It’s a misnomer to call this column the worst albums of 2017.
As in any year, there were plenty of positively wretched releases, but they mostly were by obscure acts whose albums thankfully came and went without notice. There’s no need to pile on about albums that were basically invisible in the first place. So this column is really about the most disappointing albums of 2017. I focused on acts with at least some name recognition. They weren’t necessarily horrible albums (although the albums by Missio and Emmure qualify). They just weren’t up to the standards expected from these acts, or they were misguided or flawed in some significant way. Here are 10 albums that opened my ears in the wrong ways.
Missio: “Loner” — What’s wrong with this electro-pop album? This limited space means I can only scratch the surface, but here are a few issues. The songs are numbingly dull and elementary. To say the lyrics are vapid is being kind. One shining example is “KDV,” which is built around the line “Killing Darth Vader with my mother-****ing kick drum.” Nevermind that there probably isn’t even a real kick drum on the song. (This is an electronic album, remember?) Somehow the song “Middle Fingers” gave Missio a top 10 alternative-rock hit off of “Loner.” No wonder people say commercial radio is dying.
Linkin Park: “One More Light” — What became Linkin Park’s final album with the tragic death of singer Chester Bennington had to generate a collective “What the…?!!” from the band’s fans. Suddenly the group known for crunching rock mixed on occasion with electronics and raps morphed into a generic Top 40 pop and rap-pop band, complete with those stupid electronic chipmunk vocal effects. When Bennington sings “You’ve turned into someone else” on the song “Talking to Myself,” one had to wonder if Linkin Park recognized the irony.
The Chainsmokers: “Memories … Do Not Open” — Coming off its 2016 hit single “Closer,” this duo faced big expectations. Unfortunately, most of “Memories … Do Not Open” is filled with forgettable gauzy EDM-flavored mid-tempo pop songs and ballads. Consider the bar lowered for album No. 2.
Chris Brown: “Heartbreak on a Full Moon” — With some artists, a two-CD album (45 tracks at that) would be considered ambitious or bold. In Brown’s case, it’s overkill. He simply doesn’t offer enough musical range to make it work, sticking instead to similar mid-tempo tunes that just blend together, topped off by more than a few clunky lyrics.
Pitbull: “Climate Change” — I’ve always seen Pitbull as being a cartoonish rapper in the vein of MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice. “Climate Change” doesn’t change that opinion. Like his other albums, nearly every song centers on Pitbull being a worldly, smooth-romancing, life-of-the-party kind of a guy. Musically, most of the album is just as tired. Rather than bringing the heat, “Climate Change” is just another warmed-over Pitbull album.
Katy Perry: “Witness” — The pop superstar seems to be having an identity crisis on “Witness,” for the most part trading rousing pop anthems for a more subdued sound dressed in the synthy electronic gloss that’s seemingly required for Top 40 airplay today. Lyrically, Perry tries to get deeper. Several songs venture into self-examination, but they don’t reveal that much about Perry or her experiences. To her credit, Perry is trying to make an artistic leap forward here, but “Witness” lacks the clarity, cohesion and melodic impact needed for her to stick the landing.
Emmure: “Look at Yourself” — Perhaps I shouldn’t include metal in this column, because any year produces some stupidly bad albums. But Emmure, a group that has often been called a worse version of Limp Bizkit, earns a spot with this mess of noise, screamed vocals mixed with wooden raps and nothing that remotely resembles songcraft.
Imagine Dragons: “Evolve” — “Radioactive,” gave Imagine Dragons a blockbuster single off of the band’s debut album, “Night Visions.” It also provided a musical blueprint the band continues to follow. All but one song on “Evolve” trades off soaring sing-along-friendly choruses against low-key verses bathed in synthesizers and gently percolating tempos. This soft-to-epic dynamic may suit pop radio, but it becomes way too formulaic too fast. As a result, “Evolve” — even more than the first two Imagine Dragons albums — feels commercially calculated rather than musically inspired.
Haim: “Something to Tell You” — Four years ago, Haim’s debut album, “Days Are Gone,” had critics gushing. Some of the trio’s charms remain on “Something to Tell You” — namely the easy-on-the-ears vocals and sunny Fleetwood Maci-ish ‘70s pop melodies. But Haim makes the major misstep of trying to modernize their sound by injecting electronic production into the music. For the most part, these touches only detract from the songs, muddying the retro sound that helped set Haim apart in the first place. Add in some lackluster tunes, and “Something to Tell You” falls short of the expectations created by “Days Are Gone.”
Arcade Fire: “Everything Now” — Arcade Fire’s previous albums were all contenders for my album of the year honors. But “Everything Now” was never in the running. The problem is the electronic disco-beat-infused direction of “Everything Now.” The sound is limiting and at times comes off as harsh, monochromatic and even jarring. I usually applaud musical experimentation, but this sonic makeover backfires.