Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

The worst/most overrated albums of 2008

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Thought I was done with lists, but I was asked to come up with one more by WNYC's "Soundcheck" show: the worst/most overrated albums of the year. (Why, when there are more rock critics per capita in New York than anywhere on earth, this show continually comes to me for this task, I'm not sure--I refute the notion that I am the grinchiest critical voice in the biz, and refer you to my list of the BEST 50 albums of the year elsewhere on this blog.)

In any event, here is my tally of the worst--as much for the fact that they were so relentlessly crammed down our throats as good instead of bad--ranked in no particular order because, let's face it, they are all rank enough already.

Common, "Universal Mind Control"

Britney Spears, "Circus"

The Killers, "Day & Age"

Brian Wilson, "That Lucky Old Sun"

My Morning Jacket, "Evil Urges"

The Breeders, "Mountain Battles"

Vampire Weekend, "Vampire Weekend"

R.E.M., "Accelerate"

The Raconteurs, "Consolers of the Lonely"

Janet Jackson, "Discipline"

"Souncheck" is available via podcast here.

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I remember when you guys reviewed Evil Urges on the radio show that you chose to play "Highly Suspicious", which is one of the worst songs I've ever heard. But that's like cherry-picking intelligence so's you can start a preemptive war (sorry, couldn't think of a better analogy). Clearly not their best work, but I think there are some pretty solid tracks on the album in spite of the ugly ones. Other than that, I'm disappointed to hear that Common's album is that bad (and agree with you on everything else).

I'll never understand what you have against Vampire Weekend. And say what you want about the Killers, "Day and Age" is a decent album.

I agree mostly with The Killers and Vampire Weekend talk about empty promises and way too much hype... that R.E.M. album wasn't too bad.

Jim, sometimes you make absolute sense, and sometimes, I just can't fathom your thinking. In March, you weren't especially high on Accelerate, but you still called it "the band’s most consistent and focused effort in 16 years" in you three-star review of the album. I think we, as your faithful readers, deserve how you got from there to lumping it in with records that "were so relentlessly crammed down our throats as good instead of bad."

I found your comments on the album on Soundcheck also a bit unfair. You are right in that no, this is not the same band that delivered Murmur. But hell, the band that delivered Murmur was not the same one that delivered Document, and that had all the same members. Will I go back to this before one of "their first seven albums" (or, really, eight, if you're counting Automatic for the People)? No, probably not. But that doesn't qualify Accelerate as a bad record. Disappointment? Maybe for you. Me, I'm somewhat satisfied in that Accelerate could be pointing the direction that gets the band back to doing what they do well -- writing hook-filled, tuneful songs -- without the diversions into electropop and Brian Wilson knock-offs and useless guest-spots from Q-Tip (seriously! How the hell do you waste Q-Tip??). It's not among my albums of the year, but I don't think it's a trainwreck, either. And it's certainly not fair to put on this list an album to which you gave three stars, unless you have changed your mind (which is something I would definitely be interested in hearing, something along the lines of how you changed your mind on 808s and Hearbreak).

Frankly...I think it's just plain dumb to put the Killers or REM on the same list as Britney Spears. :) Their worst musical ideas are heads and shoulders above the cream of the crap of Britney Spears.

Glad to see The Killers here, but like the privious poster said putting Spears on the list with them is a compliment to her. HA HA. That said, I never liked The Killers after Brandon made stupid comments about Brian Wilson that he only became famous for doing alot of drugs, and he dosn't want to become famous for that. How dare he talk crap about other legendary artists. Make an album better than Pet Sounds and than talk crap. It reminds me of Terrance Trent Darby when he said his debut album is better than Sgt Peppers, and he was a better writer than Dylan. He tanked after that. But people are still duped by The Killers, and with massive stories in the Rolling Stone that talk about Brandon's "genius" I have a feeling we will be hearing more from them for a long time. Who knows they may even make a great album.

One more thing, Janet needs to retire. She needs to recharge her creative juices. After masterpieces like Rhythem Nation and the Janet album she didn't have anything to say after that. Shes putting out labums just to put them out it seems like.

Jim, I am not really sure what to trust with you in regards to your R.E.M. reviews. This is the second review in a row where you have taken an R.E.M. album, given it a positive review and then found it to be either boring, unsplendid or in this case overrated and "Relentlessly crammed down your throats" even though you were doing part of the cramming.

The same thing happened with Around the Sun and I believe that you did the same thing with Monster as well when it came out.

So now this has just become a pattern.

Murmur was a watershed moment in rock and roll and it would be difficult for any band to come out with that type of album again just like it would be difficult for Kevin Shields to release Loveless Pt 2.

What is even more surprising is that you have made this constant point in addressing to the public that you would never get fooled by R.E.M. again and yet it seems you are constantly fooling yourself.

Should I write your next R.E.M. review for you?

Give it three stars.

Say its their best work in years but not as good as Automatic for the People or Murmur.

Write a paragraph about just how great the 80s were for R.E.M.

Cause I can do that job for you.

At least with Accelerate, R.E.M. admitted in the interviews that they had a problem. I think you need to come clean with your issues.

Why do I care to comment his remarks? Not sure really.
Maybe because you slam REM after the initial appraisal, come to terms with yourself.
Who cares about you anyway.
Jim DeRogatis is a very overrated person...

