Y’know what they say about buses — you wait forever for one, and then two turn up at once. So it has proven with Justin Timberlake albums, with the key difference that the albums that have arrived this year aren’t so much buses as a couple of those gigantic stretch limos from Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” video. Both volumes of his The 20/20 Experience are contenders for the most overlong and overblown albums of the year, which is a shame, because their predecessor — 2006’s Futuresex/Lovesounds — was a well-crafted, lean pop delight. Still, for all that it’s kinda self-indulgent, the Timberlake double-act still has a ways to go to rival some of the truly overblown and self-indulgent records people have made over the years. Behold: the hall of shame.
Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience Parts 1 and 2
Between Parts 1 and 2 of this album, there’s a total of only two songs under five minutes long. Here’s the thing: Justin Timberlake’s strength is good pop songs. Good pop songs are short and sweet. They do not stretch to five-minute outros that encompass repeating the chorus umpteen times while your backing band goes and makes a cup of tea.
Oasis — Be Here Now
The gold standard for cocaine-fueled self-indulgence, Be Here Now was meant to be the final step in Oasis’ march toward world domination. Instead, it was an overblown, overlong mess. The album sessions were responsible for at least 94% of Colombia’s GDP in 1997, and this shows in the songs, which all combine bombastic instrumentation with bloated arrangements and nonsensical lyrics. The whole sorry affair reaches its nadir with “All Around the World,” which lasts for roughly the same amount of time as the Mesozoic Era and returns like a persistent venereal disease at the end of the record. At the time, Noel Gallagher said of the song, “There are three key changes towards the end. Imagine how much better ‘Hey Jude’ would have been with three key changes towards the end.” Um.
Smashing Pumpkins — Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Siamese Dream: quality from start to finish. Mellon Collie: pretty much the same amount of quality material over the course of twice the running time. If this had been one album, it could well have been Billy Corgan’s crowning glory. As it is, it stands as a testament to the fact that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Guns N’ Roses — Use Your Illusion I and II
Also on the one-good-album-bloated-into-two-mediocre-ones front, behold the most hyped record(s) of 1991. In these enlightened, post-Chinese Democracy times, we prefer to forget the fact that once upon a time, Guns N’ Roses were massive — anticipation for this record was crazy in my high school, and pretty much everyone I knew bought both records on their release. The problem? There was one record’s worth of good material there, spaced out across two discs and padded out with a whole lot of filler. Compared to the lean-and-mean Appetite for Destruction, it was a whopping big disappointment. And then someone discovered a record called Nevermind that’d come out a couple of months earlier, and everything changed.
Prince — Emancipation
Look, everyone knows that Prince hated being on Warner Bros, and everyone understands he was super excited when he finally broke free of the contract that he, um, chose to sign in the first place. But even so, a three-CD album featuring a cover of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”? Come on, dude.
The Mars Volta, generally
It was the tension between At the Drive-In’s prog-loving wing (i.e., Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez) and its hardcore wing (i.e., the other dudes) that made the band such an exciting proposition. Their music was a perfect balance of intimidating musicianship and taut, spartan song structures. Once the prog wing went out on its own, however… well, then you got impenetrable concept albums with songs called things like “Day of the Baphomets” and “Cassandra Gemini (Parts 1-8).” (Although it must be said that their fourth album The Bedlam in Goliath gave rise to one of the greatest sentences on all of Wikipedia: “Despite finding a permanent drummer and getting the band back on track, the recording and production of the album was reportedly plagued by difficulties related to a bad experience with a Ouija board purchased in a curio shop in Jerusalem.” Bummer.)
Metallica — St. Anger
There’s a theory that an album freezes its creators in time, providing a snapshot of the state the band members were in at the time they recorded it. If you’ve seen Some Kind of Monster, then, you’ll perhaps understand why this is an overblown, self-indulgent mess wherein Metallica crammed as much music onto one CD as possible, sadly neglecting to take note of the fact that it was largely utter codswallop.
The Clash — Sandinista!
I love the Clash as much as anyone, and their desire to give their fans as much material as possible was certainly laudable. But in retrospect, Sandinista! really could have done with a judicious edit.
Rick Wakeman — The Six Wives of Henry VIII
It’s really a case of pick-your-ludicrous-’70s-prog-artist here, but come on, it’s hard to go past the man who once staged a live version of his concept album about King Arthur on ice. This is a six-song concept record about, yes, the six wives of Henry VIII. It’s gloriously, utterly bonkers.
Kiss’ solo records
Four superfluous solo records, released on the same day. Game over.