Jim Crow, the new Slave Trade” followed seconds later by “and you should go sign up / join the fight / the rich sleep while you kill tonight.”
Additionally the guitar and bass throughout the album, as well as several toned down moments where the drums particularly shine, constantly show that American Spring isn’t a one-trick poney. The chorus of “Without End” is surprisingly poppy, which is really a refreshing release for the back half of the album. It still manages to be a hard hitting song while giving a tonal breath of fresh air for the listener. Tom Morello’s uncredited (at least by Spotify, not by Wikipedia) cameo in the same track, most audible in the solo, is bordering on blissful. It’s not trademark Morello, but it’s a beautifully crafted solo and a perfect addition to the track. The album closer “The Debate Is Over (If You Want It)” is more than an apt closing number, rivaling the opener as the strongest track on the album with the repeated line “Don’t let ’em tell you this is on your back / The point of contention is how they act” and one of the best used riffs in the album.
So no, this isn’t quite as fierce as some of Anti-Flag’s best work, but it is far from “horrible” as NOW Toronto’s review deemed it with 1 star out of 5. American Spring is a fantastic punk album and after a long career with many fantastic releases, it shows that Anti-Flag still knows how to make an up-to-date, poignant, powerful record that rips apart the social ills of the time they’re writing in. The fact that it’s maligned by many as their worst album and is in maybe the 2nd or 3rd percentile of Metacritic albums (I didn’t do the math on that), is downright shameful. Hopefully, as the album is still fairly new, time will show those that shot it down its value and artistry.
8.) Soul Punk by Patrick Stump – 2011
To be fair, it’s not like Fall Out Boy’s legendary legion of fans had held on to their vigorous love for the band and all its members heading into the late aughts and early 10’s. I was there so I know first hand that it wasn’t Folie a Deux‘s poor writing or performances that led to its commercial underperformance when compared to it’s predecessors (although it’s now become a fan favorite). Oh, yeah, I’m gigantic fucking Fall Out Boy fan btw. I purchased Folie a Deux the week it came out and literally listened to nothing else for at least 3 months. I also was at the Portland, OR stop of the Believers Never Die Part Deux Tour which is still one of the greatest concert going experiences of my life. So needless to say, it stunned me when I read Patrick Stump write that they were being booed by their own supposed fans for playing new songs, Folie a Deux songs, on the same tour that was the first time I actually got to be in a room with them and hear them play live. Also, as a fan who understands that to justify their place on a major label, a band needs to constantly come out with releases that at the very least come close to replicating prior success, watching the lackluster performance of Folie a Deux (it went gold while it’s two predecessors went 2x platinum) was frustrating and disappointing (in the link above Stump notes that it was critically panned and even if adjusted for the changing music economy, was still their lowest selling album). The reason I give all these Fall Out Boy facts, is because that is, of course, when they took their legendary hiatus and all of this is the backdrop to the creation of Soul Punk.
So now we actually get into Soul Punk. Since it’s on this list, you can imagine it commercially flopped. It debuted at #47 on the Billboard 200 only to vanish after that. It’s highest charting single was “This City (feat. Lupe Fiasco)” which charted for a 5 week duration as high as #13 on the Billboard Heatseekers songs but failed to crack the Hot 100. The album didn’t get universally bad reviews from critics – more of a mixed variety. It received a glowing review from the Alternative Press and has a decent score of 65 on metacritic. Unfortunately for Stump, in the case of this album, it’s the fans that really cement it as an album that didn’t get nearly enough love. At the same time as he was working on this album, he lost a considerable amount of weight through portion control, giving him a very different look. Unfortunately this led to the Soul Punk tour being a hotbed for people yelling at him “we liked you better when you were fat,” and even sending threatening letters of that nature to him. The singer’s tour, which he self financed, was also plagued by Fall Out Boy “fans” purchasing tickets for the explicit reason to tell Stump “how much you suck without Fall Out Boy.” The tour not only eroded his self-esteem but also landed him quite next to bankruptcy (cited in the above link).
And why? First of all that kind of “fan” behavior is unacceptable anywhere and to anyone. But let’s look at the album. Is Soul Punk different from Fall Out Boy’s music? Yes. Unequivocally yes. Is it bad? Absolutely not. Difference from their main band is one of the main things that I think should be looked for in a solo album – it gives a reason for the album to exist outside of the band. It’s a dance-pop/synth-alt record that has the guts to take on alcoholism [“Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers)”] and the tongue-in-cheek ingenuity to balance the terrible things we see in the world with the need to keep going and keep our heads up (“Dance Miserable”). The instrumentals (which, by the way, were all recorded by Stump himself – he played every single instrument on the album beyond producing and writing it) are absolutely fantastic as demonstrated perhaps best in the uplifting ending song “Coast (It’s Gonna Get Better).” I don’t think anyone’s saying this is the best album in the history of music, hell I don’t think Stump himself would say that, but it is one hell of a good album, and the hate it received is more a reflection of the small minds of certain Fall Out Boy “fans” than it was of the record itself.
