All By Myself...

Modern rock singles aren't going steady anymore

Everyone acts like rock music is all about getting laid when really it's all about breaking up. Okay, not all about breaking up. Some of it's about wishing you hadn't broken up, or that you'd broken up sooner, or later, or under different circumstances. Songs about breaking up are not cool. But friends, if I have learned one thing from modern rock radio, it is that rock is not cool. Franz Ferdinand is cool. The Killers are cool. Rock is Three Doors Down.

Three Doors Down, you are unlikely to recall, wrote "Kryptonite," the second-best Superman-related hit of 2000. Now they're back, or still here, or whatever, with Seventeen Days--the number-one record in America and, according to Billboard, "the album of choice for Valentine's Day shoppers this year," thanks to the band's new hit "Let Me Go." (Um, sweetheart, are you trying to tell me something?) "You love me but you don't know who I am," moons Brad Arnold, and except for the "you love me" bit, it's like he can read my mind. Three Doors Down, of course, are not to be confused (or are they?) with Three Days Grace, though the latter expresses similar sentiments on "Home"--that track's chorus, "I think I'm better off alone," is not to be confused (or is it?) with "I'm better off on my own," the similar thrust of Sum 41's break-up tract, "Pieces."

As these three hit songs attest, there are still a number of misunderstandings along the mod-rock airwaves, not the least of which is whether the uncomprehending embodiment of femininity from whom freedom must be whined and won is the singer's girlfriend or his mom. Though, to be fair, you could plug the fan's boyfriend or dad into these songs too, and there have indeed been advances in the collective unconscious of Young America. For instance, when an angsty youth gets dumped a week before prom, he no longer invariably blames the whole thing on his parents' divorce. Compared with classic therapy rock like Papa Roach's "Last Resort," or, criminy, the epic psychodramas of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, the tiny aches of adolescent promise that Switchfoot formulate into their twin hits "Dare You to Move" and "Meant to Live" sound monumentally reasonable. Lament the loss of raw emotion if you want, but don't write off the benefits of serotonin-uptake inhibitors just yet.

Still, modern rock radio remains the house Eddie built (though we keep trying to sign away the property rights to Kurt) even if the cool kids are always fronting like the party starts the minute they walk through the door. And Green Day, the dudes who decorated that same house, still have their asses planted in the ratty old couch they shoved against the wall back in '94. On magazine covers across America, Billie Joe and the boys have apparently been saving rock 'n' roll (from Rick Rubin? Ashlee Simpson? Lil Jon?) and conquering the world (eeps, Jann, the world's kinda touchy about American idiots dead set on conqueration just about now), but they're quite a different band back at their real home, on the radio. That's where "American Idiot" became a simple expression of the universal teen truth that everyone who is not you is stupid. And "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" became a simple expression of the universal teen truth that there are so, so many people who are not you in this world, and you are alone in it.

Alone. There's that word again. Even cool rock, which acts like it's all about getting laid, is just a jauntier take on loneliness. For all their swagger, Franz Ferdinand had to admit, "I know I won't be leaving here with you," and the Killers' lust-note in your locker, "Somebody Told Me," had to give way to the jealous blue-balled voyeurism of "Mr. Brightside." A more straightforward take on post-breakup trauma comes from My Chemical Romance, who apparently have something to do with emo or (wha?) the Misfits, though the awesometastic "I'm Not OK (I Promise)" has more in common with pop-metal and maybe even Wham (I swear I hear shards of "Last Christmas" in that tune). Gerard Way is a whine of fresh air, and I think the song's opening line is actually intended to crack me up: "If you wanted honesty that's all you had to say." (I mean, some chicks just dig it when I lie, hon.) In the maudlin culture of mod-rock, where it's always a very special graduation day season finale and Jimmy Eat World is singing, "All the best DJs are saving/Their slowest song for last," there's something alive in MCR's giant hook that screams, "This sucks--but who-oah, I'm still alive." Not too cool, maybe. But it's okay by me.

 
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