December 21, 2009

The Worst Music of 2009

This was an odd year. WXRK folded (again) and went Top 40. I quickly went running to WRXP for comfort but Matt Pinfield abandoned me for rehab. Jilted, I abandoned rock music and started listening to goofy shit. Stuff I should probably be ashamed of: The Morning Zoo on Z100, Commercial Free Mondays on 92.3 NOW, The Quiet Storm on WBLS, The Pulse on 87.7 (Now Party 87). Sometimes I even put on foreign language AM stations just so I don't have to hear wimpy indie guitars on 101.9 or generic "hard" rock on 105.5. I can always turn to WSOU if I need a blast of headbanging or Q104 if my ears are in need of a reliable classic rock tune, but for the most part, I am just constantly switching between whichever pop station isn't breaking for a commercial.

Because I abandoned eMusic, the only new things I ever notice are pop songs on pop stations because the pop dj's are forced to play them by pop labels over and over again. Repetition is the name of the game, and it's beating me. These stations are often playing the same disposable songs (sometimes at the exact same time), but then strangely a month later, it will have morphed into another batch of similar sounding songs by different people (or the same people guesting on their proteges' songs). I'll become so familiar with a song that I don't even know if I hate it or like it--I just know it inside and out.

The other name of the game in the pop genre is Risk, and don't mean placing plastic Roman numerals on different colored countries (though major labels probably do do [doo-doo] that). By Risk, I mean every song has to come up with its little hook so it stands out. There's no nurturing of artists and letting them develop their craft anymore--you often have one shot to be unique. Then, if that was successful, you again get one shot to do it again. It sucks, yes, but we share blame. We don't buy albums, we download ringtones. We don't read liner notes, we watch youtube videos. Fuck them, and fuck us too. Fuck everything. I'm tired of writing. Here's what I hated this year:

"Don't Trust Me"

I heard this premiered on the Elvis Duran Show on Z100. It didn't seem like the DJs really cared for it and I remember several of the callers having a negative reaction. Somehow, it ended up in heavy rotation. I thought it was just a stupid, unfunny song by two douches with a keyboard and ProTools. I'm not even bothered that they're picking on deafblind hero Helen Keller (I actually did that myself in a blog entry last year), I just think their lyrics are awkward, forced, and lame. Helen Keller didn't talk with her hips, she talked with her hands. Who knows if she ever even had sex? I guess they've got poetic license, but it sure ain't poetry. It's an unshocking throwaway SNL digital short. 3OH!3 remind me of the Bloodhound Gang, but without instruments or cleverness. It's American Pie 9: Stifler Starts an Andy Samberg Tribute Band. (Look for it Direct-to-Video). M.A.S.K. and Mork & Mindy should kick their asses out of Boulder, Colorado.

"TiK ToK"

Grandmaster Flash and Doug E. Fresh popularized the whole "tick tock, don't stop" trend then Color Me Badd murdered its credibility. Later on, Snoop Doggy Dogg resurrected it with his "nuts and a cock" but we are here again at the Lyrical Apocalypse. When I first heard this on Z100's morning show I thought it was a joke. I thought it was just some piece of crap song they found on Youtube and played it to make fun of it. Right now it's the number 2 song in the country. Is this what the troops are fighting for?

This song has even worse lyrics than "Don't Trust Me" coupled with the most annoying delivery of a vocal by a female artist in history. Is the Autotuning supposed to be ironic? Is the namedropping supposed to be impressive (Puff Daddy? Mick Jagger???)? Are the suburban princess rhymes meant to be humorous? Just when I thought Weezer had the lame lyrics market cornered, this chick comes around and casts an even wider net of wet shit on songwriting.

Not only do I cringe with every utterance of outdated slang, I can't stand listening to her sing everyday English words. "Got" becomes "Gawt." "Down" becomes "Dayown." KILL ME. I can't focus on the music either because I'm so distracted by her annoying vocal affectations. I hate when sitcom actors are called on to act drunk because they end up looking like they've never actually been drunk before. Ke$ha's stumbling drunk put-ons are even worse. You brushed your teeth with a bottle of Jack SHIT. I just don't buy any of it. The only thing worse than songs that sound like they're written by high school cheerleaders are songs that sound like they're written by sorority girls that were once high school cheerleaders. I'm done hearing about girls getting ready to go and have a super night out. DJ, please blow her speakers up.

Regina Spektor
"Laughing With"

Regina Spektor apparently stumbled upon the same songwriting exercise that Joan Osbourne, Trent Reznor, and Tori Amos found years ago: "Write a song about God that has 'God' in it as many times as possible. Bonus points if it's in every god damned line."

This could have been a decent song, but I feel that it's marred by the God nauseum. If she removed or changed "No one's laughing at God" from every line, we'd be left with pretty vivid, original poetry. The "laughing at God" device is a waste of space. Personally, I'm not super crazy about her voice, particularly the high parts in the chorus, but I think it could grow on me if I get past that weird tongue-clicking thing she does with every word. I think she's got talent, but she's on my list because the song as a whole comes across as hokey. I don't mind that it's a dirge-like downer, or that she crams a lot of words into the lines as they wind down. The song reminds me of that Live song "Freaks," but with an even less humorous delivery. I don't care for the big twist at the end either. It just makes me think, What if God/Money was one of us, laughing with us, and sometimes did not come through for us? Would you call him a freak?

