While we have already addressed many fine full-length vanity albums, our album-oriented format has not allowed for the discussion of vanity singles: songs released by otherwise un-musical celebrities that are never followed by a full album. The most common contemporary source for these singles is undoubtedly reality TV stars. They are so common, in fact, that we can divide them into sub-genres, and this column will address the most visible one: singles by cast members of Bravo reality shows, which exist in their own little Bravo universe. The songs are often about their actions on the shows and often made with other cast members. They become the subject [...]
For some entries in our series on vanity projects, it was perhaps unfair to refer to them as such. Christopher Lee and Milla Jovovich's albums were legitimate art products made by people who also happened to be actors, while Lindsay Lohan and Ian McShane were simply extending their careers in logical, and successful, pop directions. This is not the case with Brian Austin Green, who played David Silver on the original "Beverly Hills, 90210." His 1996 album One Stop Carnival is a vanity project par negligence. (He went by just "Brian Green" for the album, which is at least less ridiculous than Allen Iverson [...]
So far in this series on vanity projects, we've sampled the pleasant, the sad, and the surprisingly great, but now it's time to venture into the area most frequently associated with celebrity albums: the desperately weird. Crispin Glover has made a career out of being an elaborate, self-abasing weirdo, and his 1989 album The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be is his persona expressed in musical form. It came two years after his legendarily off-kilter bewigged appearance on "Late Night With David Letterman," during which he read aloud his own negative reviews and karate-kicked perilously close to Letterman's face, at which [...]
In 2002, Corey Feldman was the canary in the reality-show coal mine. Before starring on the first season of VH1's "The Surreal Life," a show that spawned something like 16 spinoffs, the fallen star of Goonies and The Lost Boys produced an album which could stand as the unofficial soundtrack for the 00s' glut of celebrity reality shows. That Former Child Actor was going to be a wreck was evident before it even came out (maybe it was the promised cover of "Imagine" that tipped everyone off). But this series is dedicated to reassessing vanity projects past, no matter how unpromising, so let's do now what we [...]
Celebrities may cut a vanity single, and some take the time to put together an entire album. But rarely do they get 5-album deals on the strength of their performance in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and have several go platinum, only to have those albums sink into obscurity. But that's what happened to Alyssa Milano in the midst of her run as Tony Danza's daughter on "Who's the Boss?" Starting with 1989's Look in my Heart, she recorded four albums in four years for the Japanese market, and despite their commercial success, she rarely speaks of them today. Is her debut worthy of reconsideration?
Generally the problem with vanity projects is that the vanity object/subject seems less interested in making a good album than in getting credit simply for having made one at all. But for Christopher Lee, maybe the bare fact of him having recorded a metal album at the age of 88—Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, a "symphonic metal" rock opera about the titular figure, was released in 2010—is worthy of praise in and of itself. Still, Lee, who made a veritable mountain of B-movie classics and was a rightfully beloved cult actor even before he played Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies, shouldn't be allowed to coast [...]
While we've discussed Ian McShane, Corey Feldman and Milla Jovovich, this series on vanity projects has so far not addressed any album responsible for a major cultural scandal, academic controversy or employment change. This time, though, we're talking about Sketches of My Culture, the first album by legendary academic and all-around super-genius Cornel West. Released in 2001, it became one of the major points of contention in a dispute between West and then-Harvard President Larry Summers that eventually grew so heated West left the university for Princeton. As a concept, the album is appealing: maybe we should make pop music that also educates people about socialist perspectives [...]
"The vanity of others runs counter to our taste only when it runs counter to our vanity," Nietzsche wrote, but then he never had to listen to a Keanu Reeves album. What might possess a talented, accomplished person, one otherwise deliberate in all their career choices, to announce abruptly to the public, "Today I am a recording artist," and then sing their way through an entire album of covers—or worse, originals? The vanity album has produced a lot of misses, a few hits, and even the occasional legitimate musical career—it'll be our job here to sort them all out.
For instance: in 1992, Ian McShane, [...]
A promo ad for this album says it all: "EDDIE MURPHY SINGS!!! / 'HOW COULD IT BE' ?!?" Nine years after Richard Pryor's …Is It Something I Said? held the number-one spot on the R&B charts for two consecutive weeks, only one of Murphy's first two albums, both recordings of his stand-up act, had squeaked its way into the top ten of that chart.
Though comedy LPs by Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, and Bob Newhart had been major commercial successes in the 60s and 70s, by the early 80s, audiences were turning to movies, TV, and video rental for their standup needs. (Pryor's landmark 1982 concert Live on [...]
If everyone you know is making an album, is it really a vanity project when you make one, too, or is it just peer pressure? Such is the taxonomic problem with which we're faced when it comes to Speak, Lindsay Lohan’s 2004 Casablanca Records debut LP. While previous entrants in this series may have made their albums at the behest of savvy record labels, as with Ian McShane and Milla Jovovich, or to satisfy their own artistic ambition, as with Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover, the years surrounding Lohan’s album would see releases—some very good ones, it should be said—from peers like Paris Hilton, Mandy Moore, [...]
So far in this series dedicated to forgotten vanity projects past, we've addressed a pretty-good album by Ian McShane and an awful one by Corey Feldman. Now it's time for our first unabashed success. Milla Jovovich's The Divine Comedy, an acoustic art-rock timepiece heavily influenced by the Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush, is a vanity project, but it's one that entirely deserves a place in your collection.
But to put the album in its proper context, we'll have to explore a period in our history we might otherwise prefer to forget: mainstream pop culture of the mid-90s. The Divine Comedy came out in 1994, and so [...]