7.) De Stijl by The White Stripes – 2000
The White Stripes have always been critical darlings, so it’s not surprising that this album received very high reviews. It was also released while they were still an up-and-coming indie band, so again, it’s not a huge surprise that the album didn’t break any records. It’s almost impossible to say an indie album “flopped” when the band hasn’t really set their own precedent yet. But those two categories aren’t the reasons I’m putting this album on this list. Hardly any information exists about how fans liked it, how it’s thought of today, etc. When you ask a hardcore White Stripes fan what their best albums are, you’re likely to get White Blood Cells, The White Stripes, Elephant, or Icky Thump depending on who you’re asking. Hell I wouldn’t be surprised if, upon being asked to rank White Stripes albums, many fans completely forgot about De Stijl. And that’s not a blight on fans. It’s just not a very talked about record by a band that has some of the most talked about and highly revered albums both in the indie scene, the mainstream rock scene, guitarist circles, and just 2000s records in general. It would be impressive if an album didn’t slip the cracks, especially a pre-Elephant/Seven Nation Army album.
However, just because it’s understandable doesn’t mean this album doesn’t still deserve more love. De Stijl stands alone in The White Stripes’ catalogue in several ways, the most impressive to me being Jack’s guitar style on the record. Wikipedia categorizes the album as “Blues Punk” and that’s really not too far from what it is. If you were to listen to every White Stripes album chronologically from The White Stripes to Icky Thump but skipped past De Stijl, you would hear a progressive development of Jack White’s unique, bluesy guitar style that’s won him so many accolades over the years. Throw De Stijl in there, however, and all of a sudden you’re left wondering where this stylistic jumping of the tracks came from and how it could have possibly only lasted for one album after coming out of nowhere. White keeps his bluesy guitar style but performs in a state of urgency that isn’t qutie present in the rest of his albums. He experiments with different tunings and slide guitar, all which create a style I’m having a very hard time describing, but which is an absolute masterpiece of guitar work. Songs like “Little Bird” and “Hello Operator” put on open display White’s guitar prowess in a way that is totally different from any other White Stripes albums. For my money, De Stijl is without a doubt The White Stripes’ best album, which is why its apparent lack of presence in discussions of the group has always puzzled me.
6.) “Happy” In Galoshes by Scott Weiland – 2008
Boasting a subtle-cringe inducing Metacritic score of 59/100 while the fan reviews are much more positive, one critic from the Boston Phoenix ( which I’ve learned not to trust despite bearing my namesake as it seems they make a habit of unnecessarily trashing albums) went as far as to say “It might be one of the year’s worst albums, an underwritten, over arranged mess of factory-floor guitar fuzz, go-nowhere vocal melodies, limp electronic beats, and lyrical clunkers.” That, however, was the stand out as far as bad reviews go. Most reviews on Metacritic show critics that saw what Weiland was going for, but didn’t think the album was all that impressive. The album was not let off the hook there, though, as an article by Aidin Vaziri that was picked up by both Gibson and IGN dubbed it the 4th worst album of 2008, only behind Chinese Democracy, Nickelback, and the Pussycat Dolls. Commercially, of course, the album was a total flop, debuting at #97 on the Billboard 200 and only being able to spend its debut week on that chart. This sounds even worse when you consider that his previous solo album 12 Bar Blues peaked at #42 and lasted 5 weeks on the charts. It is worth mentioning that the lead single from the album “Missing Cleveland” peaked at #28 on the Alternative Songs chart and was on that chart for 8 weeks, however, again it is worth mentioning that “Alternative Songs” is a chart that Billboard only shows online users #1 – #20.
So why so plagued by failure? Well maybe it was that people were sick of Weiland and his antics (and by antics I mean he suffered severely from addiction which ultimately caused his death), as he had been in the public eye of the Rock world in the 90s with Stone Temple Pilots and in the 00’s with Velvet Revolver, and all during that time there were stories of fights with band members, DUIs, and in general things that the public gets sick of hearing about (the public doesn’t have much compassion for addiction). Or maybe it was the admittedly odd title (especially with the quotation marks, like what statement are you making cuz I know you’re making one). But as it’s appearing on this list, it certainly wasn’t because it was a terrible album. The album is actually very good, and “Missing Cleveland” is actually one of the lesser tracks on it. The slide/blues guitar driven “Tangle With Your Mind” is absolutely brilliant, the cover of David Bowie’s “Fame” is a gamble that definitely pays off and benefits from Weiland’s emotionally tired sounding vocals, interesting beats and song structures like in “Arch Angel” complement the subtle but wonderfully timed guitar which Weiland has mixed so that it competes with his voice instead of his vocals overpowering the tracks. Essentially, it’s an experimental album from someone who was thought to only have one ability: singing low, fast, and sexy like to grunge or grunge-like songs. “Happy” is every bit as good as the best of Weiland’s work with either Velvet Revolver or Stone Temple Pilots. The fact that it failed as an album is perplexing and possibly only reveals the rigidness of fans of his two main bands. Regardless of how it fared when it was released, it’s still available today and I highly recommend checking it out.
