Turkey shoot: the Strokes, Justin Timberlake, David Bowie and Nick Cave
Borrowing the concept from the Dean of American Rock Critics Robert Christgau, Sound Opinions hosts its roundup of foul feathered friends as an annual event thematically pegged to Thanksgiving. But the last few weeks have seen such an unseasonable bounty of turkeys—technically defined not merely as bad records, but as really bad records from artists we expected to do much, much better—that loathe as I’ve been to write about them, I’ll do so here as quickly and painlessly as possible in the interest of public service to you, dear readers.
Avoid the following if at all possible, and your life will be better for it.
The Strokes, Comedown Machine (RCA) [1/2 star on the four-star scale]
Early in the new millennium, after the sorry post-alternative depression of rap-rock and teen-pop, the two bands that offered hope of rock resurgence were the White Stripes and the Strokes. Now, more than a decade later, the contrast could not be more striking between how many consistently rewarding variations Jack White has given of us his basic garage-blues formula and how frustrated Julian Casablancas and his old friends have been in offering any worthwhile expansion of the core Velvet Underground subway-train assault of Is This It. That group barely is recognizable here; these imposters instead give us a bad parody of a bad Strokes album, diluted with lame falsetto vocals, the cheesiest sort of synths, and melodies knicked from a-ha.
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience (RCA) [1.5 stars]
On his eagerly awaited third album, one we feared we’d never get as he fell into the embrace of Hollywood movies and billionaire business ventures, JT drops the ball in a big way, betraying the promise of his first two solo albums and their fresh yet familiar take on pop/R&B in favor of endlessly long, relentlessly lugubrious, and startlingly joyless jams that I think were intended to evoke D’Angelo’s classic Voodoo (but in an incongruous major key) but which Greg Kot says are supposed to be Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange (but not nearly as inventive). Either way, the charm is muted and Timberlake not only fails to bring sexy back, he comes dangerously close to boring us to tears. Plus, the lyrics suck. (I gave this one a “burn it” on the radio show, just because you know you have to at least sample its sounds to remain au courant, but on further consideration, so ubiquitous is the marketing hype, you’ll get all the exposure you need without even trying to.)
David Bowie, The Next Day (Columbia) [1 star]
As noted more than once in various critiques of the Thin White Duke, I never have been wooed by his chameleon-like ch-ch-ch-changes, which is to say his career-long plundering and dilution of underground innovations for easy consumption by the arena-rock mainstream. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the so-called Berlin Trilogy (which includes Heroes, the cover of which is artlessly détourned here), and the Changesonebowie best-of really are the only albums you need to own. This album, regardless of all the genuflecting from a worshipful rock press thrilled to have him “stepping out of retirement,” finds Bowie the Imitator imitating Bowie’s early imitations, which is… what? Faux, phony, and fallow at least twice over.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.) [1.5 stars]
Cliché or no, there really is a first time for everything, including a disappointing album from a renaissance man who previously has never let me so far down in any incarnation—Birthday Party, Bad Seeds, or Grinderman—that I would categorically say, “Just skip this one.” Yet whether Grinderman has drained him of all aggression, or the departure of longtime sideman Mick Harvey led him down the wrong path of all this electronics dabbling, or he’s finally just slowing down at age 55, these nine tracks are boring and monotonous in a way Cave never has been before, and even his usually brilliant wordplay and sarcastic sense of humor falls flat on this disc’s designated Dylanesque epic “Higgs Boson Blues,” which somehow manages to name-check the god particle, Robert Johnson, and Hannah Montana.