Don't Believe The Hype

Just because you've had one (or sometimes more) successful album doesn't necessarily mean you're destined for a diamond-studded career from then on. Some bands crumble under pressure or simply fail to deliver the goods after the hype machine goes into overdrive leaving a sour taste fans' mouths and a large dent in the pride and bank balance of everyone involved. Here are ten albums we REALLY wanted to be good but missed the mark – some by quite a long way.

Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

The overhyped album by which all overhyped albums must be measured, Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy had everything: a budget that spiralled out of control, a perfectionist singer who tinkered for so long the record was dated by the time it was released, and a build-up so lengthy and notorious that it could not fail to flop under the weight of expectation. Technically, work started on it shortly after the band’s previous over-hyped, under-delivering album – 1994’s Spaghetti Incident. But with Guns N’ Roses stoned, drunk, argumentative and at the end of their tether, it didn’t progress very far.

Since then, Axl Rose managed to lose every single member of the original band and replaced them with a crew of hired guns. But even they couldn’t tease an actual record out of Rose. Fourteen years dragged by since those first 1994 sessions and, for every year since 1999, it seemed likely that Chinese Democracy might finally get its release. But it never did. Instead recording and writing dragged on to such an extent that the band’s manager was forced to deny that it was, at £13m, the most expensive album ever made.

When it was finally released in 2008, to massive fanfare and hype, it was such an inevitable disappointment that it was actually quite enjoyable to watch. Sounding like Rose had taken a little piece of every single musical genre he had heard in the previous decade – some nu metal, some post-grunge, some garage – it was a complete mess of a record, and one that cost the singer his dignity and respect, as well as quite a lot of money. It may have gone Platinum, but it was also a laughing stock.

Metallica – St. Anger

Metallica, like Guns N’ Roses, are not exactly without form in releasing massively hyped but deeply unsatisfying records. Metal purists will point to The Black Album as just one example – though it’s hard to be churlish about a rock record that was intended to be commercial and which then went 16 times Platinum. But that album’s follow-up Load was arguably the first time the band had completely let down their fans with a dud release. More recently, the band’s bizarre hook-up with Lou Reed for the Lulu album was another disappointment, but it was St. Anger that really clanged. Released six years after its disappointing predecessor Reload and following Metallica’s high-profile and unpopular dispute with file-sharing service Napster, it was supposed to be the record that put the band back on track. That’s certainly how they were selling it anyway amid a publicity machine that went into overdrive beforehand.

But in reality, it was an album recorded with the band at each other’s throats, with singer James Hetfield dealing with the rehab and without bassist Jason Newsted who had left the band. In attempting to emulate modern metal, the band almost completely abandoned what many loved about them – including solos – and released a turkey of such monumental proportions, it’s a wonder it wasn’t stuffed and served for Christmas.

Korn – Untouchables

When Korn started work on the follow-up to Issues, they did so with their wallets open and their minds on partying. Two years in the making, the band were said to have spent close to $4m on piecing the album together – money which was mostly spent on luxurious accommodation rather than musical endeavours, and in keeping a 15-strong crew available at all times for them to record. “We moved to Phoenix and rented five houses for $10,000 apiece for four months,” said bassist Fieldy when asked how they had managed to spend so much. “We came to LA, rented five more houses for $10,000 apiece for four more months. We went to Canada and rented a house for $8,000. That’s a week, not a month. Does that explain it?”

They were determined that they should not rush the record after deciding that the ones they worked on slowly were the ones they liked. But the problem was that they were not entirely fully focused on making music. Fieldy, for example, claims to have partied every single night that the band were writing in Phoenix. “Every day I came in to write hungover and I’d throw up,” he pointed out. In fact, so hard did he party that he installed a stripper pole in his rented house and then forced girls to sign disclaimers when they used it lest they got injured. “This one girl came in and she was on the pole, she flew off and hit the fireplace and split her eye open. That was when I was like ‘We’ve got to get a disclaimer,’” he said. On its release, the album made in the midst of this nonsense, Untouchables was well-received. Now, though, it sounds exactly as bloated as its recording process was.

**Megadeth – Risk **

Like the band he was once thrown out of, Metallica, Dave Mustaine struggled in the late 1990s to find a foothold for Megadeth. As the appetite for thrash waned in the face of mainstream competition from nu metal and underground competition from more aggressive, more innovative newcomers, the grand old men of metal found themselves having to reinvent their acts. Metallica had a go with Load and Reload and largely failed. But Mustaine went for respectability. No longer able to tear things up, he wanted the more conservative classic rock crowd. 1997’s Cryptic Wings started the ball rolling, but 1999’s Risk was a headlong dive into radio rock.

But while the head of the band’s label Capitol grandly stated that Risk would have four radio hits, the band trying to write those hits were not all pulling in the same direction. The title stems from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich telling Mustaine he needed to take more risks, but Mustaine took that to mean he should head in a pop direction. Others in the band wanted to go heavier, while yet others wanted to be more experimental. The results were a mess, with the band losing edge, innovation and sales. They left Capitol shortly afterwards and made an attempt to return to their roots on follow-up The World Needs A Hero. But Risk would knock them off beam for years to come.

**Iron Maiden – Virtual XI **

For Blaze Bayley’s second and last album as the frontman of Iron Maiden, the band altogether lost the run of themselves. Forget record label hype, this was hype of their own making: and very weird it was too. The album was released in a World Cup year, 1998, and bassist Steve Harris appeared to have confused his love of the football with the fact he was making a Maiden record. Hence, the album title had a fantasy football tie-in for no apparent reason, as well as a computer game one – the band were releasing a game called Ed Hunter at the time too. They even insisted on a football being added to the album’s artwork.

