It has come to my attention that many music listeners do not possess the faculties to know that their newest favorite album is utter shit. After six decades of massive marketing and thought-control on the part of record companies, I do not blame these victims for having atrophied taste, though. Fans of pop-country listen to nothing but pop-country for the same reason people in Texas eat nothing but fast food: one adapts to one’s environment. I am not like the scores of political theorists who distinguish problems without suggesting solutions, however. I am here to aid thou, o’ suffering multitude, so if you or someone you love listens to musicians of the following ilk, this diagnosis will conduct the patient on the road to a gentle recovery. And remember! Silence is often preferable, especially to your innocent neighbor. Signs of musical transgression may include:
1. Rip-Off Artistry
This is a band called Jet who’s been accused of ripping off everyone from The Beatles to Herman’s Hermits. The old conversation has two main viewpoints, that either it doesn’t matter where a band’s inspiration comes from because the music always has at least one unique attribute, or that music is homogenous enough without musicians using the same structures and chord progressions. There are so many examples of this that I hardly need bother, but I do remember when Bad Religion was the only punk band with a three-part harmony and T-Pain was the only rapper to use autotune, for instance.
Did Coldplay rip off Joe Satriani? Yeah — but he’s not the only one. Popular artists have a hard time producing unique sounds while retaining their popularity. George Harrison stole “My Sweet Lord” from The Chiffons almost bar-by-bar and was successfully sued, and everybody knows Elvis raped and pillaged southern black performers like a bulimic vampire bat. This is not homage; it’s laziness. If you have two bands in your collection that sound exactly the same, pick the originator and throw the other one out, or one day you’ll end up like one of those poor sons of bitches who have Papa Roach, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot side-by-side in their CD changer and can’t understand why nobody will ride in the car with them.
2. Meticulous Band-Wide Grooming of Image
One of the easiest ways for record companies to steal from you is to sell a predictable product and pretend it’s brand-new. McDonald’s makes sure every quarter pounder tastes exactly the same as the last. If your band looks as if their image is more important to them than the content of their music, then they’re probably selling records based on how much they look like the people who are buying the album, which in this case is you. Ever notice how country music fans show off their love of Clint Black by wearing cowboy hats, buckles, and boots? The day I see a modern emo band dressed up to play a rodeo, or a country music star in guyliner, I’ll start thinking of them as artists rather than fashion models.
Do yourself a favor. Get on the internet and look for the ugliest bastards in music you can find. I guarantee they have talents outside wardrobe. Now, is it possible to make your music more interesting by alienating your fan base and taking a remarkably different image? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you the emo Garth Brooks — in nineteen ninety-nine. Suck it, Criss Angel.
There comes a time, ladies and gentlemen. Anyone who’s seen Dick Dale play recently can tell you, that elderly fellow will be playing his old Fender Strat long after they put him in the ground, so we can’t say that age is the indicator. Science has not yet identified what causes a band to churn out a stinking pile of busywork rather than their usual rocking tunes, but the weeping dying whines of a used-up musician is easily marked.
A has-been shouldn’t sound like a wanna-be. It’s pathetic.
When a captain’s unfit for command, he’s relieved of duty; why do record companies let these undignified wretches continue to undermine a career of fine music? Oh. Right. Below is the only suitable pic for this section.
4. Gimmick Bands
Hey, can we make a million dollars without writing any significant music? Of course we can! Let’s write reggae versions of classical music and play it live on kazoos while dressed as dinosaurs. It’ll be awesome!
Remember when the White Stripes came out and everyone was talking about them? Remember what everyone was parroting? That’s right, they only had drums and a guitar. Two people! Isn’t that neat-o? How about a band who wears a bunch of horror masks taken from Clive Barker comic books? Or — I know — let’s dress up like clowns! Wait, wait, I’ve got it. How about a band that does lounge covers of punk songs, or punk versions of sitcom themes, or disco versions of John Williams’ orchestra compositions?
