5 Truly Great Albums I Truly Don’t Like
As a matter of personal taste . . .
Whenever I don’t like music everyone is raving about, I assume I must be wrong. So I give it an unending series of reappraisals in the hope that at some point it’ll click. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Here are five albums that never have. At best they do nothing for me, and at worst I can’t stand them.
Only Built for Cuban Linx… by Raekwon (Loud / RCA, 1995)
Two years after the Wu-Tang Clan released its first album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in1993, group affiliate Raekwon dropped his first solo album, Only Built for Cuban Linx…. Reviewers praised the rapper’s lyrics and RZA’s production, fans consider it one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, and Rolling Stone currently has it at 62 on its list of 100 Best Albums of the ’90s, calling it the “the apotheosis of the Wu-Tang dynasty.”
As a matter of personal taste, however, this does little for me. Lyrics about money, drugs and violence. Expletive-laden skits. Mid-tempo beats and brief samples on endless loop. It’s what a lot of fans love — what a lot of the genre is about, frankly— but I tend to prefer hip-hop that’s upbeat enough to make you want to dance, more socially conscious even if it isn’t Cornel West & BMWMB, and has more melodic elements, although Blue Raspberry does bring some relief on “Rainy Dayz.” It doesn’t help that I don’t care for Raekwon’s voice. In fact, every album on this list has vocals that, for me, break rather than make.
Nonetheless, I do enjoy some work by Wu-Tang Clan affiliates. Ghostface Killah’s solo work from Supreme Clientele (2000) forward always pleases, with Twelve Reasons to Die I and II (2013, 2015) being personal favorites. I’ll write a deep dive on those whenever I get around to buying and reading the comics.
Synchronicity by The Police (A&M, 1983)
I have a distinct memory of singing along to “Every Breath You Take” on the radio when I was 9. I was in the back seat of my parents’ car and we were just leaving a local ice cream stand. I probably had an orange and vanilla twist. The creepy, stalky lyrics meant nothing to me. I just liked the song. As a matter of personal taste, however, I can stand very little from The Police or Sting.
And that includes this album. Revisiting it for this post, I find I actually like the opening track “Synchronicity I,” especially that funky xylophonish synth intro crashed by a rock beat, and intriguing moments do spangle the album, but “Mother” is ugly — and artsy, I suppose. What makes bands think anyone wants to hear such tracks is beyond me. “King of Pain” was a huge hit, but it taught me to fear the words “Words & Music by Sting,” so when my first roommate at college wouldn’t stop playing Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993), I should’ve known we wouldn’t last past first semester.
Synchronicity, however, is more than an album. It’s also a concept I tend to believe in. Synchronicity is psychiatrist Carl Jung’s word for how the psyche views causally unrelated phenomena as meaningfully related. According to Jung, such irrational belief can be healthy. I love a good concept and the album’s lyrics and cover art refer to it, so maybe this album has something for me after all.
Meat Is Murder by The Smiths (Sire / Rough Trade, 1985)
I love the cover on this one. The photo is a still from the documentary In the Year of the Pig directed by Emile de Antonio. It shows a soldier from the Vietnam War, but the message on his helmet, “Make Love Not War,” has been changed to “Meat Is Murder.” Given the politics at play in the image, the album’s messageful lyrics and Morrissey’s controversial public persona, this would seem to offer much of interest, but . . .
As a matter of personal taste, I get about halfway through the first track when I need to have a reckoning with myself: “Are you sure you want to do this?” I mean, “The Headmaster Ritual” starts pleasantly enough, with the instrumentalists laying down some engaging post-punk. But jangly guitars, bopping bass and a driving rock beat can’t help that chorus, as splitting as a migraine, with all that monotonous warbling by Morrissey. It’s beyond my ken and it’s a good indication of the rest of the album, although the plaintive guitar in “How Soon Is Now?” makes that one a track I actually enjoy.
I do wish I could like the rest of the album, though, and maybe I should. A BBC review by Daryl Easlea has particular praise for how Johnny Marr’s guitarwork draws on multiple styles, which is the very post-punk instrumentalism I mentioned above. It may be hard for me to get past the vocals, but I will give it further chances.
The Clash by The Clash (CBS, 1977)
To many, the Clash is synonymous with punk. The band’s self-titled came out when punk was new, and it changed the course of music history, impressing critics and inspiring musicians. Reviewers loved and still love its adrenaline and politics, dubbing it revolutionary in sound and substance, and it sits at 377 on Universe Publishing’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
But as a matter of personal taste, I simply don’t understand. This is punk? I guess so . . . but it falls somewhere in that vast gray area between the aggression of anarcho and hardcore punk and the radio-friendliness of pop punk, sounding more like plain rock to me, and not scoring any points in that area either because of how sloppy it all sounds, especially the vocals. As far as I’m concerned, the Clash, and the Ramones for that matter, are good for adding some fun to a movie or TV soundtrack, but that’s about all. When it comes to punk, I either want the big dog that bites guests or the little pooch that rolls over for a belly rub. But this? I don’t know what this is.
Spinning it again, however, I do hear elements that I can imagine liking in the context of another band’s music. In his encomium to the Clash in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists, The Edge writes, “You can still hear [the Clash] in Green Day and No Doubt, Nirvana and the Pixies, certainly U2.” I like all those bands more, so while the Clash isn’t for me, its legacy certainly is.
Close to the Edge by Yes (Atlantic, 1972)
In my schooldays, whenever anyone heard I liked Rush, they would immediately say, “Oh, then you must like Yes, too!” That’s when the space around me would fill up with manga sound effects for the grinding of my teeth. No, it does not mean I also like Yes.
I have tried, though. I’ve given Close to the Edge, Fragile (1971) and Relayer (1974) — the last of which has cover art I never tire of gazing at — multiple spins over the years, but I just can’t grok it. Like King Crimson’s Starless and the Bible Black (1974), Close to the Edge opens with a freakout that throws off listeners and sounds like nothing else, which is good, but also like Starless, it moves on to the kind of prog dissipation that either fascinates or irritates, depending on your personal taste. In vocals, melody and composition, some inner incompatibility always has me rushing to lift the needle off this record. And fast.
Yet many fans and critics love Close to the Edge. It consistently sits at the top of Yes album rankings, usually flanked by Fragile, and while readers have awarded Rush, Pink Floyd and Genesis eight of the top ten slots in a Rolling Stone poll of the best prog rock albums of the seventies, nestled in there are Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick (1972) and . . . Close to the Edge. This listener may not hear it, but no band can please everyone.
I can’t bring myself to insist that fans of these albums are wrong. After all, music is subjective and someday even I may come around on these releases. So, by all means, comment below or on Twitter with why I’m wrong (or right) about these albums and share with me those truly great albums that you truly don’t like.