Every music lover has been there – in front of the television or a set of speakers, listening for the first time to the work of a critically revered artist whose songs are supposed to change the way you look at the world…only to come away wondering what all the hype was about. For the iconoclastic among us, these moments are opportunities to prove what independent thinkers we are; for everyone else – a group that often appears to include virtually every name-brand music critic on the planet – they're opportunities to turn off your ears, nod your head, and smile. What kind of self-respecting music writer doesn't love the music of Bruce Springsteen? U2? Elvis Costello? A total hack, right?
Maybe. Or maybe we tend to forget that one of the most wonderful things about art is the utterly objective way we respond to it. One establishment's treasure can be one lonely listener's source of constant befuddlement, consternation or outright rage – and with that in mind, your Bullz-Eye Music staff put its heads together and drew up a list of all the bands and artists we're supposed to love…but don't. Each of the writers who contributed to this piece is speaking solely for himself, and you're sure to disagree with some of the names mentioned here – and, of course, that's sort of the point. But enough of our introductory babble – let's break down some critical idols!
Me listening to the Doors is like Homer Simpson flipping through a "Far Side" page-a-day calendar: I don't get it, I don't get it, I…don't get it. I'll concede that I like "Touch Me" and "People Are Strange" (though I prefer Echo & the Bunnymen's version of the latter), and they did indeed create a sound like no other band. But was that because no other band could successfully replicate their sound, or because no other band wanted to? And don't even think about describing their sound as "timeless"; you'll be hard pressed to find music as trapped in time as these peyote-fueled dirges, and no one summed up the life and legacy of Jim Morrison – whose death was as brilliant a career move as you'll ever see – better than Denis Leary: "I'm drunk, I'm nobody. I'm drunk, I'm famous. I'm drunk, I'm fucking dead." Oh, you need to be "on" something in order to appreciate the Doors, people tell me, and my impulse response to that is, "What side of this argument are you on?" The Beatles may have been high as a kite when they made their final records, but they didn't demand that the listener take drugs as well in order to appreciate them. The Doors, on the other hand, were not as accommodating. Drugs were not the real problem, though; their songs were simply underwritten and overperformed (Ray Manzarek, we're looking at you). "Father, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to…" Fuck you, Jim Morrison. – David Medsker
There are a lot of reasons the Boss doesn't do it for me: his whole "working class hero" empathic shtick; the anthemic quality of most his work (fist-pumping sing-alongs just ain't my thing, I guess); his mostly narcissistic videos, which were almost impossible to escape as an '80s MTV brat (which I was). Perhaps Jello Biafra put it best when he referred to Bruce Springsteen as "Bob Dylan for jocks." But I can sum up what I dislike about the majority of the Boss in one word: Glockenspiel. Bruce and his gifted, now-deceased keyboardist Danny Federici (or was it Roy Bittan?) discovered the insipid chiming bells (for those who flunked music appreciation, think "metal xylophone") on the Born to Run album, which featured the Glock on no fewer than three of its eight tracks (including the title track). Since then, the instrument – usually doubled by another instrument (guitar, horns, piano) in the mix – has virtually dominated his music. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but every time I hear a Springsteen song queue up, I wait for the Glockenspiel moment, and I'm never disappointed. It's downright distracting! When he ditches the instrument entirely, he produces some interesting stuff. Nebraska, for instance. The Ghost of Tom Joad. The Seeger Sessions. The Arcade Fire makes ample use of the Glockenspiel, too. As does Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And their music doesn't really do it for me, either. Maybe I'm a Glockenspielaphobe. – Ed Murray
In my life as a musician and someone who works in the music industry, I've come across top-level music executives and journalists who start foaming at the mouth at the mention of certain artists. Beck is one of those artists, and one who critics use the word "groundbreaking" to describe. Yeah. If I took a sledgehammer to some concrete and took a shit in the hole in the ground I'd created, that would be groundbreaking too, wouldn't it? And yes, I'm saying that Beck's music, at least to my ears, is shit. I didn't like him in his Odelay days, and his latest, Modern Guilt, is even more annoying and hard to listen to. Listen to it 10 or 20 or 100 times, and see if you can come away humming any of it. Look, some music is more artsy than melodic; I get that. But I don't get why Beck makes people foam at the mouth, and why that foam trickles down from the industry execs down to the fans. – Mike Farley
