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What Would People Think?

Monday, June 05, 2006

In Defense of Bush

......and Stone Temple Pilots.

Had you going for a second there, didn't I? You were thinking of the wrong Bush. I'm not referring to the President who has no use for the rule of law.

I'm referring to this now-defunct British grunge band headed by Gavin Rossdale. When Bush first hit it big in the mid-90s with Sixteen Stone, they were derided as Nirvana wannabes. Rossdale was condemned as a pretty-boy poser who wanted to be, but never could be, Kurt Cobain. Rock critics and too-cool-for-school alternative fans proved the bona fides by bashing Rossdale.

Similar treatment awaited their American counterparts, Stone Temple Pilots. Scott Weiland's arena rock band was "positively vilified" as "fifth-rate Pearl Jam copycats." Whenever Weiland made one of his frequent trips to drug rehab, some of his harsher critics actually gloated at his misfortune. Like Bush, STP was wildly popular on rock radio but passionately condemned by those who considered themselves the pure guardians of the alt-rock revolution.

Only after their bands broke up have Rossdale and Weiland begun to get any respect. Partially, that's because the late '90s-early 2000s pulled hard rock into the Limp Bizkit/Kid Rock garbage heap. In comparison, the earnest post-grunge of STP and Bush seemed positively charming and pure. But even as rock radio slowly rose from the depths in the last few years (thank you, White Stripes, Strokes, System of a Down, etc), Rossdale and Weiland have begun to be recognized as carriers of the hard-rock, post-grunge flame. Weiland formed Velvet Revolver with the disgruntled Axl-less members of Guns 'N Roses. VR was correctly hailed as the reincarnation of the kind of muscular hard rock that once filled stadiums and showed rock radio what a guitar solo is. Rossdale's new band, Institute, has not fared as well - but as he stays true to the guttural, start-stop, angst-filled sound of Bush long after it has ceased to be popular, critics are finally realizing he "was one of the few post-grunge rockers to really, truly believe in this stuff."

This is a good thing. I've been listening to STP's greatest hits album and to a Bush "greatest hits" mix CD that Mike made for me (brilliantly entitled "Silence Is Not The Way"). I've come to realize how consistently these 2 bands created solid rock songs. No, they weren't revolutionary rock geniuses like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But neither were they the no-talent corporate posers their critics labeled them. They were simply damn good rock bands. What's so wrong with that?

I've had it up to here with self-styled guardians of artistic purity. If an artist makes music which sounds like someone else's music, maybe it's because they LIKE that kind of music. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Why can't bands be judged on their own merits? If the next Gavin Rossdale's gravely vocals reminds you of Kurt Cobain, perhaps it's not a calculated attempt to make money.....perhaps it's because, like me, this new Rossdale/Cobain wannabe has been playing Nevermind or Sixteen Stone incessantly and dreaming of following in their footsteps.

I remember a Strokes concert I went to once at River Stages concert festival in Nashville. Singer Julian Casablancas remarked that Puddle of Mudd was playing at a nearby stage and some fans started booing. Casablancas cut them of "none of that. I'm not going to disrespect them for doing what they like. Like all those people who hate us because we don't sound like Metallica. F--- that!"

My sentiment exactly. Enough with "artistic purity." Enough with "street cred." I love new and creative bands as much as the next Nellie McKay fan, but that's no reason to be elitist about good solid rock 'n roll. I may have music I hate (i.e. cruel, misogynistic songs like Puddle of Mudd's "Control" or Nickelback's "Figured You Out"), but it's sure as hell not because I think of them as "corporate sell-outs."

Which inspires my question to all of y'all, assuming you read this far: What popular, yet critically despised act do you think will be better respected in a decade?


  • Linkin Park, maybe

    By Anonymous other white meat, at 6/05/2006 9:39 PM  

  • John Mayer?

    No, I'm just kidding. I guess I don't really know - I don't pay too much attention to reviews of real popular music. But what an awesome question!

    Anyone you'd suggest?

