Every once in awhile, a band will release an album so new and revolutionary that everyone, regardless of their opinion, hails as “groundbreaking.” Some of those albums become timeless classics, while others are ravaged by the years like Mick Jagger’s face. While they may be groundbreaking, the following albums tend to lose their appeal when viewed through decades of context.
Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979)
Let’s face it, even in 1979, Pink Floyd’s The Wall was out of place. Somewhere between the glitter of disco and the raw edge of punk, Pink Floyd released a soaring rock opera with a theme of unironic self-pity about the hard life of a successful rock star. While the single, “Comfortably Numb,” includes Floyd’s token heart-wrenching guitar solos and dreamy vocals, the self-indulgent lyrics throw up a wall of unrelatable pretentiousness. If this metaphorical ‘wall’ is what this album is trying to achieve, then its success as a piece of art is bittersweet.
Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
Co-produced by Quincy Jones, Thriller is undeniably one of the greatest and most defining albums of its decade. Every track that Jackson wrote on this album can be counted among the best work of his career. However, that accounts for only half of this album. The other tracks, penned by Rod Pemberton and a handful of other songwriters, simply aren’t as strong. The changes in quality come across as jarring and make Thriller sound like an unrelated collection of singles, plus whatever the heck “The Girl Is Mine” is supposed to be.
The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997)
This is an album that sold on the strength of its one and only single. When “Bittersweet Symphony” swept the charts with its catchy sample work and dreampop vocals, it seems like many listeners were duped into believing that the track must reside on a solid album. However, Describing Urban Hymns as sophomoric is being too forgiving. The fact that its most popular track’s greatest strength is a sample of a cover of a Rolling Stones song says everything about the derivative and banal nature of this album.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999)
This iconic late 90s album represents guitarist John Frusciante’s return to the group after a successful trip to rehab. This is reflected in the album’s darker, more sensitive tones and themes of addiction and burnout. The aggressive party vibe of Blood Sugar Sex Magic is still there in the genre-bending push and pull of the album, but a crooning Anthony Kiedis waxing poetic roots this album so solidly in pop that it becomes just another part of the sonic wallpaper of the era.
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (2007)
Following the exuberant originality of their debut album Funeral, Arcade Fire wasted no time in taking themselves too seriously and stepping up to the soapbox. “I don’t wanna live in America no more,” sings Quebec-based Win Butler in a sincere track about how television rots your soul. In Arcade Fire’s fervent effort to tell it like it is, Neon Bible comes across as preachy and disingenuous.
[Jessica Kane is a music connoisseur and an avid record collector. She currently writes for SoundStage Direct, her go-to place for all turntables and vinyl equipment, including Rock Vinyls.]