3:32 p.m. - September 06, 2005
The hipsters in the world start talking about X or Y (book, movie, band, record, whatever) like it’s the greatest thing in the world, and it so intrigues you that you purchase X or Y and then realize, sooner or later, that it wasn’t all that and a bucket o’ chicken anyway.
Oh, you may have put in effort to try to enjoy X or Y – because who doesn’t want to be a hipster (well, at least a hipster in their own crowd of hipsters)? But sometimes there is stuff that is just not your cuppa joe that the hipsters proclaim as worthy of their support. It’s OK to admit it. You just need to be strong!
After purging my CD collection because of the move (and thanks to iTunes, it’s not like they’re gone anyway) I’ve been thinking about bands that at some point the hipsters of the world said “Rock on dude! They are praiseworthy!” but now seem to have lost a lot of their luster. They were “overrated”.
This is not to say that they did not produce some music of quality and distinction. Some of these bands have made fabulous records. It’s just that they did not sustain a level of high-quality matching their hipster praise, or that their highlights were not the “oh-my-God-I-must-own-this-in-triplicate!” level, most likely the “yeah, I suppose this is OK” level.
I’m going to be looking at some older bands this way – because over time and distance it’s easy to objectively look at their career and claim that they are, indeed, overrated. Certainly, bands like Radiohead, Dashboard Confessional, the White Stripes, and others may ultimately find their way into similar lists in the future, but who knows. (NOTE: I’m not saying that Radiohead and the White Stripes are specifically overrated, but they have the definite potential of being so when all is said and done and they’re in retirement somewhere. Oh, what am I saying? Rock and rollers NEVER retire. They just start playing tractor pulls, state fairs, and Branson, Missouri.).
My hope is that this list begins a dialogue in your mind (or between our minds, sort of like Spock and McCoy, or whoever) about things that you buy because the hipsters say it’s great, or you think it’s great, but then over time realize that they were merely OK, or good. It’s NOT to get into flame wars or anything like that – if I wanted to do that I’d sit here lambasting Clay Aiken and Celine Dion and letting the unwashed masses of their fan bases come pick on me. I’m just offering my .02 American cash money about these bands, from a distance of years. You may complain, discuss, debate, or argue, sure, because I enjoy intelligent discourse.
Without further ado, I will proceed to kick up some gravel:
Lou Reed (solo) - Moose and I debate the merits of the Velvet Underground once in a while. I love the Velvet Underground. I do think that lazy critics and lazy artists list them as an inspiration or a reference because it’s easy and the hipster thing to do. (Even to this day, almost 40 years after the fact!) However, Lou’s solo career, while still carrying a hip label, has been spotty at best. He’s made a few decent albums, but a lot of his records are lazy, unfocused, or just bland. Even the stuff that made the critics swoon in the 80’s I found to be lacking a certain something. “New York” is a fine album that sounds good to this day, and “Transformer” has held up fairly well. But other than that I think he’s still coasting on the fact that he’s Lou Reed, the leader of the Velvet Underground. He’s the definitive cult artist.
The New York Dolls - If you’ve ever been to a wine tasting, then inevitably there is a wine that everyone is raving about, but to you tastes like goat urine. That’s the Dolls for me. Perhaps if I was a jaded rock-and-roll fan in 1973 I would have ‘gotten’ them, but listening to them now, after punk rock, new wave, grunge, etc. then I think I missed the memo on what there was to ‘get’. Any book you read about the new wave of music in the 70’s fawns over them. Personally, I would praise the Stooges more.
The Cure - As a singles band, the Cure are fantastic. As an album band, not so much. I guess you CAN make a living from being depressed all of the time, but for me, listening to that for 60 to 70 minutes a shot doesn’t move me. “Disintegration” was supposedly their high point, and if you’re into them then you definitely love that record. I tried to listen to it just recently and remained unmoved. Maybe I’m just too happy! I’ll stick to the singles I have on my iPod.
Black Flag - This was the touchstone band of 80’s hardcore punk. But if you listen to their stuff now – it hasn’t aged well. The sound of their recordings is awful, made worse by the transition to digital medium. The music, at times, is overindulgent, at times over-long, and invariable sloppy in execution, and sometimes listening to Henry Rollins caterwaul about pain and angst for 45 minutes is like having nails driven into you eardrums by a ballpeen hammer. They do have some great stuff, but I’d stick to the early singles anthologies (pre-Rollins) and a couple of live albums.
