History’s Greatest Monsters: The Worst Albums of 2013by Alex Keys, Paul Pearson, Adam Blyweiss, Dan Pritchett and Jeff Terich.
2013 has been a hell of a year for music, especially here at Treble. We’ve phased in a new website, celebrated our 10th birthday with a variety of features, and seen a brilliant influx of new releases in electronica, metal, hip-hop, indie-pop and more. But even a near-perfect year has its downfalls, and this has been no exception. In what’s becoming a Treble tradition, we present you with History’s Greatest Monsters of 2013. This time around, we’ve teamed up as a staff to decide on what we deem the worst albums of 2013. So, be sure to have your garlic and pitchforks handy, cause here come the monsters.
Nothing in will.i.am’s progressive march toward inconsequence could have prepared one for the cynical paean to convenience that is Hashtag Willpower. Like the sedentary hordes that crouch over news site comments sections, punching out pithy insults behind the security of a screen name, will.i.am expends almost no effort to create something even casually disruptive, interesting or challenging. It’s an album aligned with the most maligned aspects of 21st century cyberculture: It flits, throbs and bulges to get your attention. It is copied and pasted. It contains nothing to rally around and flattens every contributing artist in its path.
Pound Sign Willpower is anti-content, which is not to be confused with “not-content.” Anti-content relates to content the way the antichrist relates to Christ: Its purpose is to mock not just the nature of meaningful content, but the mere notion that the user should ever want or need meaningful content. It’s like what would happen if someone hacked a James Joyce website and turned it into the archives of Star magazine. It is an open affront to your right to expect something good. There’s a song on here called “Gettin’ Dumb.” Mission statements never arrived more accurately.
Party albums should never be this much of a chore to get through, and Tic-Tac-Toe Game Willpower’s joylessness is oppressive. A funny thing happens to this album’s guest artists – Britney Spears, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus among them: They’re so disengaged from what’s going on that the only one I can make out is Britney, and that’s only because she introduces herself in her copyrighted phrase “Britney, bitch.” Everyone else is subjugated by the overlong blandness to where they’re just footnotes on will.i.am’s Google doc.
In attempting to ride shotgun with the web mentality of 2013, will.i.am uncharacteristically reveals himself to be way behind. Especially in “Geekin’,” which proves that all he sees in adapting himself to contemporary life is the potential for dollar signs: “I make Google money, that’s a lot of clicks/So tell me who’s the dummy and who’s the genius?”
It’s a maddening record. It’s all infrastructure and no community. It’s the worst pop-up ad for Red Bull you can imagine, fabricated merely to prove that will.i.am is a busy trend-spotter. If I had his ear I would actually advise him to go back to acoustic hippie culture in a drastic act of self-cleansing. He dearly needs an extended vacation from his devices, and judging from the album’s very tame commercial reception, even the party kids might agree.
It’s fitting this album’s title features the pound sign: No other record of 2013 was this phoned in. – Paul Pearson
On a surface-level, there’s something genuinely intriguing about post-Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus and the whole Bangerz project. Redundancy and probably racist overtones aside, her various publicity stunts this year were entertaining, and kept the public’s attention — which was obviously the desired outcome. And, since modern country hitmakers mostly specialize at upping the twang in an R&B ballad or pop-rock anthem, the whole ‘rap-pop-star Miley’ angle makes a little bit of sense. But, ultimately, Cyrus’ genre-bending aspirations and extended antics (both on and off stage) only served to amplify what a farce Bangerz actually is.
In theory, Cyrus has some quality pop songs to work with. The balance between country ballads and pop-trap production seems carefully calculated, as if Mike Will (whoever he is) really did try to Make It. But when Cyrus begins to inject her thoughts and emotions into the songs, all hope is lost. She’s had a long run as a pop-star, bringing scripted, feel-good tracks to life. But, at their core, hip-hop and R&B are about realness, (yes, even when Big Sean is involved), and it’s obvious from the get-go that Miley is faking it. I’m not trying to say that she doesn’t actually party, dose up, or befriend “homegirlz with big buttz.” But, while she might have recently ‘grown up’ via the L.A. party scene, Bangerz shows that Cyrus is a hipster-tourist of pop culture, seeing what’s there but not realizing what is really going on or why it’s happening.
