My World Of Flops is Nathan Rabin’s survey of books, television shows, musical releases, or other forms of entertainment that were financial flops, critical failures, or lack a substantial cult following.
There are a lot of fascinating elements to Corey Feldman’s career-making/breaking performance of “Go 4 It” on The Today Show, such as Doc Ice getting Corey Feldman to “twerk,” a move generally associated with desirable young women and not middle-aged former child stars in excessively tight jeans. And Feldman’s tackiness in dressing his Corey’s Angels backing band up in skimpy virginal white lingerie, complete with angel wings and halos, and his curious description of the Angels as being a cross between the seminal all-girl rock band The Runaways and actual runaways he plucked off the street to create his curious vision of a rock band capitalizing on female sexuality. Feldman described the Angels in ways that suggested that it was both a sex cult and a charity benefiting disadvantaged sexpots.
But perhaps the most surprising element of Feldman’s performance, which went viral in the same way an STD does, was this: People were paying attention to the music, lyrics, and dance moves of Corey Feldman. In 2016! In that respect, Feldman’s appearance played out like the result of a Satanic bargain or one of those Monkey’s Paw scenarios where someone gets their fondest wishes granted in the darkest, most damaging way. Corey Feldman’s new creative career was newsworthy less as music than as a strange psychodrama involving Feldman’s famously traumatic past as a much-abused child star and later advocate for child actors and the internet’s predilection for cruelty and snark. The A.V. Club’s own Sean O’Neal wrote an empathetic and incisive piece about the performance, but more specifically, the rabid public response to Feldman.
Feldman finally got his long-standing wish for people to focus on his music rather than his acting. But the nature of that focus couldn’t be more devastating for him. Instead of long-overdue respect, he was the subject of ridicule across the internet. Since the internet pretty much runs on mocking laughter (and T&A, and awfulness), “Corey Feldman humiliates self with bizarrely awful performance on new single” ended up getting far more play than logic, decency, and the modest level of Feldman’s current fame would dictate.
I am semi-obsessed with the two Coreys, and even I had never listened to a Corey Feldman song in its entirety. I’ve read his riveting and important memoir of abuse, molestation, and addiction, Coreyography, and I recently covered both seasons of The Two Coreys for this very column, yet I’d never so much as bought a Feldman song on iTunes.
I was fascinated by Feldman’s performance on The Today Show, but I was also oddly touched by it. It was hard not to feel for him as he desperately tried to make an impossible song and performance palatable through sheer, sweaty intensity and conviction. He was every kid who ever entered a school talent show as a preamble to chasing professional dreams and kept on dancing and singing despite a chorus of boos and derision. He was trying so hard that you just wanted to give him a big hug after it was all over.
Despite the gonzo specificity of Feldman’s performance, there was something oddly relatable, even universal, in his unwillingness to give up in the face of impossible odds. The world has long viewed Feldman as a walking punchline yet here he was, giving his body and soul to a performance that is one for the ages in ways he never intended. As he made himself vulnerable, the world pounced on that earnestness and enjoyed a hearty, sustained laugh at Feldman’s expense.
I was so fascinated by Feldman’s big moment as a musician that I wanted to travel back nearly a quarter of a century and cover all three Feldman solo albums for this column. I wanted to do what the schadenfreude parade purposefully eschewed. I wanted to take Feldman seriously as a musician and to write about his output as the work of a man with a distinct musical vision, not just a has-been exploiting his fading fame.
Now having listened to Feldman’s solo projects, I can attest that he takes music incredibly seriously. These are no cash-in vanity projects. Feldman really wants to say something profound with his music and his lyrics, which never stop being heartbreaking, as the gulf between what Feldman wants to do and what he accomplishes is so vast. It’s the difference between John Lennon pounding out “Imagine” for the first time and Feldman releasing his own smooth-jazz cover of “Imagine” on 2002’s Former Child Star, complete with saxophone solo, a sleep-inducing arrangement, and vamping from Feldman (“Gonna live as one! Imagine that!”).
