Posts Tagged ‘jonny steiner’

Jonny is in America and he’s taking a little road trip but dont worry, Maximum Mike is here to keep him entertained for 3 hours of music and talk.

The first thing I wondered when I got my hand on a copy of “Chinese Democracy”, the new album by Guns N Roses, seventeen years in the making was: Are there still any GNR fans left? Undoubtedly there are but come on, were people really counting each day of the last seventeen years in eager anticipation of the new album? More and more, the endless hype seems to be an invention of a media starved for the resurrection of GNR who are true Rock heroes. We see this happen more and more when a band who was well known, decides to put out an album after some time. Usually it is heralded as a great comeback. Look at AC/DC with “Black Ice” or a few years ago with Jane’s Addiction’s triumphant return with “Strays”. The funniest aspect of the comeback is when it comes after the band suffers a tumultuous breakup. What we learn from those reconciliations is that as much as the band hates one another there is one thing that they are willing to set their animosity aside for, money.
With “Chinese Democracy” Axel Rose presents the hopefully triumphant return of GNR. Considering the fact that Rose is the only founding member left, this is much more a one man show than its predecessor, 1991’s “Use Your Illusion I and II”. Something interesting to note; when those albums came out in 91, much of the music industries core demographic today were not even born. All they know about GNR they learned on VH1 and VH1 Classic. So the album was released to a world and industry that has largely passed GNR by.
What I always liked about the band back in their heyday was that they truly lived the Rock life of excess. They played with reckless abandon, and lived that way. Their career path was notoriously chaotic, full of drugs and sex. It got to the point where the band was being overshadowed by its own image which made the music irrelevant. The dual release of “Use Your Illusion I and II” showed that the band still had the skill but by that point it was pretty much all the Axel Rose show. All of the excess had been channeled into the music and it was a successful record, but one that ended up tearing the band apart.
Enter Axel Rose seventeen years later to give us the next installment in the saga of the band. On the first listen, the album is not bad. It lacks the energy and immediacy that previous releases had, but it shows Rose on the same path he set for himself all those years ago. There are no epics like “November Rain” here, but the production is top notch. I would hope that after seventeen years of tinkering, the album would be tight. It is and perhaps in some way that is the problem.
Though the album shows Axel’s age and sounds dated, it is kind of nice to hear some legitimate guitar solos in the music. The art of the solo is something that is lacking in the soulless age of Rock that we live in. It also has hints of orchestra hiding behind many of the songs, another aspect lost in an era where many bands employ DJs to provide a similar background.
What is perhaps the most interesting fact about the album is that while the reviews have been steady and largely positive, the album is not moving well. I did a quick search of several media outlets and found that the two worst reviews given to the album were from Pitchfork Media (an indie publication) and PopMatters (you can guess what their focus is). In other words, what we are seeing here is the party lines being drawn across the industry. Now more than ever softer music is king ala the Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, and the eagerly anticipated (not by me of course) return of Britney Spears. This album is far too heavy for those people. On the other side of the spectrum the album is not heavy enough for true Metal Heads. Then there are the Punks, this album is far too bombastic for them. So what we have is a band trying to reestablish itself in an industry where all the rules have changed.
I realize that I have written very little about the music itself, but I find the social and cultural aspects of this release far more interesting. Let me put it this way. If you are already a fan of the band you will like it. If not, you won’t listen to it. I find it hard to believe that this album will find its way into a new audience rather than strengthen the love of the existing one.

To truly be a Rockstar you have to live like one. Being a famous artist is a career that comes with among other things a lot of money, so the real rockers back up their lyrics by leading appropriately hedonistic lifestyles. Whether you buy and crash Ferarri’s like Leif Garrett, or snort your height in lines of coke ala Motley Crue, if you are a famous artist you are guilty of some hedonism and here is the proof: Paul McCartney has been quoted as saying “Somebody said to me,’ But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.’ That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, ‘Now, let’s write a swimming pool.” If The Beatles did it, everyone has. Rockstars need to make people believe that they are gods performing on stage and creating an almost magical level of energy in the crowd, One of the best ways to do that is to spend money like crazy showing us normies just how pathetic our lives truly are.