It’s in a similar manner that she stomps through her attempt at a new sound, taking on the personae of her various features and producers, but not understanding her songs’ themes well enough to really put them in a context I could ever believe. Perhaps the best example of this phenomena is the following hook on “Love Money Party,” which forced me to replay the track’s start five times out of disbelief: “Money ain’t nothin’ but money, when you get to the money, it ain’t nothin’ but money; love ain’t nothin’ but love, when you learn how to love, it aint nothin’ but love; party ain’t nothin’ but a party, when you party every day, ain’t nothin’ but a party.”
My one exemption for Bangerz comes in the form of “Wrecking Ball.” It’s not the song of the year, but it aims for a simple heart-break ballad and pulls it off just fine, without Miley making any over-reaching party references. It also inspired my favorite YouTube video of 2013. So thanks for that, Miley. – Alex Keys
Grade: D- (Only because “Wrecking Ball” is the best Katy Perry song of 2013)
Technically speaking, Justin Bieber has two albums: 2010’s My World 2.0 and 2012’s Believe (not actually titled Belieb, which is disappointing.) The fickle nature of teen pop star success being what it is, keeping the Bieber hit-machine going requires an unnatural inflation in catalog numbers, and so we can add to that a remix album, a Christmas album, and two — two! — acoustic albums. And this must be a winning strategy; Believe Acoustic, the most recent of Bieb’s acoustic efforts, actually hit number one on the Billboard charts.
Here’s the thing though: Island-Universal probably manufactured millions of these things, which soon enough are going to end up in a landfill, because — for the love of God — who would actually want a Justin Bieber acoustic album? As pop music goes, Bieber isn’t a particularly sophisticated artist, but he makes fun tunes you can dance to and, well, that’s fine. Nobody’s saying there’s no value in that. What he doesn’t make is music that’s strong enough to stand up without the big-budget studio tricks to make them what they are. And as such, Believe Acoustic’s first failing is that it’s boring. Dreadfully boring. Spectacularly boring. There’s very little of interest happening in any of these songs once the beats and electronics are removed, and Bieber just isn’t dynamic or charming enough to hold up this material on his own.
Which brings us to the second failing of Believe Acoustic: when Bieber isn’t given a boost by expensive production techniques, he’s incredibly uncomfortable to listen to. When he’s doing his whispery, sexy loverman come-on thing, addressing his target with words like “senorita… mon Cherie,” it’s super creepy. There’s a level of intimacy here that might make this sort of thing extra special for true Beliebers, but I could use a shower and a drink. (Shudder.) I’ll be honest with you — I couldn’t even make it to the end of this record. I didn’t want to make it to the end of this record. And at this point, I’m not even sure who this record is for — other than Best Buy. With Beliebers now eclipsed by Directioners, and Bieb himself doing any number of shady things involving Chanel face masks, he seems to have entered an awkward new phase. Not as awkward as this half-assed afterthought of an acoustic album is, but pretty close. – Jeff Terich
In 2005, M.I.A.’s debut Arular was brash, earnest, and full of a refreshing blend of political party sounds. Two years later, Kala narrowed her focus to the party sounds encapsulated in world-champion stoner-anthem “Paper Planes.” Maya hung around in 2010 by keeping people’s attention with just sounds, a patchwork of ethnic beats and buzzsaw electronic production. That leaves literally nothing for the benefit of Matangi, an album that trips over the fine line between pastiche and jumbled mess.
Empowerment — as both message and lifestyle — carried M.I.A. this far in her career, and she takes this unfortunate opportunity to make an album that seems to speak to nobody but herself; replacing strength with ego. When you try to listen to Matangi you’re not just hearing consequences of the law of diminishing returns, you’re actually witnessing professional decay. – Adam Blyweiss
- Snoop ‘Lion’ – Reincarnated (Berhane Sound System)
After his decades-long career in gangsta rap, I’m supposed to believe that Snoop ‘Dogg’ (a) has some sort of understanding of reggae — besides the marijuana bit — and (b) has had some change of heart (and name), leading him to full-heartedly pursue a life of peace and understanding.
Here are some of the reasons that I don’t trust Snoop’s reggae revival:
- The same guy also collaborated with Dam-Funk on a funk-revival EP this year (on that one, he’s Snoop ‘Zilla.’) You only get one reincarnation per year. Maximum.
- This reggae album features Drake, singer of such reggae classics as “Started From The Bottom” and “The Motto.”
- Despite a slightly dub-reggae flow change, Snoop doesn’t actually change his approach to lyrical content much at all.