If you're 14 and discovering pot, Pink Floyd's a must. Hell, Dark Side of the Moon is practically a gateway drug in and of itself. If you're out of high school and still into 'em, you've got a problem. It's still okay to like anything and everything associated with Syd Barrett-era Floyd, though (which pretty much limits you to Piper at the Gates of Dawn, though I'll include Saucerful of Secrets since it's so Barrett-inspired anyway). That guy was a mad genius of the highest order, and even some of his zanier solo ramblings hold up to closer scrutiny than anything after and including The Wall. Post-Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd stunk it up for about five years, then released a few landmark, often amazing and totally bombastic prog-rock, er, masterpieces (DSotM, Wish You Were Here, Animals), jumped the shark with the Roger Waters-dominated The Wall, and has stunk it up ever since. They were always average musicians (though David Gilmour's got some guitar chops, I'll give you that) and subpar songwriters at best (go ahead: try and hum the melodies of more than one or two of their songs). But overall, their approach to music is decidedly non-musical; the bulk of their work feels like it was conceived mathematically or something…which, considering that three of 'em (Waters, Nick Mason, Rick Wright) were architecture students, should come as no surprise. And Pink Floyd, even in the Barrett years, has always been more of a multimedia experience than a musical one. Strip away the lights, the special effects and the drugs, and there's really no there there. – Ed Murray
He's ambitious, I can give him that much – and I have, on a few scattered occasions ("Alison," "Veronica," "God Give Me Strength") enjoyed his recordings. Heck, thanks to his cameo appearance on "That's How You Got Killed Before," from 1990's The New Orleans Album, I owe him my thanks for leading me to the music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. But overall, try as I might (and I've tried mightily), I have next to no use for the albums of Elvis Costello. There's a class of rock songwriters who generally tend to be better off leaving their work in the more capable hands of other vocalists, and I think Costello belongs at its head – not because he's a worse singer than, say, Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, but because he doesn't have the sense to stay within his limits and play to his limited vocal strengths. From a certain point of view, it's hard not to admire that kind of chutzpah – but when you're listening to Costello's collaboration with Allen Toussaint and suffering through track after track of Costello vocals while knowing that a perfectly wonderful soul singer was sitting right there at the piano while they were being recorded, it's just as hard not to want to muzzle the guy. – Jeff Giles
Coldplay is a band that has frequently been compared to U2 and even Radiohead, but such comparisons are beyond this writer. Coldplay's lightweight fare makes U2 sound like Black Sabbath, and they should never again be mentioned in the same sentence as Radiohead. It must be the heavy use of delay and reverb on the guitars, along with singer Chris Martin's socially conscious stance on issues like fair trade and globalization. Martin and company are to be commended on the latter, and certainly Martin gets props for his marriage to Hollywood neo-goddess Gwyneth Paltrow (though that union is on rocky ground at press time) – but most of the band's songs are so wimpy that it's just mindboggling that they've become so huge. I guess the ladies swoon for Martin's sensitive vibe, but the band's music sure could use a kick in the pants. Rolling Stone published some recent comments from Martin about the band's live show, where he said something that they're not quite Pearl Jam yet, but are "getting there." I haven't actually seen Coldplay in concert, but this strikes me as a ridiculous case of way too much adoration going to Martin's head. These guys are light years from being comparable to Pearl Jam, one of the greatest and most intense live bands of the past 20 years. Dream on, Mr. Martin. – Greg M. Schwartz
