Was Grunge Good? (A Response)

(A Response to an Article of the same name by NewRepublic.com)

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As with all forms of media, there is no true answer to this question. Quality is subjective to the consumer and therefore, while it might be that I hold grunge to an esteemed position within my heart (except for Pearl Jam), it might be that someone else would listen to it and feel nothing but disgust and disdain (hello Mother).

It is, quite frankly, completely silly to ask after the quality of an entire genre of work, as well. There are good grunge artists (such as Soundgarden and Nirvana) just as there are terrible grunge artists (like Pearl Jam). And even then, the quality of their albums may differ, such as how Nirvana’s Bleach sounds like a drippy fart in a kindergarten class (except “Love Buzz” and “About A Girl”, I love those songs), or how Pearl Jam somehow stumbled across decent songwriting with about half of Ten. And that parenthetical statement in the previous sentence is evidence as well that a bad muffin can still have some tasty blueberries within.

Normally, I might spend more time delving into theoretical discussion, but I feel that the shared name of our articles is a dull-witted question asked only by those without enough critical thought to understand that for each person on this planet, there is an entire world, and in some of those worlds, grunge may be good, and in others, grunge may be bad. Still to others, grunge may have never entered their vocabulary.

And to your assertation that “to have much feeling for Cornell, who also fronted the groups Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, it would appear that you had to have lived in a certain era at a certain age,” I would like to point out that Chris Cornell had a solo career that, while never incredibly popular, still flourished, and that younger people are still being introduced to his work, and appreciating it, even today. Grunge is a product of the 90’s, there’s no doubt about that (well, except for all the bands and albums formed and released in the late 80’s, but I guess we’ll pretend those don’t exist), but it is not a product trapped in the 90’s. It still resonates with people today the same way it did back when you were listening to it.

Personally, grunge was my gateway to the larger music scene as a whole, with Nirvana’s Nevermind being the first album I ever bought. It’s not my favorite musical genre, nor does it house all of my favorite bands (Nirvana is still my favorite band, but most others are post-grunge or 60’s/70’s rock), but it is still a good genre to me.

And while I realize that you did not make any definitive, “objective” statements on the matter in your article (which actually further destroys the purpose of your title), the title still implies that there could be answer. There is not. If anybody wishes to find an answer to the question “Was Grunge Good?”, I would strongly recommend going and listening to some grunge yourself to find out what your answer is.

 

 

 

But not Pearl Jam, they suck.

Why I’m Glad Panic! At The Disco “Broke Up” (More Accurate Clickbait Title In Progress)

Controversial statement incoming: I don’t like Panic! At The Disco. In their early days, I always felt like they were riding the coattails of bigger, better bands that they happened to be close with (coughcoughFallOutBoycough). Their music videos in particular were of the “desperate try hard” variety and evoked nothing in me but apathy, while the music itself was bland and derivative. In their current form, as essentially a Brendon Urie solo project, I find them acceptable but not fantastic.

However, in 2009, founding member Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker left the band in order to pursue a project of their own, The Young Veins. This project wasn’t just influenced by classic 60’s mod rock; they practically time-travelled back to that era in order to write their songs. As a huge fan of that era of rock and roll, discovering The Young Veins was as fantastic to me as The Monkees’s releasing Good Times was (which, incidentally, is a fantastic album as well and you chould go check it out right now).

Active only from 2009-2010, there sadly is not much to talk in regards to The Young Veins themselves. After a year of touring, Ryan Ross decided to try for a solo career, with Jon Walker announcing on Twitter in 2010 that the band would “be on hiatus for the time being.” In 2010. It’s 2017. They broke up. However, they did release an album called Take A Vacation!, which is what we’re looking at today! HA! I tricked you! This is an album review and you didn’t even know it!

But seriously, I adore this album and would like to share my thoughts on it in the proper Wombat fashion (which none of you know because I only ever wrote album reviews on Medium). So without any further ado, let’s work our way through the track listing.

The album kicks off with their single “Change”, which is about how, despite failing circumstances and runs of bad luck that can only be called karma, “some people never change.” The verses have a fast, punchy delivery that serves to emphasize Ross’s brilliant lyricism and a hook that slows the tempo down enough for you to get the message without killing the momentum. You’ll immediately notice the twang of the guitar on this song, which persists throughout the album and serves to sell their mid-60’s feel. It ends with a quick call to arms for “change”, and it’s gone just as quickly as it came.