    I do pay a little attention to non-mainstream reviews, and I'd say in that genre maybe Rilo Kiley doesn't get enough love (though they get some), and Neko Case's latest album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood didn't get nearly enough praise (and it got a lot). Seriously, everyone should own this ablum!

    Oooh, how about Big'n'Rich? What do critics think of them?

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 6/05/2006 10:24 PM  

  • Brilliant? Moi? Damn right. About time someone noticed.

    The trouble with the question is that most of the really good bands on radio these days actually are critically respected (consider your examples of rock radio's renaissance - all critical darlings in addition to excellent bands). Then there are the Stainds, the Nickelbacks, the Chevelles and their thousand Tool knockoffs - critics think they're mediocre, and they're right.

    So honestly, I don't know. One band that popped into my head was Shinedown. Their first two albums were hit-or-miss, but the lead singer can friggin throw down. Godsmack has a lot more musical talent than they've exhibited, working within their small self-imposed framework, but I can see them branching out on their next release. I'd need other examples of critically reviled acts to really comment.

    As for the outside-the-mainstream stuff, I'll always think of Neko Case as part of the New Pornographers, even though I know she was a solo artist first. Rilo Kiley seems to get enough respect, in my opinion.

    It's my fervent hope that come, say, July 25, the Long Winters will start getting the respect they deserve. I finally found the "Ultimatum" EP this weekend and "The Commander Thinks Aloud" literally had me tearing up - amazing song.

    Besides, remember when we asked Jere if music was ever going to get good again? His response: it will, you just won't hear it on the radio.

    By Blogger Mike, at 6/05/2006 11:01 PM  

  • I'm with Mike on Shinedown. I think I'd also add Three Doors Down to that list. I was listening to some songs off their first album recently, and I realized how much it rocked. Seriously. "Not Enough" and "Down Poison" are awesome songs... and they're album tracks.

    Perhaps Train too, though I don't know how the critics treat them.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 6/06/2006 12:16 AM  

  • I disagree with your characterization of the way those bands were viewed in the 90's, critically and popularly. If I have a chance, I will expound later. But I think you're remembering things incorrectly.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 6/06/2006 3:27 AM  

  • To me, Three Doors Down has been kinda like Shinedown so far: hit-or-miss. Train I agree with you on.

    Barzelay, you touch on a point I was going to make but decided not to. I'll let you run with it.

    As a side note, the radio reminded me this morning of an injustice that has always bothered me. When critics refer to the imitators that followed Pearl Jam and STP, one of the first to pop up is always Candlebox. Now I'll grant that Candlebox was certainly not in the range of a Pearl Jam or an STP. But I heard "You" on the radio today and was reminded how tight a song it is (and it's even better when the stupid radio doesn't edit out the best part). Not to mention, "Far Behind" remains a favorite of mine. I'm sure there are plenty of knockoffs more deserving of critical disdain than Candlebox.

    Start music discussions anytime, Ben. Just beware that I might write too many ridiculously long diatribes. :)

    By Blogger Mike, at 6/06/2006 11:16 AM  

  • Mike or Barzelay, please explicate on any factual errors I may have made. I'll admit that I wasn't exactly experiencing the rock music scene at the time...didn't really get into rock radio until the Crappy Rap-Rock era and then sort of retroactively discovered the '90s. So I'm getting my information second-hand from reviews and accounts I read about the reaction to their early albums. So, like a bad lawyer, I'm basing my reaction on hearsay.

    Nonetheless my contempt for the concept of "street cred" remains. (Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss "artistic purity"...the problem is more that some people are too quick to attribute lack of such purity to journeyman/competent artists who don't happen to be wildly original.)
    Yeah, Mike, "You" is a good song. I can't believe you didn't put it on the '90s compilation you gave me. Especially when I specifically requested Candlebox songs!

    By Blogger Ben, at 6/06/2006 11:41 AM  

  • Also, to answer my own question, I think Creed (by no means a great band) got a bit too much hate. Yeah, by their 3rd album, they had become a parody of themselves and Scott Stapp is insufferably full of himself. But My Own Prison is a damn good album.