It starts with possessions, the biggest of which is the house. I have seen most, if not all the episodes of Cribs and it always make me laugh at how no one on the show ever shows off their library. There is never a lack of ridiculous things that people put in their homes. The most amusing is the 52 room mansion in Connecticut owned by rapper 50 Cent. Aside from the movie theater and the recording studio (which for an artist is not such a bad idea) the house’s former owner was none other than, you guessed it, Mike Tyson. If there is a better crazy celebrity to take lessons on high-living from I would love to know. The house also has no less than 4 kitchens and a heli-pad. The really disappointing artists are celebrities like Sully Erna of Godsmack, and David Draiman of Disturbed. These two guys are the frontmen for two of the biggest bands in the world, and their homes do not reflect that. Sully’s Boston pad is nice, tastefully decorated save for the swords hung up all over the living room. The same is true of Draiman’s LA residence. The house itself is big but tame looking like a dark Martha Stewart decorated it. Where is the excess? These are just big houses. Brad and Angelina just threw down 70 million on an estate in France. Let’s go rockers pick up the pace.

Surely cars are a great way to cash in all that platinum album bonus money. 50 Cent once again sets the bar with his collection of rare Ferraris he never drives. You will argue with me that he is a Rapper not a Rocker. Fair enough, then let’s look at some rocker rides and see what they have. Sully Erna has a couple of Mercedes and motorcycles, and Travis Barker of Blink 182 is obsessed with Cadillacs. Sebastian Bach, of Skid Row has a couple of classic Camaros, and Robbie William’s has a Bentley. Whoop de do. Where are the insane customized cars you see at the houses of Ja Rule and Nelly? Where is the overindulgence that Rock music has come to symbolize?

There was a time when Rock music was the epitome of excess. Jim Morrison’s decadent drug fueled ways, Mick Jagger’s rumors of sexual experimentation with David Bowie. It almost seems like the last truly larger than life Rock band was Guns N Roses. Known for trashing hotels and rampant drug use, they truly embodied the lifestyle of the music they created. A famous story involving them took place in Montreal in 1991. The band had been on tour with Metallica and Faith no More in one of the biggest tours in history. The night of the Montreal show James Hetfield of Metallica was seriously burned in a pyrotechnics accident and the band was forced to cancel. G’N’R could have come on played a three hour set and been heroes. This is not their way. About forty minutes into the concert Axel Rose decided he had had enough and walked off stage taking the band with him. Then he sat backstage smoking and drinking champagne while complaining about how his throat was bothering him and he could not sing. While that was going on the angry crowd was rioting, overturning cop cars, and burning the city.

It is this attitude that is almost a necessity in Rock. The solid band Papa Roach, has a very charismatic frontman named Jacoby Shaddix, (great name I know) who off stage is known as one of the most engaging and friendly people around. I am not saying that Rockstars should be assholes, but part of their mystique is the attitude that by performing nightly in front of thousands of people they are somehow better than them. Especially now when we worship our celebrities like never before one would think that they would despise the people that put them on that pedestal.

Times have changed. In the past people used to camp out at Elvis Pressly’s Graceland ranch, hoping for a glimpse of their idol. Elvis usually obliged riding his horses down to chat with people, and even sending his cooks down with hot chocolate in the winter. These days that would not happen, but with the internet and the breakdown of the record label’s stranglehold over the consumer, artists are having to make themselves more available to grassroots marketing campaigns. This brings Rockers ever closer to the fans who not only put them up on the pedestal of fame, but are ever more responsible for that fame. For example, My Chemical Romance started out giving out free tracks on Myspace, and Pure Volume, the word of mouth and devotion won from those early fans guided them to a platinum record and a major label contract.

That they live larger than we can imagine is a given, but today’s artists are a new breed devoted to their art and to their fans. Sully Erna has a Godsmack quilt made by their fans as a gift when his daughter was born. Hollywood actors are on the screen, as far away from us as possible pretending to be other people. If we are taken on an emotional journey with them it is not a real connection because at the end of the day they are only acting. With our Rockers the connection is in person and shared on a communal emotional level. Even the most hardened dead to the world Rockstar feels that connection on stage, unless its Axel Rose, that dude hates everyone.

