It’s New Year’s Day, and so it’s time to begin the annual music wrap-up for 2008. Hopefully this year it will be done before April. In a fresh and innovative twist, today I present a new feature: the top 5 most disappointing albums of 2008, in order. Partially because I haven’t yet pieced together how to rank top albums number 20 through 5. Enjoy!
5. Children of Bodom â€“ Blooddrunk
It’s an unfortunate fact that from the point when you first fall in love with a band on, that irresistible urge to constantly reinvent will cause them to drift slowly yet inexorably away from what you loved so much about them to begin with. Whether or not this is acceptable depends on whether their idea of “new and improved” is in alignment with your own.
I never really loved Children of Bodom, but I thoroughly enjoy their earlier work, in particular Follow the Reaper. At least, I enjoyed them enough to sit (actually, stand) through Between the Buried and Me (whom my good friend Dylan and I have seen more times than bands we actually like by kismet) and (groan) Black Dahlia Murder to see them live. Follow the Reaper was a fairly ideal blend of influences and styles, much like the incomparable Paradise Lost from Symphony X was last year.
Unfortunately, Children of Bodom are going places that I simply don’t enjoy as much as their earlier work. While technically proficient and well-written, Blooddrunk simply wasn’t the album I was hoping for. Thrashier and angrier, it’s not the type of metal I normally listen to. It’s just a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me.”
4. DragonForce â€“ Ultra Beatdown
Let’s face it, Dragonforce has had their day of glory. Through the Fire and the Flames has been played to death and then some, and while their other material is certainly more diverse than that one song and no less noteworthy, that composition represents a sort of culmination of what DragonForce has stood for these past few years. Beyond that quintessential song, most of what you’ll find are merely bits and pieces which are ultimately hard to distinguish from that image.
They really needed something fresh, a grand reinvention, to really capture the world’s attention again â€“ and here they failed to deliver. Sure, Ultra Beatdown has its moments, but they’re fleeting little bits that are easily forgotten when all is said and done. At the conclusion of the album, the only thought I had was, “that’s it?”
Amusingly, nearly all the professional reviews point out this flaw of this apparently critically acclaimed album, and they all hand-wave it away, claiming that lack of innovation is a hallmark of the power metal genre. This is, of course, ludicrous, considering that DragonForce’s modus operandi of speed was in itself a revelation, if nothing else due to how incredibly flawless their execution was (at least, in a studio environment). More of the same isn’t going to cut it for a band that everyone seems to have seen enough of.
3. El Ten Eleven â€“ These Promises Are Being Videotaped
After discovering El Ten Eleven’s wonderfully cathartic take on post-rock on the Helvetica soundtrack, I fell in love with Every Direction is North, their 2007 LP release. A beautiful mix of light electronics and post-rock guitar lines reverberating away into the ambient synths in the background, Every Direction is North would have made a serious run at my top 5 of last year had I known about it then.
Thus, I was excited to see that they were releasing yet another album already this year. I hoped that the transgression of not putting them on my list last year could be made up with the release.
Sadly, this was not to be. Elements of the previous album are still here, but they lie buried amidst an alien and alienating chaos of jarring electronics, beats, and lines so abrasive and repetitive that they would make tracks from C-64′s Transitional Days feel unwelcome.
It’s not without its moments, but the album completely shatters that which I loved so much about El Ten Eleven’s music to begin with: that same time-melting hypnotic sweetness which makes Explosions in the Sky so beautiful, but with a bit more drive. Instead, it seems like the duo have chosen to go all drive. And it’s a pity, too, since the album art is so nice.
2. Bloc Party â€“ Intimacy
Bloc Party has had quite a welcome to the music industry. Silent Alarm was received with boisterous enthusiasm â€“ for good reason â€“ and A Weekend in the City was met with tepid response, followed by cautious embrace. Now, with Intimacy, it seems like the band has gone in yet another radically different direction â€“ or have they?
Much of the initial response to A Weekend in the City was simply shock at how completely different it was from Silent Alarm. While people eventually accepted the second album for what it was, it seems like this reaction went straight to Bloc Party’s collective heads, and they sat down to try to write a proper followup to their debut album.
However, that sophomore album came into existence for a reason, and the band was not about to let go of their desire to write another Weekend in the City quickly.
And as well, being one of the few “it” bands of the moment means that they must have felt the need to innovate and reinvent their music on the new release.
The new album sounds like all of these things.Â At once.
Simultaneously and alternatingly aggressive, placid, capricious, and altogether schizophrenic, Intimacy seems to be the direct result of exactly such a tortured writing philosophy. No two songs sound like they belong next to each other, and few of them sound like they even belong on the same album.
The primary appeal of Silent Alarm was, for me, the pure, raw energy that it had. The writing wasn’t anything terribly special, but there was something attractive about the conviction and spunk with which it was performed. On the other hand, A Weekend in the City represented a fresh aspect of the band â€“ relatability. Suddenly, the music itself had something to cling to, rather than simply the gusto with which it’s played. It seems that with Intimacy, Bloc Party picked the writing of the first album and the enthusiasm of the second to mix into its new bastard child, and it just doesn’t work.
1. Junkie XL â€“ Booming Back at You
What happened here?
I should be more specific. Junkie XL’s previous album, Today, was a delicious mix of Big Beat, Trance, and Pop sensibilities into a wholly… whole album. Lush production, good songwriting, and well constructed lines made Today one of my favorite albums to this day.
Booming Back at You seems to be the antithesis. Never mind the fact that it sounds like it was written in 1985, the album is dry, electronic, repetitive, and simply unpleasant to listen to, as if writing it was a chore and the listening experience needed to be a chore for the spite of it.
Bloc Party was probably the biggest letdown of the year, but this album takes the cake in how simply atrocious the actual album is for its own merits. What happened here?
I guess the common theme among all the entries here is change. After all, you can’t have disappointment without expectations, and you can’t have expectations without history. For all I know, all of these artists will blow me away in the next two years â€“ for now, it’s hard to say.
Look for my top 20 album list (that’s right, going for broke this year) in the next two to three weeks. This time, that’s a promise.