5.) Still Not Gettin Any… by Simple Plan – 2004
Okay. Yeah. I know. I get it. This is one of those entries that makes you arch your eyebrows, and curl your lip like I’m betraying you because yeah, we all know the deal with Simple Plan. It’s almost like a cultural telepathy thing. That’s why I haven’t heard one person talk about them internet or otherwise outside of someone saying “ugh I can’t believe I used to listen to them.” Okay so first, I’ll give you some facts, because we’ve settled into a nice little groove here by now.
Commercially the album did pretty well, but the Simple Plan hate never formed in the way of “this band has no fans,” it was more about the people who weren’t and aren’t fans (WOW that was obvious statement: “the hate comes from people who aren’t fans”… super deep there Phoenickles). But all the same, it spawned 3 Hot 100 hits with the highest soaring being “Welcome to My Life,” the band’s second highest charting hit, peaking at #40 and lasting a second longest 18 weeks on the Hot 100. The album itself was the band’s highest peaking, reaching #3 on the Billboard 200, while it did spend less than half of the time on the 200 than its predecessor No Pads, No Helmets, Just Balls did. It also garnered them their second and highest placing entry on the Year End Billboard 200 Albums chart, listed at 48 for 2004 (although Billboard has its dates wrong). And finally it went on to become platinum certified , which is always qutie a feat, however its predecessor had gone 2x Platinum.
Critically, no Simple Plan album has a metacritic score above what this album has, a 66, which isn’t bad, but it’s still basically the critics saying “eh, it’s not complete trash, there’s some good stuff here. Yeah, not total trash at all. I mean, I did throw my complimentary advanced copy in the literal trash but it’s suitable for human consumption.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. And that is what you get when you check out the reviews, phrases like “try as I might, I couldn’t help tapping my toe to the beat” or “as anguished and whiny as ever, they manage to come up with some catchy tracks” and so on and so on. And let’s be honest here, that’s a very soft version of what most people think about Simple Plan. If I could guess the characterization of this band/genre by the general public who knows a bit about them I would say it’s something along the lines of “whiny, emo crap made for rich suburban kids who think their lives suck because their parents made them go to sleep after going with them to the midnight release of the latest xbox and buying it along with every game they asked for instead of letting them pull an all nighter downing energy drinks and playing the latest Call of Duty game while shittalking people they don’t know on the internet.” Did I get anywhere close? Yeah? You can’t talk back to me while I write this so I’m going to assume you’re saying yes.
Here’s the thing though: yeah, Simple Plan is a band that sings to a largely white, suburban, pre-teen and young teenage audience about some of the feelings they might actually be having and some of the things they might actually be going through. How did that become a bad thing? Why would we want to shame people that are already feeling depressed and alone for listening to music that mirrors those feelings and helps them feel less alone. I see bands like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte as the last vestiges of “emo” bands that people just can’t accept. For the most part we’ve all moved on from that one dimensional characterization of bands like My Chemical Romance and The Used and Taking Back Sunday. But for some reason, maybe they’re too whiny, maybe they remind us of how we were back in middle school and freshman year of high school, or maybe we just need something to hate, I’ve not seen the kind of redemption for Simple Plan that I’ve seen for other bands that were lumped together in the early to mid 2000’s.
Just because “Welcome to My Life” isn’t a complex, virtuosic rock classic doesn’t mean it didn’t get me and a lot of other people through some difficult times in the early stages of the onset of depression and social anxiety. Just because they’re whiny doesn’t mean they weren’t helpful. And beyond that, just because they’re pigeonholed as far as genre goes, doesn’t mean they can’t write some truly incredible tracks: “Untitled (How Could This Happen To Me)” again, while dramatic, is an incredibly well written emotional powerhouse, “Perfect World” is an exhibition on how to blend your vocal melodies with the rest of the song, and “Jump” sees the band recognizing their target demo and trying on a slightly approach to try and ease the pain of the listener without brooding in it.
We live in a global society and have figured out how to contact and keep up with people across the world; do business deals between Russian and Brazilian executives in real time without the need to hire translators or even leave the office; make fan videos of that connect songs and TV shows and post them online for the entire world to see, connecting fanbases and people that don’t speak the same language, haven’t had the same experiences culturally or personally, and wouldn’t be connected if it weren’t for one person’s vision; we have blogging sites where people meet their best friends without the ability or even feeling the need to meet them in person before seeing them as their best friend. Surely. I mean surely we can agree that there is more than one type of “good” music. (We can, and stop calling me Shirley).
