Wednesday, April 13, 2011

98 The Hard Way: Rock Week Part Two - 'The noise that keeps me awake'

The Rolling Stones “Saint of Me”
The Nostalgia Factor: Low. I do remember it quite clearly but I never had strong feelings for it one way or the other. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: Those not-strong feelings are quite resonant, actually. [5]

Look, late period Stones is what it is. 'What it is' to me is a weird mix of past their prime rockers justifying their existence as a touring outfit and well-aged rockers who can still write a decently catchy tune without much effort even a few decades past their heyday. I respect their later works a lot more than some, essentially, but I still can't say that it's essential on any level. “Saint of Me” is pretty representative of this divide; it's a decent tune all told, a bit of a lazy hook but otherwise solid, but it's in no way necessary, nor deserving of the success it garnered. It's not bad though, and that does count for a bit in the grand scheme of things.

Our Lady Peace “Clumsy”
The Nostalgia Factor: So, so high. Grade 7 was the year that I lived and breathed Clumsy, and this was the highlight of the album at that point. [9]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd probably get too caught up in the moodiness to realize how much Raine Maida's vocals grate at my nerves. [8]

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that subtlety is the key to making post-grunge above average. Compare this to the rest of OLP's single output; it doesn't even try to go big, instead remaining low key and actually somewhat insidiously creepy – the pre-chorus section especially – which in turn makes me much kinder towards it. The song essentially underplays the elements that have made me turn against the band in these post-Gravity times, namely Raine Maida's ridiculously over-emoting, en route to making the one single off Clumsy that holds up to scrutiny 13 years on. That's what subtlety earns you.

Chris Cornell “Sunshower”
The Nostalgia Factor: Low. Once again, I definitely remember it but outside of a 'wtf is the dude from Soundgarden doing with an acoustic ballad' reaction I never cared much for it either way. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd see it as preferable to most of Cornell's solo output, but pretty slight on its own. [6]

Speaking of going off-model to different results, who'd have thought that going acoustic would lead to better material for Cornell than anything else he tried post-Soundgarden? That's far more damning of his solo material than it is indicative of “Sunshowers”' quality, unfortunately, but that's neither here nor there. If anything, this is as good a vocal showcase as Cornell would be given for a while, and while the acoustic format doesn't fit his style all that well it's still a solid performance. Yeah, I'm struggling to come up with anything terribly nice to say here, but once again, this is about as good as Cornell solo got, so you should just take it and be happy-ish, I guess.

Everclear “I Will Buy You a New Life”
The Nostalgia Factor: Moderate. I thought of it as the awkward middle child single from Afterglow, nowhere near as universal and bombastic as “Everything to Everyone” or as DADDY ISSUES as “Father of Mine” but quite nice in its own right [6]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd want to punch Art Alexakis in his stupid, smug face. Multiple times. [3]

I think I hate Art Alexakis. It's hard to come to this conclusion having never actually met the guy, but the way he comes across on roughly half of Everclear's singles bears the distinct hallmarks of utter jackassery by which I can not abide. This, for example, is not only incredibly lazy on a lyrical level (a lot of it sounds like a first draft that no one bothered to improve upon, particularly 'I will buy you a new car/perfect, shiny and new') but falls into the rock equivalent of the 'country folk are real, y'all' trope I find so reprehensible in country music: poor, starving artists are inherently better people than anyone else. They may not be able to take care of you, but they're PASSIONATE about something. It's in the cheap shots that the song takes in its second verse, in the dismissive way that the chorus reads, Alexakis' smmug, smug delivery. It's hard to defend it on any level, even as a pop song where past Everclear songs have won points with me thanks to their craft. This is just tossed off and hackneyed.

Fastball “The Way”
The Nostalgia Factor: High enough. I loved the song but I never really felt that invested in it as I recall. [7]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd wonder how a chorus that damn good could have escaped my attention for so long. Also, I'd probably throw around the phrase 'perfectly crafted pop song' multiple times. [9]

Yeah, I'll say it again: perfectly fucking crafted pop song. Try to deny it. The best part is that even though it's perfect it never feels like it was specifically engineered to be. The effortlessness of its charm is at least half the reason that it's one of my favorite rock songs from this era, because what good is being perfect if you have to reach for I all that obviously? It's also probably the most upbeat song about death that Mark Everett never wrote, painting the old couple's journey into the afterlife as a sun-soaked fantasy even in the midst of all the uncertainty. And then there's the chorus melody, anchored by that relentless piano figure and the oddly expressive yet also slightly monotone vocals but taking on a life of its own without any prompting whatsoever. So yeah, perfectly crafted pop song. It just rolls off the tongue so easily in this circumstance.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band “Blue on Black”
The Nostalgia Factor: Mild. This sort of revivalist blues rock went right over my head at a younger age. [4]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd have forgotten it already. [4]

This was #1 on the mainstream rock charts for 6 weeks. A month and a half. Yet it leaves so little of an impression that I'm hard pressed to bother reviewing the damn thing.