My Bloody Valentine - Every friggin’ rock critic has said that the “Loveless” album is amongst the best ever. I finally got around to buying it a couple of years ago. Maybe it was over-hyped to me, but I didn’t think it was that special. I UNDERSTAND what they’re trying to do. I GET what they want to accomplish. It just didn’t move me. I like noise with the best of ‘em – I just wish I could find an actual song hiding in there on occasion.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - From 1989-92, Moose and I swore by these guys. These guys were THE guys. But then I put their records away. Listening to them now, the early stuff sounds bad, the jokes aren’t as funny, and the music seems forced on occasion. They did release a couple of great records, but then drifted off into pop stardom and the safety of the mainstream. And the safety of the mainstream is quite a disappointing place to be, considering their potential.
Jane’s Addiction / Perry Farrell - If you would have picked up a SPIN magazine in the early-to-mid-90’s you would have sworn Perry Farrell was the second coming! Jane’s Addiciton had some moments – how can you argue with “Been Caught Stealing”, “Stop”, or “Pigs In Zen”? But I found the second half of “Ritual de lo Habitual” to be meandering and pretentious. Then Jane’s broke up, and Perry formed Porno For Pyros. I’ve almost never bought an album thinking “I didn’t really like the first single, let’s hope the rest of the album sounds better” – but I did for that one. Mistake! For all the hype, Jane’s basically released 1 ½ good albums, and Perry Farrell is still waiting to write his next one.
Minor Threat / Fugazi - For what they did, Minor Threat were great. This was ultra-hardcore. However, even after 20 minutes it just gets wearying. Ian MacKaye also gave the world the concept of “Straight Edge” – it’d be great if kids wouldn’t smoke, or drink, or fool around and be good to themselves. However, being a preachy, arrogant prick about how you are such a “Straight Edge” person is almost as bad as being a drug addled idiot, as many of those in that movement were total maniacal jackasses about it. It’s just like the militant Vegans I’ve encountered. They’re not going to convince me to put down my cheeseburger, no matter what they do. So back off! Anyway, MacKaye then formed Fugazi, which also has a lot of great principles, and they make important statements. But being preached at, constantly, over the course of an hour gets on one’s nerves after a while, no matter how powerful the tune is. I’m sorry, I should like them more than I do – but I don’t.
Sonic Youth - Oh, this pains me so, because I love Sonic Youth. But I have to be realistic. Except for the stretch of albums between “Evol” and “Dirty” (especially the brilliant “Daydream Nation”) their output on record is pretty spotty. The early ones are at times unlistenable – the later ones seem to be lazy and unfocused. I do hope that they’re turning a corner, as “Sonic Nurse” was pretty good. We shall see.
Pavement - When “Slanted and Enchanted” came out, the critics said they were going to revolutionize music. Well, that was a fine record, but the singles and EP’s they released earlier had some downright noisy dreck (that’s a good rock critic word, isn’t it?? Dreck! Hee!). I do recall that some fans posted on Prodigy (remember Prodigy, oh first adapters of the internet? No? Ok.) that were quite saddened that their little band was now going to sell 50,000 records because of SPIN magazine, and they should just be making records for their little cadre of people. That should have given me pause about them. Anyway, “Crooked Rain” was a decent followup, but the rest of their output was less than revolutionary, and more often than not meandering in their slacker-dom.
Weezer - I think they’ve been around long enough to comment. I just don’t get it. I have liked their stuff, on occasion. But I just don’t get IT, whatever IT is with them. And I’ve tried. I have. Maybe I don’t have the requisite pain, angst, fear and loathing. Maybe it’s because I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 21. Maybe I’m ust afraid of bands with that mammoth of a cult following that any sentence they utter in the press is dissected in fanzines and message boards. Maybe the cult’s hype is too much, and I’m backlashing. (I do like some cult artists, like Robyn Hitchock, but I know what his limitations are – I know at times he releases rubbish.)
There are other bands that I debated about adding, such as the Smashing Pumpkins. But their fantastic stuff outweighs their pretensions (and “Gish” totally makes up for whatever the heck happened to them over their last two records).
I think some rock critics (and others) have a hard time in re-assessing their previous opinions. Up above, I’ve taken a good hard look at some bands I thought were great at the time and some that have just never clicked for me. So, listen to what your ears tell you. Don’t get it just because a massive amount of hipster doofuses says it’s the tops, find out for yourself!
And yes, you will notice that I have posted a lot of entries on music (and will continue to do so). And yes, I could be considered a hipster doofus. Well, at least a doofus. But I know I’m right! (Heeeee!)