4.) Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses – 2008
Hoooooooooooooooooooeeeeeee. Believe me if there’s one album on this list that I perfectly understand the hatred for it’s Chinese Democracy. In fact, the very understandable reasons why people, why for a long time I, hate(d) this album kept it at #4 when it easily could have been as high as #1. Listen, I was a GNR fan from an early age, I think dating back to early middle school. I played their greatest hits and later Appetite, Use Your Illusion I & II, and even GNR Lies and The Spaghetti Incident until the CDs didn’t work anymore. Shit, I even had them on tape and record too, not one to be cheated out of listening to Appetite on a record player just because of the year I was born. As a young guitarist I wanted nothing but to be Slash, to have his unshakable cool with that top hat and probably drunk or stoned stage presence, one of the only guitarists ever that can make standing in the same stance for an entire song look like the coolest fucking shit.
Because I was born in the early 90s, by the time I got into Guns ‘N Roses, they were long since broken up, at least in their original, their real incarnation. Chinese Democracy was a fable that I would hear about every now and then as Axl poked his head out and reassured us that it was indeed still going to be a thing. Of course I didn’t believe it. I was content listening to their old tracks which were damn near perfect. Chinese Democracy was a subject of laughter, my brother and I always quipping that actual Chinese Democracy would happen before the supposedly real album would, or that maybe Izzy actually had a moment of precognition and wrote “14 Years” (a personal favorite track) in reference to how long it was gonna take Axl to put out Chinese Democracy. I rolled my eyes when the latest issue of my favorite guitar magazine had a small interview with Brian May who spoke very politely about his time recording time with Axl while still managing to strongly imply that he would never work with him again. Meanwhile Velvet Revolver was turning out fantastic music. Chinese Democracy just seemed like something I’d really just as soon rather not be real.
But all of that lack of caring about the infamous album did a 180 when it actually came out. All of a sudden there was nothing more important than getting it, listening to it, and judging it based on GNR’s previous work, indeed judging it based on the decade+ it took for it to be released that just months ago had been nothing more than a joke. The verdict: terrible, awful, Axl’s selfish cash grab smearing mud on the name of Guns ‘N Roses, a terrible waste of the resources he had in the way of world famous guitarists that worked on the album with him. That was my reaction anyway.
The critics were, admittedly, much easier on the album, with Rolling Stone Magazine giving it an impressive 4/5 stars and outright stating that it hotly contends with the GNR albums of the past. It got a fairly decent 64 on metacritic. The A.V. club gave it an A-, however it did so while pointing out exactly what the problem was with trying to size the album up at the time, with reviewer Chuck Klosterman opening up with the statement that “Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It’s more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom?” (Klosterman 2008). And there lies the divide. When the album came out, many (including myself) stacked it up against essentially the mythical version of it that had been built and deemed it terrible, while many others did the same thing and found it fantastic, finally others chose to see it outside of its mythos. But it was a fundamentally hard album to form an accurate initial impression of.
Still, while critics for the most part enjoyed it, I wasn’t the only one to be slightly repulsed by the effort. Gigwise deemed it the 41st worst album of the 2000s. Guitar Player ranked it as the all time worst album by a great band. Ultimate Guitar has it as the 14th worst rock album of the 2000s. Metacritic also sites the album as one of the worst comeback albums of all time, under the heading “should have stayed in retirement.” But of course lists made by random people can only say so much. The real devil is in the sales details. After enjoying 6 Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits with a total of 14 Hot 100 entries in their heyday including a #1 with “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” Chinese Democracy only added 1 entry to the latter tally with the titular track peaking at #34 and enjoying 3 weeks on the chart. Of the band’s 4 full length, original releases (Appetite for Destruction, Use Your Illusion I, Use Your Illusion II, and Chinese Democracy) Chinese Democracy peaked at the lowest spot on the Billboard 200 (#3), although only one spot behind Use Your Illusion I (#2). The real shocker with the Billboard 200 records, though, is the weeks on chart, with Chinese Democracy on the Billboard 200 for 16 weeks, which may seem like a lot, until you compare it to (in descending order) Greatest Hits (204 weeks), Appetite (147 weeks), Illusion I (108 weeks), Illusion II (106 weeks), Lies (53 weeks), Spaghetti (22 weeks), and Live Era ’87-’93 (13 weeks). The only albums Democracy finds itself in the vicinity of are The Spaghetti Incident, a poorly received cover album, and the band’s live compilation, which are almost always cash grabs. But these three albums are the only releases by the band not to chart more than a year in total. And it’s highly unlikely that time has much to do with it. Democracy has been out for 8 years now and Greatest Hits, their longest charting release, has been out for 12 years the fewest of any release but Democracy. The album also only contributed two of the bands 21 entries into the Mainstream Rock Charts (one of nine top tens on the chart).
