Wednesday, April 20, 2011

98 The Hard Way: Rock Week Part 3 - 'Oh I couldn't bee more obvious'

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.

Semisonic “Closing Time”
The Nostalgia Factor: Fairly high. I even remember that at one point we had an unknown French-Canadian chanteuse come to our school to perform and she closed her set with a fairly good rendition of this. [9]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: That's an impossible parameter to hold this up to, honestly...but I'd at least think it was decent power pop instead of feeling oh so burnt out on it thanks to overexposure. [7]

Like I said back in the one-hit wonder write up, the law of diminishing returns rears up on this one hard. I won't deny that it's a good song by any stretch, but every time I hear it nowadays my first thought is more along the lines of 'man, I never want to hear this again' than on its objective quality. A note to radio programmers: some songs just aren't made to stand the test of time.

Brother Cane “I Lie in the Bed I Make”
The Nostalgia Factor: Nowhere near as high as for “And Fools Shine On” but I remember enjoying it well enough.[6]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd find it highly serviceable, maybe even slightly noteworthy. [6]

This is almost another one where I'm hard pressed to understand why it was a multiple week number one in the mainstream rock world. There's nothing here that screams 'I am a song that represents the state of radio rock in 1998, play me multiple times you fools' but then again there's also nothing that makes me feel all that unkindly towards it either. I almost wish that more of it was in line with the first 'I couldn't be more obvious' in terms of delivery, but there's also a modicum of restraint on display along with a weirdly paranoid sense of humor that gives it a bump in my estimation. It may not scream 'hit single' but I wouldn't hold that against it.

The Wallflowers “Heroes”
The Nostalgia Factor: Given that I hadn't heard the Bowie version at all I remember thinking this was pretty great actually. [7]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: Given that I now know the Bowie version...[4]

Now that I understand exactly how watered down this is compared to Bowie I get the backlash that this received almost instantaneously. Transforming the near-breathtaking emotional nakedness of the original into a detached, tossed off mumble, re-casting the immense synths and Eno's marvelous production as a simple pub rock progression...there's really nothing that this version gets right. Being attached to that shit-pile of a Godzilla remake probably didn't do it any favors either.

Smashing Pumpkins “Ava Adore”
The Nostalgia Factor: High, but not in a good way. Let's just say that I didn't have much love for this at age 12 given that I had Mellon Collie in my veins where most people had blood. [4]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I've come around to Adore in the interim, but I still think this is one of its weaker cuts. [5]

Here at least I understood the backlash. This certainly doesn't sound like the Pumpkins we knew and loved, but as with its parent album I've come to see that as a strong point here. It still feels weirdly off in a bad way though, the lyrics especially seem very first-draft like even for Corgan, but it ends up having some kind of awkward charm to it in the end. I like it a lor more now tha nI did at 12, but that's not to say it's without its problems.

54 40 “Since When”
The Nostalgia Factor: Mild. I was much bigger on 54 40's earlier material and this struck me as a bit..well, wussy. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd have a much greater appreciation for the heavy retro vibe this one was based on at the very least. [7]

I get what happened here now. After the failure of Trusted by Millions – at least I recall it being seen that way – Neil Osborne realized that it was time to grow up. Gone are the bratty over-enunciated vocals, ditto the more alternative rock leanings of their past successes and in their place we get a nice 60s electric piano riff and much more mature vocals and harmonies. It makes so much sense that the band had to head in this direction to remain viable because they could actually pull it off with style and grace vs the stilted awkwardness of their previous outing. It's a good song too, but one I respect more than I enjoy.

Goo Goo Dolls “Iris”
The Nostalgia Factor: Moderate. Was never a big fan of Goo Goo Dolls on the whole and was even less of a fan of ballads, so despite it's omnipresence it never really registered all that much. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I would humbly request that you kill it. Preferably with fire. [2]

This is just the worst...OK, not the absolute worst I'll have to put up with here but certainly one that I really wish I didn't have to remember at all. Take your big book of ballad cliches, throw them all together, set the production to 'heartstring tugging earnestness' and let it sit at room temperature for an hour. The results will be very much along the lines of “Iris.” I can't even begin to see a trace of originality, genuine emotion or even thought that wound up in this song, and yet it's one of the few enduring hits from this batch. Goes to show that when your music basically throws up a neon sign saying 'CRY NOW!' every time the chorus arrives you don't need much more to capture anyone's attention.

Days of the New “The Down Town”
The Nostalgia Factor: Moderate. Unlike “Touch Peel and Stand” this one was actually popular in my neck of the woods, but I don't recall having strong feelings about it one way or the other. [5]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd have a hard time reconciling its apparent megahit status with just how faceless and uninteresting it is. [5]

I guess that the lesson to be learned from this endeavor is that the phrase 'multi-week #1 on the mainstream rock chart' is pretty much interchangeable with the phrase 'song you will have a hard time remembering not even 5 minutes after you listened to it.' Now you know why Three Doors Down and 00s Foo Fighters are the chart's biggest success stories.

The Tragically Hip “Poets”
The Nostalgia Factor: I'm Canadian. That should tell you all you need to know. [8]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd at once appreciate it more and find it more insufferable. [6]

There's a certain balance that The Hip have to maintain in order to keep from aggravating me. They can rely on Gord Downie's lyrics and vocals to an extent but not to too large of one. They can indulge in The Band-aping classic rock a la Canada to some extent, but they need to temper it with some darkness or moodiness to make it stick. They can go for anthemic or literate, but they can't really try for both simultaneously. “Poets” basically exists to toe all of those lines, and as such it's the quintessential Hip song while also being one that I'm remarkably lukewarm on. While it's definitely far from being horrible, it does accentuate all the qualities of the band that make them very much an acquired taste for those who haven't been indoctrinated to them from an early age.

Harvey Danger “Flagpole Sitta”
The Nostalgia Factor: High. I could actually say that 13 year old me did consider this his favorite song of all time at one point. [10]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: One of the few things that 25 year old me and 13 year old me would be able to agree on the relative awesomeness of. [9]

Consider this one of the last gasps of alternative rock before nu metal became the new standard for the modern rock charts. Or at least one of the last quality tunes to tread as close to the top spot as this did. Also considertaht if you look at it on paper it should be a tonal mess; misanthropic but not angry, negative but fully major key, decidedly anti-humanity but welcoming and inclusive all the same – hell, even my mom likes it. That sort of mix-n-match should not work anywhere near as well as this does, and yet here we are a full thirteen years past its initial ascent and it's still one of the best songs you'll hear on your local rock station occasionally. Usually this sort of qulaity one-off fades into obscurity, but “Flagpole” is still in the zeitgeist and it still hasn't worn out its welcome. Good on it I guess.

Sloan “Money City Maniacs”
The Nostalgia Factor: Once again, I'm a Canadian. We're constitutionally obligated to love Sloan at all ages. [8]
If I'd Only Just Heard It Today: I'd think it was one of their best singles, honestly. It holds up remarkably well. [8]

The key is the third verse. Until then it seems like you're working with two separate songs joined by a nonsensical but incredibly catchy chorus, two songs that share a chord progression and nothing else. It makes the song feel totally disjointed...but then the two songs come together without a hitch. Then the next time you hear the song it stands out from the start that Sloan know exactly what they're doing. They've got all the elements in place, the slow building intro, the established theme, the wah-infected guitar solo, the handclaps to make this feel familiar rather than specifically derivative. More importantly, they've got the rapport that can only come from years of playing together to pull it off with aplomb.

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