By way of a diversion from politics I did notice that Q magazine this month includes its selection of the 50 worst albums of all time and came up with a pretty good list.
This prompts me to offer my own briefer list – five of the worst ‘classic’ albums. You’ll often find these in the CD collections of people over 35, but whatever you do don't suggest listening to them.
Crosby, Stills and Nash (self-titled)
The received wisdom is that while CSN became rather coke-addled, overweight and anachronistic from the 80s onwards, their debut album is still a masterpiece. But it isn’t! Nash wrote pretty tunes, but banal, half-witted lyrics. Crosby produced tuneless, ‘experimental’ songs with pretentious lyrics. And Stills is competent but workmanlike as a songwriter. Soaring harmonies mean nothing if the songs are no good.
Pink Floyd – Dark side of the moon
After the Live8 reunion their reputation is high right now, but Roger Waters is a clunking and obvious lyricist, lacking subtlety or grace:
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team.
The music overblown and pompous. All in all, lacks redeeming features.
Carly Simon – No secrets
Carly Simon doubtless saw herself somewhere in the Carole King/Joni Mitchell singer-songwriter mould. But although ‘You’re so vain’ is one of the great put-down songs, there is little else here to move, inspire or amuse. Lacks King’s crisp turn of phrase and strong tunes or Mitchell’s powerful insights into the human condition.
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
The album that made Springsteen a household name, but achieved at the price of dumbing down and sacrificing all the things that made him an interesting songwriter. The title track might have been a powerful tale of mixed emotions, but the bombastic production turned it into a cynical attempt to have it both ways. Designer misery!
Queen – Greatest Hits
OK, a compilation, not an album proper, but it would be wrong not to include the worst band of all time. Their enduring popularity diminishes us all. Bohemian Rhapsody is often praised because of its ground-breaking structure and extreme length for a hit single, but it’s seven minutes of pure nonsense. The ironic, knowing, tone of all their work means it lacks any emotional power. The lyrics are cliche upon cliche - 'Friends will be friends' etc. Their uplifting ‘anthems’, ‘We will rock you’ et al. would have been the ideal accompaniment to Nuremberg rallies. And they played Sun City during the apartheid era.
The best we could have hoped was that they were so strongly identified with Freddie Mercury that his death meant the end of Queen. However, the recent reunion shows that even that was wishful thinking.