The 20 Worst Albums of 2012 #12-9: Robbie Williams, No Doubt, Matchbox Twenty, Temper Trap
Published on December 27th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
There have been some great albums this year – why, check out our Top 100 of 2012 list – but of course there have also been some sodding awful ones. Here are the twenty worst of ’em (not including those to have wafted from S***n C***ll’s arsehole, because frankly that doesn’t even constitute music)…
12. The Temper Trap – The Temper Trap
The Australian Coldplay? A marginally rockier Savage Garden? A less memorable Killers? Now there’s a hat-trick of unenviable reference points.
Is this emo? Whatever it is, it’s big, washy, overly earnest and relentlessly, infuriatingly tonal, seemingly allergic to any kind of imaginative songwriting and as such indistinguishable from their legions of equally dull soundalikes.
At least the nadir arrives early – “London’s Burning” is not the Clash song it might think it is, aligning itself rather closer to Hard-Fi (and it’s four!) with its snatches of news reports and lyrics such as “Now who’s the one to blame when the children go insane? / Dancing on their broken dreams”. Look out, everyone – The Temper Trap have looked at the world around them and they don’t like what they see! What will they denounce next?
As if this clunky dredging up of last summer’s riots wasn’t bad enough to finish the album there and then, we are then exposed to the facepalm emoting of “Trembling Hands”, where Dougy Mandagi intones “I’m on my own / Throw me a line” as, somewhere, JD and Elliot gaze longingly out of rain-spattered windows. Then there’s the downright offensive indulgence of rhetorical questions inflicted by “Where Do We Go From Here” (no question mark), where music as a whole, everyone and everything to do with it, does well to survive choking on its own vomit at the line “how do I know what’s real?”. As the title of another track puts it, “This Isn’t Happiness”.
“Rabbit Hole” features a Bee Gees falsetto that straddles the line between endearing and painful, while “I’m Gonna Wait” makes nice use of fluttery violin and unsettling sound effects, but all in all The Temper Trap are about as necessary as any further encouragement from Rocksucker to stay clear of this one.
11. Robbie Williams – Take the Crown
Take the piss, more like. Okay, that was an open goal; let’s focus on the music itself, starting with lead single “Candy”, which we reviewed in the following terms amidst one of those singles round-up thingamyjigs we like to do each week…
Good news, everyone: everything that’s ever been annoying about Robbie Williams has been condensed into one three-minute horror show, and just in time for Halloween! The “hurricane at the back of her throat” line is unlikely to be the spontaneous cash-in we’d love to accuse him of [postscript: this came out just after Hurricane Sandy] – and what a week for cash-ins it would have been if this had gone toe-to-toe with Paloma Faith’s [postscript: desperately unofficial, unlicensed Bond theme] – but “Candy” manages to appall in many other inventive ways, such as basing the verse vocal on “Ring a Ring O’Roses”. Genius, evil genius.
In the video (see below), a halo-topped Williams punches an old woman in the face, and this strikes as an analogy for his whole career: cheeky chappy grin masking dire artistic abuse. He had a couple of good songs when he had Guy Chambers (and indeed John Barry) writing them for him.
Oh look, Gary Barlow’s on the writing credits, along with some chap named Terje Olsen. Pats on the back all round, chaps.
How does the rest of the album fare? Well, imagine Pet Shop Boys minus the wit and charm. “They said it was leaving me, the magic was leaving me” he declares presumably defiantly on “Be a Boy”, and we’d love to know more about this magic of which he speaks. Is the ability to wilfully shed all artistic credibility a kind of magic? It would certainly make for an unusual superpower. “Shit on the Radio”, quite aside from ripping off about fourteen hundred well-known songs simultaneously, is so hackneyed of premise that you might start to fantasise about said shit on the radio being Williams’s splattered brains after you’d pounded him repeatedly with it. Or maybe the title is an instruction, we don’t know.
Why is it that everyone who writes a song these days about how everything on the radio is rubbish, contributes directly to that sorry state of affairs? Take the Crown is actually far from being the direst album of the year, but in a way that makes it even worse; if Williams must be rubbish, he should at least go all out for it as he did on Rudebox. This is just bland, adult-contemporary, FM radio guff-pop. Come on, man; either get Chambers back on board, or bloody well be the worst you can be! Spectacularly awful is, after all, far more memorable. There’s a track titled “Not Like the Others”, yet Williams has never sounded more like the others. It’s most unlikely that he sees this.
Robbie Williams: take that crown and shove it, spiky bits first. Then go jump on a jewel-encrusted sceptre.
10. No Doubt – Push and Shove
Anyone who was a fan of this lot in their heyday – even anyone who remembers “Don’t Speak” or “Just a Girl” blaring out the radio every five minutes – might wonder just how disingenuous a gesture it could be that Push and Shove has been released under the No Doubt moniker.
Basically, the overwhelming majority of these tracks sound more like the product of Gwen Stefani and a crack team of producers than any kind of band effort. Take opener and single “Settle Down”: there are bits of guitar, but they feel token amidst the prevailing air of production line pop sheen. It’s vivacious, even charmingly skanking, but it’s hard not to feel cheated, especially once the quality levels drop, which is immediately afterwards.