But Feldman doesn’t just co-opt the socially conscious messages of great songwriters. He is the rare singer-songwriter who might just be too socially conscious. He is forever trying to make grand philosophical statements despite having nothing to say beyond the usual bromides about embracing love and condemning hate and bigotry.
That’s the theme of “Bi-Got” from his 1994 debut Love Left, although Feldman’s bluesman growl is so mumbly that it’s really hard to understand what he’s singing. Unfortunately, Feldman’s lyrics aren’t online, and trying to figure them out merely by hearing the song requires a forensic deep dive and constant stopping, rewinding, and re-listening.
The muddled social commentary and painful wordplay continues with the next track, “De-Pressed,” which begins with audio of an announcer discussing Feldman’s childhood fame and adult dysfunction before Feldman once again sets his white-boy growl over a bluesy riff and begins crooning about how “They build you up / They tear you down / They expect you not to cry, no, no! / They make you king / Then steal your crown.” Feldman doesn’t seem to realize he doesn’t have to go with the first rhyme that occurs to him. This leads to more “De-Pressed” lyrics like the following: “I know I’ll rise above / Because all I need is love / And there’s just one place to look, that’s deep inside.” The song ends with audio clips about River Phoenix’s fatal overdose and O.J Simpson’s arrest, designed to add additional gravity to the song’s condemnation of society for chewing up and spitting out celebrities like Feldman, but instead reek of appalling bad taste.
This speaks to another prominent shortcoming in Feldman as a musician. He is a terrible lyricist: overwrought, painfully obvious, and pathologically clichéd. But he’s an even worse singer, with a thin voice he’s perpetually pushing past its huge limitations and further weakening with excessive production and off-key crooning.
There are only nine songs on Love Left, but it feels endless. Three songs last longer than five minutes, and even the shortest tracks are an endurance test. In terms of dancing and dress, Feldman is deeply influenced by his good pal Michael Jackson, but in terms of music, he’s more influenced by mid-period Prince. But on the excruciating “Man In The Mirror”-style power ballad “It’s So Simple,” Feldman pays homage to his one-time mentor when he growls, “When you look in the mirror, a scared little man telling you to change / Believe it!” The track “Walk” actually has a nice, laid-back country groove that suits Feldman far better than embarrassing Prince-style funk workouts like the terribly named “Feeling Funky.”
Nearly a decade passed before the release of Love Left and Feldman’s second solo album, 2002’s Former Child Actor. Sounds and styles and trends all changed with it, so while still distressingly eclectic, the album is less rooted less in the blues, funk, New Jack Swing influences of Love Left and influenced by then-current sounds like nü-metal.
The opening title track picks up right where his debut left off, with yet another painfully clichéd tantrum about the ways society mocks and de-humanizes the people it elevates to fame, particularly at an early age. Feldman does not think that is cool at all. “Diseased” is Feldman’s attempt at Korn, complete with highly processed Jonathan Davis-style “Howling with rage because my childhood was bad”-style talk-rapped-screamed vocals.
As the bizarre mismatch of genres on “Go 4 It” all too accurately conveys, Feldman likes to combine tones in ways that are jarring and incoherent. Former Child Actor is a frenzied mismatch of nü-metal, pop aggression, bluesy growling, and soft jazz. It even offers a return to the sounds of Feldman’s solo debut in the form of “What’s Up With The Youth.” It’s an old song that Feldman performed on one of Howard Stern’s TV shows in a 1992 appearance that makes his Today Show turn look like James Brown besting the Stones on The T.A.M.I. Show. The song is so derivative of Dangerous-era Jackson that my wife actually thought that Feldman was just lip-syncing to a Michael Jackson track, which may be one of most insulting thoughts anyone has ever had about Michael Jackson.
