I thought of this when the G ‘n’ R song “November Rain” came on the car radio yesterday: how, when they came out with, not a double album, but for some reason two separate simultaneously released albums ‘Use Your Illusion I and II’ (probably because they could charge more for 2 separate CDs than for one double CD), to me many of the songs had a stink of overreach and, well, trying too hard. The radio version of the power ballad November Rain is 4 minutes and change, but the album version clocks in at an almost 9 minute long slog. The word ‘lugubrious’ comes to mind. One of the other singles off the album, Civil Wars, has lyrics that seem to be yelling “listen to how deep we can be!”. “You Could Be Mine” is a tight little rocker, but most of the rest of the two albums seemed like bloated filler to me.
Then, going over a decade further back, maybe the biggest “try-hard” album of all time came out in 1979: ‘The Long Run’ by the Eagles. I was 15 when it hit the record stores and I dutifully bought it, but even as a 15 year old kid the trying came across to me pretty clearly in the music. The story behind that album is pretty well known. They were under enormous pressure to top Hotel California. This paragraph from the Wiki article about the album covers it well:
The album was originally intended to be a double album. The band could not come up with enough songs and the idea was therefore scrapped. The recording was protracted; they started recording in 1978, and the album took 18 months to record in five different studios, with the album finally released in September 1979 According to Don Henley, the band members were “completely burned out” and “physically, emotionally, spiritually and creatively exhausted” from a long tour when they started recording the album, and they had few songs. However, they managed to put together ten songs for the album, with contribution from their friends J. D. Souther and Bob Seger who co-wrote with Frey and Henley on “Heartache Tonight”. (Souther also got songwriting credit on “Teenage Jail” and “The Sad Cafe”.)
Later on in that Wiki article (ouch!):
Reviewing the album retrospectively in AllMusic, critic William Ruhlmann wrote […] the album “reportedly was planned as a double album before being truncated to a single disc. If these were the keepers, what could the rejects have sounded like?”
So, to summarize, for the purposes of this thread I’m defining ‘try-hard’ music as being, at least in your subjective opinion, “over-labored and under-inspired”. Music that demonstrates the musicians’ reach exceeding their grasp. Songs and albums that weren’t necessarily failures sales-wise, but underperformed expectations. Albums that were often the last gasp of an estranged band before breaking up (of course, not every album that fits that last criteria is a try-hard album; I would not consider Abbey Road or Let it Be - whichever you consider the Beatles’ last album - to be ‘try-hard’ albums).