“Take a Vacation!” is a Beach Boys-esque jam about how, well, the singer wants to take a vacation. It’s basically “Surfin’ Safari,” but better and with a really nice, intricate keyboard backing that I could listen to for eternity. Swallow me whole, liquid musical genius of Nick White. May I drift forever on the keys of your soul.

This is followed by “Cape Town,” a song about being in love with a woman in the titular town. The singer is clearly not about to spend the rest of his life with her, especially as she already has a husband “in prison.” Rather, it’s more about how he’s met with a rush of feelings for this woman while he’s in Cape Town. It’s very similar to the sort of temporary feelings that songs like Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” are about, but here, rather than being excited, the singer is more melancholy, as if the feelings have continued to linger for a while after parting. It’s actually slightly haunting.

My favorite song on the entire album, however, is the Jon Walker-sung “Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won’t.” There’s not any particular reason for it being my favorite, though; it isn’t especially better than any other song, Jon’s vocals somewhat lack the same punch as Ryan’s, and I could not, for the life of me, tell you what it’s about. But it reminds me of the happy-go-lucky songs of the early Beatles or Herman’s Hermits, with a chorus so catchy I find myself singing it days after last hearing it. It just evokes a “fun” feeling inside of me that I can’t shake.

“Young Veins (Die Tonight” is another song about being young and in love and how confusing that can be. It’s rather well done, but rather than talk about the same kind of song again, let’s discuss this for a moment. Youthful love is such a fleeting thing. It’s easy to think you’ll be with your current partner for the rest of your life, but the reality is a lot less blissful. You’re both still changing, still learning, discovering new passions, discarding old ones, and 3-4 years from now, you might find each other to be complete strangers, where once you knew everything about each other. Not only that, but at such a young age, even though it feels like you know everything, you know so little. You need time and experience to learn what you need to hold a relationship together. It’s hard to sustain a serious one that begins so early in life. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is very difficult. As Ryan says, “Is ‘young’ a word for dumb, a word for fun?” It’s a word for both. Being youthful does mean being dumb, no matter how intelligent you are. But it also means this is the time in your life when you can have the most fun. Don’t dwell on whether you’ll be with this person in 10 years. Again, as Ryan says, “have the time of (y)our lives every night.”

If you’re listening to it on vinyl, like a hipster (or me, and I’m *totally* not a hipster), Side 1 is closed out by another melancholic song, this one sung by Jon Walker again, “Everyone But You.” Being somebody who is infatuated with the idea of love, but never wants to get married, it almost feels as if this song was penned for me. It’s all about being in love with a woman, but she only loves him back in his dreams. And he tells himself and others that “love is all (he’s) really after,” but knows it’s not true. It’s a very honest song about being dishonest to yourself.

“The Other Girl” is short, bittersweet, and not necessarily to the point. As far as the musical aspect itself goes, it’s one of the better songs on the album. However, being a writer, my focus will always be on the lyrics within a song, which, at face value, are actually well written. However, like all songs on this album, there is a story here, which means I can criticize it for plot holes and unclear wording all day long. And I’m here to say right now: what is up with this second verse? In the first one, he’s clearly talking to someone whose boyfriend is cheating on her, telling her what’s up. But in the second verse, he almost feels personally offended by the boyfriend cheating. He’s not your boyfriend, Ryan! You don’t have to get so invested! Stop trying to figure out why he’s cheating! It’s probably because he’s a horny asshole, anyway, dude, it’s not that interesting!

Unfortunately, “The Other Girl” is probably the best song on the second half of this album. I divide albums into four distinct categories; top-heavy, back-heavy, garbage, and gold. “Take a Vacation!” is very top-heavy, putting all of its heavy-hitters up to the front to grab you, and then letting the more average songs run off their momentum. Actually, we could these kinds of albums “Baseball Albums.” There, that’s a better name.