Sales in it of themselves were strange for the album, partially due to Best Buy purchasing 1.3 million copies and pledging not to give back surplus. This didn’t work out for them very well, as the album sold 261,000 copies in its first week, almost 190,000 less than Kanye West who debuted at #1 that week with 450,000 copies of 808’s & Heartbreaks. However the album did manage to be certified platinum by the RIAA on February 3, 2009, which is faster than Appetite but slower than both Illusions, however the difference is none of those records stopped at Platinum while Democracy did. So definitely compared to Guns N’ Roses previous work, this album lags wayyyyy behind in terms of sales and fan excitement to the extent it can be measured through sales and Billboard charts. Whether that is a factor of the era it came out in, or a factor of fans just not liking it (likely based on the fact that Greatest Hits was 4x Platinum by the time Democracy was released so you would expect more than 25% of the people who bought Greatest Hits to want to buy Democracy) it doesn’t really matter. I know. I know. I just spend a ton of time wading through sales and charting data and reviews and all that shit just to tell you it doesn’t matter. I get it. I’m an asshole. I don’t literally mean none of that matters, I mean that the specifics and whether it was well received by fans in the moment don’t matter. What matters is that these facts and comparisons paint the picture of an album that faded out of existence very quickly. It became irrelevant faster than any album receiving that much hype I can think of. I personally believe the cause of that is what I described earlier, that we didn’t know how to approach it. It had been a mythical being before this. Like Chuck Klosterman said, we were reviewing a unicorn. And if you take that analogy further, and actually imagine a fucking unicorn in front of you that you’re supposed to judge on a scale of 0 to 5 stars, and the first thing you notice is that it’s nothing like you expected, where the fuck do you go from there to try to judge it?
In retrospect, Chinese Democracy is not what we (or I) were expecting from the legendary first Guns ‘N Roses studio album in over a decade. For me, this is why it has taken so long to realize and appreciate how good of an album it really is. And I know I’m not alone in that. The first thing I realized from the first distortion heavy, punctuated power chords of “Chinese Democracy” and the ensuing classic Axl low voice followed by and Axl 20th century rock growl of a chorus is that this is not the Guns ‘N Roses I had grown to retroactively love. For me, that immediately drew up a barrier for the following songs. But with about 8 years since I first listened to it, I can remove it from the drama of its creation, remove it from the power of its predecessors, remove it from my expectations, and listen to it like I would any other rock album. And of course what I found is that it fucking rocks. “Shackler’s Revenge” is a blistering rock track that has few parallels in today’s world. The work of multiple guitarists spanning different tracks makes the album spring with new life every time you recognize a shift. Axl’s vocals, while his high-pitched wailing has seen better days, is fantastic, with more tricks up his sleeve than usual. And the writing, exemplified in tracks like “Better” and “This I Love” is up to the standards set in Use Your Illusion. Yes, it’s a very different album, a different Guns ‘N Roses, but not a Guns ‘N Roses that should be allowed to fade into obscurity. To lose this album to the annals of “rock jokes and eye rolls” would be a damn shame. It’s every bit as memorable as their the band’s previous efforts, just in a different way.
3.) It’s All In Your Head by Eve 6 – 2003
Any time an album effectively ends a perfectly good band’s career, it better be downright awful, like the worst piece of trash that’s ever been made available for personal listening. Like basically it better be the Star Wars: Holiday Special of albums. It’s All in Your Head was far from that, but it did directly cause the premature end of their career. While the bio made available on the band’s website indicates it was a mutual parting of ways between them and their record label, RCA, the more traditionally neutral source, allmusic, reports that RCA did in fact drop Eve 6 after It’s All In Your Head underperformed when stacked against the groups previous efforts. This lead to a hiatus that lasted from 2004 until they officially reformed with new management and a new record label in 2011, coming out with their first new album since It’s All In Your Head in 2012.
So what’s the deal with this record that it (likely among other factors, like the exhaustion of making it big so early that the band’s site discusses) led them to break up for 7-8 years after having so much success with Eve 6 and Horrorscope and hits that are still iconic tracks of the late ’90’s and early ’00’s like “Inside Out” and “Promise” and “Here’s to the Night”? Like I said it did underperform commercially in comparison to those albums… kind of. It actually peaked higher than any other Eve 6 album at 27 on the Billboard 200, it only spend 8 weeks on the chars, but Horrorscope only spent 12, making Eve 6 their standout with 42 weeks on the charts. It didn’t spawn a Hot 100 or Mainstream Rock charting single like those other two albums did, but it’s lead single, “Think Twice,” did contribute one of their four Top Ten Alternative Songs. And because this doesn’t exactly pain a picture of a severely underperforming album, but more of a mixed bag with some better and some worse, it’s worth noting at this point that RCA dropped them before their third single was released.
