I realize that I spent most of the past seven days talking about how great music was in 2010, and like I’ve said before, last year was one of the best years for music (no matter the genre) in quite some time. That said, there were a number of musicians who disappointed me last year-either by making substandard records or by being complete asses publicly. Here are five artists who either need to right the ship from a musical standpoint, keep their fucking mouths shut, or (most likely) a combination of the two.
John Mayer – John didn’t exactly start 2010 on the right foot. Battle Studies wasn’t a horrible album, but after the genius that was Continuum, it was certainly a let down. (By the way, the 2010 Battle Studies “What a Letdown” award goes to Ne-Yo for following up the masterful Year of the Gentleman with the mediocre Libra Scale.) Mayer compounded his musical mediocrity by sticking his foot in his mouth at just about every available opportunity. Hell, it’s not like he didn’t write a song about it on his very first album, right? Unfortunate comments to the likes of Rolling Stone and Playboy caused quite a few Mayer fans to reconsider their love of him and added another layer to the film of douchiness that seems to have gotten thicker with each passing year. Hopefully in 2011, Mayer can take heed to some very wise words and let the music do the talking.
Christina Aguilera– Christina’s blessed with a voice for the ages. However, she’s continually tried to indulge a more artsy side musically, and that hasn’t resulted in the best music. She’s never made a definitive album, and her records usually run way too long and feature 5 or 6 pieces of shit mixed in with the 9 or 10 solid songs. Last year’s Bionic was no exception. Xtina reined in the vocal pyrotechnics and worked with challenging artists, then hedged her bets by releasing overly commercial crap with the likes of Nicki Minaj (who had completely changed my opinion of her by year’s end) and Polow da Don (no such luck). Re-reading this last paragraph, it may look like I’m contradicting myself. Sounds like she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t, right? My 2011 wish for Christina? Get yourself an edit button and put the sexpot schtick away. You’re as talented as Lady GaGa-you don’t need to steal her style.
Usher– Mayer’s album went Platinum, but more was expected of it. Xtina’s album was a straight up flop. So when you consider the fact that Usher’s Raymond vs. Raymond outsold his previous effort and went on to spawn a bajillion hits, it might not make sense to see him on this list, right? Well, consider this. How many people who bought Raymond (or the follow-up EP, Versus) will remember the album fondly in three or four years, the same way they fondly remember Confessions or even Here I Stand, which, while not perfect, at least showed Usher attempting to mature musically and placed him firmly in the legacy of good if not great soul men? From the will.i.am and Nicki Minaj cameos to the wholesale jacking of one of the most socio-politically important songs of the Seventies for a song about sex, Usher sold the fuck out. In the short term, he may have righted his ship commercially, but in the process of scoring pop success again, Mr. Raymond risked losing his base of fans who respect his soul chops and was willing to grow along with him. It’ll be very interesting to see how the next phase of his career plays out.
(by the way-Robin Thicke, take heed. Your audience was not feeling Sex Therapy. Back to the eclecticism, my man. Enough with the rapper cameos. Hopefully, your recent daddyhood will result in some inspired music!)
Maroon 5– It Won’t Be Soon Before Long was Maroon 5’s statement album. Hits like “Makes Me Wonder” and “Goodnight Goodnight” were pop radio gems and hinted that Adam Levine and co. could be sort of a Hall & Oates for the new millennium. Hands All Over negated some of that goodwill. The first sign that something was amiss was the fact that the album’s first single, “Misery”, sounded like a Xeroxed mashup of M5’s entire catalog to date. It was beyond lazy, and set the tone for the rest of the album. Robert John “Mutt” Lange’s production proved that pop production could be too shiny, and Levine also fell hard into the Auto-Tune trap. Dude. You can sing. What the fuck? Despite a handful of salvageable songs (mostly of the ballad variety), Hands was a disappointment qualitatively in addition to not selling up to the band’s standard. Band members have been quoted as saying that they’ve been disappointed with the album’s reception and are already recording new material. Let’s hope this new material rights the ship and Levine doesn’t continue to coast on lazy songwriting and his finely chiseled cheekbones.
T.I.– Clifford Harris didn’t say anything specific to land him on the list. However, he committed the bonehead move of the century by getting popped for drug possession this fall on the eve of the release of his latest album. Considering the fact that Tip has been in and out of prison at least three times since his career began not even a decade ago, you have to wonder: when will this motherfucker learn? While the rapper’s previous stints in the bing didn’t seem to affect his career, it looks like the goodwill T.I. built up over the years has faded away. No Mercy has underperformed and it hasn’t been able to come up with a hit on the level of “Swagga Like Us”, “Live Your Life” or “Whatever U Like”. There’s always the chance that Tip can make a comeback (again) when he gets out of jail, but I’d imagine much of the public has tired of giving this dude more chances.
Runner-Up: M.I.A.- Maya was easily 2010’s most disappointing album. It was ridiculously dissonant-noise in the truest sense of the word. What should have been M.I.A.’s pop breakthrough was doomed not only because it was bad (and it was), but because M.I.A.’s politico-revolutionary schtick seemed to be missing the authenticity it had before. Maybe part of it was due to the magazine article that probed a little too deeply into her private life (and the childish Twitter beef that ensued). Maybe part of it was due to the fact that M.I.A.’s mainstream success made it hard to see her as edgy anymore. Whatever it was, the fact of the matter is that Maya took away 45 minutes of my life that I regret giving up more than any other 45 minutes I spent listening to albums in the last 12 months, and I’m not so sure I can forgive her for that.
Hall of Fame Award: Chris Brown- The former teen idol with an edge has gone full-on sociopath over the past two years and has already used up more goodwill than an artist that’s been around five times as long (and has five times the talent). Sure, he got his good behavior certificate for completing his community service as a result of the Rihanna beating (and as a sidenote: I just read the official police transcript of the incident a couple weeks ago and was dumbfounded.) He also didn’t seem to understand the concept of atonement or the fact that when you do something stupid and/or illegal and/or sociopathic, there’s no guarantee that you will be forgiven. He complained about being blackballed, said that he wasn’t cut out to be an “underground mixtape artist” (way to show dedication to your art, Chris), ruined a solid BET Awards show with crocodile tears, and capped off the year with an unnecessarily homophobic and insensitive rant in response to a comment made by former B2K member Raz-B on his Twitter feed. Of course, Chris then apologized (I would hate to be this dude’s publicist) and brought out the “I have gay friends” excuse. Isn’t that a lot like the white person who calls black folks niggers behind their backs but then trots out his black friend to prove he’s not racist? Shameful from every angle. Chris’s propensity for jacking up his career (and his audience’s messianic defense of him) calls to mind R. Kelly at the height of his pissing-on-teenage-girls phase. While Kelly has righted his career commercially, that motherfucker could make Off the Wall and Thriller again and I refuse to put any money in his pocket. Considering that Chris possesses but a fraction of Kelly’s songwriting and singing skills (to say nothing of his phenomenally kooky genius), I think I can safely say that not only will I no longer financially support anything Chris makes (not that I did before-I got promotional copies of his first two albums), but I doubt he’ll make anything in the future that will even get me to consider plopping a ten spot down on his music.
There ya have it, folks. Hopefully, a year from now, many of the names featured here are off the list of disappointments and back in my good graces. For some of these folks, though, I’m not exactly holding my breath.