For many cultures, the end of the year is rich with tradition, from trimming the Christmas tree or lighting the menorah to popping champagne corks as the year's final seconds tick away. In the offices of The Onion A.V. Club, the most celebrated tradition is the annual selection of the year's Least Essential Albums—not the worst music, but the recordings with the flimsiest reasons to exist. As always, every winner must have been released nationally, and the thousands of insignificant soundtracks (like Totally Pokémon: Music From The Hit TV Series! and The Olsen Twins' Holiday In The Sun) and tribute albums (like Midnight In The Patch: Tribute To The Smashing Pumpkins) are exempt. Other recordings were omitted for reasons too obscure or specific to mention here—and several last-minute contenders, including P. Diddy's gospel album, releases by BBD, Shaq, and Lil' Bow Wow, and Popstars Vol. 2, weren't available at press time—but readers with suggested additions or subtractions can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Least Essential Album By A Protégé Of An Inessential Artist
Dream, It Was All A Dream (Buy It!)
If taken objectively, It Was All A Dream sounds no less essential than any of the countless teen-courting albums released in recent years. But two qualities set Dream's debut apart from the crowd: a lack of timeliness and the involvement of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Occasionally heard grunting words of encouragement like "Yeah!" and "C'mon!," executive producer Combs uses a revolving cast of producers to obscure his discovery on songs that sound test-marketed to not offend Target shoppers. "The idea of having a pop group on Bad Boy Records is so 'Oh my gosh'," group member Holly Blake proclaimed upon It Was All A Dream's release. "People are gonna check just because." For most, however, "just because" was insufficient reason to explore the long-dreamed-of bridge between the worlds of Black Rob and Eden's Crush.
Least Essential Misleading Advertising
Billy Joel, Fantasies & Delusions: Music For Solo Piano (Buy It!)
The "Modern Woman" composer's first foray into the world of latter-day classical music deserves credit for a title that doesn't take itself too seriously, but that's about it. Recorded in Vienna, apparently for the same reason artists aspiring for an authentic country sound head to Nashville, Fantasies & Delusions sounds like the work of a man who has enjoyed classical music for a long time. More notably, in what could be deemed a blessing or a curse, the top-billed Joel is merely the composer here, turning performance duties over to pianist Richard Joo. A bottle of red, a bottle of white, some pleasant tinkling with your dinner tonight?
Least Essential Greatest Hits Collection
Great White, Greatest Hits (Buy It!)
Great White, Rock Champions
Each year brings a crushing assortment of inessential career overviews, with 2001's batch including retrospectives by the likes of Collective Soul, Cappadonna, and The Backstreet Boys. But the Least Essential Greatest Hits Collection goes to two sets honoring '80s hit-maker Great White—not so much because of the compilations' enthusiastic bar-band rock, but because they follow The Best Of Great White, The Best Of Great White: 1986-1992, Latest & Greatest (with re-recorded hits), Back To Back Hits, and several live discs.
Least Essential Covers Album
Simple Minds, Neon Lights (Buy It!)
Ideally, covers albums allow acts to pay tribute to their influences while reinterpreting material through their own vision. Often, however, they resemble this year's Least Essential Covers Album, Simple Minds' Neon Lights, which finds the middle-aged rock/soul outfit demolishing 12 classic songs with the casual musical sadism of a sub-par wedding band. Neon Lights saves the worst for last, closing with a bizarre cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that turns Ian Curtis' melodic howl of despair and alienation into a chipper, verse-free slice of light techno. Somewhere, Curtis is spinning in his grave, if he wasn't already.
Least Essential Rock Opera
Various Artists, Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus (Buy It!)
This rock bio-opera re-creates the life of physician/prophet Michel de Nostredame in a fashion that even he probably didn't foresee: as a concept album that makes Styx's Kilroy Was Here seem like a paragon of restraint and dignity. The cast for the two-disc extravaganza includes Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Joe Lynn Turner (as Nostradamus), former Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes (as Henry II), and "Black Velvet" chanteuse Alannah Myles (as Nostradamus' wife Anne Gemelle). Composer, guitarist, and violinist Nikolo Kotzev gives everyone opportunities to strain vocal chords and fingers, as Nostradamus' vague, meaningless predictions are played out as they were meant to be heard: joined to the hottest, highest-pitched guitar solos this side of 1988. Cheer as Nostradamus sends Henry a detailed letter, warning of the latter's impending death! Thrill as Nostradamus battles the combined might of the French Crown and the Inquisition, before dying quietly of dropsy at age 63!