Now, what charts don’t account for is if the entire music industry is underperforming at a given time, which is why s #1 Album today will very likely sell fewer copies and even album equivalent copies than a #1 30 years ago. And of course it changes from week to week based on what else is being released. So for a better measure, we can use the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) gold & platinum database for a rough view of sales. Of course the problem with this is (A) at first it works in 500,000 copy intervals until Platinum when it works in 1,000,000 copy intervals, and (B) band/artists/record labels have to actively submit to RIAA to receive Gold, Platinum, or Multiplatinum status. However it does work a little more solidly than charts. This is where we see the differential: Eve 6 earned at least platinum status, meaning it sold at least a million copies and did so within a little over 5 months; Horrorscope achieved at least Gold status, selling at least 500,000 copies, and did so in a little over a year; It’s All In Your Head is not listed.
Additionally, more so than any album I’ve seen on this list so far, the album was panned critically. Not that they were ever critical darlings, Horrorscope has a 53 on metacritic and It’s all in Your Head has a 58. E! Online gave the album a 42 out of 100 saying there’s not much on the album any other post-grunge band isn’t already doing better. It received 1.5 stars out of 5 from Blender, 2 out of 5 from Rolling Stone Magazine, and 3 out of 5 stars from the traditionally generous AllMusic. While most of the full reviews have been taken offline by now as it’s 12 or so years since the release, the bits and pieces of them construct a consensus at least among the negative reviewers: the album is a tired, lackluster effort that lacks any unique flair and isn’t worth the time.
Whatever it was – the critics, the commercial aspects, the fans, hidden disputes with the label – it certainly wasn’t the the actual album that led to it being the downfall of one of the most prominent pop-punk/pop-rock acts of the time. It’s all In Your Head, curiously enough from the critical consensus, is a fairly daring departure from Eve 6’s previous material. It sees the band toying with darker, more emotional lyrics. “Think Twice” is deceptively like the the hits from their last albums just enough to reel you in and make you realize this is a much different song. It’s a song that manages to get to the core of jealousy and intimacy issues in a relationship all while sticking to fairly poppy lyrics that amazingly don’t take away from the emotionality. “At Least We Were Dreaming” and “Bring the Night On” are two wonderfully written songs that have no template to be placed in from former Eve 6 songs. “Hey Montana” is a Stone Temple Pilots-inspired risk that pays off and by doing so shows the versatility of a band maligned for their cookie-cutter approach. Essentially, like all of these albums, it’s a fantastic album. While you might still be wondering why this album is so high up on the list, asking yourself if I’m just a huge Eve 6 fan and biasedly put it up here instead of, maybe, #10. I’ve really already answered that question. But no, I’m actually not a gigantic Eve 6 fan. I like them, and I listen to and appreciate their music, but they’re not one of my favorite bands. And honestly, if the sales and critical reception were the only components to this, it probably wouldn’t have made the list at all, much less be placed so high up. The reason it’s #3 is that while albums before have given artists a ridiculous amount of hate for work that doesn’t deserve to be viewed that way, this album got Eve 6 dropped from their label and led to a long hiatus. In my mind, no decent album should have consequences like that, let.
2.) All the Right Reasons by Nickelback – 2005
I don’t think I have to explain the intricate ways this album found itself on the wrong side of the public, or at least hard rock fans. But it’s interesting, given that Silver Side Up with “How You Remind Me” was largely regarded as a successful Mainstream Rock album, and All the Right Reasons doesn’t depart from that too far except for having a few more ballads (which hard/mainstream rock fans have never had a problem with: a la “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” or “Home Sweet Home” or “November Rain” or the endless list of hugely successful rock ballads). But somewhere along the way people decided it was a worthy use of their time to crowdfund an effort to ban Nickelback from their country, for scientists to study why the band is so hated, and people in Portugal to buy tickets to a concert just to carry rocks in to try and pelt Chad Kroeger with. Like fuck, if you don’t like the band just don’t go to their concert – saves you money and it saves them having fucking rocks thrown at them.
So I feel it’s time to ask. It’s been over ten years since this album came out. Why do we still hate it? Why do we still hate Nickelback? Why did we ever hate Nickelback? Too successful? I guess we overlook the massive successes of groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Guns ‘N Roses, and Mumford and Sons then. Too calculating in writing what they thought would be a hit? What do you think most successful bands do? The legendary indie tale of an artist not being influenced at all by what they know mainstream audiences want to hear and still magically having huge success may actually be true sometimes, but more often than not, in one way or another bands are actively trying to make a hit. And do we even want the alternative? Bands that actively try to make music that doesn’t appeal to people? Why? So we can seem sophisticated when we say we like so atonal, ear-splitting, experimental in all the wrong ways garbage? Yeah. Sounds fun.