Studies show that our generation is losing its hearing at a rapid pace. In my parent’s day when you went to a concert you blew your ears out and took a few days off to rest up and get that wicked buzz out. Now with the proliferation of car stereos and mp3 players the only time we rest our ears is when we sleep. We listen to music on the way to the concerts, blast our ears while there, and listen to music all the way home. The constant drowning of our eardrums in a sea of loud music is killing our ears. It also does something else. By living in our own self-induced musical world, we shut ourselves off to the sounds of the world around us, and by that we close ourselves to a type of music that is constant and ever changing.
Avant-garde composer John Cage was fascinated by sound as music. He talked about how when he listened to music he heard people talking. The music spoke about relationships life and emotions. When he listened to the traffic outside his apartment on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, he did not have the feeling that people were talking, rather he felt as though sound was acting. Cage was fascinated by the activity of sound. Sounds in the City for example, got longer and shorter, softer and louder, higher and lower, all with the ebb and flow of a regular day. According to Cage our problem is that we look at music in terms of time instead of in terms of space. The experience of music to us is to take it internally and make it a part of our emotional experiences. Sound on the other hand is taken externally dismissed as nonsense. But take the complexities of listening to your favorite Pop record, and compare that to a few minutes standing at a bus stop and listening to your surroundings. The Pop music is structural and confined by the space it inhabits. The Bus Stop is the sound of structure. Busses people wind weather, and not confined by a simple three minute construction. Sound is alive, and if you will join me I will show how it breathes.
We will not pretend that what we hear is meant to be something else. For example, a glass shattering on concrete will be just that. The crack of a baseball bat will be just as we describe it. In our constant need to escape the toil and monotony of our daily lives, we forget just how beautiful and real life actually is. There is no substitute for the power and splendor of a thunderstorm. It is almost symphonic in movement. The distant rumbling starts miles away, as a gentle rain taps out a steady backbeat. The rumbling gets nearer and nearer growing louder and louder until it claps overhead booming echoes of sound across the horizon. Then as soon as we grow comfortable with its steady current, it fades almost imperceptibly at first blowing in whatever direction the wind takes it. The truth is that in the previous description I made an important mistake that illustrates Cage’s understanding of sound. By describing sounds in musical terms we remain confined by those conventions. The hardest part is to remove all those ideas from our description and take them in as they are.
Let us take another part of nature and see if we cannot experience its sounds for what they are not for what we project them to be. The sounds of a forest are both beautiful and haunting. A river flows gently through the scenery, while birds and insects chirp at random hidden from our eyes by the rich foliage. I remember being on a camping trip in the Allegheny Foothills, I woke up in the morning to the gentle sound of a breeze rustling through the trees. That was all it was, a soothing hiss as the leaves shifted and blew about. People talk about the wind whispering but they are missing the point. Whispering is talking, and we are trying to free ourselves from terms of communication.
To experience sound for what it is take off your headphones and listen. A breeze blows steadily creating a blowing whooshing sound. A man on a scooter buzzes by, I can hear the engine grow louder and fade as he passes. In the distance the steady drone of the highway mixes with children in a sandbox, their shrill laughter in direct opposition to the soothing rush of faraway cars. Somewhere a crane rattles as it lifts its load. I cannot see it. Another car passes and slows its brakes squeak slightly. Some sounds of the outside world are barely perceptible, and yet they undoubtedly add to the remarkable confluence of noise that is the sounds of our lives. A truck has pulled up to the fruit stand downstairs. I hear the electric hum of the loading platform descend, as men greet each other and prepare to unload the day’s delivery. This is not emotive, and it is not telling a story. It is a picture of being, an indelible link between life and the people who wish to experience it.
There is new technology making the experience of sound even more enriching. Holophonic Sound claims offers stunning 3d sounds without a mess of complicated machinery. It is produced by recording the wave pattern generated when the original recorded signal is combined with an inaudible digital reference signal. The sounds that come from that are so realistic it is almost scary. This technology however only works on a smaller scale i.e. headphones, because of the way the sound needs to reach the ear. Combining this technology with the sounds of life and the world around us it is almost possible to have an experience of walking on the beach from the comfort of your home. The problem is that if these sounds and this technology can replace the actual experience then we have missed the point completely.