"Quick, hum a Pearl Jam song. Wait, what the hell was that? That was just a bunch of notes strung together at random. Come on, try again. Jesus, that's even worse than the first one. Is that the vocal melody or the guitar riff? I honestly couldn't tell. Are you sure that wasn't from some Stravinsky piece? He wrote dark, dissonant stuff like that." That, right there, is my core problem with Pearl Jam – where's the hook? Eddie Vedder has one of the most unique voices in rock – fifty million copycats and counting – yet he fills his songs with the most tuneless, unmemorable melodies ever recorded. He's good friends with Neil Finn, one of the sharpest tunesmiths of his or any other generation, but appears to have learned absolutely nothing from Finn about how to frame a song with a simple, catchy vocal. The music backing Vedder's aimless vocals doesn't fare much better; several of their songs strike me as pieces from unfinished songs stitched together into a Frankensong. The band sells millions of records – few people wave the Pearl Jam flag higher than our editor-in-chief – so there is clearly something to this band, but I'll be damned it I can hear it. – David Medsker
He's the co-founder of Saddle Creek Records, a label whose output has not been entirely without merit, so it isn't like I wish he'd never been born – but as a musician, Oberst is something like the Jim Morrison of the 21st century, a musician so colossally overrated that you can't even listen to his music without either getting caught up in the hype or choking on it. I'm squarely in the latter camp, and I say this as a guy who really wanted to like Bright Eyes the first time he listened to one of the "band's" albums; in the early years of this century, the idea of a scrawny, roots-obsessed songwriter bringing the masses to Nebraska was immensely appealing. Not as appealing: the insufferably pompous artistic mind that comes up with song titles like "A Scale, a Mirror and Those Indifferent Clocks" and album titles like Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. (Conor, Fiona Apple called. She'd like her ego back.) But all that would be incidental if Oberst could actually, you know, sing, except he can't – not even by the limited standards of the era that has given us Modest Mouse, the Hold Steady, and the Decemberists – and his songs are duller than a steak knife in a prison cafeteria. I've tried repeatedly to "get" Oberst's work, but each time, I come away further convinced that his music is an elaborate prank hatched by the editors of Pitchfork. – Jeff Giles
Bono just needs to shut up already. Well, he's needed to shut up as far as I can remember, but these days, the guy just can't get over the amazing smell of his own ass. And people really seem to think he's something special. Why? Because the dolt masterminded a scheme to take a band that everyone thought took itself too seriously and turned it into a self-serious parody of itself, then turned around and flaunted it, acting like goofballs while the big B dressed up as the Fly and Mephisto? This guy's cool because the band he tours with gives one huge messy blowjob of a show that at one point featured a whole bunch of TVs that picked up any channel in existence? Truly mind-blowing, that TV idea. Oh, and that getting stuck in the lemon thing? Even better. All the band's songs have the same boring, patented Edge guitar and echo shit going on while Bono does his best Jim Borrison routine, only he's not drunk or high on illicit substances. No, he's high on his own ego. Politicians can't get enough of him, and other musicians bow down to him. Why? He's a goofball. Please, don't tell your kids this is what they graduate to after the Jonas Brothers. They're better off listening to them than hearing one note of "With or Without You" or the excruciating "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Just go away already, Bono. I can rest at night knowing I never gave you one cent. – Jason Thompson
The Hold Steady
It was November of 2006. I'd been hearing the hype machine about these guys for weeks, but had not yet heard them. Well, as my wife and I were in Hollywood for a conference, we were lucky enough to make it into the "Jimmy Kimmel Show" to be part of the studio audience. The Hold Steady happened to be the live band that night, and Jimmy was hyping them throughout the show like they were the second coming of every other overhyped band in the world. When the band took the stage, I had to piss like a racehorse's racehorse, but security would not let me back into the part of the theater where the bathrooms were until the band was done playing their five or six songs. So I held it, and as I held it and it became clear to me that the Hold Steady was just another band that was all hype and no substance, I got angry and we left. You know, calling them crappy isn't really fair, because the musicians and the songs are not horrible. But singer Craig Finn's voice, which sounds like Bruce Springsteen with a Twinkie stuffed in his mouth, is incredibly grating and makes this band not worth listening to. – Mike Farley
The Beastie Boys
