One thing we're good at as music fans is anticipation. The thirst for new music from our faves keeps us in a perpetual state of excitement. Who's releasing a new single? Who's reuniting? Who's reissuing which beloved classic? When our desire's fulfilled it's a thrilling rush and a rewarding validation of the time and emotional energy expended on loving our favorite artists. But there's also times an artist fails to match the grade of quality we've come over the years to expect out of them, when the desire to stick to (or in extreme cases dramatically change) a formula leads to a record that isn't up to par. Below are some examples of our favorite artists dropping highly anticipated records we don't love, instances where the hype we felt as fans wasn't met by a record deserving of our time and attention.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
If we had to guess, we’d say the hours of planning and execution that went into creating a marketing campaign for Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories outnumbered the hours that went into actually making it by about a thousand. The large-scale, global launch was so meticulous that there’s a six-page timeline of the five-year build-up of it on Billboard, including teasers on Saturday Night Live, billboards, a multi-part documentary, remixes, and a seemingly unending onslaught of press. And what did we end up getting? A 74-minute album that essentially netted one popular song. Specifically, it boiled down to a single seven-word hook. That hardly seems like a worthwhile payoff for an album eight years in the making from the French duo. The album was generally critically well-received and sold well, so Daft Punk and their fans got what they wanted, but Jesus, was it worth it for the rest of the world to see those goddamn helmets in our dreams for a whole year?
Jay Z – Kingdom Come
If you saw the signs, you knew that Kingdom Come wasn't going to be good. It followed Collision Course, an album that tried its hardest to make rap-rock cool to varying degrees of success. Kingdom Come was billed at the next Jay Z album after The Black Album, despite the fact that it came two albums and three years after his "retirement" project. With all that time, you would think that Jay Z would be able to craft something that felt a little more fleshed out, but Kingdom Come felt like the cutting room floor options that remained from Jay's American Gangster sessions. Jay Z may be very, very good at rapping, but he's not great at experimenting. A few years after this album, Kanye would rap on "Big Brother" that Jay stole his idea for a song with Coldplay, referencing "Beach Chair" from Kingdom Come. The real story behind what happened is unknown, but what is known is that "Beach Chair" remains one of the worst songs made by the best musicians in the world today. I think there's a plaque for that somewhere.
Kingdom Come didn't just not live up to the hype of being a Jay Z album, it didn't live up to the hype that it would be a good album. It wasn't too far ahead of its time to be appreciated when it came out, but it also wasn't unprogressive. It lived in some murky twilight where Jay Z tried his hardest and still came up short, a fact he himself admitted when he ranked all of his albums years later and put Kingdom Come last. Jay Z's best work is done when he commits himself to the project, and Kingdom Come felt like something he'd work on whenever he had time to visit the rec room of his house.
Morbid Angel – IIlud Divinum Insanus
Before this album came out, news of an upcoming Morbid Angel used to be a tiding of joy, an exciting prospect, or at the very least, a mildly interesting development in any given musical calendar year. The Florida death metal legends weren't necessarily at the top of their game in 2001, but they were certainly doing better than a lot of other bands who'd formed back in the late 80s. When they announced a new label and a new album—the "I" album to follow 2003's Heretic—blogs buzzed and fans's ears perked up. Heretic had been solid if unremarkable, and nearly a decade had passed since its release. We were hungry. We were ready. And we were LET THE FUCK DOWN.
Once IIlud Divinum Insanus was released, everything changed. Now, the idea of a new Morbid Angel album sends chills down the spine of anyone who was raised up on those magical first four albums. Now, the thought of the remnants of this once-proud death metal institution waltzing into a studio and hitting Record strikes fear into the heart of anyone who fears watching them further tarnish their battered reputation. That aural crap heap of an album didn't totally ruin Morbid Angel—nothing could do that—but it ruined them just enough to hurt us.