To promote the record, they went on a publicity tour around Europe playing pro/celebrity football tournaments – one of the strangest pre-release marketing gimmicks in recent memory. But despite the build-up, the record was sensationally dull. Bayley was out of the band soon after, with Dickinson back in the fold.

**Kiss – Sonic Boom **

When Kiss bowed out with their 18th studio album, Psycho Circus, in 1998 there was something fitting about it. Yes, it was a massive pile of dross but at least it featured the four original members back together in their make-up. And it was certainly better than most of the nonsense they had put out in their late make-up-free years. And so it should have been the perfect record to take their curtain call with. But then Kiss have never really known how to make a graceful exit, nor are they ones to do anything with subtlety. So when, 11 years later, they returned with Sonic Boom – featuring just two original members and two hired guns – they did so with a whirl of hoopla and fireworks, a giant tour and grand statements like Paul Stanley’s: “we can still knock out anybody who’s out there!” The fans begged to differ.

The Darkness – One Way Ticket To Hell And Back

When The Darkness made their debut album Permission To Land, they were not only underdogs, but they were underdogs dressed in spandex who sang in falsetto. They were up against everything: a media who couldn’t understand them and who thought they were parody; a public who rejected them because they were lapping up the studied cool of The Strokes; and an industry that wrote them off before the band had a chance.

But then they became stars, joyfully sticking two fingers up at everyone who doubted them – and especially at the NME, who were once so desperate for a Darkness cover that they once sent a reporter to follow them around London despite the fact the band entirely refused to speak to them. By the end of 2004, they were headlining Reading Festival having only released one album. Hype? You betcha.

Then came their second album. Recorded after inter-band disharmony, quite a few Class A extra-curricular activities and without the same joyful, underdog spirit of old, it was a stinker. But it was released with all the fanfare of a royal birth: parties, lavish video shoots, the works. Within a year, singer Justin Hawkins was in rehab and the band had fallen apart. Oh.

Chris Cornell – Scream

The former Soundgarden singer’s solo career was tripping along quite nicely in 2007. His first solo album had come in 1999 to a reasonable reception and, following a spell in Audioslave, he attained reasonable notices for his 2007 second album Carry On too. So, with critical acclaim and much momentum behind him, what to do next? Well, the former grunge icon, renowned for his powerful rock voice and way with a riff, decided that an R&B album might be a nice choice.

He teamed up with the producer Timbaland and, rather than tell people it was a low-key project, or that he was “just trying something out”, he decided to go around telling the world that his new music was like Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon or Queen’s A Night At The Opera. His R+B album, that is. The one that was something he had never attempted before. The reviews were horrible. Spin called it “elaborately empty”. Billboard noted that it was “bizarre” and Rolling Stone said his voice “never sounds at home.” But it was Nine Inch Nails man Trent Reznor who put the boot in the most efficiently. “Embarrassing,” he tweeted mortifyingly.

Trivium – The Crusade

In 2006, Trivium had the world at their feet. They had announced themselves by marching onto the main stage at the 2004 Download festival at the sort of unearthly early hour in the morning in which people are generally still battling their way out of their tents and then simply blew the place away. For two years they were touted as the natural heirs to Metallica, the hottest young band in metal. And they lived up to it, telling stories of backstage debauchery and the things they had done with all the newfound groupies that seemed to have sprung up from nowhere.

But perhaps they believed the hype. Because they went away and made The Crusade, which sounded like a Metallica cover album. But quite a bad one. Singer Matt Heafy no longer screamed but sang (and not all that well), and the band went on tour with James Hetfield and co., as well as touring with Iron Maiden. The message was clear: they wanted to operate in the big leagues. Instead, they made a record that was a pale imitation of the big hitters they so wanted to emulate and no-one took them very seriously again. And that was the end of their buzz.

Aerosmith – Done With Mirrors

One night, backstage in Worcester, Massachusetts, Aerosmith’s singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry got wasted. Nothing unusual about that, you might think, given the pair had the nickname The Toxic Twins. However, it was 1984 and Perry had been out of the band for five years. It was a session, though, that led to him being allowed back into the fold. And when estranged guitarist Brad Whitford came to watch a show with Perry a little while later, it led to the classic lineup of the band getting back together.

It meant that hype for their ensuing album was high: the original band back together and back on a high. The problem was that it was the wrong kind of high: theirs was a narcotic one rather than a creative one. The subsequent Back In The Saddle tour was dogged by drug-related issues but, despite this, new label Geffen were understandably keen to promote their new charges as much as possible. However, as the publicity machine went into overdrive, the band knocked out one of their least successful albums in years. Ironically called Done With Mirrors – a pun supposed to suggest Tyler, Perry and co were finished with doing cocaine – it bombed, though actually the music on it was much underrated. The title, too, turned out to be nonsense: Tyler was in rehab two years later, clearly having not done with mirrors.

What it did do, though, was get the band back on the path to success: Permanent Vacation followed in 1987 and became their biggest selling record in 10 years, before 1989’s Pump made them superstars once more. But Done With Mirrors, no matter what it actually did for the band, will always be remembered as a flop.

Tom Bryant

Tom Bryant is The Guardian's deputy digital editor. The author of The True Lives Of My Chemical Romance: The Definitive Biography, he has written for Kerrang!, Q, MOJO, The Guardian, the Daily Mail, The Mirror, the BBC, Huck magazine, the londonpaper and Debrett's - during the course of which he has been attacked by the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bass player and accused of starting a riot with The Prodigy. Though not when writing for Debrett's.