There are many reasons why an album disappoints – it fails to meet massive expectations, it’s too experimental, the public isn’t quite ready for it, it simply sucks – and when it happens it instantly transforms careers, and sometimes even ruins them completely. And that’s what we’re here to discuss today. Now in order to be a true disappointment, an album – and its artist – has to inspire some level of excited expectation so most of the names on this list are genuinely respected musicians. I mean can you really call any Vanilla Ice album a disappointment when failure is pretty much the baseline expectation? No, but you can say that about the following, all of which failed to live up to expectations and earned a place as one of the 50 most disappointing albums of all time.
This is one of those albums that looks better as time goes on. It’s the album that signaled Green Day’s transition from snotty punks to serious musicians with something to say. But at the time it just seemed like a band going through an identity crisis, which left both fans and critics confused – and disappointed.
Before you freak out on me, just hear me out okay? The only reason that Bad makes this list is because Thriller was such a monster that no matter what Michael Jackson did for a follow up it would have been at least a slight disappointment. And it’s not that Bad is, well, bad, it’s just not mind-blowingly great either, which is what people were expecting, especially since Michael had five years to work on it.
Back when he was still Puff Daddy and not something that sounded like a string of Ned Flanders curses, Forever was the much anticipated follow-up to the megahit No Way Out, and while it didn’t exactly bomb, it didn’t really impress anyone either. Then again, Puff wasn’t able to capitalize on a more talented and famous friend’s death for this one so you can’t really blame him I guess.
The picture of a band at a crossroads, No Code was the album that saw Pearl Jam’s early/mid -90’s momentum finally come to a screeching halt. It’s not a terrible album or anything, it’s just unfocused and unmemorable, the sound of a band trying to work through a midlife crisis, which is good for them as people, bad for everyone else as eager fans.
I can already hear people howling with rage over this one and they have a point – how can an album that was a band’s biggest hit as well as the one that unleashed them as a mainstream juggernaut be called a disappointment? Simple. It was a disappointment to a big chunk of the band’s existing fanbase, who felt Metallica had sold their soul to a devil named Bob Rock in order to obtain that elusive commercial success. And in retrospect, the album stands as a monument to those same fans of the moment when Metallica lost their way, forgot their roots and became the monster that soon devoured itself and eventually metamorphosed into parody.
When Dangerous came out Michael Jackson was still the biggest pop-star in the world, and like with Bad the album suffered simply because of the enormous weight of expectations. Michael Jackson was almost like a mythic figure by this point, resting somewhere between reality and the vicious joke that he was to become, and sadly that myth overwhelmed the music, and Dangerous was the first album where that became all too clear.
Presence remains Led Zeppelin’s worst selling album, and while it’s not a bad album it simply failed to meet the enormous expectations people had for it when it came out. It’s an album that was released by a band in turmoil and the sound of the album reflects that, with an almost desperate air to it that turned off a lot of fans. The band itself seemed to recognize this and rarely played songs from the album during its remaining years – always a telltale sign that an album was almost a universal disappointment.
After guitarist John Frusciante left the band following the enormous success of 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magic the Chili Peppers immediately excited everyone by bringing in Dave Navarro to replace him. The addition of a superstar guitar player to the lineup just ratcheted up expectations for One Hot Minute but when it was released everyone quickly realized that the magic was gone and Navarro just didn’t mesh with the rest of the group.
The Smashing Pumpkins career for the last fifteen years has been basically a succession of disappointments. With every new album its fans are promised that this time will be different only to wind up bitterly disappointed. Perhaps no album of theirs sums this up better than Machina which saw the return of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain to the band and immediately made people say that the old Pumpkins were back. And then Machina came out and something was still missing – good songs.
Following the monster hit that was Faith George Michael made the cardinal error of trying to immediately reinvent himself as a serious artist. The big problem is that, well, no one wanted George Michael: serious artist. They wanted the dude in the tight jeans who wiggled his ass while half-naked supermodels gyrated all around him. The album was a hit in his native England but died a painful death in the States and all you need to know is this: there was never a Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2 was there? No, and that’s because as it turns out, the people were prejudiced – prejudiced against crap.
Let’s get one thing straight – Kid A is a great album. The problem is that it was not the album people were expecting – or wanting – when it came out. It signaled a total departure from the band’s previous work and while it stands as a landmark album today signaling where the band was headed, at the time it just confused and alienated people – and disappointed them.
Read every single word I just wrote about Kid A and apply it to Paul’s Boutique. Today it’s a classic, but when it was released, it just confused people. They simply weren’t ready for that shit.