- This reggae album features Miley Cyrus, the pop star highlighted earlier in this article for her inability to adapt to any genre besides Disney-pop.
- The only song that Snoop pulls off convincingly is “Smoke The Weed,” which makes sense when one considers the subject-matter of ¾ of his discography as Snoop ‘Dogg.’
- This reggae album features Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes on the same track. I don’t know what genre that falls under, but it’s definitely not reggae revival. Or a revival of any sort, really.
- The presence of actual reggae artists on this record only serves to cause more confusion about why Snoop is primary artist on all of these tracks.
- The author of the line “One gun is all that we need/ to put you to rest/ put two slugs/ dead in your chest” has now released a song titled “No Guns Allowed.” So, which one of these is the “real” Snoop?
- This reggae album features Snoop ‘Dogg.’ – Alex Keys
Lovefoxxx opened her band’s debut album chanting “CSS sucks,” and after four albums she has finally convinced me. CSS is far from incapable of making their electro-punk fun again, but the whiny and borderline monotone vocals on Planta make it CSS’s biggest misstep yet.
Awful cover art aside, “Honey” and “Too Hot” are just two of the several tracks that are derailed by a complete lack of vocal energy and consonance. On CSS’s 2005 debut Cansei De Ser Sexy, Lovefoxxx pulled off her bland vocals with a hedonistic attitude, backed by a funky unpretentious sound that was fresh and — more importantly — fun. Seven years later, all those attractions are beyond stale.
If CSS make it to a fifth album, maybe the Brazilian outfit could amp things up by throwing in some Portuguese dialect. But, for now, one thing is certain: CSS has to enliven their vocals. Musically, the band has plenty of power, and their ability to make another solid album is within reach. “Into the Sun” and “Honey” offer slivers of hope, but there’s just way too much more going wrong than right. Despite the band’s immense potential, Planta begins and ends without really sparking any. – Dan Pritchett
It’s seems a little early for this, but whenever I hear Lil Wayne’s “Fireman” — and I don’t think I’m alone in this — I get a looming sense of nostalgia. From the start of his career Wayne boasted that he was the greatest rapper alive and, even if that seemed like a bit of a stretch at the time, his hunger for fame and unique presentation of gangsta-rap themes definitely showed potential of eventually earning him the title. But less than a decade later, the rapper hasn’t simply lost his touch after reaching fame — he barely resembles the hungry, young word-smith we once knew.
Unfortunately, I Am Not A Human Being II is not Lil Wayne’s first completely-phoned-in record. But he sure seems to have perfected the craft of not giving a shit if his music is listenable or not. And, in a way, there’s something predictable about his disregard for anything but sales and radio play. Lil Wayne was never supposed to give a shit about anything besides himself; that was never part of his character. But his narcissism — no longer able to mesmerize or hypnotize — now provides more embarrassment than entertainment.
Human Being II boasts some decent production concepts. The Mike Will Made It/Future/Drake stacked track, “Love Me” actually sounds pretty good on paper, and the opening track “IANAHB” takes a really good idea (a single rapper rhyming over one acoustic piano) and lets Wayne shit all over it. But seriously, there are a lot of awful rhymes here. Half the lines start with “She take my dick like…” with Wayne MadLib-ing half-assed innuendos. And, if it’s any indication, the following is one of the more clever lines on the album: “We smoke so much/ that Smokey the Bear/ gonna have to/ bear with us.” Seriously, fuck this album. – Alex Keys
I’m just going to get this out of the way early: You will not hear a single released in 2013 as irritating as Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.” Paradoxically, what makes it so obnoxious is how banal it is. Avicii, a Swedish electronic producer who specializes in big stadium electro jams a la Deadmau5 or Skrillex, jumps on the Mumford & Sons bandwagon here, delivering a track that stomps and claps and strums and does a jig. Until it gets to the chorus, at which point it basically turns into “Cotton Eyed Joe.” Rednex, it’s worth pointing out, were also Swedish. This might partially explain why black metal is so highly concentrated in Scandinavia. I’m not saying I want to burn a church or anything, but I can feel the bile start to rise.