Where could you go? What could you do if you were a musician trying to make Rock music in the late 70’s and early 80s? Punk’s strangle-hold on the business was so total that it seemed almost impossible to break from the current trends or even try to do something different. Ironic for a style of music that was initially created in order to return Rock into the hands of a less discerning more accepting crowd. If you were Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, you changed your name to a verb present tense, united with Andy Summers and Stuart Copland and created something unique. Something New Wave. The term initially was interchangeable with Punk used by fans and artists alike. It was not until the 80s when Punk’s grip loosened did the term come to mean something more. In the Post- Punk, era there were two types of music. Post-Punk referred to bands like the Talking Heads and Joy Division, bands whose music was avant-garde and challenging but still informed by the ideals of Punk. On the other hand you had bands more interested in exploring Pop Music and there you have New Wave, the subject for this column.
Bursting onto the scene with the super smash Roxanne in 1978, The Police, were one of the first bands to add the title New Wave to their jittery, yet tight brand of Rock. By infusing the music with a heavy dose of Reggae, and some Jazzy tendencies, they were able to fill the simple rhythms of Punk music with a more accessible edge. It was this sound, polished, well written and a little nerdy, that defined the early movement. Another of the early giants of the form was Mr. Nerd himself, Elvis Costello. Hiding his intelligence behind his early Punk compositions, Costello was able to instill his music with a myriad of themes and ideas making his music as intelligent as his lyrics. It is told of his early career that he dumbed down his music in order to get a recording contract, because Punk Rockers were being handed record deals like Skittles. Once he secured that, he was free to expand his music. It is a similar case with The Police, who were far more talented musically than the average Punk.
After the break between New Wave’s modern take on Pop and the more arty Post-Punk, New Wave was adopted as the Genre du jour by the fledgling MTV, and its fortunes began to rise. The influence of music videos made the genre super popular. Some of the early creative standouts of music videos were Aha’s classic “Take on Me”, “Rio” by Duran Duran, and the epic “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys. It was the right place for the new slick sound, and there was seemingly no end to the countless one hit wonders that were trotted out week after week, year after year. Let me give you a short run down. Flock of Seagulls Kajagoogoo When in Rome, these bands were hurled into the limelight one after another, each band catapulted to success by climbing on the backs of those that came before them. In that respect, it is the producers who perhaps deserve the credit for making the sounds so crisp and polished. That is what I love about the music. It is so perfectly formed, crisp, concise, without a note out of place.
The peak of the genre and its style came, on what is my favorite TV show of all time, Miami Vice. Helmed by Michael Mann, the show centered around two Vice cops in Miami. One of the show’s innovations was the obligatory musical interludes that came in each episode, the most famous of which was set to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. It took the music to new moody heights and found a mainstream way in which to bring the music to new fans. In addition, the pastel suits and sockless white shoes became staples of the New Wave style, not matter how cheesy they seem today.
By the middle of the 80s it wasn’t just new acts popping up all over the place that were trying to make their way in the style, older acts were launching big comebacks by coopting the approach in their own ways. Perhaps the most famous is the song “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. Yes, it is off “Born in the USA” arguably one of the best Rock albums of all time, but the song’s synthesizer driven throb is more of a nod to New Wave than a throwback to The Boss’s early music. Another artist who fully adopted the style for a while was Rod Stewart, whose 1981 release “Tonight I’m yours “ was not only a full on New Wave affair, but one of Stewart’s last great recordings. It featured the amazing “Young Turks” that sort of sounds like Dire Straits on New Wave, although Stewarts voice is unmistakable. Even Fleetwood Mac got in on the fun with the dark, yet palatable “Little Lies” a dreamy track from their 1987 release “Tango in the Night.” Even Stevie Nick’s classic “Edge of Seventeen” has elements of New Wave in the driving guitar and keyboards.
New Wave music is awesome, and as a fan of Electronic music it was a vital step in the development of the form. Depeche Mode is the first Pop band made entirely with keyboards, and hints of Trance music can be found in the amazing album “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. These days with the way the craze for all things retro has possessed us, music from the 80s has roared back into vogue as though it was too cool for us to really enjoy back then. It is, within that framework, that artists are making music that sound as though it was plucked straight from the80s, although the technology used makes is sound vibrant and current. It was a watershed moment for a music industry recovering from Punk and looking towards the future.
What I am listening to:
Mackintosh Braun: The Sound – A lush album with dreamy sounds and stirring harmonies, this band hailing from Oregon wanted to create an album that was meant to be listened to all the way through. They have succeeded with style

