Wednesday, April 20, 2011

98 The Hard Way: Rock Week Part 5 - 'A golden bird that flies away, a candle's fickle flame'

So, thanks to a persistent sinus infection that made concentrating on writing and posting difficult plus a full work schedule, ROCK WEEK lasted a few days longer than I had initially anticipated. So here be the final sections of that so as to get it done with and move on to bigger, brighter things in the re-listening of all my borderline 4 star albums. Enjoy.

The Flys “Got You (Where I Want You)”
The Nostalgia Factor: Weirdly low. Don't get me wrong I liked it a lot when it was gaining traction, but not in a way that made me remember it as a particular favorite. [7]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I's spend the better part of the few minutes after I heard it trying to fathom how it was a hit of any size at any time, but in a good way. [10]

Ten reasons why this is probably my single favorite modern rock hit of the late 90s:
  1. The lurching, mysterious and creepy vibe that it carries from the first bars.
  2. The weirdly chorused vocal effect that singer Adam Paskowitz' voice is treated with.
  3. The lack of aggression in what is pretty much an unabashed stalker song.
  4. The subtle shift between the verse and the chorus vs the jarring transitions that post-grunge favored.
  5. The far too well considered lyrics. They don't read as predatory until it's far too late to turn back.
  6. 'I think you're smart' for example. Subtext abounds.
  7. The jarring shift into the bridge section that actually carries through for the rest of the song instead of receding.
  8. The integration of the rap from the bridge into the final chorus.
  9. The bass solo that it ends with...and the fact that only then do you realize that it's been driving the whole song with the guitars as window dressing.
  10. The fact that it sounds like nothing else from the radio landscape of 1998.

Hard as it is to believe considering that I don't recall liking the song this much on its initial release, this is pretty much the blueprint for the modern rock songs I've loved for more recent years. It's dark, moderately menacing, subtle and well considered on almost every single level – hell, even the rapped bridge that should be a detriment to it works in its favor in the end – so much so that I can't help but love it more and more every time I hear it now. But really it boils down to the fact that this sounds about as far removed from the rest of the songs I'm tackling here as you can get without leaving the confines of rock radio. That sort of black sheep quality allows it to stand out in a way that's easier to appreciate in hindsight than it would at the time. You could also say that this would be ground zero for my love of stalker songs/the tendency I have to read more predatory vibes into otherwise innocuous songs, which counts for a lot since this is my list and everything.

KISS “Psycho Circus”
The Nostalgia Factor: Comically low. Another one that I recall inspiring a large eyeroll upon hearing it. [3]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: My eyes would roll so hard that I'd be looking at my brain. [2]

There is literally no reason I can think of for this song to exist, let alone for it to have been remotely popular, other than the fact that KISS diehards will eat up anything the band offers to them like it was manna from heaven. I'd like to think that this wold be a sort of breaking point for a good portion of those people as well though, because even by the alarmingly low standards that KISS has this is impressively awful. It's also 5 and a half minutes long, which no KISS song should ever be even if it's not a fucking wormburner like this one.

Rob Zombie “Dragula”
The Nostalgia Factor: Moderately high. Zombie at his campiest was right up my alley at age 13 since it involved horror imagery and scantily clad ladies. [8]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd appreciate the catchiness of the whole thing, but not enough to over ride how cheesy I find the whole endeavor. [5]

This is the sort of thing where the nostalgic aspects don't wind up having any bearing on my appreciation of the song now. I loved it when I was 13 because it was made for me when I was 13. It was camp horror pop-metal with gratuitous dancing ladies in the video, basically the stuff that every red blooded 13 year old lives and breathes until he actually gets laid. With the distance I now have from that age it becomes more and more obvious that the appeal this held for me at one point wasn't due to the music itself but the image associated with it. That said, the song isn't exactly bad or anything, just base-line catchy and nothing more. It really doesn't help that the lyrics don't make a lick of sense even in the scope of Zombie's horrorshow ethos.

Lenny Kravitz “Fly Away”
The Nostalgia Factor: Low. This song always seemed incredibly lazy and underwritten even before I knew how to verbalize that thought. [4]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: My hatred of the entity known as Lenny Kravitz would literally know no bounds. [2]

This is yet another of my 'there's no excuse for this' reviews, because literally, there fucking isn't. It seems to have a level of contempt for the concepts of originality and depth that few songs can be said to possess, from the first verse where the rhyme scheme is pretty much plagiarized from a 5th grade rhyming dictionary on through the chorus which seems to think that 'yeah, yeah, yeah' is an acceptable way to make up for a lack of lyrics. To be brief, there's is absolutely no redeeming quality to this song, not one moment that convinces me that there's even an illusion of anything below the surface here. It's just Kravitz testing the waters to see how little effort he can get away with putting into a song and still have it be a hit. The answer, considering how ubiquitous this still is 13 years later, was a resounding 'none, at all' from the part of humanity that I routinely tell to go fuck itself.