This was Jagger’s second solo album, and while the first found success, Primitive Cool died a painful death and probably helped to convince Jagger to quit feuding with Keith Richards and flirting with the idea of being a solo superstar. The album was such a turd that Jagger refused to perform the album outside of some limited shows in Japan because he was insecure. When one of the most charismatic performers in history doesn’t have the confidence to perform an album you know it’s got problems.
This was the mid-‘80s album that was supposed to mark Aerosmith’s comeback. After all, the album’s title conveyed the band’s newfound sobriety as well as the resolution of their egotistical infighting. With Joe Perry back in the fold, the band prepared to kick ass. The only problem? The album sucked. Whoops!
Debbie Harry had set the world on fire as the leader of Blondie, so much so that the record industry convinced her that since the whole world pretty much saw her as Blondie anyway she might as well ditch the rest of the band and go solo. The only problem was that while Harry was the public face of Blondie she most certainly was not the whole band, and while “Koo Koo” isn’t a horrible album, it simply didn’t sound like what people expected – another Blondie album. The result was an album that failed to make much of a dent in the charts – or in people’s hearts.
It’s almost certainly too soon to accurately judge Yeezus and there’s a very good chance that this will be Kanye’s Kid A or Paul’s Boutique. After all, the critics seem to love it. The only problem is that like the aforementioned albums the public at large just doesn’t seem to be ready for it. It’s too abrasive, too noisy, too experimental and, most importantly, too inaccessible for the fanbase at large and the early results have ranged from pockets of rapturous praise to even more head scratching bewilderment and disappointment.
Zooropa signaled a shift in tone for U2 as they tried their hand at a more electronic – and ironic – sound following the ultra-earnest and successful Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby albums. It was a bold move – and perhaps a necessary move – by the band, but unfortunately nobody wants ironic disposable kitsch from U2. They want the earnest anthems. And that meant that Zooropa was doomed to disappoint.
Hotly anticipated comeback by the Pumpkins #168, Zeitgeist was released to much fanfare, only to immediately disappoint when everyone realized it was just bland, monotonous noise and that whatever magic the band had once had was long gone. See you in five more years, Billy!
In the late ‘90s Nas was considered one of the most talented artists in the world, but he was also considered a bit of an enigma, someone who could absolutely annihilate his enemies in verse but someone who also too often got lazy and coasted on his rep. Nastradamus is exhibit A for most fans when it comes to evidence of Nas’ listless side and hangs over his head like a dark cloud to this day, reminding people to never let themselves get too excited about whatever Nas might give them next.
It turns out that as an encore to his string of mega-hits Eminem decided to get super lazy and start popping pills. The result was this uninspired yawn which felt like something Em put out to fulfill an obligation, which as we all know is what gets all the kids pumped up these days. Obligations! Yeah!
Adore is, well, adored by a minority of Pumpkins fans which is all well and good but therein lies the problem – only a minority actually feel this way. The majority of fans – and there were tens of millions following the band’s massive success with Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – were turned off by the mopey electronic sound of the new album, which in retrospect was the first sign that things were definitely amiss in King Billy Corgan’s kingdom.
After U2 got whatever the hell it was out of their system on Zooropa fans were excited to see what they would come back with. Instead of vintage U2 though, the band gave them Pop, which aside from a few songs was a forgettable foray into techno that worked about as well as, well, as Zooropa did. In later years, the band basically renounced the album and they rarely play songs off of it so… yeah, I’d say it qualifies as disappointing.
Madonna is famous for reinventing herself and staying one step ahead of the trends. American Life on the other hand was the first album where Madonna seemed old and out of touch, a misstep that she’s never quite recovered from. But you can’t really blame her. After all, she was too busy draining Guy Richie of his life force to concentrate on something so trivial as music.
After their smash hit debut album, Weezer released Pinkerton, a confessional departure from the formula that had worked so well on hits like Buddy Holly and left fans alienated and disappointed. In recent years, the album has received much critical acclaim and has been called by many the birthplace of Emo. To be honest, I’m not sure whether that helps it or hurts it.
After the disappointing Encore Eminem cleaned up and came back with Relapse… which immediately disappointed everyone again. Another listless effort, Eminem himself has been critical of the album in recent years, although I’m sure things would have turned out differently if Em would have dressed up in a superhero outfit with a giant fake rubber butt strapped on. That’s how good albums are made, you know.
With a fresh start on No Limit Records, people were excited to see what a re-energized Snoop could do. After all, it had been five years since his monster debut album Doggystyle and the landscape had changed, friends of his had died and when the dust cleared people were sure he’d have something huge to say. And then the record came out and… nope. Instead, it was obvious that Snoop was just relieved to be part of the No Limit crew and was content to play it ultra-safe, or as they call it in the business, ultra-boring.
