Monday, October 13, 2008

1997 - ...if anything could ever be this good again.

I know what you’re thinking. I knows it. “He likes Third Eye Blind? What a loser who is also a stupid!” And that’s cool. You can think it. But please don’t say it. Oh God no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no. Well, OK, yes.

I know I promised a solid, cohesive argument for liking 3eb last week, but you’ll note I said it was only “potentially” good. See, I know Stephen Jenkins is kind of a tool. I’ve seen him live. He lights incense, dons a top hat, and doesn’t wear shoes. I know what’s up. And yet, when I spin Third Eye Blind or Out of the Vein, I don’t care about that. Of all the bands/albums on this list, Third Eye Blind is the one I liked the most in 1997, with Ben Folds Five and Foo Fighters a distant second and third. I loved the guitar solos, the infectious hooks, and even a handful of the lyrics hit me right in the various aorta-related parts (“Jumper” is a touching ode to a falling friend. “Semi-Charmed Life,” meanwhile, is just really, really fun to sing). Listening to the album now, I find a lot more repetition in the song structures, although I still think drummer Brad Hargreaves’ jazz background gives the rhythm section a laid back flash absent from most late ’90s radio rock. But, being one of my oldest favorites, it comes with a heck of a lot of nostalgia. But mostly, it’s still just fun to sing.

I was at a party not too long ago in Souf Philly, and a gaggle of teenage ladies called The Giggle Puppets commandeered the host’s iPod, closing off the Depeche Mode and Blaqk Audio love in favor of the pop songs of yesteryear. There was a lot of rap which I was unfamiliar with, some Mariah Carey, and a boy band or two. What’s weird is that I know these girls’ taste in music. They like Flaming Lips, Sunny Day Real Estate, Weezer, and a shite ton of indie folk stuff. And I don’t think they’d argue for Daydream being better than The Soft Bulletin, but that’s beside the point. The point is that they grew up with these songs, and have imbued them with a meaning that transcends any surface level reading.

Anyway, that’s why Third Eye Blind beat out Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out, Blur’s Blur, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Let’s Face It, The Dismemberment Plan’s The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified, Bjork’s Homogenic, Deftones’ Around the Fur, Hot Water Music’s Forever and Counting, Propagandhi's Less Talk, More Rock, and, uh, Spice Girls’ Spiceworld. It's a record that's been with me for a long time. I'm not about to let it go just yet.

Oh God, what have I done?!

10. NOFX – So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes

Given their love of getting boozed up and stoned out, it might sound bass ackwards to say NOFX is better as a live band, but it’s kind of true. Their albums all have a wee bit of filler in between monstrously catchy diddies like “Stickin’ in My Eye” and “Dinosaurs Will Die.” But 1997’s So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes, in addition to referencing the very cool Douglas Adams, is a lean crowd pleaser. 16 songs long and just two seconds shy of the 33 minute mark (and that’s counting all the empty space leading into the Howard Stern hidden track), the album is catchy, quick, and biting. “Kill Rock Stars” takes aim at Kathleen Hanna for misguidedly accusing Fat Mike of misogyny, “Eat the Meek” deals with overpopulation dub rhythms, and like half of the album mocks various punk rock dos and don’ts.

9. Our Lady Peace – Clumsy

The desperate-for-approval punk-wannabe in me wants to fit Propagandhi’s Less Talk, More Rock into this list. But I know which Canadian album means more to me, and it’s Our Lady Peace’s Clumsy. Oddly enough, the record was initially considered a failure up north because it lacked Naveed’s consistency and punch. I consider this odd because Clumsy features “Superman’s Dead,” “Clumsy,” and “4 A.M.”, which are probably three of the biggest songs in the band’s live repertoire. There are other great moments, like “Automatic Flowers” and “Carnival,” but those three are the tops. “Superman’s Dead” rules because it’s about freaking Superman. “Clumsy” opens with a lilting piano piece before morphing into an acoustic guitar/bongos piece, giving it a certain Dispatch/Guster crossover appeal. By the time it gets to the chorus, though, the electric ax and loud drums kick in, making it a rocking tune with a message of hope (“And maybe you should sleep / And maybe you just need a friend”).

