There’s a sort of blessing that comes with a truly bad or disappointing song. A 1/10, if you will.
I listen to so much music every single day. I ingest hundreds of songs a week, and writing about each of them would be impossible. I reserve my words only for those tracks that ignite a fire inside me. Those that either reach the rare majestic high or more commonly, the earthbound fireball. I write almost entirely about 1/10s, 2/10s or 10/10s. Because where’s the fun in faint praise? There’s no excitement in tepid approval.
It’s ironic, but I give much more time picking and prodding apart songs I consider disappointments than to those that make up the bulk of my regular playlist.
A recent example: the tale of two “pool” bands.
Girlpool’s “Lie Love Lullaby”, from their album Forgiveness, is an entirely serviceable dark pop song in the vein of the many acts borrowing from The Knife from 2012-2016. I like it. I’ll probably give it about 20 spins over the next few weeks and then never again. That’s all I really have to say about it. I would not have even mentioned it if it weren’t for this analogy.
In a complete coincidence, there’s also the song “Malibu” by scarypoolparty, from their album The Act of Forgiveness. No relation between the two, just very similarly named bands and albums.
“Malibu” however, is one of those songs that utterly disappoints me with its lost potential. The sweeping arrangement is marred by the inclusion of a totally disparate pre-chorus – one of the few times I can remember where the pre-chorus has actually wrecked a song. Where the rest of the song is vast melancholy, the pre-chorus is some sort of bizarre major key incursion, a Disney-esque tangent about “spinning” that is so detached from the rest of the song that it is actually entirely removable. You can edit it out and it’ll sound fine.
By the same token there’s the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album Unlimited Love, a record I was not going to mention at all. But then I gave a full listen to “Here Ever After”, a fascinating amalgamation of past Chili Peppers singles and likely future single. Just like in comeback single “Black Summer” Anthony Kiedis puts on some extremely weird vocal affectation and in true RHCP tradition uses it to throw out his trademark gibberish as sage wisdom.
It all works somehow, and the song is incredibly well-produced too. However I must say with regret that I will not be putting a new Chili Peppers song into heavy rotation in the year 2022. That’s because the band decides to opt for….the anti-climactic ending.
I know we’re meant to revere John Frusciante and rejoice in his return to the band but his guitar solo at the end of “Here Ever After” does not excuse the lack of a big conclusion that the band themselves tease with the single keyboard tone in the verse leading up to the third chorus. It’s a cop-out and I just don’t understand why they couldn’t have done this structure with one of the other songs. Why did it have to be the one with the strongest melody on the album? There’s a dozen other tracks that could have had a minute-long instrumental outro – it was a poor choice to neuter this one specifically.
But hey, what did I say? It got me talking. I wrote three paragraphs about it.
I will not be writing three paragraphs about the plodding, underproduced new Alexisonfire song “Sweet Dreams of Otherness”.
I will not be writing three paragraphs about the almost-too-pleasant new Weezer album SZNZ:Spring.
I will not be writing three paragraphs about the silly-but-average new Muse song “Compliance” or the rock-by-numbers of the Black Keys’ “Wild Child” or the 100th bar band anthem by Liam Gallagher.
They’re all on one side of meh or the other, either 4/10s or 6/10s. I do not have strong feelings about any of them and don’t want to give them too much online real estate.
Nor do I want to give too much online real estate to the new Arcade Fire song “The Lightning I, II”. As much as I like the clean, widescreen production, it all hews a little to close to the vision of fellow Springsteen acolytes The War on Drugs and The Killers. It’s a little convoluted, but in a way that’s also kind of predictable. The tempo switch about three-fifths of the way through the track is a lot like the one we heard so long ago in “Rebellion (Lies)”, but with weaker hooks on both ends.
It’s a 7/10, but not a solid one. It’s the kind of 7/10 you give once you tally up the scores from all the elements of the track. The production is a 9, and the ambition is an 8 – but the execution is a 4. If there’s one legitimately positive thing to take away from it, it’s the hope that the remainder of the album might rectify the shortcomings of this song but retain the production value.
Norway’s Wig Wam released “Do Ya Wanna Taste It” in 2010, but it could have just as easily been dropped in 1988. The brash hair metal tune recently got a huge amount of attention thanks to its use as the theme song for DC’s superhero show Peacemaker, and many people – myself included – appreciated the song’s authenticity. Ironic considering the reputation late 80s hair and glam metal has for being a vanguard of vapidity, but neat how algorithmically precise Wig Wam were in constructing it.
17 years later and I still don’t know how to pronounce the name of the New York band called !!!
What I do know however, is that !!!, for some unexplained reason, have become one of the most reliable indie bands in the world. Every few years they drop a new album and are largely ignored by both the hipsters and the mainstream. Yet every few years I add between one and three new tracks of theirs to my iPod and in 2022 now have more songs by !!! in my library than by bands I consider my favourites.
Could it be that !!! became one of my favourite bands entirely by proxy???
Another band I regularly add to my library is HEALTH, who drop what sounds like the exact same song every few months: a slow-as-molasses journey into the absolute bleakest parts of the human psyche. And every few months I think I’ll love it and it ends up being the opposite of a grower and with each listen I like it less until I give up on it.
This month they’ve partnered with a mealy-mouthed zoomer emo-rapper called EKKSTACY, who’s sickly drawl makes him sound like he’s literally about to keel over at any moment. “Still Breathing” differs from the past three dirges in that it’s substantially less percussive – the drums sound like a distant train chugging along for five minutes rather than the usual metallic assault. It’s melodic, but it’s also relentlessly dark and tough to enjoy in this climate.
From here we go to †††, Chino Moreno’s side project that really wants to be like HEALTH. They haven’t been too active for the past decade, only releasing a few songs since their only full album in 2014. Witch house, the genre they were borne into, is long extinct. HEALTH are the closest analogue to that sound, but Moreno ends up sounding a lot more like Depeche Mode on new song “The Beginning of the End”.
It’s less “I’m chained to a radiator in a basement dungeon” and more “I’m a rich eccentric in a futuristic city who wears capes and thinks he’s a vampire” — even though Moreno really wants to position this band as the former.
All that said, it’s still atmospheric and grand, and I’d really like it…….if it had a proper structure. Instead it’s highest point comes in the middle of the song, followed by a much less exciting verse and then over a minute and a half of telephone-filtered vocals floating in the background of the polished industrial drumbeat.
PUP are just an alternate universe Hollerado that got into punk instead of whimsical jangle-pop. I’ve tried to bite my tongue about their new album but the nauseating hype around it is too much. It’s poorly produced and scatterbrained and there’s one slightly above-average hook on the entire thing (the chorus of “Robot Writes a Love Song”).
The rest is just the same old caterwauling that modern emo bands love to engage in, mistaking range between notes for melody. Just beCAUSE you SIIIING evERY SYLLaBLE in A DIFFERENT note, doesn’t MAKE IT CATCH-Y.