I got off to a bad start with the Beastie Boys. When Licensed to Ill was all the rage, I was prohibited from owning it by my parents, due to that ugly "parental advisory" logo on the album cover. Meanwhile, all the other kids on the school bus (especially the tough guys) knew all the words to nearly every song on the album. And Paul's Boutique should have done more for me than it did, being that it was slightly more of an "art" record than the frat-rap of Licensed… and I guess that says it all right there. I was never a frat boy, and while the attitude projected on that first album was fun and all, even the Beasties themselves eventually grew up and distanced themselves from all that silly stuff. Kind of. Almost. I guess they never became serious enough for me, not enough for me to ever pay much credence to their "free Tibet" posturing, anyway. "So Whatcha Want" was cool. "Sabotage" was actually way awesome in its day. I even managed to see them perform live on two separate occasions – Lollapalooza 1994 (I was one of many crowdsurfing during their set) and the infamous "Field Day" festival concert outside of New York City in 2003. But I never once felt enough love to actually plop down some cash for one of their albums, and I don't feel like I'm missing anything. – Michael Fortes
Oh, my stagnating friends living life like it's a dirty French novel set somewhere south of Greenwich Village, probably in some smelly side alley connecting to the Port Authority or the Bowery, littered with Quarter Pounder wrappers and soiled syringes. I was telling my friend Alan, whose wife ran off with a Portuguese baker who had more money, less charm, and made excellent hash brownies: My records are a lot better when the listening's drowned in Dewar's chased with some fine opium smoke. While the people I sing about are all the same downtrodden cardboard cutouts of New York City street people, it makes no difference that I haven't come up with anything new in 30 years. Because I will forever live off the ass fumes of the Velvet Underground being Andy Warhol's pet band. That kinda cred can net you some real good coin. In the time it takes you to read this, four dozen more college freshman art punks will have discovered VU and downloaded the records from iTunes. The Internet's where the white light and white heat is now, baby.
In the Velvet Underground, the sum total of my artistic innovation was some great riffs and beautiful, muddy, off-kilter tunings that launched a million power-pop and punk bands. I sang about the same non-compelling characters back in those days, too, but the band was tight and the melodies were catchy. You could even put up with Nico's tortured warblings, the band was so good. After we broke up, there wasn't much left to sing about 'cept the street people. I showed I could rock now and again. Play the long intro to "Sweet Jane" and tell me I got no chops, try it! Anyone with half a pulse will declare you a jackass. But the only thing propping up me and my urban-Dylan act, anymore, are the dimwitted press-release believers, the critics who push my every new album like it's Kool-Aid laced with Columbian and give me all the rocker-emeritus love my bank accounts deserve. They don't really get it, but they're afraid to admit it. Amen, as my painter friend Donald likes to say, "Ain't that America, home of the free." Now excuse me while I hit the Deutschebank ATM – gotta get me some more distressed leather and dopey patrolman's mirrored shades so you can't see me laughing behind 'em. Ha-ha, ha-hahhh. – Mojo Flucke, Ph.D.
Nine Inch Nails
I probably never would have even given Trent Reznor and company much of a passing thought had they not been brought to my attention by a really sweet girl in one of my high school classes (who just happened to be endowed with a generous bosom). The packaging of Broken was as much of a draw as the music, what with its multiple fold-out CD case and the little 3" single that came with the original release. It was an EP, too – just the right length for Trent's noisy blasts of untethered industrial angst. I liked it all right, for a little while, and even parts of The Downward Spiral were admittedly kind of cool (especially "Hurt" – it's arguably a canonized classic now). But a little Trent goes a long, long way. I have often tried to subscribe to the idea that he's some sort of genius. But I'm not buying it. A true genius won't subject his audience to 90 minutes of temple-pounding, unreasonably angry industrial rock without giving any sort of dynamic reprieve outside of "Hurt." That's exactly how I felt the one time I witnessed a live NIN concert (in 2005, only because Queens of the Stone Age were opening), and I don't see my feelings changing anytime soon. – Michael Fortes
In theory, anyway, Oasis would seem to possess all the right elements to ensure ongoing devotion. The Gallagher brothers' obvious adoration for the Beatles and other Brit rock forebears exuded a powerful sense of Anglo affirmation. Even their sibling squabbles emulated an element essential to rock credibility – namely, the feisty, irascible sense of insurgency so critical in keeping edge intact.
