In this series, I’d like to take some time to ‘celebrate’ albums from divers corners of the Rockosphere that disappointed us most, in distinctive ways, arriving as they did on the heels of brilliant predecessors. Please note, I’m not saying that all of these albums are bad (although some of them are) – just that, in one way or another, they failed to live up to expectations or stand as mis-steps in the artists’ careers. So, without further ado, and in no particular order . . .
Uriah Heep – Different World
After the most stable line-up in the Heep’s history dropped its debut studio effort, the storming AOR masterpiece that was Raging Silence, it appeared that the rock legends were back on the up and up. However, less than two years later, they would see their record company collapse around them, and would be obliged to rush out a hasty follow-up that finished up being produced in Trevor Bolder’s garden shed. The late great Mr Bolder certainly did a manful job in the production stakes, under severe pressure, but the problem was that the songs just weren’t there. There are highlights – notably including the title track, the hard hitting opener ‘Blood on Stone’, and the excellent ballad ‘Cross that Line’ – but too many songs on the album sound generic and half-finished. With more time, and under more propitious circumstances, I’m sure Heep could have delivered a worthy successor to Raging Silence. As it is, however, Different World has to stand, for me, as their weakest album.
Manic Street Preachers – This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours
With Everything Must Go – their comeback album following the disappearance of charismatic lyricist, strategist and visionary Richey Edwards – the Manics found themselves in the unlikely position of genuine pop stars, riding the crest of a mid-nineties British guitar music boom typically referred to as ‘Britpop’ (however ill-fitting the label was as applied to them). Their success was well-deserved; the hit singles from the album were superb, and the high standards set by them were maintained throughout. The question was, how would they follow it? In commercial terms, there would be no problems; This is My Truth yielded them a number one single and, like its predecessor, went three times Platinum. But artistically, the gulf between the two albums is immense. This is My Truth is, too often, bland, sugary and vapid – and, when it attempts to recapture some of the edginess of their earlier work, as on the dour ‘S.Y.M.M.’, the results are forced and contrived. After the outpouring of emotion that made Everything so electrifying and essential, the Manics would ever after struggle to approach the standards of their early years * – a fact that is emphatically underlined by This is My Truth .
Metallica – Load
In 1991, Metallica delivered an eponymous album, popularly referred to as the ‘black album’, that would see them hit hitherto undreamt of heights of commercial success, and make them the undisputed kings of metal for many years. Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to describe the black album as a classic, but its best songs are straight out of the top drawer, and it certainly stands as a landmark in the history of rock and metal, capturing the zeitgeist of an extraordinary year for rock that was also marked by the appearance of Nirvana’s Nevermind, and Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion albums. Inevitably, then, after a five year wait, fans were expecting something pretty special. What they got, however, was pretty stunningly underwhelming; not awful, by any means, but largely lacking in inspiration, and alienating many fans in pushing what Lars Ulrich termed the ‘heavy groove thing’ (that arguably had its roots in ‘Sad But True’ from the previous album) with a seemingly capricious fervour. As if to rub the noses of metal traditionalists in it even more, Metallica had the temerity to follow up this poorly received album with another (even worse) whole album’s worth of material begun in the same sessions and pushing similar directions. At the end of the day, though, the problem of Load is not that it departs from Metallica’s ‘classic sound’ (or the black album’s rebooted, more mainstream-friendly version of it); Metallica have every right to pursue whatever directions they care to, and to challenge their audience. The problem was that most of the songs on Load just weren’t very good.
That’s all for now. Check back soon for the next installment.
* I’ve softened my positioning on this somewhat, having revisited their later albums. The best stuff from ‘Send Away the Tigers’ onwards is not just good, it’s bloody brilliant.