Regardless, “Dangerous Blues” is the next song, which kind of exemplifies problems I have with slow songs in general. I don’t hate slow songs altogether, but what I’ve found is that they need to have something in them to punch, and “Dangerous Blues” has no punch. Also, ” I know now love is a dangerous blues” and all the variations used within the song is a meaningless line of gibberish that I expect to come from John McCrea, not Ryan Ross.

“Defiance” is, at least, a better song than the last. It’s a slower song as well, but each verse builds up to a powerful crooning of the last word, usually “defiance” but also “wanted” in one case. It’s what meant previously by a “punch.” It’s still not a great punch, but it is enough to keep you interested in the song, and the rest of it is very solid, if not particularly memorable. It’s probably the most average song on the album, which could be damning with faint praise, but that’s all I can really say about it.

Actually, now that I think about it, they just stuck all their slower, sadder songs on the second half, didn’t they? I prefer it when songs are paced across an album a bit better than this. It would probably help a lot if the album’s track listing was switched up a bit better, so that all the fast songs and all the slow songs weren’t back to back. “Lie to the Truth” here is a perfect example of this. On it’s own, it stands as a great song, with some of the best lyricism on the album. “I’ll lie to to the truth, ’cause you lied to it too” is one of the best lines Ryan Ross has ever penned, comparable even to some of Lindsey Buckingham’s work on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, but because of the never ending snoozefest on the second half, it can easily get lost. If this were to come after, say, “Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won’t,” this song would have so much more oomph, and I’m very saddened by this loss of potential. As it, keep your ears open for this one, because you don’t want to miss it.

The album closes out with “Heart of Mine,” which I quite honestly dislike. It’s a wall of indistinguishable noises, fighting to drown each other out. It’s like listening to Oasis, you’re gonna walk away with one bleeding ear. And the lyrics sound like a discarded Weezer track from Red Album, with a terrible platitude for the chorus and strangely specific lines in the chorus. “Girls on the equator never even compare?” Were we asking for a comparison? Hold on, let me scroll up… No, no we didn’t.

However, as poor as the second half is, as a whole, Take a Vacation! is still a really great album by a very talented band who should have done more. Ryan Ross is trying to get a solo career going, from what I’ve seen, but it’s all very bland and uninteresting. Some great minds need buffers in order to achieve their full potential, and that’s what Ryan had in Jon Walker. Their teamwork is what made this album so fantastic, and I really recommend you give it a listen so you can see what I mean.

 

 

 

DNCE- “Cake By The Ocean” Review: Sleazy As Sexy

Poring over the pop charts every day can be tedious and tiring. To begin with, I’m a rock man myself, and there’s not too much rock on the charts these days. Even the rock charts are filled with songs that aren’t actually rock, or songs from fifty years ago. That’s not a joke, either. There are four songs by The Beatles on the rock charts this week. Nothing against The Beatles (one was even “Come Together,” my favorite Beatles song), but we need a breath of fresh air to come and revitalize rock.

Lo and behold!, our rock saviors have descended upon us in the form of… Joe Jonas?! Yes, Joe Jonas-fronted band DNCE is the topic of discussion today, but don’t let the Jonas name trick you; this is basically an early Maroon 5 song, if Maroon 5 hadn’t been fronted by one of the worst vocalists of the generation.

I often feel that, when you hate a song, you do need to be able to explain why, while if you love a song, the “why” can often be indescribable. Such is not the case with “Cake by the Ocean.” It’s one of those songs that wouldn’t work if even one piece was out of place, but because they managed to get everything right, it plays out beautifully.

First, they chose to bring the bass into focus with one of the tightest basslines in pop music. As a bassist myself, I always enjoy when the instrument gets the chance to take the spotlight, but it definitely deserves the chance in this instance. It gives the song a funky flavor that really makes the song danceable. Then, they used the guitar as more of an accent instrument. In fact, the next time you listen to the song, look for the guitar. It doesn’t play a single chord until the bridge, instead allowing the bass to carry the entire first verse. Doing so allows the bassline to get engraved into your mind, letting it take over as the dominant while the guitar is content to be more subdued until the chorus punches in.

And let us not forget the drums. The drums perfectly match the bass, working in tandem to create one of the greatest rhythms of the year. I just… I love it all so much. I don’t even mind continuously playing the song while I write this article. I’m kinda half-dancing the whole time and looking like a moron. The beat is just such an earworm, I can’t help it.