“Looking Hot” does good by its title, prizing style over substance and even replicating “Settle Down” by throwing in a dubby breakdown, while the title track features a dancehall guest rap, a ravey sort of carnival feel, and such lyrical gems as “Take a ride with me / If that’s alright / We’ll shine so bright”. Clearly the genius behind that can also be credited for “We’re so lucky / And just like Venus in the morning sun, you and me got gravity” from “Gravity”.
By now the tracks are passing with so little incident that they might as well be one long nasal warble over an identikit ‘bitter-sweet’ pop progression; “What happened to us?” asks “Undercover”, and this line could conceivably have been penned by her (erstwhile?) band mates, ditto “Don’t leave me behind” from obligatory power-ballad “Undone”.
In mitigation, “Undone” does sound like a band, and so does the ska-ish “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”-borrowing-from “Sparkle”, but curtain-closer “Dreaming the Same Dream” – an absolute shoe-in for television sport coverage, it’s only fair to warn you – inadvertently reflects with its title the predominant sameness that blights Push and Shove.
Overall, this is flat, uninspired and quite possibly deceitful. Did someone say “reunion tour cash-in”?
(Caution: this album features the lyric “baby, you’re my heaven” delivered apparently in all seriousness.)
9. Matchbox Twenty – North
North is quite the misnomer: it implies an upwards trajectory, which is more than a little disingenuous seeing as how it must have emerged from the bowels of hell.
The Orlando, Florida douche-rockers sound worse than ever, leading Rocksucker to wonder whether or not this constitutes craft-honing. At the very least, “Parade” confirms from the off that Matchbox Twenty are yet to reverse the creativity bypass they presumably underwent at birth; on the plus side, though, it should make them lots of lovely money and present plenty of syncing opportunities for the ‘sad’, Ross-Rachel-y bits of inane American sitcoms.
North is comprised almost entirely of overproduced, bloated bilge with a rotten corporate core, so middle-of-the-road that we can only hope it ends up as roadkill (did someone say “dead quail”?). “She’s So Mean” could only be described as Busted done by actual adults, and how disturbing is that? “She’s a hardcore, candystore, give-me-some-more girl” we are informed, and if she’s as mean as the title says then we can only assume it’s because she’s heard the song. It’s just horrendous, especially when Rob Thomas’s warbly over-emoting spills over into a faintly Nickelback-esque growl-lite.
Sound good? Well, the delights keep on coming, folks! Or, rather, the nauseating clichés do. “Let me hold you, bay-BEH!” implores “Overjoyed” before going on to promise “I will tell you secrets nobody knows”. Our guess is that these secrets include the following:
1) He’s a robot.
2) He’s an evil robot.
3) He comes from another dimension, one where actual proper music reduces its inhabitants to steaming sludge puddles, like the Wicked Witch of the West, or Christopher Lloyd in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
4) He will, given half a chance, eat your soul and crap it out the other end in the form of rubbish lyrics.
This is the soundtrack of a truly oppressed civilisation, so much so that, with hindsight, George Orwell needn’t have gone to all the trouble of writing Nineteen Eighty-Four: he could have just recorded this album. You can almost hear Bill Hicks saying, “Here you go, America: listen to your Matchbox Twenty, watch your stories, go to bed, start all over again tomorrow.” Yes, not everything needs to strive to be ‘high art’, but if the chumps responsible for this – from the band through to the shameless record execs – could at least meet us halfway then we could yet fulfill Hicks’s envisioned stage of evolution where we’re exploring space together in harmony for eternity.
It’d take a while, sure, but you’ve got to do what little you can: put that wrapper in a bin, turn that light off, don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth, don’t pollute the world with vomitous fast-food music. Seriously, we need to start looking after our planet, starting with the musical straightjacketing of Matchbox Twenty.
We needn’t continue but we’ve hit a groove now so we will. “Put Your Hands Up” genuinely made this writer laugh out loud; with its synth flourishes and the line “We’re gonna burn the place down”, why, they probably think this is edgy. Imagine! To be fair, Thomas does reflect the listener’s thoughts on “Our Song” when he starts intoning “Oh no!”, while “I don’t know if someone else could handle me / I don’t know what I’m supposed to be” brings to mind more sarcastic retorts than Rocksucker knows what to do with.
“English Town” is funnily enough one of the less offensive songs here, although its brooding ambience is of course tarnished by Thomas’s endlessly objectionable voice. “Radio” is perhaps the finest display of the band’s own lack of self-awareness to date: “Come on now people, it’s all we got” and “We know it’s right, we heard it on the radio” unwittingly sum up this album’s disorder-suppressing properties far more concisely than our own attempts above, so hats off for that at least. Oh, and for the swinging brass section.
“This is the way you want it to be” declares “The Way” presumptuously. No, it’s not. Not any more. Let’s rise against, people; rise against! “I don’t really wanna give up”. Please do.
The line “I just want to make you go away” is included in the track “Like Sugar”. Enough said.