Least Essential Limp Bizkit Byproduct
Big Dumb Face, Duke Lion Fights The Terror!! (Buy It!)
Beating out the Limp Bizkit remix album New Old Songs—any album featuring Timbaland, DJ Premier, and the like can only be so inessential—is the debut of guitarist Wes Borland's side project Big Dumb Face, which seems intent on topping Borland's main gig for sheer stupidity. Racing from genre to genre with the glassy-eyed impatience of an ADD-afflicted child, Duke Lion Fights The Terror!! showcases Borland's vast assortment of silly voices, as the colored-contact-lens enthusiast experiments with every vocal distortion device known to humanity. The result sounds like a 12-year-old boy's homemade Ween tribute album.
Least Essential Attempt To Capitalize On The 1990 R&B Hit "Knockin Boots"
Candyman, Knockin Boots 2001… A Sex Odyssey (Buy It!)
The once-beloved Pharcyde and Stereo MC's both released long-awaited comeback albums to deafening indifference in 2001, but neither could match Candyman's memorably titled Knockin Boots 2001… A Sex Odyssey for sheer desperation. Taking retro-minded shamelessness to morbid new lows, his latest slab of cheesy come-ons combines rap's saddest clichés by instantly dating itself, indulging in lame pop-culture references, and referencing Candyman's sole hit. Clinching the disc's inessentiality, however, is the song "Knockin Boots 2001," which has nothing whatsoever to do with the original "Knockin Boots." Instead, it chronicles some of the pleasures found in a night out with the Candyman, including "front-row tickets to a bomb-ass play," a relaxing bath, dinner reservations, strawberries in the tub, whipped cream, champagne, and the music of R&B supergroup LSG.
Least Essential Album Inspired By Television
3rd Faze, 3rd Faze (Buy It!)
This year saw countless inessential albums from groups conceived by (or popularized by) nefarious television executives: Eden's Crush, Flickerstick, and O-Town each demonstrated the prescience of Newton Minow's description of television as a vast wasteland. But rising above the pack is 3rd Faze, a group concocted for the Go For It! Roadshow, an educational touring production imparting lessons about healthy diet and exercise, and due to be turned into a program for the USA Network. True, the soulless dance-pop and wan balladry of Halie (favorite movie: Happy Gilmore), Minia (favorite sport: football), and Sara Marie (favorite band: Crazy Town) isn't any worse than that of their peers, but the group trounces the competition because it's probably the only act in the world to get a record deal looking to O-Town as an inspiration.
Least Essential Album By An Actor
Billy Bob Thornton, Private Radio (Buy It!)
The hallowed halls of inessentialdom are littered with the forgotten labors of daydreaming thespians eager to try their hands at rock 'n' roll. This past year was no exception, as noted eccentrics Vincent Gallo and Billy Bob Thornton each released albums that would try the patience of even their most obsessed fans. Gallo's wispy, twee When has its kooky moments, but it can't top Billy Bob Thornton's Private Radio, a raspy slice of Southern Gothic that finds the nation's premier hillbilly auteur indulging his love for Tom Waits-style American grotesquerie. From the nearly 10-minute spoken-word piece "Beauty At The Back Door" to the cringe-inducing love song "Angelina" ("They thought we'd never make it / Two crazy panthers on the prowl"), Private Radio embodies the misguided spirit of the inessential.
Least Essential Album By An Act Years Past Its Prime
Air Supply, Yours Truly (Buy It!)
What could be less essential than a new dose of Air Supply's blowsy love-cheese? How about "Body Glove," an Air Supply song that tries to cop an attitude? The result, oddly enough, sounds just like mid-period Kenny Loggins. This category wasn't exactly a cakewalk, as Yours Truly faced stiff competition from the storied likes of Crash Test Dummies, Jesus Jones, MC Hammer, and "V-Ice," the latest incarnation of the hip-hopper formerly known as Vanilla.
