10 of Rock and Roll’s Most Spectacular Crash-And-Burn Albums

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Last week the Guardian ran an interesting piece about “band collapse syndrome,” the disconcerting phenomenon whereby a band’s hitherto loyal fanbase abandons it in droves. They cited a number of UK acts whose record sales have decline precipitously of late — Glasvegas, Kaiser Chiefs, and Duffy, amongst others. This seems to be something you see more and more these days, which we guess makes sense when you consider it in the context of a general decline in album sales and a public who seem to have a shorter collective attention span than ever. But it’s not a new phenomenon — there have been some pretty spectacular crash-and-burn albums over the years. Some of these have been genuinely terrible, others hamstrung by inter-band wrangling or emotional breakdowns, and others just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve collected 10 of ’em after the jump.

Happy Mondays — Yes Please

In which Factory Records packed Britain’s most unrepentant drug hoovers off to Barbados, the crack cocaine capital of the Caribbean, to record an album. With predictably disastrous results. The band’s career (and their brains) never quite recovered — and neither did Factory, since this fiasco of a record bankrupted the label.

Mariah Carey — Glitter

As if the album wasn’t bad enough (although still not as terrible as the film that accompanied it), Glitter was released in the middle of what was apparently an ongoing meltdown on the part of its creator. And, in apparently conclusive proof that this record was cursed from the outset, it was released on September 11, 2001 — a day that, as it transpired, America had other things on its mind apart from rushing out to buy the new Mariah Carey album.

Terence Trent D’Arby — Neither Fish nor Flesh

Remember Terence Trent D’Arby? In 1987, he was arguably the biggest name in pop. His debut album, The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, sold a gazillion copies and aroused strange fluttery feelings in housewives everywhere. And then… this. Apparently the sleeve notes for Neither Fish nor Flesh went out of their way to thank the local magic mushrooms, and they must have had a vintage year, because the album absolutely mystified fans and record company alike. These days, D’Arby calls himself “Sananda Maitreya,” lives in Italy, runs an independent record label called Treehouse Pub, and recently recorded an album called Nigor Mortis. His rather eccentric website contains a treatise on this album, claiming it was a “formative influence on both what subsequently became marketed as ‘Hip Hop,’ as well as what was sold as ‘Grunge'” and also suggesting that it “literally killed Terence Trent D’Arby.” Um. At least one of these statements is true.

Chris Cornell — Scream

True story: the first time we put this album on, the whole office stopped and sat open-mouthed in horror at just how appalling it was. A record so ass-clenchingly terrible that it basically killed Cornell’s solo career, Scream was the sound of two men (viz. Cornell and Timbaland) whose moments of relevance had long since passed, collaborating on an album that rivalled Lulu for cross-genre dysfunction and unintended hilarity. These days, Soundgarden are back together and this album is rarely spoken of in polite company.

Metallica — St. Anger

Sure, you could argue that it was Load that started the slide. But then, that album still managed to shift five million copies — not a patch on Metallica‘s 15 million units, but a lot more than the (comparatively) dismal two million that St. Anger managed. More to the point, though, if Metallica’s fanbase were unconvinced by Load, they absolutely loathed St. Anger. As such, the album marked the point where Metallica completed their transition from money-spinning thrash overlords to past-their-prime Dr. Phil devotees (a process documented in excruciating detail in the all-time classic, so-amazing-you-truly-couldn’t-make-it-up documentary Some Kind of Monster).

Guns N’ Roses — Chinese Democracy

Unfortunately, the fact that this actually got released in 2008 killed the long-running music industry joke that Chinese democracy would arrive before Chinese Democracy. But in truth, this could have been an epoch-defining masterwork, and it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference — it was the 17-year wait between the Use Your Illusion albums and the release of Chinese Democracy that destroyed any possibility that Guns N’ Roses could ever regain their position as reigning global hard rock megastars.

MGMT — Congratulations

Sure, there have been plenty of bands who’ve made relatively unsuccessful follow-ups to spectacularly successful debut albums and still gone onto long and fruitful careers. It could be that MGMT prove to be another such band, but for all that Congratulations isn’t a terrible record, its sales figures (cited in the Guardian article we mentioned in the intro) are pretty startling — it sold 66,000 copies in its first week, but has sold only 11,000 in the 18 months thereafter. Eighteen months. Ouch.

Sleep — Dopesmoker

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re the A&R guy at London Records. It’s 1997. You’ve had a pretty good decade — sure, Gay Dad were a mistake, but Fine Young Cannibals and All Saints have sold well, and Ace of Base’s royalties are still rolling in. And now, you’re about to take possession of the masters from the new US band you’ve signed. They’re called Sleep. The music press love them, and they’ve just been out on a very well-received tour with Hawkwind. Everything looks good. And so, you light up a cigarette and put on the disc and discover that… what they’ve sent you is one 60-minute-long improvised noise piece. Called “Dopesmoker.” Aw, shit. The boss isn’t going to like this, is he?

Alanis Morrissette — Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie

Quite how you follow up an album that’s sold 33 million copies is a question that no one’s ever managed to answer successfully. However, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie functions as conclusive proof that the answer doesn’t involve an album of grammatically tortured songs about spiritual angst, Buddhism, and India. Or a video that involves walking naked around a city embracing bewildered strangers.

The Beach Boys — SMiLE

Poor Brian. As has been well documented over the years, trying to make SMiLE didn’t just destroy Brian Wilson’s career, it also played havoc with his mental health. After the collapse of the project in 1967, Wilson’s role in the Beach Boys diminished, and so did the band’s relevance (both commercially and artistically). Happily, he returned to the project in 2004, and the original recordings are at last being officially released this month. A happy ending, of sorts.