MIDWEST MISERY by Adam Hirschfeld
Posted by Collider
MIDWEST MISERY by Adam Hirschfeld
The Miserable Musical Manifesto (part 2) - If you missed part 1… click here. You kind of have to start from the beginning
The Black Crowes came out of nowhere, at least for me. “Hard to Handle” was the first song I ever learned to play on the drums (it’s pretty easy and eerily similar to “Down on the Corner” by Credence Clearwater Revival). I had no idea the song was, as Chris says on one of their live CDs, “an old Otis Redding number that we do.” Neither does most of America. Most remakes are just that; the artist remaking the song never takes ownership (a perfect example of this is Madonna’s “American Pie”, which is really nothing more than a pathetic tribute to her own hubris. If Don McLean hated Mick Jagger, I imagine he’d like to gauge out Madonna’s eyes with a rusty fork). “Hard to Handle” is one of two songs I can think of that go against this theory; the other is “La Bamba” by Los Lobos. The 1987 version is way better than the Richie Valens original, possibly because the original sounds like Richie Valens made it in his basement (then again, because of the hit movie, most Americans think Lou Diamond Phillips is what Valens looked like, which could not be further from the truth). “Hard to Handle” was off the album “Shake Your Money Maker” (a name stolen from another old blues tune), which was the last great rock and roll album made in this country before the alternative movement came along and killed off music.
The album simply kicks ass for all ten tracks (12 if you count the re-release in the box set). The ballads (“Sister Luck”, “Seeing Things for the First Time”) have soul and crescendo. “Jealous Again” and “Twice as Hard” simply rock, and “Stare it Cold” bookends the opening tracks nicely. “She Talks to Angels” is the song the Crowes play in nearly every set even today (and it breaks my heart a little bit that since I stopped singing on a daily basis, I no longer possess the vocal range to sign along with the chorus without dropping the octave).
I could rave about this album for years. It was that good, and part of the problem for the brothers Robinson was that it was too good. The album made them famous, and they never quite lived up to it again. The follow up, “Southern Harmony and Musical Companion” debuted at number one on Billboard, but wasn’t as rockin’ as their first album. Maybe it was because the band had enough money to afford backup singers and alternative percussion instruments. Maybe it was because they had enough money to buy better drugs (their third release, “Amorica”, famous for using the shot of a women’s crotch on the cover until the conservatives made the band change it, was allegedly made at a time when the band was very into experimenting with psychedelic enhancers, and the Crowes have always been advocates of marijuana). “Remedy” is an ok tune, and “Hotel Illness” has a little swank to it. The rest of the album sounds a lot darker than “Money Maker” and fails to leave the listener with the same “this kicked my ass” feeling.
The band has, at times, gone back to its rock and roll strengths, but only for tracks at a time. Chris is at his best being either soulful, playful, or both (“Wiser Time” is the best example of his soul); he has the pipers for either, but doesn’t have the ability to be a lead singer in the David Lee Roth mode. Robinson spends most live shows twirling around like he’s at the original Woodstock. Rich can lay down solid riffs with the best of them, but should really lay off the “wa-wa” pedal.
For a long time, the band stopped releasing new material and stopped touring, until, as I mentioned previously, Hudson made them see the error of their ways. She may have made one too many lousy films, but Hudson made it so that I could see my favorite band in Columbus with my awesome cousin Michael, so she’ll always be acceptable in my book. I say this even though her son Ryder is way too old to be sucking on a pacifier in public settings.
Allegedly, the Crowes have a new studio release coming out sometime soon (their website indicates Spring 2008). It will allegedly contain never before heard material and should be a decent listen. Plus, I once told a friend that the Black Crowes could release a CD consisting of the sound of feline torture and I’d buy it (it would probably sound like Nelly Furtado).
The alternative movement flat out killed any chance the Crowes had of being more than what they are, which is a good band that fills small venues and smokes tons of weed. In the early to mid 1990s, no one wanted to hear a rock and roll record that wasn’t made by a group hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Which is a shame, given how little staying power alternative ended up having.