    Matt, you're answering a different question. I'm sure all of us have bands/artists that we love whom we feel deserve more recognition. (Eisley comes to my mind.) Perhaps I'll do another post this time. But right now I'm limiting my inquiry to popular bands.

    OWM, Linkin Park's a possibility. I know for a fact that Barzelay DESPISES them, but they always seemed to be a step above the Limp Bizkit crowd to me. There's a lot of discipline in making a tight rap-rock single and they managed to occasionally inject some actual feeling (aside from macho posturing) into their songs. Reading the liner notes from their 2nd album, I could tell they are in love with the craft. I don't rate them near any of my favorite popular bands, but I do think they will one day be recognized as one of the few quality rap-rock bands.

    By Blogger Ben, at 6/06/2006 11:50 AM  

  • Sorry for being off-topic. I just wanted to give Neko another shout out.

    Here's a real one: It goes back a ways, and it's more pop than rock, but what about Bare Naked Ladies? I think a lot of their lyrics are just brilliant, and much of their is awesome too.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 6/06/2006 1:52 PM  

  • "You" is a good song, but "Far Behind" is a better one, and also more often heard on rock radio both in the mid-90s and now. Perhaps a third installment of 90s hits will feature more Candlebox.

    Creed haters do tend to forget how solid the first album was. I can pinpoint the precise moment Creed changed from decent rock band to shite: it involved an entirely over-produced non-album version of "With Arms Wide Open" and Scott Stapp striking a Jesus Christ pose on top of a cliff.

    I too agree with the Linkin Park suggestion. In the almost utterly devoid of anything remotely resembling good music genre we call rap-rock, they are probably the most palatable. They are good at what they do, even if what they do isn't good - if that makes sense.

    Good call on BNL, Matt.

    By Blogger Mike, at 6/06/2006 6:53 PM  

  • While I agree that BNL is a really good band who may have been unfairly pegged by casual listeners as a novelty act after "One Week", I don't think they'll be more appreciated in the future. Most of their best music isn't the big kind of big radio hits (like those of Bush and STP) that people can look back on years later and say "y'know that was actually pretty good."

    No, most of their really good music is album tracks or non-mega-hit singles which fans love but others have not heard. That's not the kind of band that people can look back on and re-evaluate because most people won't have memories of their best songs to look back on.

    So BNL is under-appreciated (although not critically despised) but not the kind who will be more respected in a decade.

    By Blogger Ben, at 6/06/2006 9:16 PM  

  • Ok, then let me try again. Here's a group - they only had one radio hit ever, so maybe they don't count, but I think people will look back on this hit and respect it. Again, we're like a decade behind too, so maybe not. But I would suggest Chumawumba and their song "Tubthumping".

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 6/06/2006 10:20 PM  

  • Actually Ben, you have a really good point. My moderate fandom of BNL and the fact that a song I've been working on recently was inspired by "What a Good Boy" probably impaired my judgment. However, I would argue that "Pinch Me" will likely still be making occasionaly radio appearances in 2016.

    I'm not so sure about "Tubthumping". We're about a decade past it now, and I don't ever hear it anymore. Of the early-mid 90s one-hit-wonders, I would argue that Blind Melon's "No Rain" and Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" are the most likely to still be receiving airtime in ten years. (Hat tip to Meat Boy for the latter.)

    (Mike decides to open his My Music folder to get additional ideas for answering the question.)

    Better Than Ezra is probably an underrated group - they've had a lot of hits and yet few ever remember to count them among the most popular alt-rock bands. (Granted, they've gone more pop recently.) Jimmy Eat World should still get played some, particularly "The Middle" and "A Praise Chorus" - but I think critics generally like them. Toad the Wet Sprocket is another BTE-esque band.

    And that's all I've got, after going through my entire music folder. Which saddens me.

    By Blogger Mike, at 6/06/2006 11:01 PM  

  • Ok, way late on this, I know, but I thought of one:

    The Darkness

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 6/19/2006 11:17 PM  

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