An old fart get old farter
by Jon Worley
I was in a meeting at my office last week, and my boss was playing some Vampire Weekend. Another of my co-workers made mention of my music expertise and asked if I liked Vampire Weekend. I said I didn't mind Vampire Weekend, but that I preferred more aggressive stuff.
I digressed (of course), saying that my notion of "indie rock" was more along the lines of the Jesus Lizard. And then I described a particular song I'd been listening to the night before, Pigface's "Bushmaster" (which features the Jesus Lizard's David Yow on "vocals," though "screams" would be more accurate).
"Bushmaster" is an unusual Pigface song in that it doesn't contain much in the way of electronics (Pigface generally falls into the "industrial" category). Rather, "Bushmaster" is more than six minutes of careering drums and Yow's howling. It is a glorious piece of work, and I simply cannot believe that I haven't pulled it up in more than five years.
That's the thing about Vampire Weekend (or Arcade Fire, or many of the popular "alternative" bands these days). The songs are fine, but there's nothing dangerous about them. Vampire Weekend also suffers from the "there's really not much there" syndrome, where what you hear is what you get and nothing more. The band isn't subtle; it's just subdued. I've always preferred stuff that gets my blood flowing. So, you know, I'll take Coltrane over Sanborn. And I'll take the Jesus Lizard over Vampire Weekend.
I know, apples to oranges and all. But there's something to safeness that offends me. Lately I've been listening to full albums more on my iTunes (rather than one of my many mixes), and last week I pulled up the Offspring's Greatest Hits, something I acquired from someone else. The songs were arranged in a rough chronological order, and it shocked me at how fast they went downhill. The songs from Smash (which includes "Come Out and Play," the band's one true hit) are good to very good. And then the Hits trail off, losing bite even as the songs retain far too much sameness (NOFX's "Whoa on the Whoas" is an excellent commentary on the Offspring). I quit listening two-thirds of the way through. There's just no there there. And this is a band with many million-selling albums, a band that has sold some 35 million albums over its career--though almost half of that comes from Smash, one of the most aptly named albums in history. If folks bought 35 million albums from these guys, you'd think the greatest hits would be better.
Take Aerosmith's Greatest Hits. Yeah, a lot of the band's best songs were left off. Indeed, Gems is a collection of much better songs that weren't pop radio "hits." And yeah, most of the band's early albums are better than the hits collection. But every track is a winner. That set of popular songs is a testament to the power (and range) of Aerosmith in the 70s.
Is it fair to compare the Offspring and Aerosmith? Yes. They were monstrously big bands in their time, and they had plenty of airplay. They both sold tens of millions of records. Aerosmith has had a couple of "comebacks," though the only comeback album worth owning is 1989's Pump. The Offspring are now in permanant in comeback mode, but if you own Smash, you probably have all the Offspring you need.
Nonetheless, despite the last 20 years of dreadful Aerosmith albums (the CDs make better coasters than music purveyors), Aerosmith is still legendary. The Offspring are not. And never will be. The Offspring make loud music, but it's simply not very interesting. Especially after hearing it a couple of times.
I can hear the complaints. "Compare Green Day to Aerosmith. That's fair." And yes, Green Day stands up pretty well to Aerosmith. But I'm actually willing to put Green Day up next to the Who, expert songsmiths who savaged culture and told stories large and small in their work. Aerosmith largely wrote songs about fucking. Or, more accurately, songs about the anticipation of fucking. The Offspring wrote songs about…wait, is my brother right when he says "Come Out and Play" is about lifting and separating? He was just joking, right?
Maybe the Offspring match up better with Three Dog Night. Yeah, that's a more apt comparison. So who is the Aerosmith of the 90s? The Foo Fighters?
Actually, there might be something to that. But look at it this way: Who does Vampire Weekend match up to? Cheap Trick? Steely Dan? Please. In the final analysis, the 70s wins again. When it comes to arguments about rock, the 70s always wins. But that's another column for another day.
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