Dave Matthews Band “Don't Drink the Water”
The Nostalgia Factor: Pretty high actually. I remember thinking this was pretty badass at the time as compared to DMB's usual stuff. [7]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I wouldn't find it quite as badass, but I'd still think it was decidedly better than the likes of “Crash into Me”. [8]

When the first thing that comes to mind is just how much this reminds me of The Tea Party's “Save Me” I know I'm in good hands. Once again, we're faced with a song that has me using adjectives I'd never have thought to place in the vicinity of DMB – unsettling, frantic, vaguely badass, not at all jam-bandy – and at the very least that piques my interest, but the whole song is definitely a cut above anything that they'd done before or have done since. When it gets to the end where Matthews sounds legitimately threatening for a minute or so – I'm as shocked as you are, but he literally sounds like he's got blood on his hand in that final section – with Alanis Morissette underpinning that mania with a similarly frenzied vocal it's clear that the song is actually able to cash the cheque the first part had written.

Garbage “Push It”
The Nostalgia Factor: High as fuck. Version 2.0 was among the first CDs I bought with my own money, mostly because of just how much I adored this song. [10]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd still dig it in spite – or perhaps in part because – of its insane amounts of overproduction. [9]

If anything, having a better grasp on just how much goes into making this song what it is, all the little tics and twitches that the bevy of producers at the heart of Garbage engineered into it, makes me appreciate it a lot more than I did back when I just loved the song. Back then I just loved the threatening pulse and Shirley Manson's half deranged psychopath half sex goddess presence, and while that's still a huge draw, the latter half of the equation especially, there's a whole array of other things that go into making the track so irresistible. For one, that ingenious Beach Boys sample that's used as a call and response with Manson's vocal. For another, the distortion that enhances said vocal during the chorus lead in. For another, the little almost inconsequential non-bass sounds throughout the whole track...really, it's a testament to what having three producers as your backbone can do for a your band, even if one of them is Butch Vig.

Page and Plant “Most High”
The Nostalgia Factor: Low. In case you haven't already noticed 1998 me wasn't so much for the classic rock-sounding stuff and even if this was an Albini recording that doesn't exactly disguise its roots at all. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd think is was pretty good for Zep redux. I'd also recognize the value that Albini's production adds to the venture. I'd also really resent the excessive bagpipes. [5]

As unlikely of bedfelows as you'd assume them to be, the merger of Page and Plant with Steve Albini did actually yeild some decent results. At the very least the classic rock excess you'd associate with Zeppelin doesn't get in the way of Albini's naturalistic production work at all; if anything this sounds just as vital as the stuff from III albeit in a very different way. The problem comes from the decission of someone to give the track over to a long-winded pipe solo at the end, which may fit with the vibe of the track – the pipes during the song proper add to shat is at its heart a very slight song – but cross into too much of a decent thing after about 45 seconds. A shame really because up to that point I could have easily given this a solid six.

Alanis Morissette “Uninvited”
The Nostalgia Factor: Higher than for most other Morissette songs, actually. This was actually a huge favorite of mine at the time – not enough of one to convince me to buy the City of Angels soundtrack but enough that I actively looked forward to it being played. [8]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: In spite of the overblown nature of it, I'd probably still hold in higher than Alanis' other singles if only because it's one of the best vocals she ever laid down. [8]

I still find this song endlessly fascinating honestly. It's at once a very simple song, anchored by a minimal piano motif, Morissette's vocals and not much more, but at the same time squeezes in a dizzyingly dissonant string interlude and a guitar solo that doesn't seem beholden to its surroundings. It's the fact that it can be both of these things simultaneously and never feel overstuffed is a testament to just how well rendered a song it is. And I just need to reiterate that Morissette's vocals here are among the best in her career, getting the strong/vulnerable quality just right without going too far into either camp. It's better than pretty much anything on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, but I can understand why it was kept apart from the album tonally; this isn't obtuse or personal enough to fit in there, even if it is both obtuse and personal in its own way. Still, quite a great castoff single.

Pearl Jam “Wishlist”
The Nostalgia Factor: A bit higher than for “Given to Fly” but still not much outside of a minor blip on my radar at the time. [6]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd label it as pleasant and unassuming and be on my way. [6]

Two moments stand out here; the line 'I wish I was the verb 'to trust' and never let you down' which is perfectly Vedderian if such a term exists, and the fact that the line 'I wish I was a radio song, the one that you turn up' is uttered during the fade out, which is at once far too cute and a perfect way to end a song that could – and apparently did at one point – go on for a while with a continued list of obtuse wishes. Other than that there's nothing to grasp on to here; no hook, no interesting arrangement, nothing but the charm of its simple, unadorned nature. Sadly that's not enough to work for me even if I do end off with a relatively positive opinion of the song.

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