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter IV
Yeah, I know it sold one million in its first week but just shut up for a second. Lil Wayne's post-Tha Carter III run cemented his legacy in music history as one of the hardest and most ingenious rapper of that generation, and Tha Carter IV was supposed to be the cherry on top of it. Unfortunately, Wayne was usurped by his own success: In addition to being on roughly 80 percent of every piece of music that was released after Tha Carter III, Wayne also collected artists for his label Young Money at a rapid pace, most importantly securing Nicki Minaj and Drake to the label. The signing of Drake marked the figurative end for Wayne, as he was Shang Tsung'd of his most vital skill set. Wayne begat a lot of the music we listen to now, but none more important than Drake. When Wayne released "How to Love" as the second single off Tha Carter IV, it felt as though something was off. No longer was Wayne making trends, but following them.
The lead single "6 Foot 7 Foot" was an essentially Xerox of "A Milli," the hit that broke Wayne into the conversation with his last Carter installment. To copy yourself may not be forward-thinking, but it certainly isn't regressing, which is what "How To Love" felt like when compared to an artist like Drake. The rest of the album suffered from the same navel-gazing to the past few years, and Wayne was never truly able to be cutting edge since that album. Without Wayne, there would be no Future, Young Thug, or Fetty Wap. And although speaking about Lil Wayne's greatness in the past tense still feels blasphemous, Tha Carter IV turned out to be the nail in the coffin.
Justin Bieber – Believe
Back before Bieber's current bid to stake himself out as an adult pop star, there was his other bid to stake himself out as an adult pop star in 2012. The build up to Believe featured Bieber bloodying himself up and burnishing his grown dude credentials in interviews with publications like Complex and GQ, and lead single "Boyfriend" had the slick patter that said "one day very soon I'll be the next Justin Timberlake." Bugatti Biebz was seemingly just a few suits and pairs of designer sneakers away from raking in that Bruno Mars adult contemporary money. And then the album itself, well, didn't really grow Bieber up at all. It's not that it didn't evolve his sound—he embraced the over-the-top dubstep pop crossover idea of the moment hard—nor was it the case that he didn't land hits, nor was it uniformly bad ("Thought of You" was an overlooked banger, although the less that's said about the Ludacris EDM collaboration "All Around the World" the better). But Believe failed to shift the needle much on Bieber's image much at all, and the ensuing years saw him double down on his status as pop culture punchline. If it had truly managed to carve out a distinct aesthetic for Bieber instead of chasing the EDM trend of the moment, it could have saved the Beliebers years of stress. But then we might not have ever gotten such a strong comeback run this year, so who knows. Either way, Believe basically failed to instill the belief it was supposed to and will likely age as a footnote in Bieber's career.
The Strokes – Angles
Angles, which released in 2011, was The Strokes' first album after declaring an indefinite hiatus in 2007. Four years isn't that long, but after this band kind of dominated the early 00s, there was an aching for them to return as soon as possible. Unfortunately, due to drama within the band and Julian Casablancas maybe or maybe not recording his vocals separate from the band's studio sessions, listening to this record kind of felt like watching Michael Jordan play for the Wizards. He shows flashes of greatness, but… uh… yeah. This record was actually received mostly positive by music critics, but that's because most music critics at the time couldn't forget how much they loved wearing leather in New York City in the early 2000s. All that said, "Gratisfaction" still slaps.
Drake – Thank Me Later
Let’s be honesssst, 2009 to 2010 was the crowning ceremony for the man known as Drake. From feature stealing verses on “Every Girl” and “Forever,” to landing a number two Billboard spot off mixtape single “Best I Ever Had”, Drake’s buzz was at a fever pitch and anticipation for his debut Thank Me Later couldn’t be louder. But as history has shown us hype rarely matches expectations and Mr. Graham’s first outing was very… meh.
