In 20 years, the world will look back on the year 2011 musically and exclaim “Seriously?!” How would we not? The consumer is bombarded daily with the most intellectually devoid garbage possible, ranging from the anomalous sitcom musical that is “Glee” to all of those karaoke championship television shows that have now saturated the market, like “American Idol” and “The Voice.” Along with this televised noxiousness, every corporate radio station only plays the 5-10 songs that a handful of record companies pay them to play (and record companies wonder why sales have been declining for 10 years straight). Seriously, how many times have we heard Nickelback, Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga, LMFAO, Foster the People, and Adele throughout the year? How many times has the iTunes top 10 changed throughout 2011? It has been a dismal year in the music world, but all is not lost. Sometimes we have to shuffle through all of the refuse and dregs to find what truly does shine. Allow me to present, objectively and sponsored by nobody, the best and worst of 2011 in music. Rest assured: this article will not be discussing falsehoods such as “the genius of Lady Gaga” or “what a terrific rapper Lil Wayne is.”
The Jeers: The Worst of 2011 We’d Love to Forget
Lady Gaga: The music is so bad, it has to be sold and marketed by the performer’s affinity for wearing ridiculous outfits. “Born This Way” is a paradox, because it would be hard to believe anybody was born in a steel ball with spikes or wearing a dress made of medium-rare steaks. Shock value will only get a performer so far. Sooner or later, it is going to come down to the music and nothing Lady Gaga has produced will stand the test of time. Lady Gaga’s music will go to die at the same place most music does, the “used” rack at Sam Goody.
Coldplay: Yes, it’s true. They will not go away. It would take a legion of the world’s strongest tugboats to pull Chris Martin’s band, or holier-than-thou ego, into check. Their latest effort released in October of 2011, “Mylo Xyloto,” is another in the series of whiny songs with an invisible string quartet that somehow ends up being poppy. The album’s release was accompanied by a marketing frenzy that worked to perfection. The album charted well initially and has remained a top seller. It hasn’t remained through artistic quality, but proves the point that a marketing campaign can be as effective as a condom.
Radiohead: Giving credit where credit is due, Radiohead has spent most of their career building an extremely loyal fan base. They have such a loyal fan base that they continue to exist and make horrible music without a record contract. Radiohead even shocked the music world a few years ago when they offered their album for whatever people wanted to pay for it. Radiohead understands what every lasting music group comes to figure out: the album is incidental. The money is made on tour. Radiohead played two new tracks from their latest record on “Saturday Night Live” earlier this fall. It sounded like typical Radiohead; a group of guys who can’t tune their instruments play while Thom Yorke whines like a sheep with a broken leg being chased by a circus clown with herpes.
Party Pop that just won’t go away: There was a quote from South Park referring to Tyler Perry that can also be applied to the “party pop” groups of 2011 such as Foster the People, Cobra Starship, and LMFAO: “If you quit giving them money ,they will go away.” It’s not like any of these groups will be invited to the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards. It’s not like any of these groups are going to become the next Beatles. With the target audience being girls from the ages of 12-22 and with the attention spans of that particular demographic, they will hopefully retreat into obscurity in the very near future. So please stop giving these people money so they will go away. Stop booking them on television shows and music festivals. You’ll see, they will go away.
Maroon 5: Maroon 5 is a band that once showed great promise. They were a unique band that had a “not too hard, not too soft” sound that could appeal to a mass audience. However, 2011 showed us maybe the worst case of writer’s block since Bon Jovi gave us “Have a Nice Day.” Maroon 5 bequeathed to the world “Moves Like Jagger” in 2011, which is easily in the top 50 worst songs recording studio space has ever been wasted on. “Moves Like Jagger” is a wonderfully horrible piece of bubble gum pop in which lead singer Adam Levine affirms that he has moved beyond being a musician and has morphed into “trying to be the hot guy.” Maroon 5’s 2011 album “Hands All Over” was definitely a disappointment when looking at their past work. such as 2003’s “Songs About Jane.”
