Lumps of Coal

Major albums that don't belong in anyone's Christmas stocking.

Christmastime is supposed to be a season of joy, love, and happiness.
It's also a season to get ripped off.
Executives from music companies -- which derive a huge chunk of their annual profits from Yuletide purchases -- know that moms, dads, and other people who never buy albums for themselves visit record stores around this time to purchase gifts for friends and young 'uns. They also realize that these shoppers are more likely to choose discs by brand-name performers than by unknown artists. Hence music retailers are deluged during the weeks before December 25 with an avalanche of superstar releases designed to entice your average rock and roll know-nothing to part with a piece of his paycheck.

And it works, too. At this time of the year some of the most successful entertainers in show business put out some of the worst records imaginable. While a few big-name platters (such as Prince's Diamonds and Pearls, the box-set retrospective of Barbra Streisand's career, and Michael Jackson's spotty, disappointing, but hardly disastrous Dangerous) have legitimate reasons for being, far too many are merely product -- rehashes, repackagings, or tepid new material that gets over on the power of advertising, hype, and stupidity.

What follows is a look at the ten worst offenders, the heavily promoted discs that will provide a listener with the least enjoyment for the money. Virtually without exception, these items have been issued under the names of rich people who don't need any more money, and whose greed practically drips from the covers of their CDs. So do yourself and your loved ones a favor, and don't let any of these albums get anywhere near your Christmas tree...

10. Crosby, Stills and Nash
(Atlantic)
Box sets were once reserved for only the best and most important artists; now anyone can have one. In recent months talents as minuscule as the Carpenters and Chicago have received this deluxe treatment. But even these groups are deserving in comparison with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, a trio of burned out has-beens who haven't been worth paying attention to in ages. Although Crosby's performances with the Byrds, Stills's contributions to Buffalo Springfield, and Nash's efforts with the Hollies are worthy of respect, their work as a trio (and without Neil Young, who should have cut them off ages ago) has always been wretched, and in recent years it's only gotten worse. Four CDs' worth of their pedantic caterwauling -- priced as high as the market will bear -- is enough to make you wish the three of them would move into the Betty Ford Clinic in perpetuity.

9. En Vogue
Remix to Sing
(East/West)

How can a new record by En Vogue, a completely fabricated quartet made up of models-turned-vocalists who sing (or perhaps lip-sync to) the dance-music equivalent of Velveeta, be an even greater scam than the group's earlier recordings? Remix to Sing finds a way, by following the recipe previously utilized by manufactured kewpie dolls such as Paula Abdul -- remixing the same old shit, then reselling it to the same collection of dullards who bought the stuff in the first place. Yep, the new album brings us "Hold On" and all the rest of En Vogue's best-known treacle, done up in new sonic clothes that have all the soul of "Ballad of the Green Berets." Other bands, including the execrable C+C Music Factory, recently have taken the same tack, but En Vogue is alone at the bottom of the barrel. Even Milli Vanilli would be preferable to this.

8. Richard Marx
Rush Street
(Capitol)

The credibility of any rocker who admits to being a buddy of Lionel Richie's has got to be suspect; Marx, who has actually written songs for the Ward Cleaver of rhythm and blues, proves with Rush Street that he has nothing left. Throughout the album, he presents himself as the perfect crossover artist/marketing tool, spewing out completely stereotypical tunes in a variety of genres (hard rock, easy listening, pleasant pop) that he hopes will appeal to everyone -- or at least everyone white enough to view him as a dream boat. Underneath their radio-friendly surface, his songs are about nothing but selling -- appealing to the least common denominator in the most common way. The music he makes is a weak imitation of other styles passed off as the real thing, but Marx himself is about as real as an anatomically correct department store mannequin. Nice hair, though.

7. Poison
Swallow This Live
(Capitol)

Live albums were among the most obnoxious staples of the Seventies -- blatant regurgitations that allowed artists without enough brains or ambition to actually write new songs to both fulfill their contractual obligations and make tons of dough by taping a concert they had to play anyhow. The trend waned after approximately the trillionth imitation of Frampton Comes Alive bit the dust, but if Swallow This Live is any indication, it's back with a vengeance. This amazingly moronic two-disc set contains so many live-album cliches that it should be put in a time capsule. There's a more-than-six-minute drum solo. There's a more-than-nine-minute guitar solo. There's Poison member Brett Michaels asking the fans how they're feeling, repeating the term "busting their asses" about seven times and dedicating a tune to the soldiers returning from the Persian Gulf. And there are completely disposable versions of hits (such as "Every Rose Has Its Thorn") that were completely disposable in the first place. Spread this on the ground and flowers will grow.

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