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reviews

Career Killers: “Calling All Stations” by Genesis

In honor of Genesis’s recently announced reunion tour, let’s take a look at the band’s most recent (and in all likelihood, final) studio album, 1997’s Calling All Stations — an epic flop that broke up the band and is considered to be the red-headed stepchild of its discography. In other words, it’s no son, it’s no son of theirs. (Sorry. That’s the last pun, I promise. That’s all.)

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Career Killers: “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya” by Boyz II Men

We’ve seen how splitting from hit-making songwriters or producers in an ill-fated bid for creative control can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how record label politics can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how failed musical makeovers in the face of changing times can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how deteriorating personal relationships can fester and kill an artist’s or band’s careers.

What happens when all of those things happen at once? You get Boyz II Men.

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Career Killers: “Turn It Upside Down” by The Spin Doctors

UPDATE (07/06/2021): Thanks to Todd in the Shadows for citing this review in his latest episode of Trainwreckords.

We may remember the 90s as a turbulent period in music, full of angsty grunge and alternative bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, introspective singer-songwriters like Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan, gangsta rappers like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Biggie and 2Pac and superstars going through ironic and/or cynical stages like U2 and R.E.M.

But not everything was doom-and-gloom. Divas like Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Shania Twain sold boatloads of records and dominated the pop and album charts. The 90s also brought us the extremely non-ironic and safe-for-mass-consumption Hootie and the Blowfish, who became a cultural phenomenon when they released Cracked Rear View, one of the best-selling debut albums of all time. The decade also saw 80s stars like Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Sting reach even greater heights. Even the hip hop world found room for decidedly non-gangsta acts like The Fugees, PM Dawn, Will Smith, Arrested Development and OutKast. And of course, by the end of the decade, the biggest-selling artists were bubblegum acts and boybands like NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.

Then there were the Spin Doctors.

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Jack Bauer’s Greatest Hits (UPDATED)

Originally published in 2010 prior to the end of 24‘s original broadcast run. Updated to include 2014’s 24: Live Another Day, as well as some additional content.

“Nice work, Jack. Have you noticed that there’s always a body count wherever you go?” — George Mason

“He said you were a born killer. Is that true?” — Jonathan Wallace

During his time on 24, Jack Bauer killed a lot of people. Main characters. Supporting characters. Featured stars. Unnamed Extras. You name it, Jack has probably killed it. As such, it was very difficult to narrow down the list of Jack’s greatest moments. And let’s face it. He also had plenty of badass moments where he didn’t kill anyone – instead relying on his wit, charm, resourcefulness, and powers of persuasion.

So, in honor of one of my favorite shows, I give you “Jack Bauer’s Greatest Hits” (A/K/A “The Moments that Made Amnesty International Cringe”).

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Career Killers: “Yes Please!” by The Happy Mondays

When it comes to movies, there are box office bombs and then there’s Heaven’s Gate.

The 1980 western epic went massively over-budget thanks to a disastrous and well-publicized troubled production and received infamously bad reviews upon release. The film ended up being such a box office bomb that it single-handedly killed director Michael Cimino’s Hollywood career and star Kris Kristofferson’s potential as a leading man (one particularly brutal review from Vincent Canby of The New York Times wondered if Cimino had made a deal with the devil to produce his last movie, Oscar-winning classic The Deer Hunter, and now the bill had come due).

And that was just the beginning. According to the documentary Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven’s Gate, the movie may have also killed off United Artists, the studio that produced it. Shortly after writing off the film’s entire $44 million budget (equivalent to nearly $140 million in today’s money), UA was sold to MGM and ceased being an independent studio. The movie may have even killed the era of the all-powerful director, as runaway disasters like Heaven’s Gate, Apocalypse Now, At Long Last Love and others caused studios to step in and start asserting control.

By those standards, Yes Please! by the Happy Mondays is the Heaven’s Gate of albums.

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Career Killers: “Paula” by Robin Thicke

I wrote a review for Robin Thicke’s Paula when it first came out in 2014. I decided to revisit it for several reasons. 1) I’m lazy, 2) It was obvious, at the time, that this record would tank his career and 3) I see him every week as a judge on The Masked Singer and I can’t decide whether being on a hit show means that his career has recovered from this debacle of an album or if it’s confirmation that his musical career is over and that he’ll just be a reality show judge from here on out. In other words, did his album about one Paula (Patton) have the effect of turning him into another Paula (Abdul)?

In retrospect, “Blurred Lines” wasn’t the start of something great for Robin Thicke. It was the beginning of the end. And Paula ended up being the nail in the coffin.

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Career Killers: “Soul Dancing” by Taylor Dayne

It’s easy to forget, but at one point, Taylor Dayne was one of the biggest pop stars in the world.

