It's only fair that if we're going to salute the year's best records that we also take a moment to hold our nose for the stinkiest offerings of the last 12 months. It's not going to be pretty, folks, but it has to be done.
Several bands released comeback albums in 2011, but none of them enjoyed a bigger hit than Bush with "The Sound of Winter." The album that spawned it, The Sea of Memories, wasn't terribly inspired, trying rather hard to recreate the grunge era for the 21st century. Rather than sounding reinvigorated, frontman Gavin Rossdale came across as strained as he always did. In a year when Nevermind celebrated its 20th anniversary, The Sea of Memories reminded us that '90s nostalgia wasn't entirely a good thing.
On Hollywood Undead's 2008 debut, Swan Songs, the Los Angeles rap-rock collective spent a lot of time mimicking the bratty petulance of Eminem without the musical genius. On this year's American Tragedy, they seemed more interested in sounding like Linkin Park, but unfortunately the results were about the same.
Give Home School Valedictorian this: It's better than Adelitas Way's self-titled debut. But this is one hard rock band that huffs and puffs to rock hard. Where their melodic love songs have a familiar but sentimental pull, their more aggressive material drowns in genre cliches. When are they gonna realize they're not rockers and instead focus on ballads that'll play like gangbusters in the background of romantic comedies?
If rock songs didn't need lyrics, you'd be perfectly happy with Theory of a Deadman. The Canadian band prove on their latest, The Truth Is..., that they're quite adept at writing radio-ready hooks. Unfortunately, singer Tyler Connolly seems incapable of coming up with an original lyrical idea, whether it's mocking crazy girlfriends ("Bitch Came Back") or begging for a second chance at love ("Out of My Head"). These songs probably speak to a lot of guys who have had their share of bad-news girls, but the album's overly woman-unfriendly tone starts to grate pretty quickly.
Sure, it's easy to pick on Nickelback, the eternally popular but critically derided Canadian rockers, but on their seventh record they don't mess with what's worked for them up to this point. Obvious platitudes, generic headbanging anthems, sappy love songs: Here and Now has them all. Even when the songs are incredibly catchy, you find yourself resisting simply because of the slavish by-the-numbers approach Nickelback take to their work.
Staind returned this year with a strong back-to-basics album that mostly stayed away from the ballads that had become the band's bread and butter. But frontman Aaron Lewis didn't completely abandon his sappy side -- he just left it for his solo album. After years of discussing his acoustic album, Lewis finally put out Town Line, an EP of mostly new tunes that found him blubbering his sentiments over steel guitars and stripped-down arrangements. Apparently, Lewis thinks "going country" means indulging in simplistic pro-American messages that sound like he's running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
There's nothing wrong with "flyover rock," but there is something wrong with mainstream, middle-America rock that's as toothless as Time of My Life, the latest from 3 Doors Down. Where once these guys had a real skill for the pop hit, like on "Kryptonite," now they come across as boring, behind-the-curve musicians struggling to stay relevant. Let's hope this isn't really the time of their lives: That would be too depressing to think about.