Below I’m only counting albums I actually listened to from start to finish. Included are releases that either were hyped, or I was familiar with the artists previous work. Notice there’s no Arcade Fire in the list, who received a fair amount of backlash. I actually enjoyed what they did on Everything Now. I can’t include Morrissey’s LP Low in High School below, because I found it overly preachy and couldn’t even finish! Sorry Rol. In no particular order:
Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
Works fairly well with the images and a big sound system in the cinema. As a stand-alone experience at home the new score is unremarkable and a chore to sit through. What generated much of the emotion and atmosphere in the 1982 film was Vangelis’ beautiful soundtrack, which is endlessly playable and my favorite soundtrack of all-time. Perhaps because of a tight schedule after Jóhann Jóhannsson dropped out, Zimmer/Wallfisch are unable to deliver music that gives you chills. A work-man like soundtrack, but not something extraordinary. In fact, Hans Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk this year is more powerful.
There are brief moments of brilliance, but they are all too short. A modern synthesizer piece that stands out is during Mesa, a segment that is repeated in the track Blade Runner. There’s a haunting outro on That’s Why We Believe, and parts of Sea Wall are beautiful. This soundtrack isn’t Zimmer’s best work and I disiked Almost Human by Lauren Daigle. Should have hired Vangelis. My rating is for the stand-alone listen. Just to be clear, I’m not rating the Elvis and Frank Sinatra songs.
Glasshouse by Jessie Ware
Boring, vapid love songs, with the occasional pop single (Midnight, Selfish Love, Alone). The closer Sam feels more personal and experimental. Tough Love (2014) is her most emotionally fulfilling album, and the LP she’s done with the least amount of filler, and most replay value.
Songs of Experience by U2
Calling it a disappointment is probably a bit of a stretch, U2 haven’t been on top form in a while. Slightly better than Songs of Innocence. The new album is second-tier U2 and contains many average songs. The non-single Lights of Home is probably the album highlight.
The Blackout (a bit too long) could have been a single. Has a strong bassline and is the only track that gave me semi-chills.
Sleep Well Beast by The National
To me, despite the critical praise, it’s a lesser album from a band I usually like. Has the familiar Berninger baritone and melancholy, though the lyrics didn’t resonate as deeply as previous National albums. Walk It Back goes for tongue-in-cheek-ness but isn’t as potent as their serious music.
Wasn’t a fan of the production choices. At times, the drum programming, electronic sounds, and keyboards are frankly annoying. That said, The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness and I’ll Still Destroy You (about self-medication) are powerful and superbly written. Doubtful Sleep Well Beast has the same replay value as their earlier work.
DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
Album of the year? Not even close. Very overrated and a disappointment considering his previous work. Well-written here and there, but unenthralling and rather boring presentation. Lacks memorable tracks. Humble has a punchy piano melody, although it’s quite repetitive and I disliked the lyric. Album highlight Fear has a smooth beat, sampling 1973’s Poverty’s Paradise by The 24-Carat Black. Not as accessible as To Pimp a Butterfly. For hip hop fans only.
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
I don’t understand the high ratings and praise in the press. The songs are overlong and a struggle to even finish. The synthesizer often sounds cheap, although I did like the end of the track American Dream.
As others have said, reminiscent of Talking Heads, only not as effective. The good news is the writing is satisfying.
Call the Police and Oh Baby are the strongest moments on an album that I didn’t enjoy.
Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes
Disappointing and overpraised third album. The vocal is distinctive, but the melodies are inaccessible and unmemorable. Goes in a progressive-folk/jazzy direction. ”Naiads Cassadies” and ”On Another Ocean” are quite beautiful. Maybe it’s an album I just didn’t understand.
Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers
I enjoyed Brandon Flowers’ 2015 solo album The Desired Effect, unfortunately this new Killers album is not nearly as good and lacking in emotion. The Man is a catchy pop single, although I disliked the over-confident lyrics. I’ve read the song possibly is a sarcastic jab at those in our culture who believe that they really are sitting on the throne, men who say with a straight face, “I’m the man!”. I still find the swagger distasteful.
I like Some Kind of Love which is the only track here that made me feel something.
The 80s inspired synth production on Tyson vs. Douglas works, and it arguably ought to have been a single, but again, the lyrics should have been better, about a 1990 Mike Tyson boxing match.
Oczy Mlody by The Flaming Lips
I’ve listened to the majority of their LPs and this is among The Flaming Lips’ least memorable. Wants to be atmospheric, but too many dull moments. The vocal is uninspired and the only zeal I noticed was on the track The Castle. The first half of the album is weak. The opening two songs are too similar. Sunrise is ok yet sounds like rehash.
One Night While Hunting surprised me and is when the album finally kicks into gear. The second half of the album is stronger for production choices and atmosphere and saves it from being a total misfire. Best to just go back and listen to Flaming Lips in their prime.
I Tell a Fly by Benjamin Clementine
Too discordant and weird. He sounds drunk! Didn’t care for the sudden tonal shifts. It’s experimental, yes, but not in an enjoyable way. The best song is Quintessence for its heartfelt outro.
What do you think? Which albums underwhelmed you this year? As always, comments are welcome. I’ll be back soon with my top 10 albums of 2017, I promise it will be more optimistic!