Sure, 2002 ghost ship the movie scored 16% on the tomatometer for being equal parts predictable and plotless, but horror buffs still passed out for that mass beheading scene. In the middle of Friends‘ middle ten-season tagline, the episode where Ross and Joey’s weakened energy is rekindled when they focus on the former’s failed sexual encounter at the snack he subsequently prepared (The one who could have been, part 2) is really funny.
Sometimes a slice of a (dodgy) set shines on its own. Sometimes a damn near good apple redeems the wormy diet. And sometimes, in the middle of an album that vaguely feels like karmic punishment for past life sins, we get a fantastic rock song.
Kiss – Naked City (Unmasked, 1980)
Generally considered a siesta without ambition, Unmasked marked the end of Kiss’ four-album platinum run. And critics weren’t the only ones with negative opinions of it; Gene Simmons himself called it a “shitty album” he wouldn’t want to play for his own mother. But buried in this heap you’ll find naked city, a vignette about the lost and lonely city of New York. There’s something surprisingly pretty about this powerful pop-rock track. With reggae-inspired verses, a grating bassline and Simmons’ seductive vocals, naked city falls into the seductive overlap of haunting and dance.
Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
First collection of Guns N’ Roses originals since 1991, Chinese democracy had no chance of living up to its (massive, multi-year) hype. The press wasn’t entirely negative — some critics loved its boldness and downright bizarre — but critics found it exhausting, overproduced, and lurking in the shadows of Nine Inch Nails. But it’s not without valuable material, including the title track.
Coming out of a disturbing intro cluttered with vocals, à la Pink Floyd, Chinese democracy morphs into bold soaring guitar accompanied by low-key siren howls in verses and choruses that represent Axl Rose’s voice at its most assured level.
Jack White – Again and Again (Boarding House Reach, 2018)
Some critics were courted by Repo scope‘s lurched into the modernist, lawless land of found sounds and spoken cud chew while others were enraged by the same.
With critics split on whether Jack White’s third was his funniest yet or a joyless schlepp through the fields of ego, the rock commentariat has united to roast Ice Station Zebra, in which White raps (!!) about artists borrowing from artists borrowing from artists borrowing from God. But savor it or despise it, Guesthouse also gives us Again and again and againwhere the gospel infusion, overly vocal engagement, Merry-Clayton-esque shouting and explosive choruses elevate beautifully to the dramatic mythology of the lyrics.
Judas Priest – Carefree (Turbo, 1986)
Criticized for its synth-heavy commercial hair metal tone, which departs from the band’s classic style, turbo (1986) is considered by many to be Judas Priest’s worst album. But go all the way and you’ll be entitled to Reckless.
Recalling the beloved of Judas Priest Defenders of the Faith (1984), Reckless has the good sense to sacrifice synths and put all of its attention on guitar work on its huge verses and bigger, resonant choruses. The lyrics fluctuate from empowerment to bravado, but the grandiose and uplifting melody manages to sell the message as groundbreaking.
Green Day – Lazy Bones (¡Dos!, 2012)
In 2012, Green Day released three consecutive albums in a gamble that largely failed to pay off. Having adopted a power pop style for ¡Uno!, the band switched to garage rock to Back ! to mixed results. While some critics dug into the catchiness, others saw it as a stark study – rather than a true exercise – in the album two genre, weighed down with filler and offering nothing new.
But of Back ! we get a melodic contemplation of chronic exhaustion in lazy bone. Exploring boredom and that kind of fatigue that seeps into the soul, lazy bone offers enough lyrical and vocal power to help save the experimental album.
Many fans of old were still suspicious of Metallica for deviating from their classic style when Reload came out in 1997. The band had been playing with a more alternative, traditional approach that alienated some die-hards, and then here was an experimental southern-inspired, blues-rock record that divided critics.
But the album included a few winners, including the psychedelic metal track Where the wild things are. Bassist Jason Newstead joined the writing staff of this nearly 7-minute venture to powerful effect.
Def Leppard – Bad Actress (Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, 2008)
Left to their own devices after producer Robert “Mutt” Lange left for the snowy pastures of Switzerland, Def Leppard attempted to recapture the magic of Hysteria – widely regarded as their best album – on Sparkle Lounge Songs. And he’s made his share of mistakes beyond that sticky title.
A growling Tim McGraw feels out of place nine lives. Love is a laborious ballad without much to say. But then bad actress rushes in with an electrically charged groove and fun backing vocals that match his lyrical hits perfectly.
Greta Van Fleet – When the Curtain Falls (Peaceful Army Anthem, 2018)
One of the most memorable albums of recent years, peaceful army anthem brings out the nostalgic poet in some and the grumpy asshole in others. While those who defended it based on the fact that it was (damn) funwas right, as were those who found it hard to endure its sickening lyrics, disconnected themes, and wavering tributes on facsimile.
One place where the band’s promise was impossible to ignore was When the curtain fallswhich transformed Greta Van Fleet’s cheeky, childish charm into a sassy energy that fit perfectly with the golden story of a Hollywood queen losing her crown.
Motley Crue – A Rat Like Me (Generation Swine, 1997)
Generation Pig shows a Motley Crue intermittently adapting to the growing popularity of nu-metal. Having recently undergone a change in the line-up of leaders, they have also adapted to each other.
On this album, they are guilty of experimenting for experimentation’s sake and subjecting the world to the tearful lyrics of Brandonbut they retreat from self-destruction with A rat like me. Returning to the classic Crue style, Rat is a crushing confession of being a dog, a monster, a “snotty-nosed nuclear sonic punk” and, yes, a rat that will never save the world. But by reconnecting with their seedy side, Motley Crue saves the album.
The Rolling Stones – One Shot (To the Body) (Dirty Work, 1986)
Dirty work, stuck together as Mick and Keith were creative on the outs, regularly fall last when ranking the Rolling Stones’ fruitful career. Between the distinctly 80s production techniques, which guaranteed a short lifespan, and the songwriting at a career low point, almost the entire record lands flat. But there’s an unmistakable sizzle to A blow (to the body). This song offers a snarling blues and a vulgar high energy more typical of the Stones.