Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Worst Album in My CD Collection

I wouldn't consider my CD collection all that impressive. By most standards it's middlingly modest, somewhere north of a hundred of so discs. Of course in the context of the increasingly barren wasteland that is the market for album sales, I may be a regular Rob Gordon. While there isn't much to my collection in terms quantity, I have always taken pride in the personal quality of the albums available.

As you all know I, first and foremost, have always put a high premium on "the hits." As a lifelong lover of all things POP, at the core it's all about the decadent, hook laden, catchy chorus repeating, idiot proof, instant gratification of the radio friendly single. While there are numerous albums in the collection that are alternatives to this general philosophy; on the whole all albums have been considered against my idiosyncratic personal standards to be justified in being bought and enshrined in my cheap, unsturdy, formica cabinet:
  • For an album to even be considered for purchase it needs, at the very least, to have one hit song or song I personally like (obviously I'd have to like the hit song as well). This might be a totally obvious fact to anyone who listens to music and buys albums; however for people who've had those rare, odd friends who legitimately don't really have any strong feelings about their music, who just reply that they "like all music" or "all music but rap and country", random album purchasing happens all the time. I had one such friend in high school who one day decided to get into "dance music" and we went to Best Buy where he indiscriminately began to select albums that looked like "dance music" in the dance section like some sort of alien trying to assimilate human culture.
  • An album must also show the potential for more hits and songs I would like. This rule sort of shields against excessive one hit wonder intrusion. If you look at someone like say Souja Boy; there's no way that there's anything else on "" that is anywhere close to "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" (as hard the second single "Soulja Girl" tries)! There are some artists with just a really good (maybe too good) song you just know that it isn't worth it to do anything more than buy/steal their lone masterpiece. Under this paradigm I would never have been justified in buying any Sugar Ray albums since they always had one great song per album (although their greatest hits would be perfect).
  • Then there is the rule of 3. If an artist has at least three solid songs I like on their album they've already sold me. If an artist, in this the modern age of the single, can provide at least three quality songs on one album, I consider it an admirable feat worthy of my cash. The rest of the album could possibly be unforgivably awful or contain some real hidden gems, but by that point you're playing with house money so you can take that risk.
  • It's pretty apparent that this system seems to have an advantageous skew towards greatest hit collections and compilation albums. A glance at my collection would emphatically show that, this is in fact extremely true. What can a say? For the budget minded music lover, Chicago's 2 Disc Greatest Hits is far more preferable than collecting over thirty years of filler packed albums. Of course may times, when possible, I try to go for a group or artist's major album over a greatest hits (like the Cars' stacked debut album).
These are, however, just factors I weight when looking over the sales racks, in the end the call is inexplicable and straight from the gut. If I followed these factors like some sort of conjunctive rule then an album like Ben Kweller's "Sha Sha" (which you probably guessed from the title and picture is indeed the worst album in my collection) would probably not be in my collection, but there would also be a lot of missing quality discs.

To be fair, "Sha Sha" is not technically the worst album that I own. It is the worst album that I bought. Track for track the worst album I own is the sparse, budget, mono sound, Led Zeppelin: The Early Years greatest hits CD that I got when my friend was cleaning out his car. The combination of the poorly recorded, nonsensically selected tracks and the fact that I don't like Led Zeppelin (I know, blasphemy) make it the absolute worst overall. However, since I didn't invest in that Zepp album it didn't hurt me like "Sha Sha" did.

Putting things in proper context, I bought "Sha Sha" during the last half of my senior year of high school somewhere in the spring of 2002. A variety of factors coincided to produce a personal period of CD buying for me that would never be repeated. With the recent downfall of Kazaa I was in between p2p networks, I was getting a steady flow of disposable income from working at Blockbuster ($5.95 and hour, w00t!), and Best Buy was practicing what later turned out to be illegally low predatory pricing on their CDs. At the time I was buying at least 2 CDs a week from the blue box.

All my purchases from that period up to that point were without regret. However, I soon got a bit too cocky. Emboldened by the satisfaction of my recent purchase of the Hives' "Veni Vidi Vicious" off the strength of a friend of mine playing "Hate to Say I Told You So" at a party, I decided to throw caution to the wind and picked "Sha Sha" based only on my fleeting like of "Wasted & Ready." When I popped in that quirky polka dotted CD I expected more of the same I got with "Wasted & Ready", a slightly-goofy, but still powerfully crunchy piece of power pop. As it turned out "Wasted & Ready" was as powerful as it got. The rest of the album was a mixed bag of acoustic and mildly grungy, folksy heart-sung songs. On paper there was no reason I wouldn't be this disinterested in the album, it was nicely offbeat, poppy as hell, and the production was flawless. In the end however, I just couldn't shake the feeling of slacker, insincerity that permeated all those supposedly touching songs about love and longing (the great pillars of all power pop) made everything seem hollow. To sum it up it was sort of like Moldy Peaches (and you know how much I love that indie folk/pop sound) but a little better and with electric guitars.

I found myself, just like I find myself now as I'm listening to the CD while writing this post, utterly indifferent to every other song on the album ( track 7 "Make it Up" comes the closest to following the potential of "Wasted & Ready"). I just couldn't get into it and, considering the mysterious lack of mainstream success of Ben Kweller despite all the favorable angles, the general public couldn't get into it either. So for now, "Sha Sha" remains in its dubious place in the depths of my collection, hoping its quirky little heart out for another mistake. Overall though if that's what qualifies as "the worst" in my little hierarchy of personal albums it doesn't seem so bad; at least I don't have any purchases that I would be outright ashamed of buying (although with my music tastes few albums are capable of shame on my part).

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