And then there’s “4 A.M.” Lead vocalist Raine Maida had a dream about his father dying before he could see him one more time, and this song retells that story. The way the song slowly builds itself into a rage mimics an emotional breakdown so perfectly. I’ve actually had some pretty vivid dreams of my own father dying in an unnamed city alleyway over the years, and “4 A.M.” taps right into that unfounded fear of never seeing such an important loved one again. When I saw Our Lady Peace at the Electric Factory (after a lengthy jaunt to Hershey Park!) back in high school, I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt the lyrics a little too well. Maida put the microphone out for the crowd to sing the opening lines, and when he was hit by how strong our voices were, opted to hold the mic out for the entire song. We went along with it, resulting in one of the most profound live experiences I have ever felt. I’ve sung with some of my favorite bands before, but no group has ever made so many of its fans so clearly the main focus.

8. The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good

Up until this past summer, my family and I always vacationed in Ocean City, Maryland. The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good became my official driving record for that annual trip, specifically when we hit Delaware. The reasoning is obvious/stupid – it’s all because of the line “Delaware are you aware?” from track one, “Is This Thing On?” But it helps that Nothing Feels Good is a delectable collection of emo tunes from back when emo was more of an aesthetic than a sound. Really, Nothing Feels Good is a great indie rock album. It’s peppy and danceable, rocking enough, and certainly catchy.

7. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen

Way to Normal is so awful that I almost forgot how good Ben Folds used to be. Luckily for me, I’m listening to “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” right now. I’m at the bridge, with the weird funk/disco breakdown, and Folds is advising me that I will be sorry for pushing him down. Also, he’d like me to kiss his ass goodbye. Also also, I love this album very much for its delicious blend of jazz, rock, Joe Jackson, sarcasm, and glimmers of humanity. Furthermore, “Brick.” That is all.

6. Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind

Not a whole lot left to say, but “Jumper” still owns, clam flammit.

5. The Aquabats – The Fury of The Aquabats!

The Aquabats took the cartoonishness of the ’90s ska revival to its logical conclusion: They became superheroes straight out of a Saturday morning program. The Fury of The Aquabats! would be pretty annoying if it was just that, though. The band had some serious musical and lyrical ability to pour into the concept, creating an album that works as a legitimate ska record, deals with a few standard punk topics (fightin’, chicks), and offers a wealth of stories. “Cat With 2 Heads!” and “Theme Song!” are my favorite ribald tales of adventure. “Red Sweater!” is one of my favorite love songs, with such romantic come-ons as “I bet you take a shower every day / Hey hey hey hey.” Finally, every song title ends with an exclamation point.

4. Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West

Few records have been able to combine all of the elements of Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West. It’s powerful and loose, like Pavement or Built to Spill, but with an intensity and seriousness that those other groups could never muster in the “ironic whatevers” of the ’90s. And unlike Stephen Malkmus, Isaac Brock can be counted on for a sweet guitar solo. The lengthy opening track, “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine,” which happens to my favorite song here, proves this right away. At nearly seven minutes in length, the song slowly lumbers towards a guitar freak-out to match Brock’s venomous anger as he suggests that maybe, just maybe, you could “walk the line and give a shit.” The lyrics have a rambling quality, for sure, as if The Lonesome Crowded West is the rock equivalent of a homeless crazy guy. I keep waiting for Brock to scream, “Nixon screwed us!” But that’s part of the charm. The Lonesome Crowded West is kind of like the pissed-off yin to The Flaming Lips’ Transmissions From the Satellite Heart’s yang.

3. Green Day – Nimrod

Green Day spent the second half of the ’90s trying to escape Dookie’s shadow. First they tried getting uglier/punker with Insomniac, and then decided to explore pop more thoroughly with Nimrod and Warning. Personally, I think Insomniac and Nimrod are better records, and not just because they plumb their niches. Nimrod is a pop punk record just like the megahit Dookie, but it comes from more experienced musicians. Sure, opener “Nice Guys Finish Last” could’ve come out in ’94, but the strings and cabaret glee of “Hitchin’ a Ride” is a fresh addition. Same goes for the horns on “King for a Day.” Even the more conventional pop punk songs, like “Worry Rock” or “The Grouch,” have a levity and tunefulness that stems from refining the Dookie sound.