Owl City

I heard that in order to write this song, the dude stole a charm bracelet from a 9-year old girl and just started singing about whatever he saw on it- fireflies, lightning bugs, planet Earth, a disco ball. He managed to tear out a few pages from her dream diary before her dad found him and called the cops. In jail, all he was allowed to listen to was Postal Service and Jimmy Eat World. The rest is history (and public record in sex offender registries).

I'd like to point out that this entire song only has three words in it with more than two syllables--"fireflies," "everything," and "insomniac." The song could be the national anthem in the magical world of Disney, but it sure isn't deep beyond the 3rd grade. If you like this song, I'm going to keep my kids away from you, Peter Pan.


"Oh Yeah"

This was the first single from the supergroup, or as Beavis and Butt-head would say, the super-suck-group. They have the worst name, the worst logo, the worst riffs, and the worst lyrics. For a band made up of four dudes with so many awards and album sales, they must think they don't have to try so hard anymore. Music and lyrics that shitty just write themselves I guess. Before the chorus starts, they've already stolen words from three other songs--"I Put a Spell on You" "Magic Man," and "Hootchie-Cootchie Man." But I don't mean they stole obscure lyrics from those songs--I mean Sammy Hagar literally just says the titles. They should've called the band LA-Z BOYZ.

The song is all downhill from there. The big chorus is "Oh Yeah." Oh yeah? Like "Oh yeah, we're supposed to finish writing this song. Hey dudes, stop huggin'. Come over here and help me think of somethin'?" (BTW, those were better lyrics than the real ones.) If they would've invited "Macho Man" Randy Savage into the megapower-supergroup, he certainly could at least livened up the chorus with an "OOH YEAH!" every once in a while.

I don't know how they convinced Joe Satriani to play guitar in this band. I'm no Satch-man, but I'm positive he could play these amateur riffs with his ass hair (I assume he hasn't lost his ass hair yet). He sounds bored to death on this track. They probably promised him critical success, free Cabo Wabo, and the opportunity to see middle-aged tits flashed while playing his reverb-drenched solos. Two out of three ain't bad. (Sammy, feel free to steal that line.)


"According to You"

Speaking of soulless guitar solos, this song hit me out of nowhere a few weeks ago. I was in the Holland Tunnel, as I often am, and I heard what I thought was a very awkward attempt at a song hook:

According to you, I'm A, B, C
According to you, I'm D, E, F
Blah, blah, blah
According to you, According to you

But according to him, I'm G, H, I
According to him, I'm J, K, L
Blah, blah, blah
According to you

The constant repetition of "according to" effects me similarly to Regina Spektor's song, but with even further frustration. Not only is it repeated a mind-numbing amount of times (which I'm sure the record company loves), but "according to" is sort of an ugly, clunky phrase. Maybe she'll make a ton of money thanks to this song, but once she plays it a thousand more times, she's going to wish she never has to say those words again.

My other problem is that I think lyrics about opposites are lame. My band was performing a couple months ago and I forgot some of the words to a new song I was singing. The first thing that came to mind was "Oh great I fucked everything up now. Let me just yell 'Whoa-whoa' and 'yeah-yeah' for a bit while I think of something better." Then I just started rattling off generic lyrics with opposites that happen to rhyme (right/wrong, weak/strong). It was not a proud moment of mine, but it's solid proof that these things that appear in popular songs are so not genius at all. Whoas, Yeahs, and Opposites are just lazy remedies for writer's block. From The Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" to Genesis' "That's All" to Katy "Hilter" Perry's "Hot 'n' Cold" and now "According to Garp" or whatever this song is called. Opposites are cheap and bring down the stock of a song.

This song delays the pay off of the opposite device at least, so it's a little different then the songs I listed before, but I'd prefer it if she would dig deeper instead. I want to know why she's stuck in a relationship with someone so opposite from her. I want to know specific disagreements they've had, and learn something from it. "I suck at telling jokes 'cause I always give it away" is a good start. I wish she would go back and delete everything before that and give me some fucking real talk. There aren't a ton of guitar-playing singer-songwriter chicks in Top 40 these days (now that I think of it, are there any?) so she needs to step out from the pop pack. The virtuoso soloing is her shortcut, but it comes across as just a novelty in this song. There's little feeling in the playing other than the brief Slash tribute. I suspect the him in the story is just telling her what she wants to hear in order to see her fret/clit-tapping technique anyway, so the skill won't be lost on everyone.

Maybe she should start a band with Flea, Alex Van Halen, and Gary Cherone. They could call themselves Pigeon Toe. Then Marnie Stern, Zach Hill, and the bass player from Lightning Bolt could start a band called Ostrich Ankle and show everyone how it's done. I don't want Marnie singing though. How about David Lee Roth? Or at least Damon Che?

Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Still Unbroken"

This could be Bon Jovi, Kid Rock, Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman, Black Stone Cherry, Three Doors Down or any other generic rock band with generic riffs, generic lyrics, and generic song structure. I had no idea who it was when I heard the song. I just assumed it was any band with youngish members playing Old Guy Rock. Turned out it was old guys trying to sound like young guys playing Old Guy Rock. It is so boring and by the numbers that two of the band members decided it would be better to die than wait for the album to be released. This is music for people that have no interest in having their ears challenged. They just want to go to a show, drink a lot of beer, and yell "Whooo" or "Yeah" when they're told to. If all Lynyrd Skynyrd aspires to do these days is write songs readymade for truck commercials, WWE montages, and Sarah Palin tribute videos on YouTube, then they should spare the rest of us and trim their tracks to just 60 seconds long. Same goes for other disposable meathead rock bands--Don't pretend you're kicking ass with your guitar when all you're really doing is supplying the soundtrack for guys that pretend to kick each others' asses. You have a place in the world, but it's not on the radio.

Kings of Leon
"Use Somebody"

This band came in on the RoBeast Radar about a year ago when I heard "Sex on Fire" for the first time and liked it. This proves two things--one, I'm really slow hearing about things, and two, I'm not above giving credit to catchy songs even if they're kinda dumb. Sure the drumming is boring and the lyrics are corny, but the upbeat riffs, hooky chorus, and Corey Glover-esque vocal delivery won me over. It took me a bit to admit to anyone that I approved of the song, especially since I was beginning to hear it all the time.

Fortunately I didn't put much stock in the band and discovered that their next single "Use Somebody" sucked. The first 30 seconds are all right, but I can't commit any further. The Corey Glover voice overstayed its welcome, and because the vocals in the verses here are more up front and serious, they are easier targets. The short trail of melisma on "Fire" was nice. "Use somebuhdayuh" is just grating.

And then really nothing else happens in the song. There's no discernible chorus or hook. I like what seems to be a bridge and then a solo (that gets repeated too much) over the original intro chords, but then the song hits a wall, goes to the deep, quiet part again and ends. To me, the song sounds hastily put together, like a filler track or jam session that didn't get enough attention. Believe me, I like weird structures and I respect the risk they took (if it was indeed intentional and not just laziness), but the song doesn't work for me.

Adam Lambert

"Whataya Want From Me"

Heard this song and I immediately thought "Wow, this sounds like Pink's last fifteen songs." Surprise, it was written by Pink & Co.! I guess my main problem here is really my frustration with pop songs beginning a guitar lick to add rock cred. It's a real double edged sword because I like guitars, but I don't want them to just be a trend with benefits.

A few years back, "Since U Been Gone" (the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" of synth pop?) had some guitar, a big chorus with big singing, real drums and a synth beat. It wasn't a full-blown rock song, but it definitely a rockin' pop song, and it worked for me. I feel like everything else with that formula since then is just an imitation. Songs with guitars are usually better as guitar-driven songs, but these songs are just using them as the quick, cheap hook. I admit I get tricked every time too. Whether it's Pink or Lambert or even Kelly Clarkson still redoing "Since U Been Gone" with new titles, I always stop and say "Oh boy, a guitar riff! Things are changing here in the pop music world! Goodbyzer synthesizer!" And then I realize that the guitar is there like a heavy metal T-Shirt at a fashion shoot--just an accessory. I don't really have a problem with Lambert himself, I'm just getting tired of this production trick (moreso than Autotune because guitars toy with my emotions... *sob*).

Let's go back even further to Janet Jackson's "Black Cat." Despite the cheesy pinch harmonics, the song rocks. I feel like she really embraced the riffs and power chords and let them rule the song. She's actually banging her head instead of running around going "Guess what? I'm a rock star" and making sure everyone is aware that someone in the band has a mohawk. Maybe Adam Lambert is content being a slick singer where acting out his melodrama is more important than the whatever the instruments behind him are trying to express. Maybe rocking out is not the thing that people want from him.


Anything by Pitbull

Pitbull loves the sound of his own voice. Every second of every one of his songs is filled with him talking, rapping, barking, laughing at his own jokes, or going "WEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-OH!" Sometimes, it's all three at once. The lyrics repeat 32 times per chorus. The choruses repeat 86 times per song. It's all very suffocating. I actually like the "Room Service" clip because as part of the video storyline, the song gets briefly interrupted and he has to stop yelling and mugging at the camera for a few seconds. Soon enough though, he goes back to NEVER SHUTTING THE FUCK UP. Unlike what I'm about to do.

See you when I come up with 10 things I liked this year.

1 comment:

Jay Amabile said...

this was just plain awesome. I am with you on all this shitty new music hitting the "airwaves"...if we can even refer to them as such anymore. None of this crap is good at all. I really liked that you mentioned Bon JOvi in the same sentence as Nickelback because that's what they've become. Nickelbacky. (have you seen Fired Up! ? They coined the adjective "nickelbacky" and I loved it. I had to use it!!!