The original Tay-Tay (you know, unless you count John Taylor, Mick Taylor, Roger Taylor of Queen, Roger Taylor of Duran Duran, or to pop James Taylor) was a juggernaut from the moment she burst onto the scene in 1987, starting her career with nine consecutive Billboard Top 20 hits. In fact, each of her first seven singles hit the Top 10, including “Love Will Lead You Back,” which went to #1. She also charted well in Canada, Australia and the U.K., while several of her singles were big hits on the Billboard Dance charts. With her deep, soulful voice and dynamic range, she could seamlessly excel at a wide range of songs, including pop, R&B and ballads. In doing so, she amassed a large and devoted fan base — one that continues to support her to this day.

As the 90s got underway, it was clear that Taylor Dayne was a hit machine and pop star. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether she was an artist. Like her label-mate, Whitney Houston, Dayne’s first two albums were made up of songs from outside writers and handpicked by Arista boss Clive Davis for maximum commercial impact. For her third album, 1993’s Soul Dancing, Dayne was determined to prove she had the songwriting chops to go with her vocal and chart topping prowess.

It turns out that she did not.

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Career Killers: “Mötley Crüe”

For most of the 1980s and early 90s, Mötley Crüe were riding high — both literally and figuratively. The band recorded and toured relentlessly, earning them a devoted fan base and a string of multi-platinum albums, hit singles and popular videos.

Off stage, they engaged in enough debauchery that their VH1 Behind the Music episode almost singlehandedly turned that series into a hit while setting the stage for their best-selling tell-all autobiography, The Dirt (adapted into a Netflix movie in 2019). Nothing could stop them. Not lead singer Vince Neil getting into an accident while drunk and killing his passenger, Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley. Not bassist and primary songwriter Nikki Sixx OD-ing on heroin, being pronounced dead, revived with adrenaline, and then OD-ing again. Not Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee alleging raping a woman at a party (Sixx later claimed he may have embellished or made up the story during a low point in his life). Not guitarist Mick Mars suffering from a debilitating form of arthritis for most of his adult life. Everything they touched seemed to turn to gold (or more accurately, platinum) and if it didn’t, it was probably because they wanted to snort, drink or screw it. In a word, they were bulletproof.

In 1992, that all came crashing down. The band was coming off the dual successes of 1989’s Dr. Feelgood and 1991’s greatest hits compilation Decade of Decadence and were hard at work on their next album when Neil quit/was fired. The band promptly hired John Corabi, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of L.A. band The Scream and set about working on what would become 1994’s self titled album. With the music industry changing around them, the newly inspired Crüe updated their sound and recorded a bunch of songs that were heavier, both lyrically and musically, than anything they had ever done before. They were confident that Mötley Crüe was their best album ever and would open up a new chapter in the band’s already successful history.

And then they learned a valuable lesson about what happens when you mess with the formula.

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Career Killers: “Do You Know” by Jessica Simpson

When MTV’s Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica went off the air in 2005, Jessica Simpson had the world in the palm of her hands.

The addictive show became a pop culture phenomenon, thanks in large part to Simpson’s ditzy but endearing persona. Whether it was not knowing that “Chicken of the Sea” was a metaphor, thinking Buffalo wings actually came from buffaloes or blaming her inability to hit a golf ball on her Mae West-like features, Simpson’s simple but good-natured demeanor – to say nothing of her covergirl looks – allowed her to become a bona fide superstar while launching legions of reality show wannabes and copycats. Her then-current album, In This Skin, sold 5 million copies worldwide making it her best-selling record of all time, and she landed plum acting roles like Daisy Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard (2005). After divorcing Nick Lachey less than a year after the end of their reality show, there was nothing holding Simpson back anymore. She seemed poised to become a true double-threat, joining the likes of J-Lo, Beyonce and Cher as an A-lister on both the silver screen and airwaves.

By 2008, however, she was hanging by a thread. Thanks to poor performances and modest box office returns, Simpson’s Hollywood career was deader than David Caruso’s. Her music career, meanwhile, was also on life support – threatening to go the way of her show, marriage and sister post-SNL. So she did what many artists have tried to do: reinvent herself in order to stay relevant.

With the release of her first (and to date, only) country album, 2008’s Do You Know, she was certainly able to reinvent herself. Unfortunately, it also killed off her music career, forcing her to reinvent herself yet again — this time as an ultimately successful fashion maven.

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Career Killers: “Hot Space” by Queen

Plenty of artists like to experiment with new sounds and different genres. Sometimes it’ll be a temporary or one-time thing, like when KISS tried disco (I’m sorry, KISSco), the Rolling Stones went psychedelic or Garth Brooks kind-of went pop.

Other times, it’ll be a catalyst for long-term re-invention. Chicago had a surprise hit with “If You Leave Me Now” and they continued writing songs of that ilk, transitioning from a jazz-and-big-band-influenced rock group into an adult contemporary band. The Bee Gees resurrected their careers and eventually became a full-fledged dance band after recording “Jive Talkin’.” Less successful bands like The Goo Goo Dolls, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth embraced their black-sheep hits and permanently changed directions in order to continue churning out similar-sounding singles and albums.

We’ll never know if Hot Space was meant as a permanent shift for Queen because it flopped so hard that the band promptly retreated back to more familiar territory – but not before tanking their popularity in America.

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Career Killers: “Liz Phair”

Plenty of artists with cult followings go mainstream and become popular.

