Lumps of Coal

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

6. George Winston
(Windham Hill)

He's already got a record called Winter, so why shouldn't Winston, the pianist who put the "age" in new age (by making anyone who sits through one of his albums immediately feel older) issue a disc entitled Summer just in time for snowstorms and freezing temperatures? Well, I can think of plenty of reasons, but most of them pale in comparison with the weakness of his music. Winston's echo-laden piano noodlings are getting more boring with each passing year (which, considering how boring they were to begin with, is something of an accomplishment); anyone out there who can tell the difference between the various seasons based on this stuff should be given a Purple Heart. Windham Hill is a relatively small label, but given the crassness at the heart of Summer's release schedule, the company will be battling with the big boys any minute now.

5. Paul Simon
Concert in the Park
(Warner Bros.)

The live-album renaissance does not wholly explain this cash-in piece of crap from Simon, who had already gotten more than enough mileage out of his August concert in New York's Central Park through its live airing on pay-cable. Then again, we should expect no less from Paulie, who in 1982 reunited with Art Garfunkel just long enough for a lame, big-selling live set culled from a Central Park concert that also spawned a cable special. Heavy on material from an album (Rhythm of the Saints) that wasn't that great in the first place, this two-CD hustle adds nothing to our understanding of Simon's music and makes his latest excursions in cultural imperialism seem no less unnecessary. A souvenir to remind people of an event they didn't attend, Concert in the Park is only good for fattening Simon's wallet and thinning out yours.

4. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
The Sky is Crying

All right, all right, this collection of outtakes and unreleased studio tracks is not abysmal: Although even Vaughan fans would likely admit that it doesn't stack up to the discs he made when he was still above ground, it's thoroughly listenable. Nevertheless, buying a copy (as enough people already have to make The Sky is Crying Vaughan's second-highest charting LP yet -- behind Family Style, issued immediately after his death) sends the wrong message to his record label and to the music business as a whole. If The Sky is Crying brings in the bucks, Epic will keep finding more and more leftovers to fill up more and more albums that will deteriorate in quality as rapidly as those featuring Jimi Hendrix (subject of two four-CD box sets this year alone). Do you really want to be confronted by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Live at a 7-Eleven in Austin, Texas (Where He Was Recorded By a Security Camera in November 1988 When He Stopped to Buy a Six-Pack of Dr. Pepper and Some Ho-Hos)? Then stop now, before it's too late.

3. U2
Achtung Baby

These humorless dolts tried to make a decent record, they really did, but at this point they're too mired in the muck of rock stardom and too fixated on becoming legends on par with Presley and Dylan to manage anything better than a wallow in pretension. Beneath the loads of electronic twaddle layered on Bono's voice, Edge's guitar, and anything else in sight, U2's music shows few indications of progress. Moreover, the album's lyrics -- like Springsteen's Tunnel of Love, they're mostly about love, sex, and relationships -- consist of mock beat poetry that makes Stevie Nicks seem like Allen Ginsburg. (Sample pearl of wisdom, from "Ultraviolet": "When I was all messed up/And I heard opera in my head/Your love was a light bulb/Hanging over my bed." Deep.) Throughout Achtung Baby, U2 does its best to seem avant-garde, but this disc is actually about as outre as a particularly ballsy episode of Family Ties.

2. Genesis
We Can't Dance

The time has come to speak the truth: Phil Collins is a balding little maggot whose music has all the toughness of a bowl of tapioca. We Can't Dance may feature cover artwork that recalls the group's Peter Gabriel era, but that's all a front -- the music is just more generic tripe that Collins and his fellow hitmakers (Tony Banks and Mike "and the Mechanics" Rutherford) hope to pawn off on saps who like to boogie down to Michelob commercials. What makes it all the more insufferable is Collins's continuing attempt to be taken seriously by tackling topics such as domestic violence ("No Son of Mine") and televangelists ("Jesus He Knows Me") in a manner that's not quite as intellectual as any random episode of Oprah. The disc will no doubt sell a gazillion copies (and probably collect a few Grammies as well), but it's so hopelessly middlebrow that it should be sold alongside Dockers pants and copies of the National Review. Woof.

1. Hammer
Too Legit to Quit

Hammer is as big a fraud as the world of entertainment has to offer right now, and Too Legit to Quit earns the honor of being the season's worst major release -- without breaking a sweat. The disc's songs are uniformly limp, the music is danceable but dumb as a post, and the lyrics are about nothing, absolutely nothing, except Hammer's contention that he's God's gift to mankind. Like the massively idiotic video for the album's title track (which features James Brown as a strutting Obi Wan Kenobi, more empty visual flash-and-dazzle than the last several Star Trek movies and a faux Michael Jackson in fear of losing his glove), Too Legit to Quit is the epitome of waste, nonsense, and foolishness. Give it only to those you hate.

`Tis the season.

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