Coal for Christmas
Christmastime is supposed to be a season of joy, love and happiness. It's also a season to get ripped off. Executives from music companies--which derive a huge chunk of theirannual profits from yuletide purchases--know that moms, dads and otherpeople who never buy albums for themselves visit record stores aroundnow to purchase gifts for friends and young 'uns. They also realizethat these shoppers are more likely to choose discs by brand-nameperformers rather than unknown artists. Hence, music retailers aredeluged during the weeks before December 25 with an avalanche ofsuperstar releases designed to entice your average rock-and-roll know-nothing to part with a piece of his paycheck.And it works, too. At this time of the year, some of the mostsuccessful entertainers in show business put out some of the worstrecords imaginable. While a few big-name platters (such as Prince'sDiamonds and Pearls, the box-set retrospective of BarbraStreisand's career and Michael Jackson's spotty, disappointing buthardly disastrous Dangerous) have legitimate reasons for being,far too many are merely product--rehashes, repackagings or tepid newmaterial that gets over on the power of advertising, hype and stupidity. What follows is a look at the ten worst offenders, the heavilypromoted discs that will provide a listener with the least enjoymentfor the money. Virtually without exception, these items have beenissued under the names of rich people who don't need any more money,and whose greed practically drips from the covers of their CDs. So doyourself and your loved ones a favor, and don't let any of these albumsget anywhere near your Christmas tree... 10. Crosby, Stills and Nash (Atlantic) Box sets were once reserved for only the best and most importantartists; now anyone can have one. In recent months, talents as minusculeas the Carpenters and Chicago have received this deluxe treatment. Buteven these groups are deserving in comparison with Crosby, Stills andNash, a trio of burnt-out has-beens who haven't been worth payingattention to in ages. Although Crosby's performances with the Byrds,Stills' contributions to Buffalo Springfield and Nash's efforts withthe Hollies are worthy of respect, their work as a trio (and withoutNeil Young, who should have cut them off ages ago) has always beenwretched, and in recent years it's only gotten worse. Four CDs' worthof their pedantic caterwauling--priced as high as the market willbear--is enough to make you wish that the three of them would move intothe Betty Ford Clinic in perpetuity. 9. En VogueRemix to Sing (East/West) How can a new record by En Vogue, a completely fabricated quartetmade up of models-turned-vocalists who sing (or perhaps lip-sync to)the dance-music equivalent of Velveeta, be an even greater scam thanthe group's earlier recordings? Remix to Sing finds a way, byfollowing the recipe previously utilized by manufactured Kewpie dollssuch as Paula Abdul--remixing the same old shit, then reselling it tothe same collection of dullards who bought the stuff in the firstplace. Yep, the new album brings us "Hold On'' and all the rest of EnVogue's best-known treacle, done up in new sonic clothes that have allthe soul of "Ballad of the Green Berets.'' Other bands, including theexecrable C+C Music Factory, recently have taken the same tack, but EnVogue is alone at the bottom of the barrel. Even Milli Vanilli would bepreferable to this. 8. Richard MarxRush Street (Capitol)The credibility of any rocker who admits to being a buddy ofLionel Richie's has got to be suspect; Marx, who has actually writtensongs for the Ward Cleaver of rhythm and blues, proves with RushStreet that he has nothing left. Throughout the album, he presentshimself as the perfect crossover artist/marketing tool, spewing outcompletely stereotypical tunes in a variety of genres (hard rock, easylistening, pleasant pop) that he hopes will appeal to everyone--or atleast everyone white enough to view him as a dreamboat. Underneath their radio-friendly surface, his songs are about nothing but selling--appealing to the least common denominator in the most common way. Themusic he makes is a weak imitation of other styles passed off as the real thing, but Marx himself is about as real as an anatomically correctdepartment store mannequin. Nice hair, though. 7. PoisonSwallow This Live (Capitol) Live albums were among the most obnoxious staples of the Seventies--blatant regurgitations that allowed artists without enough brains orambition to actually write new songs to both fulfill their contractualobligations and make tons of dough by taping a concert they had to playanyhow. The trend waned after approximately the one-trillionth imitationof Frampton Comes Alive bit the dust, but if Swallow ThisLive is any indication, it's back with a vengeance. This amazinglymoronic two-disc set contains so many live-album cliches that it shouldbe put in a time capsule. There's an over-six-minute drum solo. There'san over-nine-minute guitar solo. There's Poison member Brett Michaelsasking the fans how they're feeling, repeating the term "busting theirasses'' about seven times and dedicating a tune to the soldiers returningfrom the Persian Gulf. And there are completely disposable versions ofhits (such as "Every Rose Has Its Thorn'') that were completelydisposable in the first place. Spread this on the ground and flowers willgrow. 