More and more, music listeners are gravitating towards the hits; hit albums, hit songs, hit performances. This style of listening is great for a 21st century approach to music, where singles are downloadable and iTunes reigns supreme, but whatever happened to listening to an album? The whole thing? Those were the days. With that in mind, here are 10 grossly underrated albums from famous recording artists that you may not’ve heard yet.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980) – David Bowie
As an artist, finding a balance between past success and experimental new territory can be a bit of a chore. With Ziggy Stardust (1972), David Bowie found success. With his other albums of the 1970s, less so. But with 1980s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), Bowie found the perfect balance between his musical sensibilities and his larger-than-life glam-rock persona that had begun to weigh down his ability to express himself in ways that weren’t so…glam. Often regarded as Bowie’s last truly great effort, Scary Monsters helped return Bowie to commercial viability and contributed to his continued success as the king of all things zany.
Neon Bible (2007) – Arcade Fire
2007’s Neon Bible is a tough album to figure out. You could make the argument it didn’t really stand much of a chance, what with it being sandwiched between two legitimately great albums (both 2004’s Funeral and 2010’s The Suburbs will go down as master classes in how to construct a musical experience) and its eerie, often distant sound affecting the album’s radio playability. That said, there’s merit in listening to the album from cover-to-cover, as the its seamless flow and thoughtful lyrics are the perfect company on those rainy afternoons where more cheerful music just isn’t welcome.
On the Beach (1974) – Neil Young
Say what you will about Neil Young, but there’s no doubting that he’s produced some of the more timeless, affective albums in the history of rock and roll music. If you ask most critics, 1974’s On the Beach isn’t one of them. A bleak, stripped down follow-up to 1972’s Harvest, On the Beach was originally labelled “one of the most despairing albums of the decade” by Rolling Stone. Attitudes towards the album have softened in the years since, as appreciation of its complex lyricism and its foray into lo-fi recording methods have grown. In particular, tracks like “Ambulance Blues” and “Motion Pictures” have become staples for Neil Young fans everywhere.
Speakerboxxx (2003) – Big Boi
Originally released as the (admittedly lesser) half of 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below double album, Big Boi’s contributions are often overshadowed by the exemplary and musically exploratory effort put forth by Andre 3000; however, Speakerboxxx can’t be entirely overlooked, as it often acts as the anchor to which many hardcore Outkast fans held on to when The Love Below got just a little too…out there. With good flow, lyrical and emotional complexity throughout, and a heaping dose of good old-fashioned style, Speakerboxxx is the necessary ying to The Love Below‘s yang.
Tusk (1979) – Fleetwood Mac
The fact that Fleetwood Mac recorded another album after the legendary Rumours (1977) is a miracle; mired in controversy, drug abuse and marital woes, the band was in a dark place after producing one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time. Out of this darkness came Tusk (1979), an album that lacks the energy and exuberance that pervades most all of Rumours, but makes up for it with gobs of musical experimentalism and a darker tone that seems fitting when reading the press clippings surrounding the band at this time. Despite their differences, all members of the band (specifically Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham) are at the top of their game, and this can be heard across the breadth of the expansive double album.
One for the Road (1980) – The Kinks
Now, here’s the thing about The Kinks. You might not know ’em, but you definitely know their songs. Those songs are all here, on 1980’s One for the Road, a blistering live album compilation that you can turn on, crank up and revel in while it tears the roof off your ceiling. Recorded at the high point of tension between Ray and Dave Davies, the album’s intensity is impossible to overstate and it’s a must-listen for any punk, rock and metal fans who want an intimate glimpse into one of the foundational bands for those genres of music. Featuring terrific versions of “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night” and perhaps most impressive, “Lola,” this is the live album to end all live albums.
The Division Bell (1994) – Pink Floyd
Released after a nasty separation between the band and bassist Roger Waters, many would be hesitant to even call 1994’s The Division Bell a Pink Floyd album; after all, with only David Gilmour and Nick Mason left of the original lineup, the band retains few of the individuals that made it what it was throughout its heyday of the 70s and 80s. That’s not to say The Division Bell isn’t good—it most certainly is—but would it have been more appropriately labelled as a David Gilmour album? Questions worth asking. Regardless, The Division Bell succeeds greatly by combining Gilmour’s trademark echoing, soaring instrumentals with a mature, almost intimate approach to songwriting that contrasts starkly with the psychedelic themes on which the band built its reputation.
Get Behind Me Satan (2005) – The White Stripes
Here’s another album with the sincere misfortune of falling between two masterpieces. The White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan (2005) is many things—it’s experimental, it’s introspective, it’s both brash and shy, all at once—but it isn’t Elephant (2003), and it most certainly isn’t Icky Thump (2007), two albums which will almost assuredly go down as some of the best the modern era has to offer. Jack White’s signature electric blues are here replaced by calmer, piano driven melodies that reveal a tenderness not normally visible in rock’s reigning guitar king. Of course, the world was happy when those electric blues came crashing back in Icky Thump, but Get Behind Me Satan remains a worthy detour amidst the glorious chaos that is The White Stripes’ catalog.
All Things Must Pass (1970) – George Harrison
Maybe this one’s cheating, as George Harrison’s most successful solo venture, 1980’s All Things Must Pass features an astounding collection of musical talent, including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Bobby Keyes. It’s tough to put an “Underrated” tag on that. But with Harrison spending the majority of his tenure with The Beatles in the shadow of a towering duo (read…Lennon/McCartney), it was All Things Must Pass which showed the world that he, too, was a spectacular songwriter with a stellar array of sounds and influences at his disposal. Drawing from experiences as wide as his time with The Beatles to his excursions in India, Harrison assembled an album which was at once surprising, joyful and meditative.
Nebraska (1982) – Bruce Springsteen
Look, you can’t top Born to Run (1974). You just can’t. It’s commonly cited as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and it cemented Springsteen’s legacy as a gifted songwriter who took it upon himself to act as the statesman of the American working class. So if you’ve already made an epic rock record, what do you do for a follow up? If you’re the Boss, it’s simple. You lock yourself in your bedroom with your acoustic guitar, you write some pensive, meaningful songs which touch on love, family, heartbreak and the American Dream, and you come out the other side with Nebraska (1982), an almost entirely acoustic album which deviates heavily from the previously established Springsteen formula of fast cars, open roads and a land of opportunity. Springsteen would return to those familiar trappings with 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., but it’s Nebraska which will go down as the Boss’s signature album of the 1980s.