Even the quintessential hero of that tale, Nirvana, a band that perhaps comes closest to embodying that story of hating fame and actually wanting to write music that didn’t appeal to anyone at some points, under pressure from their label to ditch the “unlistenable” and “poorly written” album (an early version of In Utero) they had sent to executives, remixed “All Apologies” and “Heart Shaped Box” with a different producer, Scott Litt, who turned them into what we know today. And the fact that Cobain desired to put out such a rough album was mainly due to his being suicidal in part because he viewed Nevermind as selling out, and he didn’t want to do that again. Cobain, while a once-in-a-lifetime musician and songwriter and all around musical talent, should not be the blueprint we want our favorite acts to follow. In the end, we want musicians to be able to make records as long as we want to listen to them, but how else can they do that if the second they get mainstream success (aka money and cache with the record company to keep making music) they’re deemed sellouts? Music is a cutthroat world and not every band can get by on the whimsical charms throwing together a “garage rock/noise punk/Billy Joel anti-tribute/apolitical social concept album.”
In fact for at least five years Chad Kroeger was a genius of knowing exactly what the public wanted and giving it to them while still playing music him and the rest of Nickelback wanted to play. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. Nickelback has and had enormous support from the rock community. Pantera fans: browse the Nickelback wikipedia page and you’ll find that before his untimely death, Dimebag Darrell was good friends with Chad Kroeger. ZZ Top fans: you might have recognized Billy Gibbons doing some vocals on “Rockstar” as well as performing the solo on “Follow You Home.” Also supported by Chris Martin of Coldplay and Timbaland among others. The point is: Nickelback is not bad music, and they certainly don’t deserve the firestorm of hate that’s led them to turn down interviews as a rule because they’re sick of being asked what they think of “(x) self-richeous artist” calling them the worst thing that’s ever happened to Rock music (apparently forgetting that objectively the worst thing that’s ever happened to Rock music was white people).
This album is a classic. Someday we’ll all be removed from the culture of hate that I will make no mistake in saying I’ve not been a part of. In fact it was only until recently that I hated everything Nickelback had ever produced for no solid reason. But in 20 years or so I would not be surprised if All the Right Reasons possibly along with a few of their other albums are seen as albums that helped shape rock music for a generation. The much maligned “Rockstar” is a genuinely fun, well written commentary on materialism, celebrity worship, hedonism, and other things that plague the rock scene and celebrity culture which was released in 2005, remember, and while Reality TV was getting pretty big at the time, it was nothing compared to the Keeping Up With the Kardashians era. And again, the oft-hated “Photograph,” while, sure, it contains some questionable lyrics, is all together a very well handled and not overstated portrayal of nostalgia that not many Rock bands are capable of. Kroeger’s melodies on “Far Away” are nothing but impressive and catchy in the chorus, the emotional center of the song. Nu Metal-esque songs like “Fight for All the Wrong Reasons” and “Next Contestant” and “Side of a Bullet” perfectly punctuate the emotional ballads that by this time Nickelback had become adept at. Really, if you listen to it with prejudices removed, it’s nothing but a well balanced, well written album with some poignant commentary to boot. I don’t know anything about their latest releases, but I know that in the peak of the public’s hatred of Nickelback, they absolutely did not deserve it.
1.) Speedin Bullet 2 Heaven by Kid Cudi – 2015
So far I’ve had a nice (probably annoyingly redundant) little formula for each entry on this list: I prove they were under-received and not given enough attention through a combination of Billboard charts, Metacritic scores, sometimes some individual reviews or lists, and sometimes the use of RIAA certifications to approximate record sales all while (typically) comparing the album’s success to its predecessors. Then, after establishing the less than warm reception, I talk about why the album is great. Pretty cut and dry. And we’ll get to that stuff don’t worry.
But if there’s one album on this list that doesn’t need to have its lack of reception proven, it’s Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven by Kid Cudi. And that’s not in a Nickelback or Simple Plan way where everybody pretty much knows that everyone on earth has decided to hate that album or artist. It’s in a “this album is such a complete game changing, shattering the molds, down and dirty rock album that it could have gone 5x platinum while selling 1 million copies a week for 5 weeks, then spending an additional 10 weeks at the top and spawning 7 #1 singles and it still wouldn’t have been given enough love because I don’t hear enough people talking about it and I don’t hear it on the radio” way. If that was too much of a run on sentence for you I’m saying this album is so goddam good, it takes the number one spot here pretty much regardless.
Now, obviously that situation with the ridiculous sales numbers and commercial success is kind of preposterous not only because albums just don’t do that anymore, but because the reason I use Billboard charts and album sales as a proxy for reception is that if an album is doing that well, you’re going to be hearing about it and hearing it everywhere. And that, at minimum, is the reception I believe this album deserves. Kid Cudi said he was inspired by Nirvana for this album, and with the masterpiece he pulled off here, this album deserves to be the most talked about and influential since Nevermind. Because he didn’t just “draw inspiration from” Nirvana in the way some artists say “this song was inspired by this older song” and what they really mean is they ripped off at least one part of it. It’s like Kid Cudi entered the heart of Kurt Cobain through his music and instead of stopping there and trying to make another Nirvana album, he understood that he had to go further, he had to let his vision and Cobain’s vision become one until he created an album that was everything he wanted it to be, with the intangible soul of a Nirvana album. Now at this point (among the insults be hurled at the screen of diehard Nirvana fans), some of you might have found yourself wondering “what is ey talking about? I thought this was supposed to be about rock albums. Kid Cudi is a rapper, isn’t he?” to which I would respond: listen to the album.
