Music critics are as capable of kneejerk reactions and second-guessing public opinion as much as anyone. Who can forget the flurry of five stars that Oasis’ hugely bloated Be Here Now was showered with by journalists terrified to make the same mistake they had done with (What’s The Story) Morning Glory two years previously. Or more recently, with the exception of Pitchfork, the bewilderingly positive response to hopelessly twee nu-folkers Mumford and Sons’ debut, Sigh No More. But just like certain albums can undeservedly benefit from the music press’ fondness for hyperbole, other records can fall victim to their equal penchant for unwarranted torrents of abuse. Here’s a look at five LPs from established artists that were unfairly ignored, dismissed or mercilessly slaughtered on the eve of their release dates, and the choice waves their most potent lyrics missed:

U2 – ‘Pop

In the four-year period since 1993’s Zooropa, various members of U2 had recorded a concept album with Brian Eno, penned themes to Batman Forever, Goldeneye and Mission Impossible, and performed live on stage with Luciano Pavarotti. So the fact that comeback album, Pop, had continued to build on the experimentation of its predecessor shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. However, for those who had grown up with the windswept stadium rock of their 80s heyday, its foray into the kind of dance-rock territory occupied by the likes of The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Underworld, was perhaps a step too far, and up until 2009’s far more disastrous No Line On The Horizon, it remained their critical and commercial nadir. Admittedly, there are a couple of clunkers, the disjointed industrial trip-hop of “Miami” and the dreary melancholy of “Wake Up Dead Man” in particular. But free of the bombast that has defined their career, it’s still their most intriguing piece of work, from the distorted sugar-rush of lead single “Discotheque” and the warped techno-rock of “Do You Feel Loved” to the gorgeously shimmering “Staring At The Sun” and the kitsch porn-funk of “The Playboy Mansion.” Whilst referencing everything from The Troubles (“Please”), to the death of Bono’s mother (“Mofo”) to their relationship with God (“If God Will Send His Angels”), it’s arguably their most lyrically potent record. But it’s the self-awareness of moody ballad “Gone,” – [LISTEN] – where Bono questions the validity of being a rock star, that proves how unjust Pop‘s reputation is:

You wanted to get somewhere so badly 
You had to lose yourself along the way 
You change your name, well that’s okay, it’s necessary 
And what you leave behind you don’t miss anyway 

R.E.M. – ‘Monster

Unlike U2, who had at least teased their change in direction, it’s easy to see why R.E.M.’s ninth studio album, Monster, was greeted with such bafflement on its release in 1994. Coming off the back of the AOR juggernaut that was Automatic For The People, a low-key lo-fi scuzz-rock record featuring odes to cunnilingus and androgynous New York Dolls‘ pastiches was hardly the most obvious career move. But as the band’s output later became more and more inoffensive, Monster has now wisely been re-evaluated as their last truly great record. It’s certainly their most intense. “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” – [LISTEN] – a tale of a man trying and failing to understand the younger generation, fizzes and sparks with a captivating nervous energy. The brooding garage rock of “Bang and Blame” bristles with bitterness and disdain. While “Let Me In” is a squalling wall of white noise befitting of its dedication to the recently departed Kurt Cobain. And while Stipe may be virtually unintelligible on the frenetic fuzz-rock of “Star 69” and buried deep into the mix on the snarling shoegaze of “I Took Your Name,” he’s never sounded more fervent, perhaps a by-product of the tensions which plagued the album’s recording. A huge anomaly in their back catalogue, it’s a shame they never managed to reach such thrilling heights ever again:

I’d studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines

Richard said, “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy”

A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth

You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green

I never understood the frequency

The Prodigy – ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

During the mid-90s Keith Flint had terrified the world with his psycho-clown image and snarling Johnny Rotten-esque vocals on a hair-raising record that made every guitar band in the universe appear positively archaic. But rather than capitalise on their surprising global success, The Prodigy took seven years to follow it up, a virtually career-suicidal length of time which was reflected by the fact that Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned pretty much sank without trace. An astonishingly misguided stopgap single, the Rohypnol-referencing “Baby’s Got A Temper,” didn’t exactly help matters, nor did the absence of their two most high-profile members. But although it doesn’t reach the peaks of The Fat Of The Land, it’s by no means the car-crash many of its detractors claimed. Essentially a Liam Howlett solo vehicle, there are electrifying forays into gothic synth-punk (“Action Radar”), Bollywood-tinged R&B (“Phoenix”) and Michael Jackson-sampling hip-hop (“The Way It Is”) which perhaps couldn’t have been explored with their two more cartoonish figures on board. While the likes of Juliette Lewis, Princess Superstar and the Ping Pong Bitches more than compensate for their non-presence. And whilst the generic and repetitive gibberish of “Wake Up Call” and “Hot Ride” explains why The Prodigy aren’t renowned for their wordplay, the sleazy dead-eyed electro of “Girls” – [LISTEN] – encapsulates the vacuousness of life on the road far more succinctly than many more revered lyricists could manage:

