It happens all the time. You’ll buy an album (in the 90’s, anyway) by your favorite band, drive home from Best Buy while you blast it from your car stereo, and suddenly it hits you: “I’m not enjoying this very much. This is a shitty album.” But then you hear that one song, and it’s like, “Wait, what? Is this the same band? Why couldn’t they just do that the whole time?” I wish I had an answer for you. I know it’s frustrating. But those songs are still good, and they deserve recognition. Here are eleven of them.
Weezer - “Burndt Jam” from Maladroit
The decade that Weezer has just had, beginning in 2002 with Maladroit, appears to have been a total blast for Rivers Cuomo. He’s been writing songs about living the good life in Beverly Hills, and…who cares what else. I really stopped giving a shit after “Beverly Hills.” But I know that when I listen to a Weezer album that isn’t one of their first two, I feel like Rivers is screaming, “ISN’T THIS FUN?!” at me. And no, it isn’t. In fact, the only song I actually enjoy from Maladroit is one in which he sounds genuinely bummed out. “Burndt Jam” is almost more of an idea than a song, but it works. There’s nothing forced about it. It was a good idea. They should have more ideas like these and stop pretending to party. Because this party fucking blows. Hurley wasn’t terrible, though.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - “Killing the Light” from Baby 81
When Black Rebel Motorcycle Club semi-drastically altered its dark garage sound for a dark folk sound on 2005’s Howl, it seemed like a no-brainer that the band’s next album would be another stop that captivating departure. But instead, they gave us Baby 81, an album that somehow lacked both the coolness of their first two albums and the strong songwriting of Howl. For me, the only song that’s worth a damn here is “Killing the Light.” It’s a nice homogenization of the band’s work up to that point, and you can’t help but wonder why they were unable to make an album’s worth of material as good as this song. I saw the singer sitting alone at a table outside a cafe in Los Angeles a couple years after this album came out. He looked sad, as if wondering how he could have made such a shitty album. I would have liked to have said something to him. But I just couldn’t do it. That’s what he gets for this album. The old cold shoulder from Bad Brad.
Travis - “Battleships” from The Boy With No Name
I know someone who has seen Travis live seven times. That’s a shitload of times to see any band. The most times I’ve seen a band is four. That band was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I am not hankering for a fifth. But I imagine Travis’s live show would grow especially tiresome during the course of one show, let alone seven. Many of their songs share the same, pleasant pop that can make a sunny day feel sunnier, but could also make it stay the exact same, and after the song you say, “Did I even just listen to a song?” This is what The Boy With No Name suffers from, mostly. It’s just blah. Not so with “Battleships,” however, a song that boasts one of the best vocal melodies singer Fran Healy ever laid to tape. You can tell the band knew it had a hit on its hands here. They were wrong and no one gave a shit. But still. Good song.
Smashing Pumpkins - “I of the Mourning” from MACHINA/The Machines of God
It’s easy to forget that MACHINA features all four original members of (the) Smashing Pumpkins. Drummer and former heroin addict Jimmy Chamberlin was essentially brought back from the dead for this record by rock’s dirtiest bastard, Billy Corgan, and D’arcy had not yet gotten wise to the fact that this band sucks now and she’s better off going insane on a farm by herself somewhere. And James Iha, of course, was available. It’s sad that MACHINA is the product of this foursome’s last ride together. For my money, there are maybe three good songs here. “The Everlasting Gaze,” “Stand Inside Your Love,” and “I of the Mourning.” The latter stands out because it was not released as a single and yet remains a great pop song. My friend lamented that he thought it was dumb of Corgan to “waste such a badass title on a song about a radio.” But it’s not about a radio. It’s about Corgan’s infinite sadness, a life-long affliction that is relieved only by hearing the perfect song at the perfect time, which means when he’s alone, in an attic, with the stars.
Tom Waits - “Make it Rain” from Real Gone
I remember when my friend Adam and I admitted to one another that Real Gone wasn’t as good an album as we wanted it to be. It doesn’t feel good to admit when your heroes take missteps, but sometimes you just need to look disappointment in the face. The beat-boxing that Waits experimented with on this album did not suit him, and songs such as “Sins of My Father” and “How’s it Gonna End” just dragged. But “Make it Rain” is classic, bluesy Waits. Over a simple, hard-hitting beat, Waits lets us know the song’s not going to be anything groundbreaking. “She took all my money/ and my best friend/ you know the story/ here it comes again.” We do know the story, but I’d rather hear this story a thousand times in a row than hear you beatbox one more time, you old rascal.
