Monday, July 02, 2007

The Slow Slide to the Middle -or- Return of the Compressed Guitar

One thing I learned last week, sitting at home, as in old home with a color TV hooked up to cable, is that modern rock, as in Modern Rock, the Format, the life blood and daily bread of such note worthy musicians as Chad Kroeger and Chester Bennington, may not be quite so put out to pasture engulfed in flames as I had thought. I did, of course, secretly, or not so secretly, think that Sam's Town was one of the best rock records I heard last year, Modern Rock or no, but I got the sense it didn't get much play from much of anyone. Seemed like most people didn't really care for it and would rather have been listening to, oh I don't even know what else would have been out at the time - the Red Hot Chili Peppers? As much as the Killers are Modern Rock at it's most crassly irrelevant, they aren't quite up there with Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance when it comes to being the sort of icons you put on your barn so it won't catch on fire when there's lightning nearby.

So color me confused when actually sat through the whole video for My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers" and then, later in the day, through Fall Out Boy's "Thks Fr Th Mmrs".

Fall Out Boy is, was, and always will be a band capable of synthesizing a bunch of almost interesting aspects of whiny emotional pop-rock into vaguely and often persisently catchy songs, and I've never liked them. Mainly for extra musical reasons - though I don't particularly like the way their records are produced - a slickness par for the course for a group of their ilk, to be sure, either. The first time I saw their antler head video, I laughed at their overly aggressive and inane stage moves with which I'm sure everyone who's ever seen them since is now painfully familiar, the roundhouse kick leap things, the guitar around the torso spins, the faux-hardcore stomp headbutt things, because I thought that they were just psyched to be doing a video and thus to not have to actually play their instruments. Something along the lines of karaoke: being released from the shackles of genuine performance, one is able to act out, emote, faceplant into decadent absurdity to one's heart's content. But no, they have wireless guitar setups, so that's actually what they look like when they play. Bummer.

The remarkable thing about "Thks Fr Th Mmrs" was not that I enjoyed it, which I'm not sure I did, but that I didn't hate it, and, more importantly, that I didn't feel an urge, at any point, to turn it off. Say what you will about the encroaching Adult Contemporary tendancies and a creeping laissez faire that eats slowly away at opinions, aesthetic conceptions and morals. I'd rather read my reaction as a sign that it's becoming ok to like rock and roll again. This is something that, in the context of urban America, needs a lot more discussion, which I plan to give you at a later date, but for now I'm talking about: It's Ok for a priveleged listener to whom access to no musical genre, style or vintage is denied, to want to listen to recent, commercially produced rock and roll music. The next few months will either deny or confirm this, but my guess is that by August, respectable human beings might start admitting that they still listen to Pearl Jam some times, or worse.

Which brings me to "Teenagers". I'll admit that I felt a bit vindicated and much relieved when I checked on Critical Metrics to find that it had received positive marks from people at Stylus. Sometimes it's easy to make me feel crazy, and a lack of critical attention to this song would have probably done it.

Watch the video! It's great! Fucking catchiest ditty to come out of anyone recently, as far as I'm concerned - at least when it comes to classical catchiness. "Umbrella" may have been and may be catchier in its own way, but it's too staunchly of a period to really get that classic tag, which isn't what we're even talking about. The point is, Thin Lizzy could have done this song, or Cheap Trick. It's just fucking catchy, and performed like a real god damned rock song. Do you hear that assholes at Guitar Center?

The lyrics might turn you off, and they kind of turn me off too, but man, somehow he manages to sing those lyrics as forcefully as he does, and still act like he's trying to sing through them - as if someone is making him address issues and sing to the kids when all he really wants to do is make noise: get back at the establishment in an elemental way that lyrics about teenage desparation or, on the other hand, teenage desparation itself, is usually incapable of equaling. In the end, it may sound like a message song, but where's the message? Teenagers are fucked up and it's fucked up to be a teenager? That's rock and roll, that's not a message. Just cause someone mentions guns in a song about teenagers it shouldn't necessarily be read as an attempt to "address an issue", though the postscript on the video will make sure that this one will be.

The sad truth of the matter is that when Gerard Way says, "teenagers scare the living shit out of me" I was all, "me too!" Ok, ok. Maybe you have a point with that slide towards the MOR position.

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At Sun Jul 22, 11:28:00 AM, Anonymous ryan healy said...

sorry dude that's WAY too fucking never needed to exist in the first place...Modern Rock has for too long become way too INTOLERABLY bland, and the fact that indie is basically going lock stock blase along with it bodes nothing well. Bright spots and crossovers aside, it's really fallen off sharply from where it was in just 2004!
As for Sam's Town, I could kind of appreciate a bit of The Godfather III effect that it has (in that it guffs up so naively and ridiculously that it has some humor value as failed art), but it's unthinkably wrong to build an entire cultural industry on artists who are basically successful BECAUSE they suck.

At Sun Jul 22, 11:42:00 AM, Anonymous me again said...

sigh...just...disregard...people bored with boring music should just listen to something else...ditto everything...tired of culutural criticism. shouldn't even talk about things that suck, just shun them. pointless. sorry.

At Mon Jul 23, 10:01:00 PM, Blogger Doug said...

I've thought about this too much, obviously, but I think, and I could be wrong here, what it comes down to, is that you don't like "Teenagers" and I do. I never claimed to love anything without reservation, and the lyrics are pretty terrible, the production is of course in need of a lot less compression, and the whole image of the band is still a little to indebted to Marilyn Manson for my tastes. Still, I no longer think My Chemical Romance or the Killers suck. Drawing parallels between the record industry and its product is easy, especially when most of it is as bad as its been, but it's not a completely controlled industry, and sometimes a bit of accidental greatness is going to seep out, even before the eventual clampdown.

Also, blandness is not something I need a lesson in. I blame emo, I think, for that. But you miss the point! I hate all the things you point to as much as ever, but I fail to see them much, if at all, in "Teenagers".


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