Friday, January 28, 2005

"Can Music Save Your Mortal Soul?"

I started writing this as a self-pitying year-in-review taking stock of my sad, sad 2004. Then I realized that would be a bunch of bullshit. Instead I hit upon something infinitely more important about 2004 than my depression over getting older. You my gentle reader have been faithfully reading about all the things that piss me off for about a year and half now, so today I've decided to expound upon some of the things I actually liked in 2004.

 The inspiration for this radical new line of thought was brought about, in part, by one the things I liked in 2004, a book called "Planet Simpson," a postmodern deconstruction of the TV show "The Simpsons." The important thing in this discussion is something almost totally unrelated to the overall subject of the book. For now I'll concentrate on something from the last chapter. In a section entitled "The Rebirth of Sincerity" the author writes about the exact moment when he regained his faith in rock n' roll. Prior to this point in his life the author details how the cynicism of youth culture in the 1990s had pretty much consumed his entire being. In his mind rock was "played out." He then goes on to describe how he regained his faith in rock n' roll.

This resonated with me as I had been going through the same rock malaise since 1994. As you may recall that was the year Kurt Cobain decided that being Kurt Cobain was played out. With Nirvana gone a whole horde of whiney-Wallflower-Bush-crappy-McCrap rock rushed in to fill the void. Ever since then my relationship with rock n' roll had stagnated into an adoring love for all the songs I loved during high school mixed in with an occasional single from a current band. At no time in the decade between then and now did I feel the need to rush out and buy an entire album from any one rock band.

Now, allow me to be not one bit original or insightful. Here's the thing, I don't know about music the way, say, my friend, and former contributor here,  Daniel knows about music. I know what I like, and, except for a few isolated singles most of what I like was released prior to 1996. That changed in 2004. The past year was the best year in music since 1991, which saw the release of Nevermind, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and The Low End Theory (along with Metallica's Black Album). 2004 finally saw the release of three very good rock albums:

-Jet: Get Born:

The Rolling Stones can go ahead and retire. Remember back when everyone said that Oasis were the next Beatles? Uh, where's Oasis been the past few years? Yeah, that's what I thought. If anyone has assumed the mantle from the rock bands of the 60s and 70s it's Jet. The problem with Oasis is that they were pretentious. They set out to be the next Beatles, they believed they were the next Beatles, they were decidedly, NOT, the next Beatles.

Jet however has done exactly what I, as a rock fan, want, an unpretentious rock album, an album without any real message, an album that is not intended to shock people, or make them think, or any of the other BS things that bands try to work into their albums. This is an album that simply rocks. This is the album, in particular the first single "Are You Gonna Be My Girl," that restored my faith in rock n' roll. Topics covered on the album include women who are, by turns, unattainable, unreachable, and evil, bad DJs, and general RnR malaise. In other words, they cover all the old rock standards.

The band also produced two of the best rock videos of the past decade, for "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and "Look What You've Done." I simply can't stress enough how great it is to finally here a band that's not overly poppy, or whiney, or any of the other crappy adjectives that can be placed upon most of the crap that has passed itself off as rock and roll since Kurt killed himself.

-Greenday: American Idiot:

I spent a long time trying to figure out why this was such a good album. In the dark years after '94, after Green Day's "Dookie" was released I had a lot of hope that this would be the band to shine through and take over where Nirvana left off. Then that stupid "Time of Your Life" song found it's way into every TV show in the Western Hemisphere. I remember watching NBC one night and hearing that song on three shows back-to-back-to-back. At that moment Green Day went from being a slightly disappointing band, to an object of down right scorn.

All that has changed. "American Idiot" is a great, let me repeat, great rock album on sooo many levels. First off it's an overt return to politically based anti-establismentary punk. I don't know if Green Day has been inserting political messages into their albums all along, I do know that their singles haven't had anything like the edge that "American Idiot" has. The album, like the title song, rails against the powers that be, and have been for the past few years. There's an awesome send up of the Governator on the third track "Holiday." The last voice begins with an intercom type announcement that "The representative form California has the floor." The next few lines take the piss out of both Bush and Ahnold,

Sieg Hail to the President Gas Man
Bombs away is your punishment
Pulverize the Eiffel Towers
that criticize your government

And it goes on like this throughout the whole album. The radical thing is not that a band, or anyone else, would speak out against the idiocy of the US government, or the media, the radical thing is that it would come from a band that has such a strong history of making commercial pop-punk. That is, we're used to rebellion from the counter culture segments of the population, but rarely does a band with something to lose put out a statement this strong. That's why the call of rebellion in this album hits as hard as it does, because it comes from people who don't need to use it as a device, it comes from those who have already "made it" and are now risking rebuke from those that gave them their position.

But rebellion and angst are only a small part of why this album rocks. The album is actually a concept piece. It tells the story of St. Jimmy, The Jesus of Suburbia, and a girl they call Whatsername. The album tells a story in a very loose sense. There's no real clear narrative. Instead the album guides the listener through an emotional pseudo-story that, like a film noir project, is meant to leave the audience with the experience of a feeling rather than a coherent story. The album sounds like a soundtrack to a play that doesn't exist, which it kind of is. However, the fact that the album is being fleshed out into a Broadway show is irrelevant. The point is, in an era of good musicals also standing as good rock albums (Hedwig, Rent), Green Day has put out a solid rock album that should do well as a musical. It's this interplay that allows Green Day to escape their stripped down power trio roots while maintaining a solid punk sensibility that was missing from their later over produced mass-market schlock.

I'm not doing this album justice. Buy it, or better yet, steal it, listen to it a few dozen times, then get back to me.

-Killers: Hot Fuss

Anyone else miss Depeche Mode or New Order? Well, the Killers aren't really like them, but they're like a bastard love child of punk and new wave. They're album, which includes the singles "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me," is another one that makes over produced punk sound cutting edge rather than just commercial. I really don't have as much to say about this album as I did with the previous two. It pretty much just rocks

So there it is, 2004, the year that saved rock. I know there are other good albums that came out but many of these (To The 5 Boroughs to name one) came from groups that have been putting out a consistently good product forever. Instead I wanted to focus on the bands that surprised me and restored my faith in an art form.

Also deserving mention:
-Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out
-Maroon 5: This Love (I know it's cheesy but it helped me through a tough time.)
-Modest Mouse: Float On
-My Chemical Romance: I'm Not OK
-Velvet Revolver: Slither (So GnR yet So STP, let's have some peanut butter cups.)

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