Many artists over the years have gotten a bad rap. Or, perhaps, they have received undue kudos. Taste will always be subjective, indeed, but if one takes a step back from their fandoms and hang-ups, it’s interesting what one finds underneath.
I feel the need to liberate those hidden qualities.
Kittie: Their first album, Spit, was atrocious. A couple of songs had promise, but they were simply too green and soaring on novelty. Had they put in some road time before appearing on the scene, they may have been more respected. But by the time they toured, became seasoned, and recorded Oracle, they were already written off. But while it’s easy to trash four Canadian girls who look like they fell out of a Hot Topic cyclone, Oracle was leaps and bounds above their initial effort. Songs like “Safe” were actually well-composed and executed. It’s too bad the Lander sisters couldn’t keep that original lineup together as they haven’t impressed at all since their second album, but it is fair to note that at one time, they actually showed a lot of promise.
The Grateful Dead: “Truckin'”? Yeah, that’s kind of fun. “Casey Jones”? Well, it’s only kind of annoying. “Touch of Grey”? What a cute little resurgence. But the fact remains that this neverending troupe of Superhippies simply weren’t all that interesting. Endless albums that all sound far too similar, too much weed and too much road. It’s clear the guys like to play; they just don’t have any idea when to stop. Until someone dies, anyway. While existing forever, the simple fact is that the Grateful Dead left absolutely nothing noteworthy in the annals of music history aside from their incessant touring.
Winger: Oh, what fans of Beavis & Butthead don’t love to hate on Winger? Or for that matter, who in general doesn’t love to hate on Winger? They’re such an easy target, what with Kip Winger’s glistening pearly whites and his ne’er-unexposed chest hair. However, this doesn’t change the prog-rock stylings hiding beneath all of the giant hair and seductive smiles. Oh, their cover of “Purple Haze” may have been atrocious, but songs like “In The Day We’ll Never See” and “Headed For a Heartbreak” give more than just a glimpse of the skill that could go into their music when they really tried.
Bob Dylan: Masterful poet, not too shabby at creating a catchy tune, but his voice is god-awful. I don’t care how much the man is respected or revered, his nasal croon is still horrible. Most people don’t even have a clue at what a fantastic songwriter the man is until they hear a cover version.
Limp Bizkit: They attracted attention from the beginning with their cover of “Faith,” and from that point forward held onto a legion of rebellious teens and frat boys. However, even among their fans, most of them have no problem admitting that most of their songs are pretty terrible. But they’re fun! This is the whole point of Limp Bizkit; it has nothing to do with creating anything of lasting value. When the boys have slipped up and tried too hard, including covering “Behind Blue Eyes,” the gap between talent and entertainment made the Grand Canyon look like a cracked fingernail. For pure throwaway energy, Limp Bizkit is near the top of the list. Turn off your brain, slam a dozen Heineken, and party until dawn.
Genesis: The Peter Gabriel years will forever be worshipped in the land of prog rock, but virtually ignored by anyone who wants to hear songs. Enter the Phil Collins era of Genesis. While purists may argue that he destroyed the aesthetic of Genesis, it remains that he did one great thing for the band: taught them how to weave intricacy into pop. Yeah, go ahead and laugh at “Invisible Touch” and “Illegal Alien.” Then marvel at “Abacab,” “Land of Confusion,” and “Misunderstanding.” Feel free to rip on anything released by the band after 1990, but for an entire decade, top 40 radio routinely experienced a taste of expert musicianship not normally afforded due to relative obscurity and bands lost in muso hell.
Poison: Bret and the gang are an odd story of success. Great party songs, heartfelt love songs, and the occasional brilliant bit of lyricism, all performed by some of the most talentless musicians to ever make zillions of dollars. Viewing any performance by the band, one immediately realizes the benefits of studio magic. There’s CC DeVille doing something with a guitar that doesn’t really qualify as playing, Rikki Rockett on drums trying to someday be as good as Lars Ulrich, and Bret Michaels with a painfully limited range and overuse of dipthongs to disguise his inability to nail a note. Still, wow, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is still such a pretty little ballad, and “Nothin’ But a Good Time” is anthemic.
Marilyn Manson: Few people will argue that the image made the band. Not since Kiss has a gimmick so completely surpassed anything that comes from the speakers. What’s amusing is that at the beginning of their career, the schtick was very tongue-in-cheek. But when their cover of “Sweet Dreams” blew up, Mr. Manson saw how disaffected youth were crying for someone like him to be their icon. Thus begat Antichrist Superstar and his legions of zombie followers. Aside from a few songs here and there, so much of the band’s output is pure garbage a la Limp Bizkit. But perhaps the most disturbing thing is that whenever Manson tries something different and interesting, his hoard sneers and wants their generic evil idol back. We’ll never hear what could have been with the Mechanical Animals Bowie experiment and the fanbase isn’t likely to expand anytime soon.
Rush: Who’s the master of the bass? Geddy Lee. Who’s the master of the drums? Neil Peart. Et cetera, et cetera. There’s no denying the incredible musical skill abound in Rush, and it’s that talent that has kept them afloat for over thirty years. But oh my goodness, Neil’s written some horrible, terrible songs over the decades. From “I Think I’m Going Bald” to “Virtuality”, never mind the endless Tolkien tributes, these are why prog fans are nerds. Add to the mix Geddy Lee’s voice — definitely an acquired taste — and you have a perfect recipe for why Rush will always be niche. It’s not that Rush is “overlooked”; they simply have a narrow appeal.
Metallica: There’s no sense in repeating recognized canon regarding the quality of Metallica’s music over the years up to St. Anger. So why are the fans still worshipping a band who has clearly had their day? People don’t give that same leeway to other founders like Anthrax or Megadeth, both bands whose successes and failures almost exactly mirror those of Metallica. It’s time to face facts: there will never be another Master of Puppets, and people are ridiculous to hope for otherwise. It’s one thing to appreciate the past, but another to continue supporting an aural disaster. Let them go.
Warrant: I won’t argue in favor of “Cherry Pie” anytime soon. The band wrote their own book of disaster by caving in to the schtick of the time period. However, this doesn’t change three things: one, that Jani Lane can out-sing most other vocalists of the genre; two, that Jani Lane is a magnificent and underrated songwriter; and three, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” needs to be dismissed of its hair-band stigma and honored for the fantastic piece that it is. The band is long since dead and Jani Lane is slowly drinking himself to death, but they deserve their little asterisk in the history books.
Oasis: The Brits hail them as the greatest thing since sliced bread; nay, they are better than sliced bread and stand somewhere between the invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire. Yet stateside, they’re ignored. Who is ignorant here? Yes, they have a great pop aesthetic, albeit merely a ramped-up Beatles crossed with the Stones. The songwriting itself is layered and sonically lovely in most cases, although you may have to ignore the lyrics half the time. What’s left is jangly pop rock fueled by ego and pomposity. And while they’re quite good at what they do, few people can name more than three or four singles off the top of their head. Not because they’re not memorable, but because each song has the same qualities as the others. Oasis makes a sound and sticks to it. Great if you think it’s brilliant, but a pile of boredom in the long run.
And so it continues. Tool hasn’t had an original idea in years, Veruca Salt’s first album was severely underrated and forgotten, Ani DiFranco coasts on her vulgarity and bisexuality, it’s a crime that only a handful of people recognize the name Anna Waronker, and Billy Corgan is only a third as brilliant as he seems to think he is. The popular stance can often be skewed in the wrong direction, but as long as there’s someone around to call out the fakes or praise the obscure, everyone’s creations will get proper treatment at least once.
You’re going to get what you deserve,