Rock’n’roll musicians have a habit of thinking of themselves like secular gods, but the truth is they’re not infallible. No matter how successful a band may or may not have been in the past, there’s never any guarantee their next record will live up to the heights they’ve previously scaled. Sometimes, everything that once went right just all goes wrong.
There are often extenuating circumstances, of course. Band members may leave due to death, drugs or just good old-fashioned “musical differences”, or an ambitious new direction may turn out to be more like a swerve into oncoming traffic.
Whatever the cause, the fact remains that just because an album has the name of a classic band slapped across the cover, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the album itself will be a classic.
15. Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy (2008)
Recorded at 15 different studios over a 10-year period at a cost exceeding $13 million Chinese Democracy is the most expensive rock album ever made, which just goes to show that money can’t buy you quality. Early Guns N’ Roses guitarist Tracii Guns called Axl Rose’s labour of love “over-indulgent, sterile and not that exciting”.
14. Queen + Paul Rodgers – The Cosmos Rocks (2008)
More than a decade after the death of frontman Freddie Mercury in 1991, Queen announced they would be reuniting for a tour with former Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. The collaboration eventually led to a new record, but the clunky and forgettable The Cosmos Rocks failed to come anywhere near the heights of their classic period.
13. Aerosmith – Draw The Line (1977)
Aerosmith were catapulted to rock superstardom by 1975’s Toys in the Attic and 1976’s Rocks, but by the next year the band had run off the rails. Frontman Steven Tyler was alternating between huge lines of cocaine and fistfuls of sedatives. Guitarist Joe Perry later told band biographer Stephen Davis that during the recording of the incohesive Draw The Line, “We were drug addicts dabbling in music, rather than musicians dabbling in drugs.”
12. The Doors – Other Voices (1971)
When their iconic frontman Jim Morrison died in Paris in July 1971, the remaining three members of The Doors were faced with the difficult decision of whether they should carry on without him. Just three months later they released the album the trio had been working on in his absence: the lacklustre Other Voices. “We probably shouldn’t have put it out that quick after Jim’s passing,” admitted guitarist Robby Krieger in a recent interview.
11. Van Halen – Van Halen III (1998)
Van Halen only ever released one album with Extreme singer Gary Cherone, and you only have to listen to it to find out why. It was so bad they didn’t release another record for 14 years. The most withering review came from the band’s original singer David Lee Roth, who opined that the Eddie Van Halen-sung “How Many Say I” sounded like “hot water being poured on a cat”.
10. Mötley Crüe – Generation Swine (1997)
Generation Swine was much hyped before its release because it saw the return of Vince Neil to Mötley Crüe after a five-year absence. Their original singer may have been back in the fold, but their early magic failed to reappear. In 2008, speaking to Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer, Neil said: “It was a terrible record, ‘cause there was too much experimenting.”
9. The Who – It’s Hard (1982)
The Who are one of Britain’s greatest ever rock bands, but by 1982 they were running out of steam fast. Iconic drummer Keith Moon had died four years earlier, and the remaining members were unsure whether they even still wanted to be making albums. After releasing the largely insipid It’s Hard, they wouldn’t make another record for 24 years.
8. Black Sabbath – Forbidden (1995)
When someone at Sabbath’s record label suggested to guitarist Tony Iommi that the band collaborate with rapper Ice-T, Iommi’s response was: “Who the hell is he?” Not only did Ice-T end up performing on Forbidden, but his Body Count bandmate Ernie C was brought in to produce the record. His style never suited the band, and Iommi has since called the album they made together “really crap.”
7. Kiss – Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions (1997)
In the mid-Nineties, Kiss decided that if they couldn’t beat the grunge sound of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, they may as well join them. They ludicrously tried to reinvent themselves as flannel-wearing alternative rockers, but initially ditched the idea before releasing an album. Then, after bootlegs started to circulate, they put out Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions anyway. It would have been OK if they hadn’t.
6. Led Zeppelin – Presence (1976)
The end of 1975 was a tough time for Led Zep. Singer Robert Plant was still recovering after being seriously injured in a car accident, so their tour was cancelled and studio time booked instead. Presence was put together in just a few weeks, with guitarist and producer Jimmy Page working 20 hour days to finish it and Plant singing through the pain. In hindsight, bed rest may have been a better option.
5. Genesis – Calling All Stations (1997)
By the time drummer and singer Phil Collins quit Genesis in 1996, they were down to two original members: keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist Mike Rutherford. The pair brought in Scottish singer Ray Wilson to replace Collins, but they shouldn’t have bothered. The album was widely panned, with the Chicago Tribune calling it “a formless blob of synth sounds”.
4. The Clash – Cut The Crap (1985)
The final album by punk heroes The Clash is now largely forgotten, excluded from box sets and compilations, and rightfully so. After sacking drummer Topper Headon and guitarist Mick Jones, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon decided to press on with this uninspired record. The band split for good shortly after its release, and Strummer later disowned it, perhaps wishing he had taken his own titular advice.
3. Metallica – St Anger (2003)
Sometimes, a band tinkering with the formula that made their name is just what they need to scale new heights. Other times, well, it doesn’t work out quite so well. Metallica’s bloated St Anger suffered from an overuse of a tinny snare drum sound, a complete lack of guitar solos from Kirk Hammett, and most damningly of all, a succession of vapid, overlong songs.
2. Chris Cornell – Scream (2009)
The cover of Chris Cornell’s third solo album shows the former frontman of grunge titans Soundgarden symbolically smashing a guitar. On the record itself, he ditched his guitar-led rock sound in favour of electronic pop beats executive produced by Timbaland and “aided” by Justin Timberlake. The result was certainly a scream, but not in a fun way.
1. Duran Duran – Thank You (1995)
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: A massively successful band paying tribute to their favourite artists and songs. The result was an album named the worst of all time by Q magazine in 2006. The Bob Dylan and Sly and the Family Stone covers were bad enough, but the ghastly nadir was Simon Le Bon rapping his way through Public Enemy’s urgent protest anthem “911 is a Joke”.
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