🛠️ Sing Out Loud, Sing Out Strong...
We're mixing up the format this week. Instead of a big post about one thing, we're going to get some small posts about individuals songs. Now, to remind you folks of the usual caveats, this list is not definitive of anything. These songs are not necessarily bad, but for whatever reason they just annoy me personally. They're also popular enough that I have to hear them routinely on grocery store muzak or the radio in my wife's car, which means there will arguably not be any bad songs on this list at all and certainly nothing recent or obscure. So, while Fritz's Corner by Local H may be a terrible song worthy of our derision, you probably forgot that it was ever on the radio, so we won't be talking about it here.
What all of that said, welcome to "Kurt's very specific hang-ups: radio edition".
Queen & David Bowie - Under Pressure
Let's open with a hot take, shall we? Vanilla Ice got screwed. Yes, he should have cleared the sample ahead of time, and yes, by all accounts he's an asshole, but regardless, he got railroaded by the courts to set an example to others and his career never recovered. I mean, the guy had one hit, was probably only ever going to have one hit, and lost a huge amount--if not most--of the revenue for it. And this is especially galling because Ice Ice Baby is not only a better song, it's a more culturally relevant one. It was a legitimate cross-over hit. It was the first hip-hop song to crack the top forty and did a lot to bring the genre into the mainstream. Meanwhile, Under Pressure is a mediocre mit-tempo arena rocker that just goes nowhere and does nothing interesting for four minutes. But it did get a second life in movies, as a number of filmmakers would play it under opening credits just to get a double-take from the audience (the only example I can concretely remember is Stepmom, but I swear this happened more than once) and it endures as an ironic favorite for people who like to make fun of Vanilla Ice. Oh, and that lawsuit? It pretty much killed the whole production pipeline of early East Coast rap. We will never have another Paul's Boutique because it would be too expensive to produce.
Gloria Estefan - Turn the Beat Around
This is one of those songs where the lyrics are describing what the music is doing, which is something I find fairly annoying at the best of time, but it's particularly grating here because what's being described doesn't actually match what's happening in the music. At no point does the beat actually get turned around. Despite Estefan claiming she loves to hear percussion, the drums are buried under synth. Syncopation is mentioned several times in the second verse with regards to instruments that aren't playing syncopation. The vocalization of the "scratch scratch scratch" of the guitar is a triplet pattern and the "rat tat tat tat" of the drums is straight eighth notes. And yes, this is also true of the Vicki Sue Robinson version, but at least the original had a prominent/interesting drum line, which was unusual for a disco song.
K's Choice - Not an Addict
It's hard to be cool and edgy when your message is "drugs are bad, 'mkay?" That's not to say it's impossible, Down In It by Nine Inch Nails covers a lot of the same territory and it's freakin' awesome, but Not an Addict never manages to shake its After-School Special vibe. Also, the shape of it annoys me. Broadly speaking, the lyrics and music of a song need to be in sync with each other because they're taking the listener on the same journey, and we have a pretty notable mismatch here. The narrative arc tells a story of getting high, then hitting bottom, then getting high again. But the structural arc of the song follows a typical grunge/pop trajectory of slow crescendo to the bridge, then breakdown, reprise and out. Ergo, you have the loudest and most energetic part of the song happening under the line "it's over now, I'm cold alone." It's not a subversion, it's not a commentary--nothing else about this song is that clever, so why would this be?--it's just lazy production.
Pearl Jam - Last Kiss
Pearl Jam was my favorite band from the first time I heard Jeremy all the way through 1994's lackluster-but-I-still-loved-it Vitalogy. But as far as my teenaged brain was concerned, it was all downhill after that. Just look at the subsequent string of singles: Red Mosquito was boring, Wish List was just lazy, but it was the cover of Last Kiss that really put me off ever caring about this band again. It's so much cloying drivel, but because it was the promo single to a benefit album that caught fire, it was everywhere. The structure of the song is boring, the lyrics are insipid, and Vedder's voice is whiny. And yet it has never really gone away. At time of writing, I had heard this on the radio within the last week.