Feldman’s next (and current) solo effort, Angelic 2 The Core: Angelic Funkadelic/Angelic Rockadelic, is another magnum opus—this time, a double album—over a decade in the making. By this point Stockholm syndrome might have set in, because I found Angelic 2 The Core to be not be that bad. Or perhaps more accurately, to be exuberantly bad in an interesting, revealing fashion. In the since-deleted response video Feldman recorded after the culture-wide mockery of his “Go 4 It!” performance, Feldman said, among other things, “It was a song, okay. It wasn’t that weird. I’m sorry if it’s not good enough for you, but you don’t have to beat us up.”
Feldman’s performance on The Today Show was weird. Feldman is weird. Within the context of Feldman’s musical career and things like his smooth jazz cover of “Imagine,” his performance of “Go 4 It” doesn’t seem that crazy, but Feldman should own his weirdness. He should embrace it. He is a seriously weird dude. And that’s just fine. In fact, that’s great.
I think I found Angelic 2 The Core endearing precisely because it is such a staggeringly odd proposition, offering a generous double helping of something no one has wanted in even small amounts. The skits riffing on Charlie’s Angels— a television show I’m guessing very few of the young, EDM audiences Feldman is hoping to capture will have seen—are perplexing, in part because Feldman sounds more like Richard Nixon than the unseen Charlie of the show, but at least he seems to be enjoying himself.
If nothing else, Angelic 2 The Core doesn’t take itself anywhere near as seriously as his previous efforts seemed to do. And despite the incongruity of a middle-aged father re-making himself as a club kid peddling EDM beats and hyper-processed vocals, dance music actually seems to suit Feldman’s unique musical talent a lot more than blues-funk and tortured nu-metal.
Feldman is still complaining about the liars and parasites who inevitably surround the famous, the tenuously famous, or the formerly famous. Somehow, when put on top of an energetic dance beat, his self-pity is a lot more palatable, and at times even danceable. And there are moments throughout where Feldman’s goofiness is enormously endearing, as on “Duh!”, where he delivers what the good folks over at the Yacht Rock podcast call a “Try-N-Rap” that is borderline dadaist in its proud stupidity.
I admit that the chorus for “Go 4 It!” has not left my mind since I first heard it. It’s an unlikely club anthem that’s so wonderfully wrong-headed that it’s borderline transcendent. The lyrics are typical Feldman gloom and doom, delivered with a cartoon werewolf growl, but the chorus is upbeat and optimistic. Snoop Dogg’s heavenly drawl hovers above the mess, stoned into a state of grace. It’s the kind of song people start singing mockingly and sarcastically, only to find themselves developing a non-ironic appreciation for it.
Angelic 2 The Core is just a goddamned bizarre piece of work, whether Feldman is goofing around with fellow middle-aged man Kurupt on the unfortunately titled “Lickety Splickety,” channeling The Beatles at their dance-hall-novelty-song quaintest on “We Wanted Change” or finishing the double album with a gruesomely earnest cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” before the album ends with some divine lackey welcoming the angels back to heaven.
Feldman pays tribute to his son on the tender, only mildly embarrassing ballad, “Baby Blue Eyes” and to the late Haim on “Remember 222,” which poignantly depicts his heyday with his fellow Corey as a time of playful, mildly naughty innocence rather than a harrowing bacchanal. As anyone who has read Coreyography will be able to attest, it’s a total whitewash of a perilous and deeply scarring time, but it’s hard to begrudge someone wanting to remember the good times and skip over the traumatic ones.
With Angelic 2 The Core, Feldman is doing what society generally encourages people to do. He’s being creative, expressing himself and releasing a project that is deeply personal, if also deeply insane. I think there’s something admirable, even noble about such a Quixotic pursuit. Corey Feldman is an earnest, painfully sincere man in a cynical world. Corey, wherever you are, I thought you’d like to know that at least one other person who approves of what you’re doing. Within reason. Let’s not get carried away here.
Love Left (1994): Fiasco
Former Child Actor (2002): Fiasco
Angelic 2 The Core: Angelic Funkadelic/Angelic Rockadelic (2014): Secret Success