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - “The Rest Will Follow” from Worlds Apart
I remember when I couldn’t go to a Trail of Dead concert because my grades were terrible. High school was rough, right? Thankfully my friend Frank went and got me an LP signed by everyone in the band, and they wrote me funny messages like, “Brad, fuck your parents!” and “Brad, study harder!” They were almost my favorite at that point. Source Tags and Codes had just come out and blown everyone’s heads off. Excitement levels were high as hell for Worlds Apart, easily one of the most disappointing albums - nay, one of the most disappointing things - to ever happen. I won’t go into it. It just stinks. “The Rest Will Follow” is its best song and still doesn’t compare to anything off Source Tags. Everything on this album is bad except “The Rest Will Follow” and Conrad Keely saying, “Hey, fuck you, maaaan” to the laughing children at the beginning of the title track. Man, I miss the days when these guys were great.
Placebo - “Special K” from Black Market Music
Brian Molko’s voice is gross. It’s nasally and you just can’t picture him being a halfway decent person. He sounds like a spoiled rich 11-year-old. He should be writing songs about how his parents only bought him two ponies for his birthday when he specifically asked for three ponies. And yet, here he is, singing about drugs on “Special K,” a song that features perhaps his poppiest, most satisfying chorus. If it had been on Without You I’m Nothing, it would have made an already strong album that much stronger. But instead it comes from Black Market Music, which is just a huge bummer of an album that you shouldn’t even check out. But it does have this song. I really feel like this song would have been a hit had it not been for Molko’s voice. I just wanna throw up when I hear it. His lyrics don’t matter because all I hear when he sings is, “This is the worst birthday ever, father. Quiet, mother, I hate you! Father, I demand to know where is my third pony! I want him!”
The Cranberries - “When You’re Gone” from To the Faithful Departed
If this list was a countdown, I’d have to put this entry at numero uno. I have always had a soft spot for the Cranberries, probably because I heard them a lot as a kid and my cousin Lisa liked them and she had a tattoo. I don’t know. I bought this album when I was maybe 14 and pretended to like it for a week. But I know now that it’s a genuine stinker. However, “When You’re Gone” remains one of the best Cranberries songs ever and just a great song in general. That “doo-bee-da” thing Dolores O’Riordian does throughout the song makes it feel kinda fun even though it’s sad. If you are actually missing someone who is gone, there is no better songto stare out a window to.
Foo Fighters - “No Way Back” from In Your Honor
Oh boy. Foo Fighters, huh? The more I think about how I feel about this band, the more complicated my feelings become. I feel as though I want to defend them when people shit on them, and yet I shit on them when others talk about how awesome they are. They’re not awesome. I’d argue that their first three albums were great, but then, much like Weezer, they got into this groove (at least they’d call it a groove) of putting out album after mediocre album filled with songs that ranged from “Hey, that’s not bad” to “Oh is there actually music playing right now?” the worst offender being 2005’s ill-conceived double-disc, In Your Honor. Of its 20 songs, the only one that grabs me is “No Way Back.” Grohl sounds genuinely charged here, and the band is right there with him. But even the chorus on this song is a letdown after such a powerful verse. I have to let go of the Foo Fighters. They’re going to keep doing what they’re doing, and they’ll never record another “Generator.” Am I old?
Pulp - “Babies” from His ‘N’ Hers
Often, you’ll hear an album by a band that’s already been around for a while and you’ll think, “Damn, this band’s great. I gotta go back and buy their earlier stuff.” Then you do, and guess what? Not as good! They really had not found themselves yet. You’re just hearing of them now for a good reason. This is what happened with me listening to Pulp. They’re an undeniably great band, and after hearing and loving Different Class, I was delighted to learn they had put out four albums before that! I was definitely going to love all of them. Then I bought His ‘N’ Hers, and decided I was definitely not going to get the other three. It’s not a disaster by any means, it just isn’t good. But the song “Babies” is fantastic from beginning to end. Especially the end. Stick around for the yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeahs.
The Posies - “You Avoid Parties”
Does anyone know the Posies? Is anyone still reading this? Do you remember what this list was? It was about great songs that are on shitty albums. I feel bad saying an album is shitty. I mean, who am I? I’ve never recorded an album. If I did, you might say it was shitty. All I mean by shitty is that, I don’t like it. That’s all any music criticism is. It’s one guy saying, “No thanks,” to a particular album or song. You might have said no thanks to this entire post. That’s okay. But thanks for reading! I wrote this because I like music a lot and I actually care about all of these bands and I like them. I just wanted to say that in case you’re in one of these bands and I hurt your feelings. That said, Dear 23 by the Posies is a crappy album, and the song “You Avoid Parties” is really good. To take us out, here’s YouTube user Heathcliff67 covering the song with his new guitar. I have to warn you, this cover is even sadder than the original. Heathcliff gonna make you cry, but his satisfied smile at the end makes it worth the journey. Hope you have a great day. Take us to Tears Town, Heathcliff.