With summer just beginning, and the prospect of lazy days stretching endlessly in front of us, we need a soundtrack that reflects this relaxed state. All the Rock is great, and as festival season wears on fans will have their fill of Heavy Metal and Rock N Roll. The summer is when everyone is on tour; when you find yourself worn out from mosh-pits and headbanging, I will provide some musical suggestions and guidelines to get you through some of the main summer events. I remember a few years ago going to the Warped Tour with my friends. I am not a big Punk fan, but I do appreciate bits and pieces here and there. I was going to see 311 only to find that they were not performing in Cleveland, which really upset me. Bad Religion and the Vandals were there though so that was cool. It was hot and water, as you can imagine, was grossly overpriced and people were just using sinks in the bathroom to fill whatever receptacles they had. One of the funniest moments of the day came when Pennywise finished their set. Rollins Band, a Hardcore Punk act fronted by the always entertaining Henry Rollins, was slated to go on next. All my friends wisely informed me that I needed to get out of the mosh pit because Rollins Band fans were a bunch of fatigue/army boot wearing lunatics. The band went up, the militia went wild and we watched from the stands, only to realize that our boy Josh was still in the fray. When we finally found him he had been stomped pretty bad, but was feeling good. It was on the ride home that we truly appreciated the come down from the day’s overwhelming Punk faire by listening to some good old Motown.
One of the main events in the summer schedule is the barbeque. Usually spent with family or friends the music serves more as a background to the conversations and general hanging out. This is not to say that music is not an essential piece of the barbeque atmosphere. It is a standard blend of Funk music and Classic Rock, that when mixed with a sprinkle of Bob Marley sets the tone perfectly. The main reason is that these tunes are familiar enough that people can just digest them with ease as the party wears on. If mixed well, however, your party can have an interesting dynamic. Sure everyone loves the Beatles (at least they should), but if you place “Twist and Shout” appropriately within the mix of songs people will get out of their seats and start grooving to the music. The barbeque is about familiarity and friendship, and so the music should create an atmosphere to reflect that.
Another of Summers’ pleasures is the trip to the beach, and the time spent alone with your headphones, reading or catching some rays. My favorite music for this time is anything with a lush dreamy sound. Certainly any music with a beautiful flow that mirrors the ebb and flow of the tide sets the mood. However, when on the beach there is time to enjoy an album to its fullest, and not rush through your music shuffling at will. One wonderful album is “Beach Samba” by Astrud Gilberto. A smooth-voiced Jazz singer from Brazil, Astrud’s sound is soft Bossa Nova that drifts almost to Pop. Bossa Nova is a Brazilian style of music that combines Latin beats with Jazz sounds, and was very popular in the 60s. The true gem of this recording is the lush relaxed music orchestrated artfully by Ron Carter (Bass for Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, among others) and Toots Thielemans (guitar and harmonica). Another band, Everything But the Girl, got their start as a Jazz/Pop act only to find success in the thin line between Pop and Techno. Their 1996 release “Walking Wounded” took the themes of Trip-Hop, and other styles of experimental Electronica, and placed them in a tight concise Pop framework. (Trip-Hop was a name given to a style of Electronic music that incorporates down-tempo beats with Soul and Funk sounds.) Though more than a decade old, the music still sounds fresh and bright, and the beats provide a perfect kick for the beach. For my final summer beach album, I recommend a lovely album by the British singer/songwriter Rachel Goswell. Her debut “Waves are Universal” is a laid back British Folk album that contains elements of Alternative and Country.
The final event we will be touching on is the ever present road trip. When driving with friends the similar rules as the barbeque apply, although the musical choice is the driver’s prerogative. Just don’t try to give a serious listen to anything with people in the car. It is when alone that the road trip takes on a personal quality that is perfect for a more challenging listen. I have made the solo trip from my hometown Cleveland (Ohio) to New York many times when I was in University. Each time I would stock up on music that would get me through the almost 8 hour drive. A classic album all around, “Ritual de lo Habitual” by Jane’s Addiction starts at a fevered pitch with “Stop!”. From there the album builds in energy until the ten minute epic “Three Days”, a sort of Alternative nod to Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. In following Hard Rock’s Heavy Metal conclusion, Iced Earth’s “The Dark Saga” is a concept album loosely based on Todd MacFarlaine’s famous comic book “Spawn.” The tempo is a bit slower than usual but the band is as heavy as ever, banging out amazing tracks like “The Hunter” and “I Died for You.” Finally, a stunning listen from start to finish and a perfect soundtrack for the road is “In Absentia” by The Porcupine Tree. Led by Steven Wilson, who is well known for his Blackfield project with Aviv Gefen, The Porcupine Tree is a Progressive Rock group from the U.K. The album is one of the most accessible of their career and still spans the musical gamut, from Heavy Metal, to Pop, to dreamy cuts that are almost indefinable. All around, this album keeps the listener interested with its wide range which makes it perfect for the often unchanging, steady drone of the U.S. Highway system.
Most people who know me know that I am a huge fan of Electronic Music in all its forms. There are many albums by myriad acts that fit excellently into these categories, but I try my best to keep column this as Rock oriented as I can. Michael once remarked that he thought it was funny how I always manage a few Electronic references each week. I cannot help but support that which I am passionate about, and as the summer heat bears down upon me my emotions begin to ignite. I hope that my musical choices can help you do the same.
What I am listening to: Aaliyah – Self Titled
Produced by Timbaland before his handiwork was seen on every production in the land, Aaliyah’s best album was also her swan song. It is a terrific blend of R&B and Soul that showed Aaliyah maturing into a more adult artist before her life was tragically cut short.