R.E.M. went from highly-regarded college band to one of the biggest and most acclaimed groups in the world. Metallica slowly and steadily built up a passionate fan base that kept growing in size and intensity until they exploded in popularity in the early 90s. Genesis established itself as a highly inventive artistic and progressive rock band before transitioning to FM superstardom.

In fact, these days, many “indie” acts are actually mainstream and do all sorts of things that artists like Fugazi and Neil Young would have considered “selling out.” Allowing your music to be used in commercials, TV shows and movies? Check. Praising pop stars and being influenced by their hit songs? Check. Working with hit-making producers and songwriters? Check and check.

Yet when indie queen Liz Phair did all those things in 2003, she provoked a furious, almost personal backlash that tanked her career. Maybe she was simply a few years too early. Or maybe she was never going to succeed because the same factors that led to her rise helped keep her down.

Or maybe it was because her self-titled 2003 album wasn’t as good as it could have been.

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Career Killers: “Schizophrenic” by J.C. Chasez

When it comes to transitioning from a boyband to a successful solo career, the rule of Highlander is typically in effect: There can be only one.

In other words, boybands rarely produce multiple solo stars. For instance, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen both launched solo careers after the first Take That breakup, but neither of them made much of an impact – at least not compared to their fired colleague, Robbie Williams, who became one of the biggest pop stars of the 00’s. Nick Lachey and Jeff Timmons of 98 Degrees both released solo albums, but whereas the former had one big hit and one theme song that became fairly ubiquitous, I had to look up Wikipedia to remember the latter. Meanwhile, it might be too early to write One Direction’s epitaph, but it looks like Harry Styles is going to be the only real star to emerge from that group (sorry Zayn).

A couple of bands have bucked this rule. New Edition spawned multiple successful solo careers, but even then, only one member had more than one successful album. And of course, Michael wasn’t the only Jackson to become a solo star. Nevertheless, he so completely eclipsed his brothers, that he might as well have been — something that, apparently, stuck in Jermaine’s craw despite the fact that he managed a couple of gold albums and a handful of Top Ten singles.

So J.C. Chasez was already behind the 8-ball when he embarked on his solo career following NSYNC’s breakup. Bandmate Justin Timberlake had beaten him to the punch, releasing the popular and well-regarded Justified in 2002. That album, which would go on to be certified triple-platinum by the RIAA, was filled with infectious pop/R&B hits, funky beats and ear worms that allowed Timberlake to immediately establish himself as a solo superstar.

But if anyone could rise to the occasion, it was Chasez. The best singer in NSYNC and, possibly, out of all of the late 90’s/early 00’s boybands (Timberlake even admitted as much), Chasez had charisma, good looks, dancing chops and a proven track record. All he needed was to link up with the right producers and songwriters the way Timberlake had when he worked with the Neptunes and Timbaland for Justified and Chasez would be well-placed to break the Highlander curse.

Unfortunately for him, he recorded Schizophrenic.

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Career Killers: “On Every Street” by Dire Straits

There are two types of “one man bands” in rock music. There are literal examples like Nine Inch Nails, World Party or Five For Fighting, which each consist of one permanent member and are, essentially, solo vehicles in all but name. Foo Fighters started out as a one man band before Dave Grohl decided to make it into an actual group.

Then there are the bands where one member does, virtually, all of the work. John Fogerty was the primary songwriter, lead singer and lead guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival. Same with Kurt Cobain for Nirvana, Billy Corgan for Smashing Pumpkins and Syd Barrett for Pink Floyd. Meanwhile, The Cure’s Robert Smith sings, writes, plays guitar, bass, keyboards and other instruments, produces the albums, and decides who will stand with him on stage. Usually what happens is either the other members of the band get fed up and quit or the person in charge realizes he or she doesn’t need the others and goes solo.

For Dire Straits, both of those things happened.

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Career Killers: “Synchronicity” by The Police

Most of the time, an album that kills off a career is either a critical failure, a commercial flop, or both. Rarely is it a smashing success that captures an artist or band at their absolute peak. And it’s almost never an album that establishes an act as the biggest in the world – putting them at the level of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or even The Beatles. After all, that kind of an album usually prolongs rather than shortens careers.

That makes Synchronicity by The Police the rare example of an album that both made, and destroyed, a band.

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Career Killers: “18 ‘Til I Die” by Bryan Adams

Plenty of musicians have successfully reinvented themselves – arguably, all great artists have to do it in order to sustain long careers and remain relevant. Radiohead went from Nirvana wannabes to fearless experimentalists. The Beastie Boys stopped doing hardcore punk and became world-famous rappers. U2 changed up their sound in the 1990s, successfully going from fading force to culturally relevant powerhouse while perfecting a template that many others continue to follow. Heck, Madonna has made it into an art form to the point where successful reinvention has become part of her overall brand.

But what about artists that fight reinvention, either because they’re determined to stick to their guns and continue doing what they had always done (and been quite successful at) or because they aren’t ready to become the thing that they know they will have to?

Bryan Adams, I’m looking in your direction.

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