Modern Rock Hitmakers
While the Strokes/White Stripes axis failed to revolutionize rock in the anticipated way (in fact, the White Stripes had their song covered by Joss Stone, effectively negating any good they could ever hope to do), they did pave the way for quite a number of MTV2-friendly rock bands. It seems as though, to some degree, these bands have been supplanting nu-metal as the staples of modern rock radio. It might seem like this could be nothing but a good thing, but then again, you haven’t heard me explain how awful these bands are yet. These bands certainly aren’t all new, but nobody would argue that they’ve recently seen greater mainstream success than ever before:
It’s been a while since we’ve had a self-consciously artsy Scottish band anywhere near the public eye. Belle and Sebastian is the last one that comes to mind; they received quite a bit of critical notice in the 90s, but managed to piss it all away with a series of increasingly bland albums. Now, from the depths of some art school in Glasgow, we have Franz Ferdinand. They’re paint-by numbers UK art-school indie in every respect; they have an art-deco album cover, a surrealist animated video, choppy post-punk guitar riffs, and haircuts like Trainspotting characters. It all adds up to a band who constantly has to reassure itself and its audience that its members comprehend art on some profound level; the video for “Take Me Out,” in case you haven’t seen it, basically flashes “hey, this is art!” and “please notice that we understand art” on the screen at every opportunity. I get the impression that Franz Ferdinand wants to be a fun, danceable version of Wire or Gang of Four, but the trick of it is this: people didn’t listen to post-punk to have fun. People listened to post-punk to mope, and to act serious, and to try to have sex with girls in cuffed black jeans, and to learn about cultural criticism without having to read anything. Injecting fun into post-punk music, in effect, takes all the fun out of post-punk music.
Four perfect clones of Spud from Trainspotting
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Even aside from the fact that they have the worst name of any band that I can recall (and of course we all lived through everyone from Kajagoogoo to Limp Bizkit), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs can pretty much go fuck themselves. The lead singer, Karen O, is a histrionic morlock who dresses like she’s headed for a haunted middle school dance in 1985. Speaking of haunted, the guitarist looks like the mutant spawn of Daniel Ash, Nick Cave, and Casper the Friendly Ghost. People occasionally write me nasty e-mails when I make fun of a band for their image alone, but in this case it’s justified. They look like the junior new wave comedy troupe. Plus, to be honest, I haven’t bothered buying their album; hearing “Maps” fifty times a day put a damper on my curiosity pretty goddamn quickly.
Of course, it’s hard to call them a new prospect. Modest Mouse are the kind of band who, like Fountains of Wayne, would get nominated for a “Best New Artist” Grammy despite having been around for years. Wow, look, I just managed to insult both the complete cultural illiteracy of the Grammy awards and Modest Mouse’s talent for being ignored by the public for nearly a decade. As far as I’m concerned, the public was absolutely justified for all those years of ignorance: our society has made a lot of big mistakes, but ignoring Modest Mouse was not one of them. They represented everything loathsome about post-Sonic Youth American indie: the bumbling, rambling nerd of a lead singer, the hideous guitar “experimentation,” and the general tuneless drudgery. However, with “Float On,” the lead single from their second non-indie release, they managed to create a goofy enough tune to score a moderate modern rock novelty hit this summer. However, the second single from the album (I can’t be bothered to look up what it’s called) is getting significantly less airplay due to its undeniable tediousness. If we’re lucky, Modest Mouse will follow in Pavement’s footsteps: after the elders of indie crap scored a minor modern rock hit with “Cut Your Hair,” they became both frightened of success and extremely stoned, and never really bothered the charts again.
Nice hat, you lisping nitwit
Interpol’s first record was interpreted by many as nothing more than affected Joy Division imitation. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree to this, I must admit that Interpol’s lead singer has all the vocal prowess of Ian Curtis (which is akin to saying that he’s got all the mathematical ability of a mule). Their second album, “Antics,” has been the subject of great anticipation by many people with standards much, much lower than my own. Advance copies of it have gone out, and I have some good news: they no longer sound like they’re ripping off Joy Division. In songs like “Slow Hands” and “Length of Love,” it is apparent that they’ve now taken the great artistic leap of ripping off bands that ripped off Joy Division, like Crispy Ambulance or gloomy-dirge-era Killing Joke. For those of you who don’t follow indie music and don’t know who Crispy Ambulance is, here’s an analogy: Crispy Ambulance is to Joy Division as Aerosmith is to The Rolling Stones. Loosen your ties, Interpol.
Staring boldly into the past
The press has been fawning over these pathetic wastes of potent drugs since the release of their first record, “Up The Bracket,” in 2002.This year, we have an all-new Libertines album, which is garnering similar acclaim for two reasons: firstly, it may be the last authentic Libertines album, since co-frontman Pete Doherty has been thrown out of the band for his well-publicized drug problem. Secondly, the press loves nothing more than a good junkie yarn; SPIN had the laughably poor taste to write “If Neil Young was right and every junkie’s like a setting sun, Pete Doherty is burning some serious daylight.” Out of those two, you’ll notice that neither involves the album being good. The British and American press have both fallen so hard for baby-faced Pete’s heartbreaking tale of junkie woe, for his glamorous series of arrests and rehab bust-outs, that they’ve failed to notice that Libertines record number two is basically a gigantic load of crap. While the first record was a meandering, sloppy, and only semi-competent heap of music, it featured several top-notch pop singles nevertheless. The new album is a meandering, sloppy, semi-competent heap of nothing much in particular. I propose that we view Pete Doherty not as a romantic martyr to the rock and roll lifestyle, but as a complete recidivist loser who was lucky enough to make one half-decent record in spite of his significant emotional handicaps.
Wow, let's all worship a loser
Wonderful. Muse singles getting airplay. Just what we needed. Now we can turn on the radio and hear a pretentious little imp having some sort of emotional seizure and squealing like a stuck pig over a bed of bombastic cock-prog-muso-rock crap. A band whose every single sounds exactly like the last one, yet one is still totally unable to get used to it. I’ll give them credit for this much: they know how to set the teeth of the sane on edge like no others. I can picture Matt Bellamy sitting in the studio for hours and hours, sweating over how exactly they can make their latest high-flying pitch-shifted guitar riff even just one percent more annoying. “I have done it,” he might say, “I have created the most obnoxious song ever to exist… but that is not enough for me! I am drunk with my own terrible power! The chorus could use some more falsetto, I must squeeze that extra octave out of my voice and shatter the decaying eardrums of Freddie Mercury’s corpse.”
Would you trust your ears to this man?
Questions, comments, and criticisms, as usual, can be sent to email@example.com. If I actually decide to read the ramblings of the uneducated masses, I give you no guarantee that I won’t show your mentally stunted hogwash to all my overeducated friends while we sip sophisticated adult drinks on the veranda and then have a hearty laugh at how simple you are.