Okay so we’ve started out a little differently on a few fronts. I lavished my praise on the album before getting to anything else, but like I said, I’m still going to get to some facts. Right now actually. Kid Cudi, who, yes, usually is a rapper, has 8 Hot 100 singles, none of which come from this album, all whose singles failed to chart. Of the five studio albums Kid Cudi has released, four have peaked in the Billboard 200 Top Ten, the lowest of those peaking at 4. The one that didn’t make the Top Ten? Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven, which debuted at #36 and then dropped off the charts. It is worth noting that it spent it’s debut week at #5 on Rock Albums before dropping out, as well as spending 2 weeks on the Alternative Albums chart, peaking at #3. On Metacritic it received the unfortunate score of 44. Putting it in the approximately 1.14% of Metacritic albums that have an aggregate score less than 50. Consequence of Sound, giving the album a D+, likened Cudi’s choice to become a Rock Singer to promising NBA star Brandon Roy suffering “major injuries to both of his knees, and the explosive speed and leaping ability that made him such a success were gone, cutting his career far too short.” The reviewer goes on to characterize the album as “a difficult listen, meandering, and bland.” If that wasn’t enough, Cudi has 9 certified gold or platinum singles and albums, none of which have anything to do with this. Infamy of the Nickelback or Simple Plan type of hate aside, this might be the most generally hated album on this list, but I have no qualms saying it’s also the best.
So why do I like it so much? Well let’s start with the guitars, all tracks of which Cudi wrote and played, as well as the bass tracks. The guitar tracks are so simple, yet at the same time, it’s just stuff you don’t hear in rock music. His tone is fucking incredible, and I say that as a guitarist who neurotically fiddles with the tone of the combination of my guitar, amp, and recording software almost daily, and who listens to the tone of guitarists throughout decades and genres incredibly closely. The tone(s) he gets are so raw but so intense. They’re fucking brilliant. He blends clean guitar with chorus with fuzz face guitar that comes in and out exactly when it needs to. Sometimes his vocals are the tracks that are distorted and paired with clean guitar, and sometimes you get clean vocal tracks with his fuzzy, distorted guitar belting out riffs that just work on a visceral level, just like Kurt Cobain’s riffs just fucking worked and you didn’t always know why. As a guitarist this album is phenomenal to listen to because there’s literally nothing else like it. The second big reason I love this album is the lyrics. Kid Cudi doesn’t hold back when it comes to discussing mental illness, suicidal thoughts, self harm, addiction, and depression. This isn’t something you get from rock musicians today. Sometimes pop-punk, metal, and emo bands have and continue to gently discuss some of these issues, but the level of personal emotion you get from Cudi surpasses almost anything I can think of (again outside of Nirvana).
In “Confused!” he touches on suicidal ideation, self harm, poor body image, among other topics that desperately need to be discussed with lyrics like “I always end up in a cycle of shame / looking in the mirror is hard / Some days I hurt myself to distract me from distraction / that’s madness fixing sadness” which is one of the most poignant lines in one of the most powerful songs I’ve heard in my life. It’s a song that let me know that Kid Cudi knows what it’s like to suffer from mental illness without having to look it up because you don’t just fake concepts like that, at least not this well. He grapples with addiction as well in “Fuschia Butterflies” with lyrics like “Then I’ll be happy, happy getting shitfaced by myself / Just loathing in my sweet misery / Such manic luxury” which ties mental illness to addiction in a way I just don’t see other artists doing this openly. And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the incredibly emotional and powerful style of Kid Cudi’s singing on the album, which represents the lyrics so seamlessly that the emotion is constantly being amplified.
The album has weird turns, it has the odd distinction of being a raw and real stripped down album while still being a very experimental album which is not a combination you see or even think of as being possible. The Beavis and Butthead sketches are… odd… though mostly because they’re funny the first few times but don’t have the staying power that the songs themselves do. For some reason, though, it all just kind of works. It’s an unhinged album that is truly unique, and that’s something to be said. Just like how I could easily see people a few decades removed giving Nickelback credit for shaping the rock scene of the time, I can very easily see bands and artists looking to this album for inspiration for a new variety of Rock music. Am I positive it will be the eventual Nevermind of our generation? No, because once an album is received poorly, unfortunately it’s a waiting game and a toss of a partially loaded 20 sided die to see if it will journey back to relevance again. But what I’m confident in saying, and I do not take this lightly, is that Kid Cudi has shaped the best, most powerful, original, and important rock album that we’ve seen since Nevermind.