That’s just the beginning of True, but it grows increasingly more confusing. Again, I’m expecting this to be a progressive house album, but it’s mostly just a compilation of every trend in Top 40 music of the past two years, backed up with electronic beats. “You Make Me” is a trashy dance-pop track, “Hey Brother” is pop-country, “Addicted to You” is Adele-lite, and “Shame on Me” is some kind of square-dance, “Ballroom Blitz” hand-jive nonsense that I couldn’t skip past soon enough. Most baffling of all is a cover of Antony and the Johnsons’ “Hope There’s Someone,” which strips the original’s emotional anguish and replaces it with EDM-club smoke and mirrors. It’s not just disappointing — it’s insulting.
And yet, there are actually a few redeeming moments on True, namely “Lay Me Down,” which features assistance by Nile Rodgers and actually comes closer to Daft Punk than… whatever the hell is going on everywhere else on this album. True’s first major problem is its 46-minute identity crisis, so unsure of what it is that it tries to be everything. The second — and bigger — problem is that it’s not really good at being any of them. – Jeff Terich
MGMT‘s biggest fault is that there’s not much to say about it. When MGMT burst on the scene with 2007′s Oracular Spectacular, they weren’t doing anything extraordinary, but they had certainly stumbled upon a hit-making formula of 70s nostalgia and electronica-infused dance pop. From the get go, with “Time To Pretend” and “Kids,” the band had a starry-eyed hunger in their songs, which led to many hit singles by MGMT themselves, as well as plenty a copy-cat act. And that’s fine, as long as you view it as part of the pop-music machine.
It’s what happened after their debut that made MGMT a more annoying force in the world of indie-rock. After their first hit album, the boys began to hate their own pop-rock-chart-topper-hit-maker songs, and decided to become a ‘serious’ psychedelic pop band. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that kind of ambition, but with Congratulations — and now MGMT — they’ve never really been able to pull it off. So what we get is 45 minutes of melancholy psych-pop that sort of strives to sound like a bizarro-world Flaming Lips, lacking the bombast,originality, and charm of Coyne & Co. But, whatever, I’m sure it sounds great on acid. - Alex Keys
Huge caveat: This is only the worst recorded music of the year if it wasn’t intended as an Andy Kaufman-esque joke. I strongly suspect that’s the case, but it hasn’t yet been confirmed. Then again, neither has Kaufman’s… oh, never mind.
Not even Steve Albini – a friend of Andrew Mason’s who was “consulted” on this project – will own up to it 100 percent, only saying that he’s happy that some listeners “got it.” If that’s not secret code for “Mason’s kidding,” it’s the faintest praise by which you can damn one of your friends.
Until we get the all-clear that Hardly Workin’ is one of the best-executed, most jaw-dropping pranks in music history, we must sally forth with the premise that ousted Groupon CEO Mason – a crackpot executive who once infamously wore a tutu in the office – made this EP with utmost sincerity. Let’s assume these seven pop-rock dissertations on vision-questing, employee relations and best practice in corporate America were intended exactly as they sound.
If it’s serious, then screw it: China just beat us. Hardly Workin’ sounds like the entertainment at a textile company retreat after Jeff Foxworthy cancelled. These grooves are motivational stanzas that assess what’s necessary to be a corporate monolith. Except if you had this EP on your resumé, no Fortune 500 company would even let you park their cars.
Let’s talk about “Look No Further,” in which Mason takes a trip to Machu Picchu and experiences a conversion experience: “I beheld that splendid view/An idea came for 100 million of shareholder value!” Or how ‘bout “Stretch,” a good ole tribute to how metrics should take over your ambition? Or “K.I.S.S.,” as in “Keep It Simple Stupid,” an ode to consumer experience that’s not even clever enough to have an Ace Frehley cameo.
Nothing, though, will play to your Powerpoint like “My Door Is Always Open,” a duet between an understanding boss and one of his underlings about opening the lines of communication from the floor to the corner offices. How does this song prove Hardly Workin’ is a prank? Number one, the boss sings this line: “Where do you think great ideas be comin’ from?” I dunno, boss, maybe from the mouth that be makin’ you speak. And Number two, the part of the employee is sung by – this is absolutely true – an 11-year-old girl. The boss speaks to this employee like a child because she is literally a child.
Musically the EP is – oh, forget it. If you like ‘80s saxophones and croissant-cutter country-rock with your Tony Robbins presentations, get to Spotify now and mainline this shit. It’s the worst real music of the year or the best fake EP ever made, at least until Mark Zuckerberg finally releases his oft-postponed Songs For Pokin’ Lovers. – Paul Pearson
Grade: Incomplete. Either way, the dude’s getting detention.