Tracks like “Over” sound laughably bad especially when you realize how painfully awkward it is to sing “What am I doing? Oh yeah that’s right I’m doing me” out loud and the rest doesn’t fair much better. “Karaoke.” Forgettable. “The Resistance.” Atrocious. “Fancy”… okay, that late-half beat switch is still one of the best things he’s ever done but everything else fails on arrival. Nevertheless, the album would go on to sell over a million copies and secure Drake’s position in the sun for another day. But some six years later, most of the songs off TML have floated into obscurity with little love lost while Drake has since moved on to make better things including the superior follow-up Take Care. Which goes to show that the key to musical longevity and success is delivering a really mediocre debut so everything after sounds better.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist
The early 2000s were weird times for The Smashing Pumpkins. After releasing their techno-bummer two part album Machina I and II, the band broke up. Billy Corgan went on to form the supergroup Zwan, as well as a solo record titled TheFutureEmbrace. Both records bring up very mixed opinions from people (Zwan is a secret classic), causing a lot of question about what would be his next move. So in 2005, Billy “resurrected” the Pumpkins (with only Jimmy Chamberlin the drummer briefly coming back) via that big newspaper spread he took out. Then in 2007, Zeitgeist, their first record since reforming was released, and holy shit. Ex-90s alterna-rockers collectively gasped a bit.
The most obvious problem with the record is how completely wretched the production is. The rest of the album’s biggest claim to fame is that its song “Doomsday Clock” was featured as the soundtrack in a scene during the first Transformers film. A bunch of giant, stupid-looking robots fighting a huge battle and being hyper-aggressive and loud is an apt metaphor for the approach to the record. It loses all of the subtlety and emotion every other Pumpkins record held, instead seeming bent on recreating “Zero,” and failing. Later records would show Billy moving back up, but this one is still something no one should have to listen to.
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
In 2013, Arcade Fire was basking in the glow of being arguably the biggest band in the world. Their third album, The Suburbs, earned near-unanimous acclaim from critics and fans, paving the way to a year of chart tops, robust sales, and accolades that culminated in a dark horse Grammy win for Album of the Year in 2011. Having effectively conquered indie rock, and at the crest of EDM’s mainstream ascension, taking on dance music seemed like a natural fit for their next album.
Word soon broke that the likes of James Murphy and David Bowie would be involved in the project, prompting indie aficionados and poptimists to collectively shwing at the prospect of this funky white Voltron producing a Suburbs-caliber answer to both life in the digital age and the oontz infiltrating pop. The hype was only magnified thanks to a slate of guerrilla marketing tactics and secret small venue shows (billed as “The Reflektors”) in the months leading up to the album’s release.
Instead, Reflektor elicited a collective “Huh.” from listeners. The record wasn’t bad, per se, and it did well with many critics, but it ultimately rang hollow in the wake of all the buzz and pageantry—more like a phase than an evolution. The afrobeat rhythms felt grafted on; the band struggled to swing; tracks like “Normal Person” and “We Exist” felt a just little precious in their Big Messages (to say nothing of the face-palming casting of Andrew Garfield as a trans person in the latter’s video). If unapologetic sincerity is what got Arcade Fire this far, the stylistic appropriation of Reflektornever shook the feel of sporting a suit that doesn’t quite fit, and not in the David Byrne way they were very clearly going for.
Pixies – Indie Cindy
The Pixies are so beloved and iconic that just about any news out of their camp is enough to create a natural amount of excitement. But a new album? Their first one since 1991’s Trompe le Monde? That’s something to get legitimately excited about. It would have to be a cautious optimism, though. After all, longtime bassist Kim Deal was absent from this process, and the album only amounted to a collection of lackluster EPs released from 2013 to 2014. Granted, albums take time to gain “classic” status, but it’s pretty safe to assume that at no point in the future will anyone look back at Indie Cindy with the same reverence to the Pixies’ canon as Surfer Rosa or Doolittle. This is not Pixies album we will leave our children, and we were right to question the hype.
Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy
Ten years and $13 million dollars to make. Oof.