2. Discount – Half Fiction

Being a Discount fan in the new millennium involves a lot of treasure hunting. I’d heard of the band through Mitch Clem’s Nothing Nice to Say comic back in high school, but being stuck in suburbia with folks who weren’t keen on shopping through mail order and/or the Internets, I was never able to find any of the band’s albums. After learning that all three of Discount’s studio albums were out of print, I pretty much gave up… until sophomore year of college, when I found the band’s Love, Billy EP at Repo Records. Spurred by this glimmer of hope, I started digging through the used section of Philadelphia record stores. I've always treasured looking for rare records in stores instead of Web sites, if only because the work is more gratifying, the reward more instantaneous, and the shipping and handling non-existant. Over a six month period, I tracked down Crash Diagnostic, Ataxia’s Alright Tonight, Singles #2, and my favorite Discount album, Half Fiction.

Half Fiction refines Ataxia’s pop punk sound ever so slightly, with better hooks and even more insightful lyrics. The title track is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rundown of how rewarding long distance relationships can be at times, “Dreamt This was a Castle” is about the awkward elation of finding out someone actually is attracted to you, and “Clap and Cough” covers moving on. Sure, pop punk records dealing with relationships are like burgers with fries – common and unhealthy – but lyricist Alison Mosshart describes these intimate moments so much more beautifully than your average New Jersian with a lip ring and a broken heart. That Mosshart flips the gender perspective is nice as well, I suppose.

1. Foo Fighters – The Colour and The Shape

This was another close call, but ultimately, I’ve got three times as many years of memories with Foo Fighters’ The Colour and The Shape than I do with Discount’s Half Fiction. Listening to the record is a gateway all the way back to middle school, and while nostalgia can be blinding at times, it’s still surprising to me just how diverse and brilliant The Colour and The Shape sounds. Saying the record blends ballads and rockers isn’t all that mind-blowing in theory, but when you actually hear the record go from zero (“Doll”) to 100 (“Monkey Wrench”), it’s pretty damn incredible.

I’m also surprised when I learn which parts of the album matter the most to people. Sure, everyone loves “Everlong.” And sure, a lot of kids in my grade school grooved on “My Hero.” But then there are the deeper stories, like the couple that first kissed during “Hey, Johnny Park!”, or how my girlfriend listens to “February Stars” to remember a close friend (and Foos fan) who died that month. Me, I listen to “New Way Home” and think about far I’ve come since high school. I’m a lot better about my self-esteem, and the friends I’ve made since college have been some of the best people I’ve ever known. Maybe it’s because we’ve grown up a bit; we’re less prone to infidelity or cruel comments. Mellower but still passionate. Or something.

Life is weird.

NEXT WEEK: burning Liberty City to the ground, dying to get out of my monastery, kissing the curve of your clavicle, and how it feels to be something on, 1998.


Paul Tsikitas said...

Very unconvincing argument for why 3EB is good. You are still totally lamesauce and suck.

There is no denying that someone can like something that is bad. But admitting that they are anything but a guilty pleasure just shows bad form. Giles & I had this same argument before and he wasn't understanding that there ain't nothing with liking something that generally sucks. No one cares if you love 3EB, just admit to knowing that, well, they are pretty lame.

And loving something for Nostalgic purposes is not a bad thing. Even including something that just fills you with good memories isn't a bad thing. It's how I feel about Offspring's Smash. They aren't really a good band. They write catchy songs and memories are attached to said songs, but hell I wouldn't go around trying to say Offspring was anything but a guilty pleasure.

It's also a lot like being into Yacht Rock. Can anyone safely say that Michael McDonald or Kenny Loggins or Toto are actually anything more than just catchy and fun? I can't.

That said, I might sing some Offspring and Loggins tonight at Karaoke. BOOYAH!

Mr. Dogg said...