Lil Wayne: Easily one of the worst rappers of all time, Lil Wayne gives us another installment of his autobiographical concept album series, “The Carter IV.” As if it wasn’t bad enough that a rapper can’t record a song unless it is “featuring” someone (which makes it almost impossible to tour), Lil Wayne gives us a whole plethora of guest appearances to go along with bad and un-rhythmic phrasing all coming from a voice that sounds like a gangsta breathing helium. It’s all marketing, and it works well.
The Maybes: You Never Know, History May See These Things as Brilliance
Muse: Muse, a rock band that hails from England, has released some really great albums in the 2000s, such as “Black Holes and Revelations” and “Absolution,” but hasn’t officially put out a record since 2009 with the release of “The Resistance.” However, “The Resistance” continues to be a top-selling rock album in 2011. Although it is a departure from some of their earlier work and sounds like they are trying to become Queen, time (and audiences) have proven that Muse is one of the more popular rock bands of the past 10 years.
The strange combination of Lou Reed and Metallica: 2011 saw the release of Lou Reed’s album entitled “Lulu,” with backing band Metallica. Having heard it described as so; “If there was a soundtrack for being a junkie, this would be it.” It is safe to say that this description isn’t far off point. Upon first listen to the opening track (which runs almost 20 minutes), it seems that “Lulu” is a polarizing meditation that makes the listener want to eat acid on a rainy night in January in an alley off of 81st Street in New York City. Lou Reed’s spoken poetry backed by the crescendoed power of Metallica is something that catches the listener off guard, but somehow in a weird way makes sense.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers: The hole left by the departure of guitarist John Frusciante was a big one to fill when the Red Hot Chili Peppers entered the studio to create what became the album “I’m With You.” Josh Klinghoffer took the reins of guitarist on this record to mixed review. The Chili Peppers of the John Frusciante era have such a signature sound both rhythmically and melodically and have released classic album after classic album. Losing part of their core was going to be hard to overcome. “I’m With You” has some strong spots, such as the lead single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.” However, the album isn’t as cohesive as previous efforts such as “By the Way” and “Californication.” The Red Hot Chili Peppers definitely aren’t the same band without John Frusciante, but that is no slight to his replacement or his talent. What if The Who replaced Pete Townshend? That would be a little odd. The world saw the last time the Red hot Chili Peppers made a record without Frusciante (that disaster entitled “One Hot Minute”). Here’s to “I’m With You” not following in those footsteps.
Adele: Adele’s album “21” is one of the top selling albums of any genre in 2011 with a mix of jazz, R & B, and pop. She is an amazing talent and has done tremendously well in 2011. Will Adele be the next Norah Jones? One and out? Only time will tell.
The Losses: Deaths and Break-ups
Amy Winehouse: It is always a tragedy when anyone succumbs to an addiction and loses their life too early. However, did anyone really buy a multitude of her records before this happened? Granted, her music was about as fun to listen to as a speech from George W. Bush, but if people had shown her the love, respect, and support they show her now before she passed could we have prevented such a tragedy? Her voice was sharp, and not in a good way. The “reality show” or “soap opera” of her marriage and addictions are how she sold records and concert tickets; not her talent. It’s sad that this is what we’ve become. I’m sure Amy Winehouse would much rather be remembered for her music and not to be remembered as a cautionary tale or statistic.
R.E.M: In September of 2011, 31 years after their formation in Athens, GA, Michael Stipe and Co. announced that R.E.M’s journey had come to a close. From “Radio Free Europe” to “Automatic for the People” to “Out of Time,” R.E.M has influenced artists such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. They were the first band in the 1980s that were truly classified as “alternative.” They are also one of the few bands to build a following starting with college radio that multiplied into a major label deal that would carry them to superstardom in the 1900s and varying success in the 2000s including a 2007 induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Their candor, sound, and musical influence will live forever in the hearts and minds of rock music lovers forever.
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