That's all well and good, but in truth, the only thing more obnoxious than egotistical rock stars are unapologetically egotistical rock stars, and given their pompous pronouncements about their own self-worth, the Gallaghers have precious little to justify their posturing. The fact that the band itself is in a constant state of flux, with members regularly leaving the fold, provides the ultimate testament to the Gallagher's self-indulgence. So too, aside from "Wonderwall" and "Live Forever," their only semi-memorable hits, yours truly is hard-pressed to name any other Oasis song even worthy of a mention. In 15 years of recording, only their first two albums – the ambiguously titled Definitely Maybe and its successor (What's the Story) Morning Glory? – provide worthy inclusions to their catalogue, and each is over a decade old. Likewise, the ridiculously presumptuous Familiar to Millions ranks as one of the worst live discs ever recorded, further testament to their lack of proficiency. The band's latest, Dig out Your Soul, promised a return to form, but true to form, it's as ordinary as everything else these wanker wannabes have ever offered. – Lee Zimmerman
The world at large got its introduction to Mr. Waits when he appeared on "Saturday Night Live" in 1977, performing "Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)," from Nighthawks at the Diner. All I needed, however, was the 10-second clip from the performance that appeared during the "SNL" 15th anniversary special – my very first introduction to his music – to know that I'd probably never be able to tolerate Tom's gravel-rattling-down-an-aluminum-gutter vocal style. Indeed, I'm pretty sure I actually said, "What the fuck was that?" And not in a good way. For years, I was convinced there was something wrong with me that I couldn't buy into other critics' assurances how Waits' singing was perfect for his dark, seedy lyrics and occasionally off-putting music. At a certain point, though, you realize that you can respect someone's abilities as a songwriter without actually forcing yourself to sit through their musical performances. I've enjoyed his work as an actor in films like "Mystery Men," "Short Cuts," and "Bram Stoker's Dracula," and I'll give him full credit for his ghastly (and I do mean that in a good way) take on "Heigh Ho (The Dwarfs' Marching Song)" on Hal Wilner's Stay Awake compilation, but I've never owned a Tom Waits album, and unless someone wants to gift one to me, I can't conceive of a time that I ever will. – Will Harris
College radio has often embraced bands that aren't necessarily being played on Casey Kasem's Top 40 stations. In fact, if it was a pop artist, college radio snubbed them, and emphasized the avant-garde, the non-conformist, the cool. Jane's Addiction flooded college radio, then entered the overall public consciousness by blowing up on MTV. Perry Farrell's puzzling combination of metal, glam and punk was a full-fledged phenomenon – the only problem was that their avant-garde approach and horrible lead vocals just didn't work. The most interesting thing about Nothing's Shocking was not the content of the record, but the cover art. That record featured two naked conjoined twins with hair of fire and some nice knockers. The record, which some credit as truly advancing the "alternative" movement, featured the excellent timekeeping of Stephen Perkins and some interesting textured guitar work from Dave Navarro, but those yelping coyote vocals of Farrell are horrible and distracting, eliminating any desire to listen to it at all.
Who thought this was high art? A good portion of their material disintegrates into an unlistenable and noisy mess – yet there are many who think he is a complete hippie punk genius. The band's second record, Ritual de lo Habitual, again featured a controversial and provocative cover (and the alternative anthem "Been Caught Stealing"). God, my ears are bleeding again from the memory of that high-pitched, nails-on-a-chalkboard voice. I suppose the artist is embraced more than the art; after all, this is the man who created Lollapalooza. Have you ever listened to Porno for Pyros' God's Good Urge? "Pets" is the best song created by the man, but again, the rest of the album isn't just bad, it's horrible. There isn't one other moment on that record that passes for music. Perry Farrell…Jane's Addiction…you can have them, because I just don't get it. I think their sound is not terribly dissimilar to an animal's scream after being caught in a trap. – R. David Smola
Up front, I'll say it: Talking Heads was a decent band, with good players. It had a couple memorable tunes. But the group, comprising three art freaks from the Rhode Island School of Design and ex-Modern Lover Jerry Harrison, just aren't the post-Zeppelin be-all and end-all of rock music some people would have us believe. The Heads' first five albums, from Talking Heads '77 to Speaking in Tongues, allegedly represent the pinnacle of art and punk and new wave and intellectualism and, probably, the foundation of American culture as we know it.
