Letdowns: Bummer, Man

Five artists came with the promise of a new day -- and defused faster than a wet firecracker

Let's make this clear: These aren't bad albums – bands you hate make bad albums. No, these five records do something much worse: They're disappointments, unworthy efforts from once-great artists and overhyped freshmen. What's most offensive, though, is that a lot of people didn't even seem to notice.

1. The Vines, Highly Evolved(Capitol): At the height of grunge, Craig Nicholls' formulaic angst and by-the-numbers guitar heroics wouldn't have been allowed anywhere near a Lollapalooza stage. These days, his bratty cluelessness and thirdhand Cobain-ness are merely a relief from Creed. Embrace this stuff at the peril of your credibility.

2. Nirvana, Nirvana(Geffen): And so here it is – the results of Courtney Love, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic's very public, very nasty, very greedy fight over the "legacy" of Nirvana. What we get are "hits" stripped of their context, significance and vitality. To bait you further, they throw on "You Know You're Right," which isn't the great lost Cobain song that nostalgists (or Interscope) would have you believe. That's "Dive" or "Scentless Apprentice" or a dozen other brilliant scorchers that safely escaped this austere embalming. Kurt would have hated it.

3. The Chemical Brothers, Come With Us(Astralwerks): Imagine the Beatles following up Sgt. Pepper with Mariah Carey's Charmbracelet, and you'll get a sense of the fall from grace that techno's greatest band achieved in 2002. Not that long ago, Ed and Tom were the standard-bearers for intelligent, dynamic dance music. But just as the genre went from Next Big Thing to Car Commercial Fodder, so too did the Brothers go from visionary to yuckie-poo ordinary.

4. Bright Eyes, Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (Saddle Creek): We just adore precocious, disaffected white boys, from Holden Caulfield to the whippersnappers of Rushmoreand Igby Goes Down. Into the fray walks Conor Oberst, a promising kid whose self-indulgence may wear out his welcome well before he sees 25. Smug beyond his (and your and my) years, he writes songs that are almost good enough to save himself from the ass-kicking he so richly deserves.

5. Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy(Interscope – in theory): Consider its latest shelving a preemptive strike in preparation for 2003. Uh, 2005? Maybe the Hillary Clinton administration?

 
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