This is one of those records that can be categorized as a “noble failure,” ambitious, and different, an expression of the artistic limits that nevertheless doesn’t quite work and has virtually no chance at finding acclaim with a broad audience. The record itself was created by Stevie to serve as an accompaniment to a film on, well, on plants. Yeah. It’s about as exciting as it sounds and while Stevie is very proud of an album many call the first “New Age” album, it’s still an album about plants. Come on.
Technically these are two separate records, but since they were released on the same day and both were massive disappointments, I’m including them as a double record. They were Bruce’s misguided attempt at a more poppy sound – the sound has been described as “generic pop” which… ouch – and Bruce himself admits that they didn’t work. The albums sold poorly and Bruce spent much of the ‘90s wandering in a midlife haze which kind of sounds like the set-up to one of his more typical songs.
Michael Jackson’s attempt at a comeback following years of crazy headlines only served to alienate him further from the mainstream and made him look like a crazed megalomaniac. He was also accused of anti-Semitism thanks to the lyrics, "Jew me, sue me, everybody do me, kick me, kike me, don't you black or white me." Other than that, it was a total success!
On its own Smiley Smile is a decent album but it was destined to be a disappointment following the transcendent Pet Sounds and especially since the intended follow-up Smile was hyped as the greatest album of all time during production. Unfortunately, genius songwriter Brian Wilson finally went completely around crackpot bend and lost his mind during the making of Smile and the band was forced to take the completed masterpiece “Good Vibrations” and surround it with half-finished scraps from the Smile sessions, resulting in Smiley Smile. The end result was an album that served as a bittersweet reminder of what could have been and marked the start of the band’s decline, both commercially and as a cultural force.
Tha Doggfather was Snoop’s follow up to his massive debut and unfortunately for Snoop it came out at the worst possible time. The record dropped just after his good friend Tupac died of lead poisoning, his record label, Death Row, was in disarray, and since Snoop’s producer and mentor Dr. Dre was publicly feuding with Suge Knight and Death Row it meat Snoop was largely on his own with unfamiliar producers. Naturally, the album stalled both commercially and critically and the lowest point came when Dre himself publicly crapped on the record. Ouch.
Usher’s follow-up to his monster hit Confessions was bound to disappoint at least a little. But Here I Stand managed to even disappoint relative to those expectations, as fans were “treated” to an album largely inspired by Usher’s marriage to Temeka Foster, a woman universally reviled by Usher’s fans (and his own mother.)
Yet another record that suffered as a follow up to a smash hit, Be Here Now was initially met with rave reviews, as the English press was still drunk on Britpop. It wasn’t long however before people actually listened to the album and realized that, well, that it kind of sucked. Even the band admits that the album was hastily recorded amidst feuding and general bad vibes and today it stands as a testament to an arrogant band drunk on its own image.
Meat Loaf had found most of his success with his writing partner, Jim Steinman. After a falling out, Meat Loaf was forced to go it alone, and the result was Midnight at the Lost and Found, which basically ruined his career for an entire decade. Meanwhile, Steinman sold hit songs that he had written for Meat Loaf to other artists, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to Bonnie Tyler and “Making Love” to Air Supply, both of which at one point in 1983 held the top of the charts at number one and number two respectively while Meat Loaf floundered with this turd. Ouch.
The Stone Roses’ self-titled first album was a seminal record that helped launch the Britpop movement and is considered by much of the English press as the best English album of all time. Just think about that and all the legendary English bands that came before them and let that sink in for a minute. Okay, good. Now that you’ve done that, you know why Second Coming basically never had a chance. Anything following that was bound to disappoint. It did, as the record was just sort of there, something that was released just to release something, and the band never made another album.
Back From Hell marked the end of Run-D.M.C. as a vital band at the forefront of the hip-hop movement. With bands like N.W.A. and Public Enemy blasting through societal mores, Run-D.M.C. picked the worst possible time to embrace something called “New Jack Swing” and rap about how drugs are bad. Nobody wanted to hear that shit and suddenly, almost overnight, Run-D.M.C. found themselves as has-beens.
After Roger Waters left Pink Floyd, one of his first big projects was this concept album and since he was the brains behind Floyd, naturally people were interested. Then it came out, and here’s a description of the concept, from Wikipedia:
“Radio K.A.O.S. tells the story of Billy, a 23-year-old man from Wales. He is mentally and physically disabled, confined to a wheelchair and only able to work his upper body. Though he is conceived as mentally challenged, his disability has actually made him not only a genius but also superhuman, as he also has the ability to literally hear radio waves throughout all frequencies without aid.”
No, really. Of course it bombed and Waters himself later said that he regretted making the album.