Goo Goo Dolls “Slide”
The Nostalgia Factor: Low. The Goos were always a bit of a nothing band for me, never really hitting but never really aggravating either. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd definitely like it a bit more than “Iris” but I'd still be at a loss as to why it's even moderately adored. [5]

To be fair, there's a lot more to like here than I might have claimed even a month ago. Even the fact that its oddly hookless winds up reading as a good point, as not letting the need for a showstopping chorus get in the way of the story that the song's trying to tell is at least modestly admirable. That said though, it's still a bit of a cipher on melodic level, which is at once frustrating and refreshing since even the worst songs here have some sort of melodic thread to follow. It's repetitive, sure, but the repetition doesn't seem to have any sort of reasoning behind it other than formula. It makes for a strange reaction on my part, where I find myself more intrigued by how this sort of a song could be so widely adored than having any opinion of the song itself.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “Do You Wanna Get Heavy”
The Nostalgia Factor: Nonexistant. Weird shit went on with the RPM Alternative 30 at the end of the year leading to quite a few really left field “hits.” [n/a]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: Really? This was the lead single? Not “Attack” or anything with an actual hook? [5]

So yeah, at the end of 1998 something really weird happened to the RPM Alternative 30. What was generally a can-con heavier shuffling of the two concurrent American rock charts took a very decisive left-field turn for the final two months of the year, during which time Skinny Puppy, Flipper, Scratching Post (an independent metal band) and Talvin Singh all had singles in the top 10. At the helm of this time period? A middling track from JSBX. “Do You Wanna Get Heavy?” never struck me as a good album track, let alone one that would be a single under any circumstances, but for all of November and December it was the #1 song on the Canadian alternative charts, even securing itself a #6 position in the year end top 50. It's baffling to be honest, because like I said this sounds like a mid level filler track, not a hit single.

Kittens “Moose Jaw”
The Nostalgia Factor: Nonexistant, once again. Really, the weird shit that went on in the Canadian charts at this point is almost comical. [n/a]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: Really? This was a hit? Even in the weirdness of late 1998 I find it difficult to fathom that this sort of grinding, sludgy noise rock had any audience at all...but I'll take it regardless. [7]

Even less hit single sounding than JSBX, but that has less to do with its quality than its unrelenting ugliness. Seriously, this sounds more in line with Children of God-era Swans and early Unsane than anything remotely popular at this point in time, which just goes to show you how fucking weird the Canadian alternative charts decided to get a year's end here. But aside from its decided lack of mass appeal there's a lot to enjoy here, particularly the grinding/driving main riff and breathless delivery that anchors the track. Of course to really get into it you probably need at least a passing familiarity with the more uncompromising end of noise-rock, and in that realm it's a bit less than worthy, but overall there's nothing much to hold against it.

Metallica “Turn the Page”
The Nostalgia Factor: Moderate. This would have been around the time that I started to actively despise modern Metallica (read: I'd finally heard Ride the Lightning) but this one didn't aggravate me all that much. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd be plenty aggravated by it if only because it's so over-done compared to the original. [4]

Oh James Hetfield's alternative voice, how easy you are to mock. Your lack of emotion, your purposeful ugliness, your “attitude”'s difficult to get past you in the best of circumstances is what I'm driving at here. You certainly have your place, but a cover of Bob Seger's ambivalent ode to touring life isn't it. You seem to invert the meaning of the song, turning what was actually a fairly subtle dissection of the touring rock star persona into a celebration of the same. You don't seem to get that “Turn the Page” is supposed to be a moderately sad song about the emptiness of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. When Seger sang 'Here I go, playing the star again' the undercurrent was 'why do I even bother anymore?' When you sing it, that meaning is totally lost in favor of needless bombast. The blame isn't wholly in your corner though, really the whole band seems to have missed the point of the slight, subtle arrangement that the original had and instead seemingly felt it necessary to bludgeon it into a mid-level modern day Metallica rocker. Really, the whole cover is misbegotten after the first few lines, but I can't help but lightly praise it in light of what was to come from you guys...that's to say the production is actually moderately real sounding vs the processed to hell shit that we'd be faced with soon.

Cake “Never There”
The Nostalgia Factor: Moderate. I didn't hear this song all that often upon its release but the few times I did I do recall enjoying it. [7]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd feel more than kindly towards it. It's certainly different from the rest of this batch which certainly lets it stand out a bit. [8]

The real charm here comes from the small touches. The backbone is the usual Cake thing of detached delivery over vaguely mariachi tinged alt rock, but things like the brief intrusions of phone sounds or the full band 'HEY!'s that pop up occasionally are what really make this one of the band's better moments. Essentially, if you like one Cake song you're gonna like 'em all, but its nice to see that even within that formula there's room for variation, no matter how slight it may seem.

Everlast “What It's Like”
The Nostalgia Factor: Moderate. I was too young to have any residual nostalgia for House of Pain – though I was at least passingly familiar with “Jump Around” - so this just struck me as a fairly good song. The whole acoustic rap thing gave it a bit of a novelty appeal as well. [6]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: Well meaning as it may be, the whole ISSUES! tone of the song kills my enjoyment of it to some degree. [4]

I am about to make a comparison that you can pretty easily disassemble, but that won't stop me: this song is like the movie Crash – not the Cronenberg one – in all the wrong ways (not that there are many right ones but that's another rant for another time.) It's a surface-level examination of various social issues – homelessness, abortion and street violence – that assumes that by merely bringing the issues to light it can be said to have depth. In some ways it's even worse than Crash because it boils all three vignettes down to the trite notion of 'if you haven't been there you can't say anything about it.' It's moderately infuriating on that level to be honest; it may mean well but it doesn't really say anything about the issues it wants to shed light on. Once you get past that, or just ignore it like I do most of the time now, there's not much else of note to discuss. It's refreshingly simple but not to a degree that that's necessarily an asset, and Everlast's flow is much better suited to this type of thing than it ever was to full on hip hop. If only it were a bit more objective and exploratory than clearly biased and cliched that might give it the makings of a great song, but such is not the case and we end the year on a bit of a dud.

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