16 Endlessly Delayed Albums

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 11.01.11 in Lists

Bad label deals, internal fighting, creative blockage and just plain procrastination — there are myriad reasons why albums stall on the road from concept to execution. In honor of the release of the ultimate “lost album” — The Beach Boys’ Smile — we offer a look at 16 other records that took ages to finally make it from creators’ minds to fans’ ears.


My Bloody Valentine

The grand mother of all delayed albums, My Bloody Valentine's second record is the one that drove their label, Creation, to the brink of bankruptcy and the band to the point of madness. MBV mainman and notorious studio perfectionist Kevin Shields became obsessed with the minutiae of the record's sound, hiring and firing studio engineers and laboring for days over small, practically inaudible details. Nearly two years after it was initially begun, Loveless was finally released and became an instant classic, redefining the paradigm of British rock and cementing the band's legend as rock bullheaded innovators. Amelia Raitt

Car Wheels On A Gravel Road

Lucinda Williams

Car Wheels is that rare feat of a perfectionist actually achieving perfection. Williams went into an Austin studio with her longtime friend, guitarist and producer of her two previous discs, Gurl Morlix. When the album was "90 percent done" according to Morlix, Williams scrapped it all and went to Nashville to work with Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy because she liked their sound after sitting in on Earle's I Feel Alright. It says something that after this project, Morlix never worked with her again. Problems and delays ensued after American label head Rick Rubin had mixed nearly all the tunes, the disc changed labels from American to Mercury, and E Street pianist Roy Bittan was eventually brought in as the third and final producer. In 1998, six years after her previous disc, Car Wheels was finally released and became her career breakthrough, mostly because of its cleaner but still informal sound and greater separation and emphasis on her vocal interpretations of her songs. It captured a Billboard Award for "Best Contemporary Folk Album," won the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Poll of national critics, and sounds as riveting and contemporary today as when it was first released. Britt Robson

There's A Riot Goin' On

Sly & The Family Stone

As the '60s turned into the '70s, rock acts were expected to release an album a year minimum. But Sly Stone played by his own rules, and the 2.5-year lag between 1969's bestseller Stand! and this November 1971-issued long, dark, menacingly funky night of the soul seemed to take approximately forever to gestate. No wonder between endless overdubs (which degraded the sound to mud) and the endless partying at the L.A. mansion where Sly recorded it, it's a miracle Riot even got finished, never mind being a masterpiece. Michaelangelo Matos

Extraordinary Machine

Fiona Apple

Free Fiona! By early 2005, more than two years after Epic Records was set to release Fiona Apple's third album, Apple's fans had become as moody as the singer herself. When it appeared that Epic might shelve Extraordinary Machine indefinitely (were Apple's notoriously eccentric arrangements not commercial enough, perhaps?), Sony BMG found itself the target of fan-led demonstrations outside its Madison Avenue headquarters picture lots of angry 20-somethings in red hats, steeped in righteous indignation and apple imagery. By that time, the internet was already abuzz with bootlegs of the Jon Brion-produced tracks from Extraordinary Machine, but it wasn't until producer Mike Elizondo was brought in to re-record the album that it was deemed ready for official release in October 2005. You can debate which version was better the raw Jon Brion bootlegs or the more polished (yet still weird and wonderful) Elizondo-helmed final product but after all the falderal, how lovely to have a choice at all. Maris Kreizman

Hell Hath No Fury


Arista's messy dissolution forced Clipse to temporarily part from Star Trak and promptly lose all momentum from their gold-certified debut Lord Willin'. Despite the three-year label entanglement, Clipse snagged the Neptunes from J Records and matched every earnest apology with a merciless threat. "All I wanna do is ride around shining," the twin rappers stoically spell out as a single harp arpeggio flurries in succession. Its cold brilliance, seemingly inspired by Lalo Schifrin's "Broken Mirrors," isn't of rims or chains, but of a 9 mm. Christina Lee

Second Coming

The Stone Roses

After singlehandedly inventing the genre of Madchester which layered laconic melodies over slippery bass lines and sparkling guitars the Stone Roses became darlings of the British press and suffered the weight of expectation that accompanies that kind of success. The infatuation stymied the band for almost six years, and when they finally returned with a second record and a new sound one that drew heavily on '70s acid rock the public was accordingly confused. The cool reception stopped the band dead in their tracks, and they disintegrated shortly thereafter. Amelia Raitt

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot


There's an entire documentary about the making and releasing of Wilco's fourth full-length and the drama that went along with it. The recording was bookended by personnel changes: Glenn Kotche replaced drummer Ken Coomer near the start, and a falling out between Jeff Tweedy and the late multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Jay Bennett found Bennett out of the band after the tracks were laid down. When it was completed in 2001, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot which combined the band's poppy alt-country sensibility with bouts of experimental electronics and droning guitars was rejected by their label, Reprise, in part due to its lack of a radio hit. They left Reprise and took the album to Nonesuch hilariously enough, another Warner Music Group subsidiary. In the meantime, they streamed the album in its entirety for free through their website, a practice that wasn't yet quite the norm. Laura Leebove


Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre has been holed up for the better part of a decade now, issuing increasingly feeble and hollow-sounding promises that he will eventually release his purported final album, Detox. As unfinished tracks continue to dribble out and news reports grow ever more wildly speculative about what, exactly, he's doing with or to his endlessly revised magnum opus, it has become harder to tell if Dre's heart is even in the project, or if his endless perfectionism had finally crushed him. The last time he did this, of course, he gave the world 2001, a doubt-silencing thunderclap of a record that updated his brisk G-funk template for another 10 years' worth of rap producers to crib from Kanye West, four years later, would tell us on the outro to The College Dropout how his first signature sound came about, in part, by lifting the drum sound from "Xxplosive" wholesale. Scott Storch found himself a career from his work on this album his heavy-fingered keyboard eighth-notes on "Still D.R.E." was a sound so evocative that he managed to peddle lesser versions of it to artists ranging from Jadakiss to Brooke Hogan. Dre buffed his already-clean sound to a near-blinding sheen, finding a cold-steel hardness that he would perfect, five years later, on "In Da Club." All this, seven years after his previous proper full-length. Some things are worth waiting for. Jayson Greene

Between 1996 and 2003, the inimitable duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings released four gorgeous new-folk masterpieces. It wasn't just their talent as songwriters or players that was staggering, or the haunting chill of Welch's and Rawlings' intertwining altos, but the seeming reliability of their output. The world got spoiled. So when the gap between 2003's Soul Journey and whatever might come next stretched out to five, six, then seven years, it seemed as if it all might've just been too good to be true. Then, finally, after eight years of creative dissatisfaction (and countless collaborations with other artists), Gillian Welch returned with The Harrow & the Harvest earlier this year as dark, bleak and transporting as ever. Rachael Maddux

Sir Lucious Left Foot...The Son Of Chico Dusty

Big Boi

There wasn't a ringtone-ready single, the sound didn't fit the trends of the moment, the album seemed uncommercial if a label ever concocted an excuse to delay a hip-hop album, Big Boi's solo debut was saddled with it. When all was said and done, it took three years and a label jump for Sir Lucious Left Foot to finally manifest. It took a lot less time than that for it to be recognized as the hookiest yet most ambitious release to come out of the Dungeon Family camp since Stankonia. Nate Patrin

Chinese Democracy

Guns N' Roses

When Guns N' Roses began work on their follow-up to The Spaghetti Incident?, NCSA Mosaic was the most up-to-date Web browser, Bill Clinton hadn't yet met Monica Lewinsky, and the band still included Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum. Fourteen years, a dozen or so band members, innumerable blown deadlines and well over $13 million in recording costs later, singer/commander Axl Rose finally nudged his enormous, bombastic hard-rock artifact over the finish line. It's a relic of the age in which it was conceived, as well as of the years that followed it Rose's approach to songwriting and arranging seems to have been to pile everything on, in the (mostly unfounded) hopes that it would seem genuinely huge rather than simply overinflated. Douglas Wolk

In pop music, five years can feel like a lifetime. But that's how long fans had to wait for whipsmart Norwegian popster Annie's follow-up to her 2004 debut Anniemal, a record that made equal waves in the club and the indie blogosphere. Prolonged by label trouble, Don't Stop was finally released in late 2009, more than a year after it was first slated to come out. Thankfully, the time away did nothing to dull Annie's edge: the bubbly sass of "I Don't Like Your Band," wistful aura of "Songs Remind Me of You" and taunting cool of "Hey Annie" are sure to sound just as fresh for years to come. Lindsay Zoladz


Fleetwood Mac

A full year in the studio, complete with specially-built nooks for Stevie Nicks to write poetry and a trip to a tiled bathroom to record some drums (no kidding), on paper Tusk exemplifies the people-who-get-rich-go-crazy style of record-making that would dominate big pop albums through the '80s and '90s. But in aural fact, among Fleetwood Mac's superstar peers, only Prince made such willfully wayward music. Tusk boomerangs between splashy sound-like-demos ("What Makes You Think You're the One?") and ultra-lush studio creations ("Sara," Stevie's ultimate) with weird, decadent soul. Michaelangelo Matos

The Fragile

Nine Inch Nails

If you couldn't already tell by the Dali 'stache and funeral parlor pallor that Trent Reznor sported while promoting his soundtrack to David Lynch's Lost Highway in 1997, the Nine Inch Nails frontman was battling some nasty demons in the five years between The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. So many, in fact, that he emerged with both a double album and a drug habit; one that'd eventually lead to a near-fatal heroin overdose in London. Hints of Reznor's highs and lows are strewn throughout The Fragile's 23 immaculately-produced tracks, from the feedback-infused neo-classical movements of "La Mer" and the "Hurt"-like hooks of "The Great Below" to the id-indulging industrial thrash of "Somewhat Damaged," "We're In This Together" and "Starfuckers, Inc." While Reznor's lyrics often read like the unedited diary entries of a jaded junior high dropout, his music is at its very best here lavishly layered, overtly honest, and as ordered as chaos can ever be. Andrew Parks

After a string of records on 4AD, Mark Kozelek took his Red House Painters project to Island Records subsidiary Supreme Recordings to release 1996's Songs for a Blue Guitar. The band readied another set of songs in the two years following, but thanks to major-label shuffling and merging, it was shelved until Kozelek could buy back his masters and release through Sub Pop in 2001. By then, the band had more or less broken up, though Kozelek kept busy with a couple of solo releases and a small role as Stillwater's bassist in Almost Famous. Laura Leebove

Darkness On The Edge Of Town (2010 Remastered Version)

Bruce Springsteen

Mike Appel had managed Bruce Springsteen early in his career, got him signed to Columbia, and was eventually replaced, in 1976, by Jon Landau, the ex-Rolling Stone critic who'd helped produce Born to Run the previous year. The subsequent lawsuit, settled out of court, legally prevented Springsteen from recording for a year, so he kept touring and writing. Darkness on the Edge of Town marked a significant change from his earlier style: grittier, sparer, but no less grandiose or surging. Michaelangelo Matos