First, a lot of good bands have put out terrible records that are harbingers of their creative implosion; second, they deserve to be taken to task for their illustrious failures; and third, the Clash's magnum poopus from 1985, Cut the Crap, provides the quintessential example of what we have eponymously dubbed "crap-cutting," meaning, literally, recording an album that is a flagrantly malodorous piece of shit.
One caveat: we feel the need to disclose that the conceit upon which "Cutting the Crap" is based has been borrowed from
www.jumptheshark.com, a clever Web site that tracks the demise of television shows. For a fuller explanation and Part I of this article, see last week's Tucson Weekly (www.tucsonweekly.com). And so, we now bring you Part II of our Compendium of Spectacular Musical Failures. On with the categories ...
Homey Expect Me to Play That?
We're mystified as to the inability of even solid rap acts to produce more than two albums of any quality. The primary exception to this rule is Public Enemy, which released two of the most important albums in hip-hop's history (or music's history, for that matter) in It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) and Fear of a Black Planet (1990), which were bookended by the uneven but powerful debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987) and the awkwardly named but still significant Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black (1991). So chalk up four good albums for P.E., but it was all road apples after that. We submit: the butt-puppy of a disc Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess-Age (1994), an embarrassing attempt to stay relevant in an ever-shifting rap landscape. Here's hoping that Chuck D sticks with that elder-statesman-of-rap thing he's got going now and doesn't crap out any more log bass into the sewers of popular culture.
Victims of Rap's Two-Album Curse:
De La Soul, Buhloone Mindstate (1993): With their first two albums (the seminal Three Feet High and Rising  and 1991's follow-up, the belatedly appreciated De La Soul is Dead), they set a creative standard that other sample-heavy rappers haven't come close to matching. With Mindstate, they marked another precedent: continual cutting o' the crap, perpetuated by Stakes Is High (1996) and the Art Official Intelligence debacle of last year. The career? Flush!!!
A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders (1993): The Nation of Islam is to good rap music what the Church of Scientology is to good acting. While this is not the only cause of the Tribe's downward spiral, it doesn't seem to be merely coincidental, either. Poop like this should be left in the chute.
Wu-Tang Clan, The W (2000): With the imprisonment of Ol' Dirty Bastard following an ill-timed Big Mac Attack, it seems Wu-Tang has lost its jester, its sense of humor, and its supplier of cocaine all at once. It shows on this human-produced BabyRuth bar of a recording. Plus, with all the side projects, the good rhymes get used up before the Wu can even corral all 30 or however many members into the studio. Stop making Wu-Pu Platters, Wu-Tang. Or, since you have all the guns, do whatever you want.
Shit or Get Off the Pot
The bands that qualify for this category have occasionally released truly abominable albums, but the more important distinction is that they've stayed around long after they stopped mattering. There are many choice examples of bands that have cut the crap in this laborious and wearisome manner, bands without the simple decency to spare us the late-career gasbombs that they try to pass off as albums.
No band has so tenaciously clung to the glory of its past triumphs than those big-lipped buffoons from Beantown, Aerosmith. Now nearing their fourth decade of "rocking," Steven Tyler and the boys haven't done anything remotely kickass since 1976's Rocks, which, like their three previous albums, rocked indeed. But through the addictions and recoveries and the incessant yapping about the recoveries of the intervening years, they managed to continually sound bloated and dull, and slowly became grotesque parodies of their former selves, full of sound and no fury, signifying nothing. Even committed fans must have wished they would have just o.d.ed during their prime, thereby preventing later bowlspatter like Rock in a Hard Place (1982) or Get a Grip (1993). If you're hell-bent on listening to the sound of a thousand loaves being pinched, get a grip on any of Aerosmith's albums from the last quarter-century. Yes, that's right--quarter-century.
Further examples of SOGOTP:
R.E.M.: Beginning in 1994 with Monster, the band began an unfortunate procession toward the perfunctory. Once the major influence on thousands of jangle-pop bands that followed in the wake of its early albums, R.E.M. hasn't cut the crap so much as bored the crap out of us. While not devoid of the occasional gem, records like Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) and Up (1998) suffer from a terminal case of diverticulitis--they're blowing flatus, but the good shit came out long ago.
Prince or The Artist or Whatever: Look, little buddy, we accept that you're a troubled genius who must document every emanation from your dirty mind, but it's the things that sneak out your sphincter we have a problem with. Get an editor and/or a colostomy bag.
