All things considered, 2011 was a pretty bitchin' year for popular music. It wasn't all high-fives and Grammies for our musical heroes, however. More than few steaming flops, blown gigs and sour notes made the year's highs seem all that much sweeter. Because our readers' memories are easily dulled by the happy-hour swill that keeps us all going, Rocks Off has assembled some of 2011's biggest musical disappointments for one final walk of shame. Let's cluck our tongues in disapproval at this stuff one last time before we forget about it forever, shall we?
10. Beyonce's 4
It was a rough year for Houston's pop princess. First, she fired her father and longtime manager, Matthew Knowles. Then Bey's bootylicious bod was potentially ruined forever by Jay-Z's monstrous fertility. The biggest disappointment, though, was the release of her highly anticipated fourth solo album. Quick, sing the hooks from any three tracks off of 4! Yeah, we didn't think so. While lauded by some as Beyonce's most mature offering to date, 4 proved to be a quiet, if inoffensive, follow-up to 2008's smash, I Am... Sasha Fierce. Many fans were left wondering the same thing as Columbia Records: Where were the hits? In 2011, Beyonce's mind was clearly on other matters besides continued world domination. Luckily, 4's disappointment only sets up a triumphant comeback opportunity somewhere down the line.
9. Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus
After an eight-year wait, fans of classic death metal had reason to hope for a glorious return this year by extreme-metal originators Morbid Angel. Illud Divinum Insanus marked the return of vocalist/bassist David Vincent after 15 years away, a period that saw Morbid's influence on the heavy metal landscape grow considerably. Unfortunately, the album delivered was metal's most crushing disappointment of 2011. The record was doomed by a collection of uninspired stabs at industrial metal that ranged from tired to laughable. Never the most open-minded bunch at the best of times, death metal fans flatly rejected this experiment as an insulting failure. One listen to "Radikult," the album's most offensive miscalculation, makes it clear why.
8. Harris County vs. Patti Labelle's Entourage
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The city's ugliest music-related incident in 2011 came from a totally unexpected source: R&B legend Patti Labelle. In June, cameras at Bush Continental Airport caught three members of the songstress' entourage shoving and punching West Point cadet Richard King near Labelle's limo. King, who was expelled over the incident, sued. Labelle countersued, claiming King instigated the incident by shoving her son and using offensive language. None of that, however, was apparent in the video footage released to the public. Hairdresser Norma Harris and bodyguard Efrem Holmes from Labelle's group were eventually charged with assault with bodily injury. As for the "Godmother of Soul," we think it's likely she flies into Hobby the next time she comes to town.
7. Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV
2011 was scheduled to be a big comeback year for Lil Wayne. After ascending to the height of stardom with 2008's Tha Carter III, Weezy tested the limits of his newfound power in 2010 with a failed rock experiment and a rushed hip-hop album that seemed to aspire only to keep his name on the charts while he served out a prison sentence. 2011 was supposed to erase all that. Fresh out the joint, Lil Wayne appeared destined to rise again with the fourth installment of his legendary Tha Carter series. Maybe he needed a little more time to get his shit together; maybe expectations were simply too high. In any case, Tha Carter IV was not the worthy heir to 2008's masterpiece that fans hoped for. Some said the album felt rushed. Others groused that Wayne's trademark punchlines fell flat. Before long, though, nobody said much about it at all.
6. Lady Gaga's Born this Way
2011 was all set up to be the first year of Lady Gaga's enduring reign as the undisputed heir to the pop throne. While she was certainly everywhere this year, her anticipated coronation never quite achieved critical mass. Born This Way was a big reason why. By far the most anticipated pop album of the year, this overly serious slab of '80s bombast failed to deliver a single track with the earworm staying power of the hits from her monster debut. The song that threatened to come closest was the title track, a pandering would-be gay anthem that borrowed liberally from Madonna's "Express Yourself." If our Lady wishes to sit long on the throne, she'll have to do better.
5. Danzig Turns Bitch at Fun Fun Fun Fest
Throughout his long and influential career, Glenn Danzig has developed a reputation for difficulty. However unsurprising, though, his prima donna antics at the 2011 Fun Fun Fun Fest provided festival goers with a major-league disappointment and his apologists with another embarrassment. After appearing onstage nearly 45 minutes past his call time, the brooding rocker threw a tantrum when his set was halted at 10 p.m. due to venue regulations. Ignoring his own culpability for the abbreviated performance, Glenn charmingly threatened to incite a riot and then taunted the crowd after his mic was shut off -- a highly irritating result for one of the festival's most anticipated sets.
4. Lupe Fiasco's Lasers
Was there a more disheartening hip-hop record in 2011 than Lupe Fiasco's Lasers? Whether it was due to the well-documented interference of Atlantic Records or simply a case of unfocused ambition, Lupe's latest arrived fatally compromised. Fans weren't alone in their disappointment -- Lupe himself clearly was not happy with the album's direction, and it shows in Lasers' bitter and tired-sounding lyrics. The rapper explicitly admitted his own disappointment with the record to Complex magazine:
"I listen to it and I'll like some of the songs. But when I think about what it took to actually get the record together and everything that I went through on this record -- which is something I can't separate -- I hate this album."
We feel you, Lupe.
3. Lou Reed & Metallica's Lulu
When word of Lou Reed's dumbfounding collaboration with Metallica reached the public, it almost seemed to make sense. Though both parties were long past their creative primes, perhaps the pairing of the legendary rock poet with the titanic metal thrashers would yield something interesting, or at least amusing. Sadly, Lulu was neither. Rather than raising Reed and 'Tallica to weird new experimental highs, the bizarrely conceived collabo reduced both to a musical nadir. Hetfield and Co.'s pounding metal backdrop sounded dull, and Reed's spoken-word musings sounded dumb. The long, meandering tunes populating Lulu proved too plodding and wretched for even the most patient fans to listen through twice.
2. Amy Winehouse Dies
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2011's most disappointing musical death belonged, of course, to Amy Winehouse. The troubled British superstar joined the ill-fated 27 Club in July. In her later years, Winehouse had become a cracked-out tabloid punching bag, but her 2006 smash Back to Black heralded a new revival of brassy Motown soul. It was especially ironic that she passed away in a year that saw Adele, her musical successor in many ways, score accolades and awards on both sides of the Atlantic. It was a sad, premature end to a bright and promising voice.
1. The End of Live Music on Washington
Once the epicenter of live rock and roll in Houston, Washington Avenue's transition to hair-gelled clubbing playground was finalized this year when Walter's on Washington closed its doors in June. Perhaps taking a cue from U.S. foreign policy, owner Pam Robinson declared final victory over her gentrified foes in the area and beat a hasty retreat downtown. Opened in 2000, Walter's was the last club on Washington Avenue known for live music. In the '80s and '90s, the thoroughfare was a musical hub populated by venues that included Rockefeller's, The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, Washington Avenue Showbar, Club Hey Hey, Rhythm Room, Bon Ton Room, The Abyss and The Vatican. Houston may not lack for live music these days, but it was a dispiriting defeat at the hands of the townhomes nonetheless.