Worst albums of 2015: No one’s perfect

By Will Doolittle

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

2015 had some great musical moments, such as the return of Adele and Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece “To Pimp a Butterfly!”

The bad moments of 2015 were mostly ones that didn’t happen: Frank Ocean? Rihanna? Kanye? Nevertheless, it’s time to reflect on some of the worst albums that (dis)graced the charts this year.

  1. Matt & Kim: “New Glow”

It feels almost cruel to place this album here. Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino remain one of the most lovable couple-turned-band duos in indie-pop history and I doubt their live show will ever cease to be an exhilarating spectacle if they keep cranking out simple uptempos like these. After three years – their longest gap between records – it’s disappointing to hear how little has changed for “New Glow.” Nearly the entire record sounds like it came from the same brain space as its 2012 release, “Lightning,” which strongly resembles its 2010 release, “Sidewalks.” That’s bad news when your faux-rebellious “youth culture” appeal lost its efficacy five years ago.

“We don’t want to mature in albums,” Johnson recently said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “We want to keep things simple and fun.”

No kidding.

  1. Meghan Trainor: “Title”

I’m hesitant to write about this record because I’d rather forget Meghan Trainor exists, but I imagine the world will do that on its own in a year or so. Beyond the two nearly indistinguishable singles that preceded this album’s release, there’s little to love or even discern about “Title.” Trainor’s doo-wop aspirations and lyrical subject matter may seek to evoke the nostalgia-meets-progressiveness charm of something like “Hairspray,” but the awkward contemporary pandering (tedious sexual innuendos, three songs in a row featuring what could charitably be called “rapping”) and repetitive throwback instrumentation make the record feel relentlessly focus-grouped. With all that size shaming and female stereotyping, Trainor comes off a lot less Tracy Turnblad-like and a lot more Amber Von Tussle-eque.

  1. Ryan Adams: “1989”

Whether you’re a “Swiftie,” a die-hard Ryan Adams fan or both, it’s hard to imagine anyone genuinely loving this record. One could be forgiven for anticipating the musical detour of “1989” as a refreshing change of pace in Adams’ flailing career, but he spends nearly the entirety of his Taylor Swift tribute attempting to jam the punchiest songs in her catalogue into unfitting alt-country framework.

Did we really need a pronoun-reversing, beer-commercial-worthy version of “Wildest Dreams?” Or, a rushed, sloppy cover of “Style” that misses the point of what made the original so addictive? The announcement that Swift and Adams collaborated on new music may hint that the future holds brighter things, but for now you’re better off listening to the version of “Shake It Off” you can actually shake to.

  1. Kid Cudi: “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven”

While most artists try to best themselves with each record, Kid Cudi – who’s real name is Scott Mescudi – seems to be conducting a social experiment to see how many fans will hold on as his material becomes less and less tolerable. “Speedin’ Bullet,” the most cringe-worthy rap-to-rock transition since Lil Wayne’s “Rebirth,” could be pitched as Cudi’s “rawest” and most “untethered” record yet. Cudi made sure listeners know the whole thing was recorded without a click track, quantization or pitch-correction (I can tell, Cudder). Points for authenticity, but there’s a problem when your record’s unnecessary “Beavis and Butthead” skits feel like much-needed breaks from the music.

  1. Miley Cyrus: “Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz”

Miley Cyrus really wants you to know she smokes weed. That assertion, reaffirmed constantly across the 93-minute pop nightmare that is “Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz,” somehow pushes the limits of “trying too hard” on an album that sounds like Cyrus isn’t trying at all. Cyrus had total creative control over “Petz,” which she released independently for free online streaming. She could dig into her cosmic (read: “stoner”) aspirations, make some rough-around-the-edges (read: “garish”) music and even collaborate with some less-famous pals.

Unfortunately, psych-pop group and fellow cultural appropriation apologists, The Flaming Lips, aren’t the best people to rouse Cyrus from her maddening lack of self-awareness, and they instead seal her further into the oblivious hippie trope.

In a sense, the key smash that mercifully ends “Petz” feels like a summary of the album as a whole – a sort of musical shrug – as if to say “Whatever, I wasn’t really trying,” which would be fine if “Petz” displayed any of the palpable style, talent or authenticity Cyrus insists is inside her.  For all the messages about peace and empathy, one quickly gets the idea that “Petz” isn’t free because of Cyrus’s benevolence, but rather because no one would want to pay money for it.

William Doolittle can be reached at [email protected]