If the Backstreet Boys defy reason, Local H just defy their very existence. "All the Kids Are Right" is a last-wave grunge song about how over grunge is. "It's never good when it goes bad/No one wants to feel like they been had," moans Scott Lucas, who's half the band, the other being drummer Joe Daniels. He's blowing a kiss to Uncle Tupelo's anti-rock-star rant "We've Been Had," but here the stars in question are Local H themselves: "Walking through the set/As drunk as you could get/And what the hell was wrong with Joe?" It's like a Maoist autocritique: You start expecting they'll take themselves out back any minute and put bullets in their heads.
"Backstreet's back, alright!" And you never knew they were gone.
Meanwhile the song's busy raving like grunge still mattered--mattered more than anything. It's at once as epic and ingratiating as it is self-hating, concluding "all your cred won't save you from The Kids." The movement's sound was always self-loathing, from the creamy dread of Kurt's voice to those signature mood-swings on which grunge is built: Each shift from repressed and quiet to furious and loud is supposed to grind like the ruined gears of your shit-filled heart.
Or maybe the song is the last echo of Kurt's suicide (now that's self-canceling). His note, after all, was about the sickness of rock stardom, and about his failure to have the right relationship to The Kids. To Local H these aren't private demons--they're simply material.
Now that grunge has laid its cards on the table, we can all stop playing. Dave Grohl has. Despite being one of the living relics of the religion, this year he canceled grunge entirely. Having wandered onto the Howard Stern show, apparently figuring it was too late to be cool (Where's the "Corporate Shock Jocks Still Suck" T-shirt, Dave?), he played a version of "Everlong"--an aimlessly aggressive dud on record--that ended up displacing the original from mod-rock playlists. He sang it slow and sad like a real love song, and he worked his acoustic guitar like an amateur. You could hear him breathing as he sang, "breathe out so I can breathe you in." You could hear him waiting when he swore he'd "waited here for you."
And when he pleaded, "come down and waste away with me," damn if he didn't sound wasted. To finally get it exactly right, to get at the truth of your song on an idiot talk-show, in a way that makes everything you've ever sung seem like bullshit--it's enough to make you crazy.
The Top 10 Singles of 1998
1. Foo Fighters, "Everlong" (Howard Stern Show acoustic version) (Capitol)