And that’s without even mentioning the overwhelming presence of Joe Jonas. I was a Disney Channel kid, and I was a teenager while The Jonas Brothers were a mega-popular teeny-bopper band, so naturally I had quite a bit of contact with their music. I’m here to tell you, right now, that Joe was always the most talented brother. He has a voice with a wide range, allowing him to sing all kinds of songs and be amazing. His regular pitch is perfectly suited to this kind of rock, with a tone that’s suave but just a bit sleazy. When the chorus starts and he has to hit those higher notes, he’s perfectly capable of doing so.

The Following Paragraph is NSFW. All Sentences NSFW Will be Written in White, and Need Highlighting to be Read.

Lyrically, the song is just as metaphorically raunchy as the music it’s influenced by. There seems to be some sort of contention about what the song is about, so here’s my personal interpretation. This song is about a girl Joe likes that won’t do anything with him in bed. He’s talking to her, trying to convince her to “live dangerously” and “eat cake by the ocean,” which sounds like a euphemism for giving him a blow job, with lines like “eat icing off your hands” supporting this. Apparently, it could also mean the opposite, with him proposing she let him eat her out. Regardless, it’s all very well-written and conveys the sleazy mood of the song amazingly, while allowing some interpretation. There was no point in the song where I thought a line didn’t work, or thought it was completely stupid, which is pretty rare.

All in all, this song is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had listening to pop music. It’s just a fun, danceable song with great musicians behind it, and a positively explosive performance by Joe Jonas. If you’re at all interested in music, you should definitely give this song a listen or fifty.

Genre: Pop-rock; funk; disco

Billboard Rank at Time of Writing: 41

The Chainsmokers (feat. ROZES)-“Roses” Review: Why?

“Roses” is no different than any other EDM club jam, except in one major way; somehow, it reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. This is not where this song belongs, in any way. This is purely dance music, with no other possible way to enjoy this atrocity. How this ended up as an actual hit song blows my mind.

I’ll admit to coming into this review with a fair amount of bias. I’ve never been a fan of EDM, as I feel it is a soulless genre, filled with people who have mastered the technical art of music but never had the true passion for it. The Chainsmokers don’t even have that going for them, though, as you’d know if you ever heard their previous “viral” hit, “#Selfie,” an abysmal waste of time equal to forcefully running a cheese grater over your ears for four minutes.

My problems with “Roses” are different from the problems I had with “#Selfie,” though. For one, this song doesn’t seem to be sending me subliminal messages to kill myself. “Roses” is far too bland for that, with a drum beat that hasn’t been fresh since the 60’s dominating the brunt of the song. The lyrics to the song are at least sung, as well, and not a disgusting cash in on a trend of the times.

No, the biggest problem with this song is the synthesizer breakdown. It bleats out in stagnant notes so forceful it would vibrate even the best speakers at medium volume levels. It happens more than once across the song, as well, seeming to be the main reason for the song’s existence. The synthesizer just drones on like that for something around thirty seconds at a time, and it just baffles me. No human ear could ever find that song pleasing.

Past that, a trend common in EDM is to take a bite of the vocalist’s performance, just a single note, and use it like a chord, repeated ad infinitum across the song. It does nothing but remind me that ROZES could actually be singing something more, had you left enough room for her to do so. The “ah ah-ah-ah-ah-ah ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” noise is not fun or interesting.

ROZES is actually a good presence on the song. She has a nice, willowy voice that I would love to hear more of. She does slur about half of the two verses she was given, making it practically unintelligible, but she’s probably the best-sounding instrument on the song, so I can forgive that. In fact, the song probably rose so high on her strength alone.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that this is an EDM song, meaning you should be able to dance to it. This is not a fun, danceable song. “Roses” is one of the stiffest, saddest, most joyless songs I’ve heard in a while. It is a slow trudge through murky swampwater, only the swamp doesn’t even have any alligators to run from. This song has no business being in a club or on the radio, and it definitely has no worth on the pop charts. Avoid this song like the plague, but maybe check out ROZES. That’s what I’m going to do.

 

 

 

 

Also, did they seriously name the song after the guest artist? Who does that?