There was a lot to be disappointed in from 2016. They took Bowie, Prince, Merle, Leon and Leonard away from us. Kanye created one of the coolest stage sets — the mid-crowd hovering platform — only to implode a few weeks in as the stage was mechanically reeled in. Macklemore headlined Bonnaroo. Coldplay played the Superbowl. There was a mountain of notable releases this year (next week see our Best Of list) and in that pile were a number of albums that just didn’t live up to their heightened hype. Here are the year’s 5 most disappointing, though not totally bad, releases.
5. “A Moon Shaped Pool” by Radiohead
Okay, I feel shitty putting this here. Radiohead is the greatest running band in the world. Five musical geniuses working in unison to deliver album after album of genre defying and re-conceptualizing–each one rewriting the code of the last. It’s always a big question mark as to what the next Radiohead album will sound like. A Moon Shaped Pool, still a beautiful collection of songs from the band in their purest form, just never feels cohesive. Fine as it is, the album is in a way the first to not fully pull the carpet from under their sound. Most of the 11 songs were already available in some form for years and they’re not so radical from their initial blueprint. Not that there’s anything wrong with reaching back, but it feels a bit like the tying up of lose ends. But, rest assured, it’s always a good year when Radiohead is releasing music.
Apologies to: “Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming”
4. “LEMONADE” by Beyonce
Sorry but, LEMONADE doesn’t come close to the last visual album from Beyonce — self-titled — released in the final hours of 2013. Beyonce’s fifth album, a supposed airing out of dirty laundry from Bey and Jay’s relationship, was released by surprise with a suite of videos that ended up being more iconic than any of the actual songs. It’s Beyonce in a frilly yellow dress with a baseball bat in hand that instantly sticks out.
Beyonce took ideas and input from all across the music spectrum and threw them in the air like confetti to see where they’d land. I respect her for casting a large net for collaborators, but, really, how many people does it take to make an album theses days? It’s getting to be like factory work. In the end what you get is a hodgepodge collection of songs bouncing from style to style without ever feeling like a whole piece. She takes a classic John Bonham beat and buries it in the mix. She does less singing and more yelling and censored swearing. Dips into country with the Dixie Chicks. And I really didn’t think artists were still sticking that obnoxious dancehall horn in their songs. It just can’t be snuffed out. Despite Beyonce’s best efforts LEMONADE fails to evolve her sound in any way–her message, maybe, but not her sound.
Apologies to: “Pray You Catch Me”
3. “VIEWS” by Drake
Drake. Oh my Drakey Poo. Buddy. You’ve gotta cut out the fat. VIEWS is an unfortunate bloated circumstance. I know 20 tracks is a great way to capitalize on streaming sales, but that’s what the mixtapes are for. Don’t give us an album where we’re skipping every third track. At the very least, they used to be called bonus tracks. Now we’re just removing the asterisks. Drake went from someone I abhorred and passed off as something Lil’ Wayne pulled out of his jacket pocket to someone who I spent late nights drinking wine with and falling asleep with. Take Care and Nothing Was the Same are back-to-back classics. VIEWS is an oily mirrored version of the two, trying to set the same mood and hit the same spots. It doesn’t. It feels empty. While I still reach for NWTS at least once a week, I think I’ll leave VIEWS in the hard-drive.
Apologies to: “Hype,” “Redemption,” “Feel No Ways,” Child’s Play”
2. “Endless/Blonde” by Frank Ocean
Big sigh. We wait and we wait. We wade through rumors and false starts. Years since Channel Orange. Years since we’ve heard Ocean’s syrupy sweet croons and high pitched tear-yanking melodies dominate an album. Then, surprised, he comes out unannounced with two bulbous, overstuffed albums as some sort of consolation prize for our time in wait. Despite a handful of songs that could stand on their own, the two albums are juiced and greased with intro and outro tracks that weigh them down. Wise man once sang despondently, “Every single record auto-tuning, zero emotion, muted emotion / pitched corrected computed emotion, uh-huh.”
1. “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West
Kanye’s always been a maniac. I’ve always loved his every move. But this shit is tragic. Other outlets are out of their collective mind putting this album in their top ten lists. Sonically, okay, he always puts something together that makes you want to listen and figure out. Sometimes, though, his splicing gets to be too jumbled. TLOP is made up of all these really incredible pieces, but when they’re thrown into Kanye’s blender it don’t always mix and match.
Mostly, though, what stinks this album up to hog heaven are Kanye’s lyrics. Lord God they’re hideous. A lot of Kanye’s best lyrics have sounded corny and nonsensical the first time you hear them, but later they reveal a six-sided meaning connecting pop culture to his inner sadness and the guilt it he feels for it. Well, it’s been months since this album was released and the lyrics still sound corny and nonsensical because mostly they are. A lot of the time he doesn’t even finish bars and just gasps and blows into the microphone.
Here I will give Kanye the award for worst lyric of the year, from “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”: “If I fuck this model / and she just bleached her asshole / and I get bleach on my t-shirt / I’mma feel like an asshole.” This is where the Kanye force field finally disintegrated around me. To make all this worse, the album’s greatest line was replaced in later versions. “She be Puerto Rican Day parade waving,” from “Famous” was changed to, “She in school to be a real estate agent.” Just not the same flair. And why wasn’t “All Day” on this?
Apologies to: “Feedback” (been waiting for someone to rap over feedback), “Famous,” (if only for the awesome Taylor Swift hubbub), “Real Friends,” “No More Parties In LA,” “Fade”