6. George WinstonSummer (Windham Hill)He's already got a record called Winter, so why shouldn'tWinston, the pianist who put the "age'' in new age (by making anyone who sits through one of his albums immediately feel older) issue a disc entitled Summer just in time for snowstorms and freezingtemperatures? Well, I can think of plenty of reasons, but most of thempale in comparison with the weakness of his music. Winston's echo-ladenpiano noodlings are getting more boring with each passing year (which,given how boring they were to begin with, is something of anaccomplishment); anyone out there who can tell the difference betweenthe various seasons based on this stuff should be given a Purple Heart.Windham Hill is a relatively small label, but given the crassness atthe heart of Summer's release schedule, the company will bebattling with the big boys any minute now. 5. Paul SimonConcert in the Park (Warner Bros.)The live-album renaissance does not wholly explain this cash-inpiece of crap from Simon, who had already gotten more than enoughmileage out of his August concert in New York's Central Park throughits live airing on pay-cable. Then again, we should expect no less fromPaulie, who in 1982 reunited with Art Garfunkel just long enough for alame, big-selling live set culled from a Central Park concert that alsospawned a cable special. Heavy on material from an album (Rhythm of the Saints) that wasn't that great in the first place, this two-CDhustle adds nothing to our understanding of Simon's music and makes his latest excursions in cultural imperialism seem no less unnecessary. Asouvenir to remind people of an event they didn't attend, Concertin the Park is only good for fattening Simon's wallet and thinning outyours. 4. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double TroubleThe Sky is Crying (Epic)All right, all right, this collection of outtakes and unreleasedstudio tracks is not abysmal: Although even Vaughan fans would likelyadmit that it doesn't stack up to the discs he made when he was stillabove ground, it's thoroughly listenable. Nevertheless, buying a copy(as enough people already have to make The Sky is Crying Vaughan's second-highest charting LP yet--behind Family Style, issued immediately after his death) sends the wrong message to his record label, and the music business as a whole. If The Sky is Cryingbrings in the bucks, Epic will keep finding more and more leftovers to fill up more and more albums that will deteriorate in quality as rapidly as those featuring Jimi Hendrix (subject of two four-CD box sets this year alone). Do you really want to be confronted by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Live at a 7-Eleven in Austin, Texas (Where He Was Recorded By a Security Camera in November, 1988 When He Stopped in to Buy a Six-Pack of Dr. Pepper and Some Ho-Hos)? Then stop now, before it's too late. 3. U2Achtung Baby (Island) These humorless dolts tried to make a decent record, they reallydid, but at this point they're too mired in the muck of rock stardomand too fixated on becoming legends on par with Presley and Dylan tomanage anything better than a wallow in pretension. Beneath the loads of electronic twaddle layered on Bono's voice, Edge's guitar and anything else in sight, U2's music shows few indications of progress. Moreover, he album's lyrics--like Springsteen's Tunnel of Love, they're mostly about love, sex and relationships--consist of mock beat poetry that makes Stevie Nicks seem like Allen Ginsburg. (Sample pearl of wisdom, from "Ultraviolet'': "When I was all messed up/And I heard opera in my head/Your love was a light bulb/Hanging over my bed.'' Deep.) Throughout Achtung Baby, U2 does its best to seem avant-garde, but this disc is actually about as outre as a particularly ballsy episode of Family Ties. 2. GenesisWe Can't Dance (Atlantic) The time has come to speak the truth: Phil Collins is a baldinglittle maggot whose music has all the toughness of a bowl of tapioca.We Can't Dance may feature cover artwork that recalls the group'sPeter Gabriel era, but that's all a front--the music is just more generictripe that Collins and his fellow hitmakers (Tony Banks and Mike "andthe Mechanics'' Rutherford) hope to pawn off on saps who like to boogiedown to Michelob commercials. What makes it all the more insufferableis Collins' continuing attempt to be taken seriously by tackling topicssuch as domestic violence ("No Son of Mine'') and televangelists ("Jesus He Knows Me'') in a manner that's not quite as intellectual as anyrandom episode of Oprah. The disc will no doubt sell a gazillioncopies (and probably collect a few Grammies as well), but it's sohopelessly middlebrow that it should be sold alongside Dockers pantsand copies of the National Review. Woof. 1. HammerToo Legit to Quit (Capitol) Hammer is as big a fraud as the world of entertainment has tooffer right now, and Too Legit to Quit earns the honor of beingthe season's worst major release--without breaking a sweat. The disc'ssongs are uniformly limp, the music is danceable but dumb as a post,and the lyrics are about nothing, absolutely nothing, except Hammer's contention that he's God's gift to mankind. Like the massively idioticvideo for the album's title track (which features James Brown as astrutting Obi Wan Kenobi, more empty visual flash-and-dazzle than thelast several Star Trek movies and a faux-Michael Jackson infear of losing his glove), Too Legit to Quit is the epitome ofwaste, nonsense and foolishness. Give it only to those you hate. `Tis the season.