Anton, Middelburg, Netherlands

I see no reason to get upset with Jim. He is either a fool or someone who changes his mind to try to get a reaction out of music fans. In 1994, he said Monster was a four-star album; later, on his talk show, he claimed it was terrible. In 1996, he said New Adventures in Hi-Fi was a solid, three-star album; subsequently, he said it wasn't very good. In 2004, he gave Around the Sun three-and-a-half stars and called it one of the year's best. I even e-mailed Jim to find out what he thought of it before the album was released, and he said it was "pretty great." Earlier in the year, he claimed he didn't want to hear Around the Sun ever again because it wasn't a good effort. This year, he said Accelerate was a three-star recording that he enjoyed, though he wished it were as excellent as Murmur and Automatic for the People. Now, it is on his list of the 10 worst or most overrated albums of the year (and he refers to it and the others on the list as "rank"). R.E.M. has done a pretty solid job of restoring its credibilty with Accelerate (it has sold well worldwide, it has been a critical success, and the arena tour behind it was very well received). Jim, on the other hand, has no credibilty. I have no desire, like someone who criticized Jim earlier for his flip-flops, to read Jim's explanation. I don't care what he says. I called him on some his changes of mind before (about a decade ago). He admitted it, but he has continued to change his position on R.E.M.'s more recent albums. It's OK to have an occasional change of heart on a band or an album, but for Jim to switch opinions on four of R.E.M.'s last six studio releases is sheer comedy.

I think there are quite a few REM fans that were sold on Accelerate and later changed their mind, over-time recognizing it as a thoroughly unsatisfying record. The fact that fans continue to defend a record that was so cynically designed to immediately grab attention, but not sustain interest, is evidence that expectations are lower now than they have ever been. Congratulations to Jim for not buying into that and wanting a great band to actually deliver something that is worthy of sustained high praise.

I disagree with the post above. I see no evidence to suggest a lot of R.E.M. fans initially thought it was a great album, but then said, "Wait, no, now this is 'thoroughly unsatisfying.'" I recently looked up Accelerate on I looked through many of the reviews and didn't see in any one of the more than 200 reviews where someone backtracked and said, "You know I don't like this album anymore." The fact is, Jim himself never said it was "excellent," he said it was a tightly wound album that was pretty good, but not the band's best album. I totally agree with that. Had he just left it at that, I think many of us who love R.E.M., but know of Jim's propensity to change his mind would have thought it was a decent review. (It wasn't a particularly good review because DeRo didn't go into much depth about any of the songs.) If Jim had even hated the album, that would have been cool with me. Whether he likes it or not means nothing to me. (He has taken shots at New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Mellon Collie ... by Smashing Pumpkins, albums I love, but it doesn't in anyway bother me. It's just a differnece of opinion.) Not everybody likes it (on the amazon site, 18 people, if I remember correctly, gave the album a low score, though the vast majority enjoyed it--it averaged 4 stars out of 5 overall), nor do they have to. But as somebody said earlier, Jim has publicly talked about how he feels as though he was hoodwinked by R.E.M.'s PR campaign with some earlier albums. He has said he's not going to be tricked into liking something again and then later to later come to believe he was wrong. Well, he's done it again. His changing his mind on R.E.M.'s new records really has become a joke. I think if he had made a separate list of bad and overrated, it might have made sense to put Accelerate on there. If he had said "Accelerate is actually a decent record, but it's being treated in some quarters as one of R.E.M.'s best albums, and it's not," that would have made very understandable. But to just lump it in with a Britney Spears album and the latest disappointment by Janet Jackson, and call it "bad," contradicting his own review, without any explanation, makes Accelerate yet another installment in Jim's extensive series of his ever changing moods with R.E.M. Congratulating Jim for changing his mind again on another R.E.M CD is laughable.

And the album has sustained interest with a lot of people. I found DeRo's review by seeing someone post a link on an R.E.M. website, where the front page is covered with positive reviews from around the country (year-end placements for Accelerate: Star Tribune, Minneapolis: #5; various critics at the Denver Post: #1, #2, #10; Newsday: #4; Star Lake Tribune: #9; San Jose Mercury News: #9, to name a few). In fact, the year-end reviews were glowing enough for me to actually agree that Accelerate is too highly praised in some places (it did not make my own top 10 for 2008--it was number 22 on my list). You see, it's not necessarily that people, including me, are defending Accelerate as some great work to place next to Murmur, Reckoning, Lifes Rich Pageant, and Automatic for the People. It's a good album, but nowhere near R.E.M.'s peaks. The problem is with a critic who says he likes an album, but then has no problem calling it bad months or years later again and again and again. I have never seen Roger Ebert, to name someone else from the paper DeRo works for, call a movie good, then place it on his worst-movies-of-the-year list. And if he did, he would likely explain why he switched. As someone wrote earlier, DeRo has changed his mind on four of R.E.M.'s last six albums! How is that not hilarious?

Have you already forgotten about Scarlett Johansson's album of Tom Waits covers, Anywhere I Lay My Head, or are you just not aware of how truly awful that album is?

Excellent point, Don. Vanity projects by celebrities with monotone voices deserve a special kind of scorn. I like her acting, though.

I must take issue with your choice of REM and The Racounteurs, respectively. And while the Vampire Weekend record was indeed horrible and overrated, these criteria should've been separated for the purposes of this list. Otherwise, you lump decent--albeit hyped--albums with utter trash. In the end, this was a pointless exercise, sir.

I can't believe you ever really listened to My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges.....worst????? Come on?? Go listen to At Dawn by these guys, or better yet, go see them live, they are geniuses. They are so superior to everyone on your list....and REM??? There were so many more worst albums, you need to rewrite your article after you listen to Evil Urges more than once! (If you did at all)

Ditto Cathy Brown....Evil Urges doesn't belong anywhere near this lame list.

I haven't heard the Common album but have to say I'm shocked that a favorite of yours fell so low.

The Raconteurs, My Morning Jacket, REM and Vampire Weekend were among my favorites of the year. Not even sure how a once huge REM fan could find THAT much fault with the album.

The rest I either agree with from hearing or on principle.

You have submitted really great information.Nice post.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on December 19, 2008 1:20 PM.

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