Just hold the fuck on. I have an idea. How about you knock off the concept art and try playing music for a change? It was cute for a song or two, but it’s not fucking funny anymore.
5. Bands With No Taste At all
I have a theory that in matters of literature, style is the most important quality to achieve a desired effect. Likewise, in matters of music I believe that taste is the chief concern. Figuring out exactly what good taste consists of is just as impossible as explaining why one should rather prefer a backyard BBQ burger to a Big Mac. You can’t just say the ingredients are of a higher quality. That means nothing. Bands like the Velvet Underground proved that your music doesn’t need to be complex, and bands like the Sex Pistols proved you don’t even have to know how to play your instruments. But you do have to have taste.
Meaningful lyrics, spot-on instrumentation and fantastic engineering won’t make a bird’s piss of a difference if your music isn’t written and performed by people with good god-damned taste. Look at all the fucked-up covers of Beatles songs people have done if you need a reference. Or, alternately, just feast your eyes on the poster children of bad taste below. They didn’t even have the sense to name their band something unrelated to their jobs at Starbucks. Wouldn’t it suck to have to admit you played in this band when people asked you? Fuh-huck.
6. Pointless, Shallow Lyrics
OK, I’ll admit that music’s first priority is not to communicate something meaningful, but that doesn’t excuse lines like, “bleed it out, dig it deeper just to throw it away,” (Linkin Park) which literally mean nothing because that ambiguous pronoun it is never actually discussed. What is it? Why bleed it out? And how many things can you dig deeper as well as bleed out or throw away? This shit isn’t even grammatically correct enough to translate into the language it’s sung in.
Or how about this beauty from Apocalyptica: “I try to make it through my life, in my way, there’s you / I try to make it through these lies, and that’s all I do.” At least these guys are from Finland so their English is their second language, but I’ll bet you anything that they’re actually more proficient at poetry than Linkin Park is and that their chorus, “This I swear / I don’t care, I don’t care,” is just laziness on their part. You notice how much shitty music seems to result from simple laziness? Why the hell are band members so lazy? Must be the drugs.
7. Single Masquerading as an Album
This is sheer folly. Everybody has that one friend who runs out to get the new CD by that Johnny-come-lately artist because he or she just loves the new single on the top 40 chart. Everyone has a song they like by a band they are not a fan of, but it takes a particular kind of music listener to listen to an entire album simply because it has one or two songs on it that strikes one’s fancy. These people invariably mention at some point that, “This whole album’s pretty good, actually,” which it never is, or “I like this group; I bet they’ve got lots of other good stuff,” which they almost certainly don’t unless the listener is newly acquainted to an older band.
The term one-hit wonder is in this category, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with one-hit wonders if the song is good. There are plenty of awesome singles by OHWs. It is not OK, however, to force other people to listen to Kelly Clarkson’s entire album because “Since You’ve Been Gone” is pretty awesome. Or Shaggy’s album. Or Snow’s album. What? You don’t remember Snow’s “Informer?” It’s in the same decaying stack of CDs as your Shaggy album.
And those are the main reasons, though more could certainly be extrapolated upon when one considers the vast ocean of shit that one must slog through to find even a tea-kettle of quality. I’m sure musicians are hard at work finding new and innovative ways to suck at music all over the world right now in fact, but most of the horror is contained within these seven categories so I’m not going to waste our time going over the details. Details require magnification, and if there’s anything I’d rather not magnify, it’s a band in the company of these talentless pretenders.
So please, take time to research a little listening fodder. It goes in your ear and lodges in your brain, after all. Would it kill you to Google something like, “most underrated bands of the 70s,” “short history of [your favorite genre] music,” or “talented and influential music artists” before you click and buy from iTunes? I mean, it’s way easier to find the best music from the past than it is to find it from the present — nobody remembers worthless rock. Stop making me listen to your lemmingcore at six billion decibels as you drive around in your car with all the windows open. Who knows? Maybe even your love life will improve.
With Great Incense,