Bronzing the Garbage: Good Reviews of This Decade's Worst Albums
You've no doubt surmised this from previous articles, but poking around Metacritic is one of Rocks Off's favorite ways to kill time. Recently, we had a look at their list of all-time lowest scores, and were surprised. We like to call music critics assholes, but we use the term "asshole" in a pretentious, namby-pamby, yellow-bellied way. A better word may have been "pussies", if not for its unfortunate sexist connotations. Screw it. A lot of those clowns, men and women alike, are pussies. And here's why: they're too charitable. Well, not all of them. But enough of them to drive up the overall scores of terrible albums. Do us a favor and try something real quick.
Take a look at Metacritic's all-time low scores for movies. Quick Metacritic primer: those numbers in the little colored boxes are a score, based on collected reviews from many sources; the scale is 1 to 100, with 1 being the worst quality and 100 being the best. On the movies list, you'll see a ton of movies with single-digit scores, and even more still in the "red" category, red meaning universal dislike. Now take a look at the lowest all-time scores in the music category (scroll down past the all-time highest). Notice anything? We did. Metacritic has only been in business since 2001, and for whatever reason, hasn't put together a lot of aggregated reviews for very many items released before 1999. That means we're essentially looking at a list of this past decade's worst music. And they expect us to believe there have only been 12 truly terrible albums released in the past ten years, three of them only qualifying as terrible by one point? 1.2 awful albums a year? Come on. Looking through each low-scoring album's page, we noticed two things: 1. For many of the bad albums, there would be one or two relatively glowing reviews which would skew the final score; and 2) For many of the others, there were a lot of critics who disliked the albums, but gave them credit for things like good production, good programming, good technical skills... things no one should be getting credit for anymore. 20, 15 years ago, sure, an album could succeed or fail based on its production. There was a craftsmanship to good production that deserved to be praised. Now, however, technology has progressed to the point that anyone with a MacBook can put out a professional-sounding album. It's a non-factor. Yet critics keep praising shitty albums because they sound as good as shit possibly can, because thanks to good production, they've gone from terrible to mediocre. But here's the thing: mediocrity still sucks. It's not good enough to waste kindness on. A polished turd is still a turd. Hell, sometimes overly polished production can hurt an album, taking away all sense of rawness and immediacy; a few critics were still canny enough to notice this on low-scoring albums like Liz Phair's self-titled effort. So that's the ruling on the second point. As for the first point (critics giving good reviews to bad albums), we set out to find if any publications could be counted on to give out positive reviews to crap albums more than others. As it turns out, yes, by a pretty wide margin. After looking through the aggregated reviews for each of the 50 lowest-rated albums, our findings were as such: Nobody loves shitty music more than Billboard, except possibly the daytime programmer at 94.5 The Buzz.
Billboard gave 11 positive reviews to as many dreadful albums in the 2000's, including crass, shallow Nirvana rip-off Seether's 2007 album Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces, gushing about the lead singer's glorious rage to such an embarrassing extent that Billboard has purged the original review from even their own Web site (the review that now accompanies the album is from AMG). Nipping at Billboard's heels was Entertainment Weekly, with 10 good reviews. That's pretty bad. If one out of every five albums a friend recommended to you turned out to be one of your least favorite albums of the last ten years, how long would it be before you stopped listening to anything he or she had to say about music? Third place had CDNow, E! Online, and Rolling Stone all tied with four good reviews apiece, which is much better than we expected Rolling Stone to do. There were also a few fairly well-known publications that never, ever gave good reviews to the albums on the bottom 50, including Pitchfork, Uncut and The Onion's AV Club. They may be snooty, and they may sometimes get carried away hyping the Next Big Thing (Pitchfork, we're particularly looking at you here), but one thing you can say for those snooty bastards is that they've never shied away from identifying an irredeemable piece of shit precisely as such. The next decade is almost upon us, and we appeal to our music-reviewing brethren not to be so polite. Or to grow some god damn balls, however you'd prefer to look at it. Stop forgiving albums that suck for not sucking as badly as they theoretically could. Stop being so fucking nice. You know that K-Fed album deserved even less than a 15. You know it did.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.