☕🌹 Let’s talk about our least favorite albums by our favorite artists. Inevitably, for every artist we love, we have to have a least favorite album, but what exactly makes it your least favorite? Is it too much of a stylistic detour, or is it the opposite, an album that plays it too safe? Do the songs just miss the mark entirely, or are they solid songs that just don’t play to the artist’s strengths? These questions are worth considering, because even in our least favorite albums, we can recognize flashes of the traits we love about these artists, just expressed in confusing or non-optimal ways.
From the first time I heard it back in high school, I’ve always called this my least favorite Elvis Costello album. It’s certainly not without merit – for starters, its closer “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4” is quite possibly his single most beautiful song – but the AllMusic review describes this album as his “most impenetrable,” and I'd say that’s about accurate. I’ve always thought of this one and Spike as companion pieces: similar eras, similar production and collaborators, but polar opposites in approach – where Spike went out of its way to be accessible, MLAR uses the overproduction to obfuscate, rather than accentuate, the songs. This era began a roughly 15-year period where EC seemingly felt the need to include an 80s Tom Waits homage on each album, a trend exemplified by “Hurry Down Doomsday,” which feels more representative of this album than it really is – nothing else on the album is nearly so extreme, but when people talk about what a mess this album is, this is what they’re talking about. In general, the best songs here are the ones that are most straightforwardly Costello-esque (“Georgie and Her Rival,” the Paul McCartney collab “Playboy to a Man”) but paradoxically, the best song here is the aforementioned “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4,” which leans hard into the album’s weirdest production touches. That paradox is at the heart of grappling with our favorite artists’ duds – you spend a whole album savoring the brief respites from what we think are their worst impulses, only to have them suddenly wring stunning beauty out of those same impulses.