Corporate Rock Still Sucks

How much worse can Modern Rock radio get? You have no idea...

Fastball, meanwhile, are going through an, uh, exploratory period, looking for the missing link between the Beatles and Buffalo Tom. (Look on the bright side--at least they didn't find it.) The Harsh Light of Day (Hollywood) involves lots of prettily layered harmonies, Harrisonesque electric guitar, Wings-style strings, more key changes than a flophouse janitor--all that, and it doesn't even sound like America. (Not so country, nor so casual--nor so catchy.) "Morning Star" should be the single--sounds a bit like a smarter version of the "Friends" theme, with goosebump harmonies and highway-happy rhythm. Sadly, I think the single will be "You're an Ocean" (takes one to know one, dude) which feels like Ben Folds at his dumbest (Billy Preston, the eighth Beatle, plays a saloon piano on the number.)

A rung or two down the evolutionary ladder, Marvelous Three are simply dying for a jigger of Fastball's sincerity. ReadySexGo (Elektra) is a collection of poses that aren't even superficially convincing--that is, I don't even believe that they don't mean what they say. The result is almost like a series of Zen koans for rock geeks: Can a big fat rock hook also be totally forgettable? Can a band be forcibly melodic but not really song-driven? Answer: Yeah, sure. But it's gonna be a big waste of cowbells!

Vast's Music for People (Elektra) also deserves to die of pretense, if only because they sound like a cross between Pink Floyd and Echo and the Bunnymen, with little bits of Love and Rockets sprinkled all over the place. All drama, all the time. Ah, but then again, they charm in spite of themselves. How can I hate a band that sings, in complete earnestness, "The gates of rock 'n' roll will never close on me!"? And, best of all, they have melodies.

Symphony for a cutout bin: The Barenaked Ladies dampen the dim Bic flame of Modern Rock
Symphony for a cutout bin: The Barenaked Ladies dampen the dim Bic flame of Modern Rock

Of course, if it's tunes you want, you're better off with brand-newbies Tsar, whose self-titled Hollywood debut does its very berry cherriest to turn the world on with spazzy melodicism. This is elitist music for the masses, uniting ostensibly disparate influences in an intuitive way that feels weirdly outside of time (to borrow a concept from astrophysics). You'll hear Pooh Sticks, Sweet, Bowie--the opener, "Calling All Destroyers," manages to reference T. Rex, Kiss, and the Sex Pistols all at once! (Why didn't anyone think of that before? Besides Mötley Crüe, I mean?) The pomo referencing hints at a barely perceptible wistfulness underneath--but it's only apparent afterwards, because the band is super-excited about playing rock music! "The Teen Wizards" feels like an idealistic response to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," as self-conscious in its optimism as "Teen Spirit" was in its sadness. Who knew it was possible to be so calculating and heartfelt at the same time?

And finally, a few stinkers, in quick succession: The Barenaked Ladies, still getting into shticky situations, have a new album, Maroon (Warner Bros.) that poses the musical question: Could a band possibly be any nerdier? The answer: Harvey Danger. Those lads don't come up with anything as endearing as their gimmicky "Flagpole Sitta" on the new album, King James Version (London/Sire). Dense to a fault, the album is all brains--a dangerous proposition when you're not all that bright to begin with. Dumb-and-proud-of-it Fuel know better. The throaty angst on Something Like Human (but are they like human enough to listen to Music for People?) suggests it must be hell to be Fuel's lead singer, but it's just an eon in purgatory for the rest of us. Last (and maybe even not least--who can keep track?) there's Eve 6. On Horrorscope (Atlantic), they seem to be having a fantastic time making music that makes them feel like Big Boys, with vocoders, new-wave synths, and staccato, rap-inspired vocal delivery. I don't hear a hit, here, but then again, I'm not a corporate-radio programmer. And if I ever become one, please lead me to the bed, turn on side two of Abbey Road, and give me the little black pill.

Bitch, bitch, bitch. Of course corporate radio sucks. If you expect any different--

You're right. I don't really know why I'm writing this. It's not like it's going to change anything. Maybe it's time for armed insurrection, or at least arson. Otherwise, radio is going to get worse and worse until it drives us all onto the Internet, and then it'll start copying net radio, just as network TV copied cable. I guess I'm writing this so that, if you feel the same, you'll know you're not alone. Kind of like what radio should do.

One last question: Am I alone?

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