Second-rate pop band, in my book. Byrne nasally warbled incoherent lyrics that, if you could understand them, still read like gibberish half the time. R.E.M. did that a lot better, incorporating – imagine! – nice pop hooks in the bargain. Once in a while, the Talking Heads' rhythm section could lay down a catchy little funk groove – fast, like in "Life During Wartime," or slow, as in "Burning Down the House" – with creative keyboard effects and interesting little world-music brushstrokes (a tack inspired by Brian Eno, who produced much of the Heads' early work). But in the end, the music was fairly dull and repetitive, and Byrne needed stage props to cover up his utter lack of singing talent. Things like the oversize suit he wore in the entertainingly goofy "Stop Making Sense" concert video, which became the definitive image of the Talking Heads.
The band had people problems; mainly, the rhythm section hated David Byrne. So they created the side project Tom Tom Club without Byrne, which surprisingly kept pace with the Talking Heads, commercially. Tom Tom Club's stuff, to my ears, was pretty bland too, with a few nice little peaks rising above the sea of mediocrity. For my money, the last three Heads albums – Little Creatures, True Stories, and Naked – were the best of the bunch, the most listenable and accessible. But many of my critic pals had turned their backs on the band by then, pining nostalgically for the days when they had the Talking Heads to themselves on slow weeknights at CBGB's.
Overall, they were good, but not great. Eccentric, but not head and shoulders above their peers. It's time to give up the charade and let the Talking Heads float down the river of East Coast artsy fartsy obscurity from whence they came. – Mojo Flucke, Ph.D.
Radiohead has only released one good album. That one is The Bends, and even it sucks in places. Before that great height, fans were turned on by the bullshit angst of "Creep," off the pitiful Pablo Honey. And then came everything after The Bends. Suddenly the band got "weird" and introduced "avant-garde" noodlings to their sound. Thom Yorke was declared a genius overnight, and fans and critics were so busy sucking at the Radiohead teat that each consecutive album was instantly hailed a masterpiece before anyone heard one note of it. I can't understand what all the hype is about. Has the band done anything truly "innovative"? By Top 40 radio standards, perhaps, but not at all in the history of music. But lately the biggest thing the band has done is give its latest album away for free online. How rebellious. They knew their album would sell when it was finally released on CD, and it did. Call it what you will, but I say the travesty known as emo begins and ends with this band. These guys are so plain when it comes to being "weird" and "different" in their music that it's laughable…and so I laugh at them, and continue to despise their product. – Jason Thompson
It's not that I hate Frank Zappa. I really don't. Even though I've heard rumors that his guitar wants to hasten my mother's demise, I think his switcheroo with Mike Nesmith on "The Monkees" was pure genius, and when he made his stand against the PMRC back in the '80s, I was cheering him on. But Zappa's one of those guys where, if you tell one of his fans that you can't really get into his music, they generally find a way to let you know that it's probably just because you're too stupid to appreciate it. Now, I have never claimed to be a genius, so it's very possible that those Zappa aficionados are right on the money, but for my part, I've always just thought that Zappa's work too often felt like he was being weird solely for the sake of being weird. This may make me an elitist, but if I see that an album features song titles that make absolutely no sense whatsoever…like, say, "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" or "Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead"… I'm putting it down and walking away. I do have one Frank Zappa album in my collection – 1985's Jazz from Hell – but the fact that it's completely instrumental and bears virtually no resemblance to the majority of his discography should not be viewed as coincidence. – Will Harris