Everclear - I Will Buy You a New Life
Santa Monica notwithstanding, every Everclear song is dull, fight me. Art Alexakis has done some fantastic things with G, but it's time to learn another chord. Okay, that's not fair, but he does have a particular sound that the band did not escape from with their sophomore effort So Much for the Afterglow. It all feels very half-assed and derivative to me, and I Will Buy You a New Life is the exemplar of the worst of this half-assery. Seriously, the intro riff is one chord. One thing that comes through on this song and Father of Mine is that Alexakis grew up poor and this had a profound affect on him, and while this song has exactly one great line: "They have never known the joy of a welfare Christmas", that is the start and end of any exploration of that theme. Instead we get verses that seem to have wandered in, bored, from some other song, and a chorus with a decent melodic hook but some lazy lyrics. "I will buy you a garden where your flowers can bloom." Traditionally you don't buy gardens, you plant them. "I will buy you a new car, perfect shiny and new". Oh, it's new? New enough that it needs to be mentioned twice in the same line? "I will buy you that big house way up in the West Hills." Hopefully you do this before you buy the garden.
The Offspring - Why Don't You Get a Job?
Just cover Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, guys. Also, throwing a quick gender-switch in the last verse doesn't make the rest of the song not feel misogynist.
Finger Eleven - Paralyzer
This is a frustrating song because there's so much that's good about it. It's got a great vibe, a solid guitar hook, and half of a fantastic chorus. Sure, the verse lyrics are kinda dumb, but not in a way that draws attention to itself. But it's the back half of each chorus line that pushes this into petty annoyance territory for me. Why are you powering through more vocals that aren't good and make the whole thing feel rushed? Because this could be a great song if the singer would just shut up and let the chorus breathe a little. To wit: "I'm not paralyzed but I seem to be stuck by you." Excellent line. Love it. "I want to make you move because you're standing still." That's just dumb. Shut up. "It's what your body, not just what your eyes can do." Not an amazing line, but still a pretty good one that absolutely works here. "You'd probably move right through me on my way to you." The f**k is that even supposed to mean? Come on, just let the listener actually hear that guitar hook! If you want to cap it off with a tag like "I'm on my way to you" just to make the transitions smoother, that's great. Do that. But seriously, this song is an object lesson in "maybe do less."
Bush - Swallowed
Typical sophomore slump single. Sixteen Stone was a breakout success that spawned five radio hits. That's almost half the album right there. So how do you follow it up? Badly, it turns out. There was so much hype around this song that even a pre-release demo of it got radio play. But... why? It feels like it was assembled by a committee. The song just kind of drops down to nothing in the verses and we're pretending like that makes it dynamic. The chorus is as by-the-numbers as grunge gets. The song is boring and the band sounds bored to be performing it. At least the other single from this record, Greedy Fly, has some energy and life to it. Thankfully the band got a little more experimental on the next record The Science of Things, and I honestly think it's some of their best work. The Chemicals Between Us is a solid rocker and Letting the Cables Sleep is just breath-taking. All of this to say: there are much better Bush songs, so why is this one still getting spins?
Muse - Madness
I don't begrudge Muse for writing a down-tempo EDM song, but I don't understand why this one--which is not in any way representative of their sound--has become the one track of theirs that gets constant radio play. It's plodding and repetitive and features none of the frenetic instrumentation that they're known for. I mean, Hysteria is right there! Muse has a deep catalog, but all we ever hear is this song or, if we're being treated, Uprising.
Journey - Don't Stop Believin'
Among my circle of friends, it is well-established that this is my least favorite song ever, evar. But here's the thing: this is not a bad song. It's an aggressively mediocre one that has died of overexposure, but that's not why I hate it. It hate it for the same reason guitar store employees hate Stairway to Heaven. I have heard it butchered by amateurs too many times. Because this is a karaoke staple for no goddamn reason. It's not a good song. It's not about anything (those lyrics: "street lights, people, woah," so deep). It's too long and has too much down time. And it's very difficult to sing from a technical perspective, which means if you absolutely nail it, it will sound... fine. The best anyone will say about your performance is "Oh, wow, he actually hit that note." And all of this goes double for Separate Ways. And because it always comes up around me, yes, I get unnecessarily irate over the lyrical reference to South Detroit because there is no such place as South Detroit. If you go to downtown Detroit and head south, you will cross the border into Windsor, Ontario, Canada. And Steve Perry knew this was the case, but he went with that lyric anyway because he liked the sound of it.
Next week we kick off a month of Marvel-related hatred with a look at the shitty circumstances around Black Widow finally getting a solo movie...
In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.