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Velvet Underground

Career Killers: “Cyberpunk” by Billy Idol

As we’ve seen, bad concept albums can kill careers and destroy their creators in the time it takes to throw a CD into the garbage, send it to China to be used for road paving or sell it to a used record store for half-pennies on the dollar.

In Billy Idol’s case, it did that and then some. But it also set the stage for an interesting critical re-evaluation. Was 1993’s Cyberpunk, a bloated concept album about machines, technology and consumerism that also happened to be one of the first major studio releases recorded mostly on the computer, packaged with a floppy disk containing bonus content and marketed via the internet actually ahead of its time?

Yes, it was. Without question.

Content wise, Idol’s musings about technology proved to be prescient, while his recording and marketing methods established a blueprint that almost every artist of the mid-to-late 90s and early 00s would copy and emulate, right down to the bonus floppy (although CD and DVD-ROMs predictably replaced the floppy as the technology became more ubiquitous and affordable).

But that doesn’t mean the album is good or deserved to be successful. And it’s certainly no surprise that it ruined Billy Idol’s career.

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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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Album Review: “White Light” by The Corrs

White Light, the first studio album from The Corrs since 2005, is, to borrow a phrase from The Simpsons, a perfectly cromulent album. The first family of Celtic-infused pop could have used the time off to reinvent themselves and embiggen their repertoire. They could have modernized their sound. They could have experimented with different genres. Heck, they could have let violinist and background singer Sharon sing a few songs (during the last decade, both she and lead singer Andrea launched solo careers, and Sharon outsold her).

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Album Review: “Songs of Innocence” by U2 (UPDATED)

UPDATE (10/15/2014): The review has been augmented to include bonus tracks from the deluxe edition released earlier this week. 

Perhaps the biggest irony surrounding U2’s latest album, “Songs of Innocence,” is that Bono and company adopted an innovative and cutting edge distribution system to promote a back-to-basics concept album about formative experiences from their childhood days.

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