Sonic Youth: Should have stopped after 1992's Dirty. Any subsequent albums should have been named Stinky in keeping with Dirty's truth-in-advertising titling. (Oh, and they would have done well to leave the song "Poo," er, "Goo" off of Goo . Note to Kim Gordon: the reason your friend Goo "goes pee-yuu!!" is due to your atrocious screechy vocals.)
The Rolling Stones: While it's amazing enough that Keef Richards is still alive, what's more surprising is that these geriatrics can continue to crank out albums even as they become sexagenarians. But what's that in the air? Yes, there, commingled with the stale odor of doo-doo, it's ... of course, money. The Stones are no longer artists in the true sense, just like the Ford Motor Company isn't in business to make cars. They are merely cash registers with British accents who release an album every three years that feels as impassioned as married sex, followed by a massive, cash-cow of a tour, which is subsequently documented for your listening displeasure on a live album. The Stones are clearly aware that money talks, but no one's taught them about the "bullshit walks" element of the equation just yet. Which brings us to our next category ...
Hello, Cleveland--The Live Album Abuse Syndrome
While not troubled by any given live album per se, we here at Cut the Crap central object to the shamelessly mercenary approach taken by groups like the aforementioned Rolling Stones (with eight to date). Hell, we understand the need for posterity such that at least your grandkids will know how badass your on-stage bass licks were, but anything more than one or two Live at the Acropolis albums per decade is, in our book, excessive, and therefore cuts the crap.
Further examples of Hello, Cleveland:
Pearl Jam, every single goddamn live show of their last world tour (2000): For those of you who can appreciate the subtle differences between the "Jeremy"s as heard in Paris, France vs. Paris, Texas, or even care, congratulations. You have a discriminating set of ears and absolutely no taste. Pearl Jam is happy to separate you from your dough and yet somehow still make you feel good about it. "Oh, they worry about the quality of bootlegs," you'll say, as they remove your wallet from your trousers. But the poo-brown color scheme of the disc jackets should have been your first clue as to what awaits you inside: the unadulterated stench of commerce.
Grateful Dead, too many to mention by title: Let's face it, you either love the Dead or you hate 'em. While the former can't wait to get their grubby little hippie paws on an as-yet-unheard version of "Dark Star," the latter wouldn't piss on the grave of Jerry Garcia if it were on fire. They might, however, take a dump on it.
Peter Frampton, Frampton Comes Alive II (1995): Without a doubt, this peanut-riddled coprolite wins the award for Most Unnecessary Live Album Ever Recorded.
The Double-Release Equation
Whenever rock star egos inflate to preposterous proportions, there's a good chance that the artist will babble on (and on) about an "unusually fertile creative period" in their career that simply cannot be contained by one album. Rather than simply release a double album (which represents the nascent stage of a consuming self-importance), these artists go the extra step (squish!) by simultaneously releasing two full-length LPs, each at full list price, of course. Kiss set the bar high in 1978 with the release of a solo album from each of its members, but plenty others have swum through these putrid canals of pompous self-indulgence.
Further examples of the D-RE:
· Bruce Springsteen, Lucky Town and Human Touch (1992): Although the Boss rarely missteps, he dropped a pile of wolf bait with this dual release.
· Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion I and II (1991): Like present-day Axl's remarkable gut, these records could stand a trip to the butcher for some fat-trimming. But then you'd only have one album, and Axl had to pay for those hotel tantrums somehow, didn't he? Grab the plunger--logjam!!!
· Insane Clown Posse, Bizzar and Bizaar (2000): Yeah, we know; we're shooting fish in a barrel (or is it barell?) here, but someone besides Eminem needs to take these low-rent bozos to task. Attention juggalos, one and all: You're the insane clowns for actually buying these steaming mounds of rhino spoor.
Alas, we have once again run out of space. Hopefully, that book deal will come through and we'll garner huge royalty checks, alchemically turning poop jokes into cash. Until then, we leave you with a partial list of artists who have somehow escaped the cut-the-crap-trap: The Police, Jane's Addiction, Joy Division, the Beatles, the Beastie Boys, the Smiths, Big Black, and Ween, discounting its double-live Painting the Town Brown (1999), of course.
We hope you've enjoyed this exploration of sonic excrement as much as we have. If you've been offended or insulted, then good--our work here is done; if not, you've either got an alarmingly high tolerance for juvenile doodie humor or you're Chuck Berry. Now, where's our breakfast?!