Hailed as Metallica’s big comeback album, in which they finally were getting back to their roots, St. Anger got their core fanbase all in a lather before it came out and people started asking questions, like “Is Lars playing his drums on a garbage can?” and “Why does James sound like a constipated goat?” Naturally, it did not go over well.
Made while the band was disintegrating, The Final Cut was basically a Roger Waters solo album, and as we have already seen Roger Waters solo albums are something of a debacle. This one was no different, meeting with both critical and commercial derision and serving as the last shameful act of a dying band.
Keith Moon is one of the greatest rock drummers of all time and so when people heard he was making a solo album, they were naturally curious. Instead of an album highlighting his drumming, though, Moon came out with Two Sides of the Moon, an album of cover songs sung by Moon that made people wonder if he was playing a joke on everybody. Reviews called it “the most expensive karaoke album in history” and an expression of “drunken self-indulgence.”
People don’t realize it but after the David Lee Roth/Van Halen split, Diamond Dave actually managed to hang around as a legit rock star for a few years. Sure, his albums were cheesy but people still seemed to like them. That all changed with A Little Ain’t Enough which was produced by Bob Rock aka the guy who ruined Metallica, and saw a wholesale change in the lineup of Dave’s backing band, which had musically carried him to that point. The whole thing was over after an embarrassing music video which saw Dave dancing with a bunch of midgets. The record – and Diamond Dave - quickly disappeared as the era of grunge took over.
Guns N’ Roses was the biggest band in the world and people were hungry for something, anything, new by Axl, Slash and the gang. Instead, they got this album of cover songs that served to highlight Axl’s growing megalomania and disappointed everyone. Incredibly, this stood as Guns N’ Roses final album for 15 years and the last by the original core of the band, which only added to its legacy of disappointment.
Following the monster success of The Black Album, fans were both restless and excited for Load. Old fans were hoping it would be classic Metallica while newer fans simply wanted more hits. Instead, they got this piece of crap, which nobody liked except possibly for Bob Rock. If you want to bum out any Metallica fan, just mention one word: Load. Their face will drop like you just started talking about a dead relative.
For most of the ‘90’s everything Mariah Carey touched turned into gold. It was just one hit after another. Then she decided to get bold and make Glitter, a concept album that tied into the movie of the same name. Of course both the movie and the album bombed, Mariah cracked under the pressure and went nuts and her career was never the same again.
Oh God, Metallica, why do you keep doing this to yourself? Better yet, why do fans keep expecting things to get better? Good question, and yet there they were, talking themselves into thinking that a bizarre collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica with a theme based on two plays written by the German playwright Frank Wedekind would be anything other than an utter debacle. Naturally, the album, featuring Lou Reed’s spoken word over Metallica instrumentals was hilariously awful and everyone went home feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled the football away for the millionth time.
Amid massive internal turmoil, The Clash came out with Cut the Crap in 1985, which was so horrible that it basically broke the band up for good. To this day, the album is erased from any anthologies and is never even discussed by the band’s surviving members, almost like it never even happened. For a band once dubbed “the most important band in the world” that’s probably about as epic a disappointment as you can get.
This was disappointing because, well, it was weird as hell and weird as hell doesn’t exactly play with Garth Brooks’ core audience. The album itself was conceived as Brooks playing as his alter-ego, a soul patched fool named Chris Gaines, and… come on, do I even need to go on?
Long before he was dragging Metallica into his theater of the absurd, Lou Reed was making crap like this, an album of almost nothing but impenetrable noise that some claim was a joke record made to thumb his nose at his record company. True or not, it also meant that he was thumbing his nose at his fans who just wanted a cool album from the Velvet Underground front-man. It’s almost like he was a self-indulgent heroin addict. Oh…
Speaking of albums made for dubious reasons, Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait has made people wonder for years. That’s because it’s so bad that people can only assume that he made it either as a joke or to protest his record label. It was so bad that Rolling Stone, a magazine that basically worships Dylan like a god, reviewed the album by coming right out and asking what was on everybody’s mind: “What is this shit?”
Chinese Democracy isn’t a bad album. It’s not great but it’s okay. So why is it the most disappointing album of all time? Simple. Axl Rose had fifteen years to create the best possible album he could, in the process spending more than $13 million dollars of his record label’s money – the most ever spent on an album – to get it exactly right. It was an album that became myth, and when it finally came out in 2008 the mythical Chinese Democracy was revealed to be just another pedestrian album, filled with cold guitars and weird piano ballad hit pieces, in which Axl basically yelled at old bandmates and girlfriends. It quickly died commercially and made everyone ask “We waited fifteen years for this?” Yes. Yes we did.
(Previously published on September 11, 2013.)
Other Lists You May Enjoy
50 best band frontmen in history