The biggest turkeys of 2011

November 20, 2011

Leading up to Thursday’s holiday and expanding upon the three choices each that Greg Kot and I offered on last week’s episode of Sound Opinions, here is my full list of the Top 10 Turkeys of 2011.

Wait, should that be "the Bottom 10"? It's always hard to tell with lists of worsts.

In any event, Greg and I didn’t invent the concept of the Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot; that honor belongs to the self-proclaimed Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert Christgau. “In my annual attempt to dispirit the overly thankful, this Turkey Shoot showcases just a few of the objectionable-to-awful records Americans of widely varying taste cultures pigged out on in 1992,” the Dean wrote in his introduction to that year’s edition. “The never-ending cornucopia of unnecessary music—a tribute to the depths of human ingenuity!”

As those words might indicate, Christgau defined turkey a bit differently than Sound Opinions. He essentially took aim at records a lot of other people liked but for which he had no love. But that hardly narrows down the field at all, and to us, the most egregious aural assaults are those from artists whose work we’ve generally loved, but who really let us down this time around.

Without further ado, then, let’s start shooting these birds, starting with the very worst first, and with links to my original reviews from the recap of their rating on the four-star scale.

1. Lou Reed & Metallica, Lulu (Warner Bros.)

The collision of massive egos and pathetically faded talents from two different eras and two ends of the rock spectrum is almost worse than words can describe, but a good start is “unlistenable”—and not in the amusing Metal Machine Music way, either. Star rating for Lulu: zero stars.

2. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

The sensitive singer-songwriter who legitimately tugged on the heartstrings with For Emma, Forever Ago (2008) tarts things up with synthesizers, mainstream pop aspirations, and artfully obscured lyrics and transmogrifies into… Mike and the Mechanics, though I like Kot's comparison to Peter Cetera, too. On the four-star scale: ½ star.

3. Bjork, Biophilia (One Little Indian/Polydor)

With all that blather about the “ambitious, interdisciplinary, multi-platform” nature of this turd, Iceland’s favorite daughter forgot about the primary reason we ever have cared: the songs. On the four-star scale: ½ star.

4. Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto (Capitol)

Even given the desire to blandly appeal to as many people as possible while never, ever offending anyone, it’s possible to go so far that you achieve the exact opposite result, or the artistic equivalent of bad rice pudding. Star rating for Mylo Xyloto: 1 star.

5. Lady Gaga, Born This Way (Interscope)

Whatever you think of her as a performance artist and postmodern critic of the national plague of celebrity obsession, Lady Gaga fell flat on her second album by overplaying the Madonna thievery, indulging in a previously closeted love for ’80s hair-metal, ratcheting up the cringe-worthy lyrics, and inexplicably positioning herself as Bruce Springsteen in a meat dress. On the four-star scale: 1 star.

6. Adele, 21 (XL/Columbia)

Whining over the relationship she left behind like the cracks in the sidewalk on the brilliant 19, dampening her exuberant personality, and subsuming her solid musical instincts to the pop pandering of producers Rick Rubin and Ryan Tedder (Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson), Adele gives us... the best-selling album of 2011, but a heartbreakingly disappointing turkey nonetheless. On the four-star scale: 1 star.

7. Art Brut, Brilliant! Tragic! (Downtown)

So much for the new-millennial hope for taking three chords and an attitude as far as the Ramones. Tragic, indeed! On the four-star scale: 1 star.

8. P.J. Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant)

Abandoning her usual axe for an autoharp, her generally seismic vocals for a quavering little-girl coo, and her standard novelistic ear for lyrical storytelling for some mush-mouthed, confusing anti-war muddle, Polly Jean Harvey at least succeeded with one first: creating an album I’d be loathe to listen to again. On the four-star scale: 1 star.

9. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)

“This is what happens if you cross the insufferably cute Zooey Deschannel with the Natalie Portman of Black Swan,” I wrote in my original review. But that sounds way more interesting than the actuality of this bad modern Disney soundtrack. On the four-star scale: 1.5 stars.

10. Drake, Take Care (Cash Money)

The former ’tween TV star’s 2010 debut showed that the musical innovations of 808s & Heartbreak could be taken to a whole other level, while the lyrical consideration of the perils of fame offered a vital commentary for the age of reality TV. Here, the music is monochromatic and mired in the same dirge-like tempos through 18 tracks and nearly 80 endless minutes, and the “be careful what you wish for” theme is reduced to a whole lot of whining about the tax burden required of the one percent. In other words, bye-bye, Kanye West; hello, Herman Cain. On the four-star scale: 1.5 stars.