Least Essential Album By An Act Years Past Its Prime
Journey, Arrival (Buy It!)
If it were possible to trademark a voice, Steve Perry would have grounds for a historic lawsuit against his former bandmates in Journey. For Arrival, the group's first full-length album since Perry's departure, Journey replaced the singer as though he were a bassist or a drummer, bringing in another guy to play-act his precise vocal inflections ("Whoah-ooh-ohh!") and goofy look. Casual observers—and, really, were casual observers exposed to Arrival?—would have to scour the liner notes to tell the difference, and even then, they might assume that Perry had joined a gym, donned silly red leather pants, and changed his last name to "Augeri" just to gain an extra syllable. The musical results are as dull and ponderous as 1996's Trial By Fire, Journey's last album with Perry.
Least Essential Castoffs By Castoffs
Misfits, Cuts From The Crypt (Buy It!)
Longtime fans of the Misfits know that the band's golden age—its creative, commercial, and cultural peak—has spanned the last five years, long after bassist Jerry Only brought in ringers to replace the inessential likes of Glenn Danzig. (True fans know that Danzig was Gary Cherone to Michale Graves' David Lee Roth.) Cuts From The Crypt compiles demos and rarities from 1996 to 2001, the period that brought the world American Psycho and Famous Monsters, two albums that are far more inessential than bad. So it goes with Cuts From The Crypt, a conceptually absurd fans-only collection for a band that must have the most patient fans in the world. Note: Cuts From The Crypt, inessential as it is, is infinitely more entertaining than anything Danzig released during the same period.
Least Essential Awkward Adolescence
Aaron Carter, Oh Aaron (Buy It!)
Oh Aaron, the third album from Least Essential staple Aaron Carter, attempts to gently shepherd the 14-year-old Backstreet brother through the difficult years of early adolescence. Appearing to have aged about five years since 2000's Aaron's Party (Come Get It) and now possessing a voice that's gone from chirpy to unsure, the singer/rapper seems ill-suited for inching his way into artistic relevance as he begins to sprout facial hair and think about muscle cars. Rapping with a flow that might politely be described as "unsteady" (or less politely described as "wack"), Carter displays a newfound preoccupation with romantic overtures, which seems likely to freak out his target audience of pony-loving grade-schoolers. "We can surf the board, surf the 'Net / better yet, we can make a little bet / that if we get together, yo, it's gonna be the bomb / hear me out, baby, aaroncarter.com," Carter rhymes on "Not Too Young, Not Too Old," a disturbing companion piece to Britney Spears' "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman." The sound of canceled Teen Beat photo shoots is all but audible between tracks.
Least Essential Album By An ABBA Tribute Act
A*Teens, Teen Spirit (Buy It!)
Last year's Least Essential Album, The ABBA Generation, was a collection of note-for-note ABBA covers by the fresh-scrubbed Swedish teenagers of A*Teens. What could be less essential? The only possible answer is a collection of unbearably cheesy dance-pop originals by the same act. While ABBA remains a key influence, A*Teens here seems equally informed by the telegenic cheesepuffs in S Club 7. All that's keeping Teen Spirit from its rightful status as the year's Least Essential Album is The Onion A.V. Club's desire to avoid redundancy. There's a one-year term limit atop this chart, which means A*Teens will have to settle for the prize in the hotly contested category of Least Essential Album By An ABBA Tribute Act.
Least Essential Album
SHeDAISY, The Whole SHeBANG: All Mixed Up (Buy It!)
The archaic and unnecessary rule prohibiting remix albums from inclusion on Least Essential Albums lists has finally been lifted, and with no time to spare. The Utah-bred country-pop trio SHeDAISY scored a modest hit with its 1999 debut The Whole SHeBANG, which met at the midpoint between Faith Hill and The Dixie Chicks. Whether due to writers' block or an inflated sense of its own mercenary power, the group followed that disc with a holiday album (2000's Brand New Year) and All Mixed Up, which presents The Whole SHeBANG's songs again, in order, with occasional beats and slight variations in instrumentation. It would be one thing if SHeDAISY had hooked up with the day's top remix artists for some subversive reinvention, but All Mixed Up is essentially the same album—and inessentially anathema to SHeDAISY completists everywhere.