Think about it. In 1992, would you believe me if I had said Pearl Jam would be completely irrelevant by the year 2000? They have attempted to become a modern day Grateful Dead (if I were a rock star and someone nicknamed my fans “The Jamily”, I would kindly give the nickname back) without the wads of cash for Eddie Vedder’s heirs to fight about when he takes his dirt nap. And Pearl Jam wasn’t even very good. Sure, they were loud, but I can think of three songs of theirs that I wouldn’t change on my radio to seek something better if it came on: “Glorified G”, the one about the lady in the small town behind the counter, and “Animal.” The rest of their songs are hard to understand and not all that interesting. Plus, they did a remake of the “Oh where oh where can my baby be” song, which is conclusive proof that Eddie Vedder is a wuss.
Before I get back to all the reasons that alterative sucked, I should mention a couple of bands that do have staying power:
-Steely Dan. There is no band that sounds quite like Steely Dan, and while most critics love how their music was the closest thing to jazz to make it big time since the Roaring 20s, I fell in love with “Reelin in the Years”, which, at least when referring to the studio version, is a damn good rock song. When Steely Dan toured in 1993 after a long layoff, this song was the reason I went to see the show. As it turned out (and is proven on “Alive in America”), they turned “Reelin” into a jazzy, keyboard song that I did not recognize until they started singing the words. I am not sure if this is because the only guy who could play the kick-ass opening riff was dead by that time. Two other easy reasons to respect Steely Dan: the origin of their name (everyone knows it by now) and the fact that when they finally got around to releasing a studio album after God knows how long, the first track off of said album was about cousin incest.
-The Red Hot Chili Peppers: They survived even though Anthony Kiedis did enough drugs to kill ten Tuscan elephants (and Kiedis, like Scott Weiland, looks better physically than I do, which shows conclusively that heroin is better for a body than lifting weights). I don’t have a word that accurately describes their typical style, and yet “Under the Bridge” is probably the song everyone thinks of when they think of this band (unless they think of “Give it Away” instead). Kiedis is also an interesting lead singer, in that he has a speech impediment as funky as his bassist’s grooves. Flea is entertaining, and was always really good in MTV’s “Rock and Jock B-Ball Jam.”
-Warrant. I’m kidding. When your gimmick is that you’re a Poison ripoff, you should consider a new gimmick.
-U2. You have to give these guys credit for lasting as long as they have. Plus, a recent “South Park” episode dealing with Bono reminded us of just how far Trey Parker and Matt Stone are willing to go to make a joke (if you ever wondered why this show is so brilliant, this episode was your answer. The whole show is basically an elaborate set-up to call Bono a piece of crap, but manages to zing P.F. Chang’s, the Guiness Book of World Records, and the male gender for being so obsessed with poo).
I never liked Nirvana, and I didn’t give two craps when Kurt Cobain blew his face off. It was no more a watershed moment in my lifetime than when comedians John Candy and Chris Farley died earlier that year. Cobain and Brett Michaels can be seen as polar opposites: one enjoys fame so much that he recently sank to the new low of starring in the aforementioned reality program. The other was so unable to cope with his fame that he offed himself. I can understand either, but would want (or hope) to take Michaels’s side of the argument if I came to that proverbial fork in the road.
Granted, I can understand that Kurt might have felt a little pressure. Cobain was suddenly the voice of a generation when two years earlier, he was a guy barely known outside of Seattle. He was also a new parent. He was clearly into narcotics. These elements strike me as rather combustible. But I’m not sure what his goal was with his music. Apparently, it was some kind of outlet for his unhappiness, as not a single Nirvana song passes the “MMM Bop” test. You can’t dance to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but you can throw things against the wall while it plays (and I still would not want that song playing when I was trying to bench press 200 pounds, unlike, say, certain tunes by Rage Against the Machine, another band I do not like). The rest of their music always strikes me as wailing garbage. In fact, you could argue, given the success of Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters, that Cobain was not even the most talented musician of his group. An early demise allows Cobain to remain forever the guy on “Nevermind.” The Foo Fighters may have songs that sound alike, but Grohl has achieved success with different styles of songs (“Big Me” is different than “There Goes My Hero”; one is poppy and hooky, the other has an awesome riff with an opening kick drum beat). Bassist Krist Novaselic just wants to make sure his royalty checks clear. So, yes, I’m the guy who thinks the drummer was the real talent in Nirvana.
I’m not sure what would have happened to Cobain had he lived. Clearly, not a single star of the alternative era shines nearly as brightly today (if they are even alive). Can you imagine a world where Cobain was as irrelevant as Vedder? Then again, if you care about such things, aren’t you glad you don’t have to?