Radio Gaga

At least since the mid-'70s, Top 40 radio has been wary of what we will here call "quasi- acoustic rocklike songs." This is as it should be, since there are other places where one can enjoy that kind of thing--such as purgatory. If only Top 40 radio were even warier of quasi-acoustic rocklike songs, few of us would have been subjected to Extreme's "More Than Words" or Jewel's "Who Will Save Your Soul" or the Goo Goo Dolls' "Name." Then again, my late teen years were modestly enriched by Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," which charmingly answered the question, "What would 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' sound like if it were written by morons?"

When a quasi-acoustic rocklike song does make it onto Top 40 radio, it benefits from this obvious truth: Where loudness is the norm, relative quiet is an attention grabber. That's why we all take note when a hush befalls a boisterous Tupperware party or when a construction worker puts down his jackhammer and starts playing a lyre. "One Thing" by Canadian hard-rockers Finger Eleven might not literally be quieter than airwave mates such as Ciara's "Goodies," but its "Blackbird"-like guitar figure is probably the daintiest thing on hit radio this fall. Like most quasi-acoustic rocklike hits, it has an air of contemplativeness and (unearned) seriousness, and that makes it stand out.

"One Thing" seems to stroll moodily through a snow-dusted meadow near a lonely highway, with the sun setting on a billboard promoting a Hardee's value meal. As one might expect from a band formerly called Rainbow Butt Monkey, Finger Eleven doesn't have a lot to say, especially if by "a lot" you mean "anything." Like other songs about being confused and inarticulate, "One Thing" is a lyrical nonentity. Predictably, lead singer Scott Anderson is unable to inject meaning into "Even though I know/I don't want to know/Yeah I guess I know/I just hate how it sounds." He does, however, lend something closely resembling passion to the refrain "If I sorted it out/If I knew all about this one thing/Wouldn't that be something." The timpani grow more insistent on later choruses, but the song admirably resists the bombastic close that it threatens throughout. For a decade, folks have wondered what might have happened had Nirvana's Unplugged included a cover of Tesla's cover of the Five Man Electrical Band's "Signs." And now we sort of know. Ain't that something?


Next week in "Radio Gaga": GUERILLA BLACK'S "COMPTON"

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