Imagine how it would be

To be at the top making cash money?

Go and tour all around the world

Tell stories about all the young girls

Pharrell – ‘In My Mind

Responsible for some of the greatest and most innovative pop/R&B songs of the early 21st Century, Pharrell Williams’ debut album was perhaps always going to struggle to live up to its weighty sense of expectation. In My Mind isn’t the game-changer anticipated, but it’s a far less contrived and calculated listen than the solo efforts from The Neptunes’ hit-making rival, Timbaland. Half the kind of mellow hip-hop he and Chad Hugo crafted with Clipse, half the kind of spacey electro-funk they perfected with Kelis, its 15 tracks prove that Williams is a better crooner than MC, his Curtis Mayfield-inspired tones on the falsetto-led “Angel” and the slinky Timberlake-esque slow jam of “Stay With Me” far more engaging than the monotonous drawl showcased on the lounge-bar jazz-rap of “You Can Do It Too” and the G-funk pastiche, “Keep It Playa.” But his magic carpet ride through three decades of urban pop is largely an enjoyable journey, from the early Prince-aping “Baby” to the New Jack Swing of “Young Girl” to the snake-like groove of “Can I Have It Like That,” whilst despite an A-list roll call of star names including Jay-Z, Kanye West and Gwen Stefani, Pharrell never once feels like a guest on his own record. And although his lothario shtick occasionally wears thin, particularly on the deceptively lecherous “Take It Off (Dim The Lights),” the autobiographical rags-to-riches tale of “Best Friend” – [LISTEN] is the most genuinely emotive track he’s ever put his name to:

Mama workin’ all day, Daddy out in the streets
Imagine 10 years old full of doubt and defeat
Growing up around criminals, with clout and deceit
My grandma Loucelle used to tell me, you about what you reap 
She used to help me with my homework, addiction-subtraction
Added faith to my life and doubt got subtracted 

Michael Jackson – ‘HIStory: Past, Present & Future, Book I

HIStory: Past, Present & Future, Book I might have sold over 40 million copies worldwide, but bizarrely it seems to remain the forgotten Michael Jackson album. When every man and his dog were reassessing their favourite studio effort in the wake of his death in 2009, even 2001 flop Invincible seemed to get mentioned more than the record which spawned his last ever US No.1 single. But whilst it understandably pales into comparison next to the 15 Greatest Hits that were randomly allotted alongside it, it’s still home to some of his best-ever work. Recorded during the aftermath of the Jordy Chandler allegations, it’s an understatement to say that Jacko was pissed off. Drenched in bitterness, anger and an overwhelming sense of betrayal, he virtually spits out his frustration against the media (“Tabloid Junkie”), the legal system (“D.S.”) and the father of his accuser (“Money”) in a manner completely at odds with his previously Disneyfied persona. At times it’s uncomfortable, at others it’s utterly engrossing. But for the most part, Jackson puts his rage to good use. Janet Jackson duet “Scream” is a hugely powerful explosion of Jam and Lewis-produced funk-pop which is as infectious as it is aggressive; whilst “They Don’t Care About Us” is a thunderous rally against discrimination where Jackson sounds like he could literally take on the world. Admittedly, his rendition of “Come Together” is bafflingly pointless, whilst you can’t blame Jarvis Cocker for invading the stage at the BRIT Awards when faced with such overblown nonsense as “Earth Song.” But without the baggage of his iconic back catalogue, HIStory perhaps wouldn’t have received such a muted response. Either way, “Stranger In Moscow,” – [LISTEN] – the achingly fragile ballad which deals with his sudden fall from grace, is arguably one of his greatest songs full stop:

Here abandoned in my fame
Armageddon of the brain
KGB was doggin’ me
Take my name and just let me be
Then a begger boy called my name
Happy days will drown the pain