10 absolute classics from 10 albums people love to hate

Montage of sleeves featuring albums from Guns N' Roses, Kiss, Metallica, Motley Crue and Judas Priest
(Image credit: Geffen/Casablanca/Elektra/Elektra/Columbia)

Sure, 2002’s Ghostship movie clocked a Tomatometer rating of 16 percent for being equal parts predictable and plotless, but horror aficionados still swoon for that mass decapitation scene. Amid Friends’ middling ten-seasons slog, the episode where Ross and Joey’s flagging horn-dog energy is revived when they shift focus from the former’s failed sexual encounter to the snack he fixed himself afterward (The One That Could Have Been, Part 2) is genuinely fucking funny. 

Sometimes, a slice of a (questionable) whole shines in its own right. Sometimes one good apple damn near redeems the worm-eaten bunch. And sometimes, midway through an album that feels vaguely like karmic punishment for sins of a past life, we get a fantastic rock song. 


Kiss - Naked City (Unmasked, 1980)

Generally regarded as an unambitious snooze, Unmasked marked the end of Kiss’s four-album platinum run. And critics weren’t the only ones with negative opinions of it; Gene Simmons himself has called it a “shitty album” he wouldn’t want to play for his own mother. But buried in that heap, you’ll find Naked City, a vignette about New York City’s lost and lonely. There’s something surprisingly pretty about this power pop-rock tune. With reggae-inspired verses, a grinding bassline, and an alluring vocal from Simmons, Naked City falls in the enticing overlap of haunting and dancey.

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (Chinese Democracy, 2008)

Guns N' Roses’ first collection of originals since 1991, Chinese Democracy had no shot of living up to its (massive, years-long) hype. The press wasn’t all negative – some reviewers adored its audacity and downright weirdness – but its critics found it exhausting, overproduced, and hidden in the shadow of Nine Inch Nails. But it’s not without its worthwhile material, including the title track. 

Coming off an unsettling intro cluttered with voices, a la Pink Floyd, Chinese Democracy segues into a rising bold guitar accompanied by understated siren howls into verses and choruses that represent Axl Rose’s voice at its most self-assured.

Jack White - Over And Over (Boarding House Reach, 2018)

Some reviewers were wooed by Boarding House Reach’s hard swerve into the modernistic, lawless land of found sound and spoken-word cud chewing while others were exasperated by the same. 

With critics divided on whether Jack White’s third was his funnest yet or a mirthless schlepp through fields of ego, the rock commentariat united to roast Ice Station Zebra, in which White raps (!!) about artists borrowing from artists who borrow from artists who borrow from God. But savour or scorn it, Boarding House also gives us Over And Over And Over, where the gospel infusion, vocal overcommitment, Merry-Clayton-esque cry, and blasting choruses beautifully rise to the lyrics’ dramatic mythology.  

Judas Priest - Reckless (Turbo, 1986)

Maligned for its synth-heavy, commercial hair metal tone, which departed from the band’s classic style, Turbo (1986) is considered by many to be Judas Priest’s worst album. But make it to the bitter end and you’re treated to Reckless

Recalling Judas Priest’s beloved Defenders Of The Faith (1984), Reckless has the good sense to sacrifice synths and shift all its attention to the guitar work on its huge verses and huger, echoing choruses. The lyrics fluctuate from empowerment to bravado, but the racing, grandiose tune manages to sell the message as groundbreaking. 

Green Day - Lazy Bones (¡Dos!, 2012)

In 2012, Green Day released three albums back to back in a gambit that largely didn’t pay off. Having adopted a power pop style for ¡Uno!, the band switched to garage rock for ¡Dos! to mixed results. While some critics dug the catchiness, others considered it a dour study of – rather than true exercise in – album two’s genre, weighed down by filler and offering nothing new. 

But from ¡Dos! we get a melodic contemplation of chronic exhaustion in Lazy Bones. Exploring boredom and the sort of tiredness that infiltrates the soul, Lazy Bones delivers enough lyrical and vocal power to help salvage the experimental album.

Metallica - Where the Wild Things Are (Reload, 1997)

Plenty of one-time fans were still suspicious of Metallica for departing from their classic style when Reload was released in 1997. The band had been toying with a more alternative, mainstream approach that alienated some die-hards, and then here came an experimental Southern- and blues-rock inspired record that divided the critics. 

But the album included some winners, including the psychedelic metal track Where the Wild Things Are. Bassist Jason Newstead joined the writing team for this nearly 7-minute-long enterprise to powerful effect.

Def Leppard - Bad Actress (Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, 2008)

Left to their own devices after producer Robert “Mutt” Lange set off for the snow-covered pastures of Switzerland, Def Leppard tried to recapture the magic of Hysterialargely regarded as their best album – on Songs From The Sparkle Lounge. And it committed its share of blunders beyond that gooey title. 

A growly Tim McGraw feels out of place on Nine Lives. Love is a plodding ballad without much to say. But then Bad Actress swoops in with an electrically charged groove and racing, fun choruses that perfectly fit its lyrical jabs. 

Greta Van Fleet - When the Curtain Falls (Anthem of the Peaceful Army, 2018) 

One of the most memorably panned albums of recent years, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army brought out the nostalgic poet in some and the curmudgeonly asshole in others. While those who defended it based on the fact that it was (damn it) fun, had a point, so did those who had trouble stomaching its cloying lyrics, out-of-touch themes, and homage teetering on facsimile. 

One place where the band’s promise was impossible to overlook was When The Curtain Falls, which transformed Greta Van Fleet’s cheeky, boyish charm into a saucy energy that flawlessly matched the swinging tune’s gilded tale of a Hollywood queen losing her crown. 

Motley Crue - A Rat Like Me (Generation Swine, 1997) 

Generation Swine shows a Motley Crue fitfully adapting to the rising popularity of nu-metal. Having recently gone through a frontman lineup change, they were also fitfully adapting to each other again. 

On this album, they’re guilty of experimenting for experimentation’s sake and subjecting the world to the maudlin lyrics of Brandon, but they pull back from self-destruction with A Rat Like Me. Harking back to classic Crue style, Rat is a grinding confession of being a dog, a freak, a “snot nosed nuclear sonic punk,” and, yes, a rat who will never save the world. But in reconnecting with their ratty side, Motley Crue do save the album. 

The Rolling Stones - One Hit (To the Body) (Dirty Work, 1986)

Dirty Work, pasted together while Mick and Keith were creatively on the outs, routinely falls dead-last when ranking output of the Rolling Stones’ fecund career. Between distinctly ’80s production techniques, which guaranteed a short shelf life, and career-low songwriting, nearly the whole record lands flat. But there’s an undeniable sizzle to One Hit (To the Body). This song provides some snarling blues and vulgar energy more typical of the Stones’ highs.

Joannie Penderwick

Joannie Penderwick writes the newsletter Okay Annie. Her essays have appeared in PopMatters, Slate, and Forge, among other publications.