It’s okay to like Pop Music. Seriously. I have defended my favorite Pop artists to friends who thought their musical tastes too sophisticated. It is frustrating that people refuse to allow themselves to enjoy Pop Music simply because it is mass produced and trendy. Yes, there is a large cadre of artists who prove that point, who make music for the masses to consume without any thought as to what is behind it. At the same time there are artists who have found their creative voice in a style of music that happens to sell well. It takes tremendous luck to make it as a Pop Star, and it takes a Madonna/David Bowie-like ability to shift images with each new release, to stay on top. The point being that Pop Music, while seemingly focused on consumerism and brainlessness, has substance in it. It just needs to be teased out delicately because for every Depeche Mode there are a thousand Flock of Seagulls.

Pop Music is not a genre per-se; it is a type of music characterized by large sales and chart domination. Today the term includes Rap and R&B. It arose in the 50s and 60s as an alternative to Rock & Roll. Basing its style and structure on Rock, Pop was smoother and more listenable. The songs themselves were traditionally short, less than five minutes, and concentrated on the repetitive verse/chorus/bridge song structure. Famously eschewing their Progressive Rock roots and entering the Pop Music sphere, Genesis’ 1981 hit “ABACAB” was a take on this form. The song’s title refers to the basic Pop structure, part-a part-b part-a again and so on.To many this album signified the death of a truly great band, to others it signified their acceptance of the mainstream and showcased the band’s ability to reach out to a broader audience.Former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel used his freedom from the band to venture into his Pop dreams, crafting lighter, more focused, but equally imaginative music. People argue that when a band ascends the ladder of Stardom, they inevitably alienate their die-hard fans for an appreciation of a larger audience. This may be seen as the case with Genesis and its spin-off solo artists who all made names for themselves making Pop Music; one even won an Academy Award (Phil Collins – “You’ll be in my Heart – Tarzan.”) On the other hand, Blink-182 signed to a major label for their fourth album, and the music did not change a bit. It was better produced to be sure, but still retained the same adrenaline-filled teenage Punk that earned them their early acclaim. The minute they released “Enema of the State” in 1999 and entered the mainstream, all of my friends who were huge Punk fans decided that they could no longer support Blink-182, and threw away their copies of “Dude Ranch”.

It is the mass appeal and pervading digestibility that runs the music industry, and causes many music fans to turn away arguing that those who are popular now are less artistic than ever, only doing what industry executives dictate. A good example of this is The Offspring. Between their break-out record “Smash” to their follow up “Ixnay on the Hombre” the band moved from Epitaph Records to Columbia. That label switch also found their music change from Heavy Metal-influenced Hardcore Punk, to standard Hard Rock. Would the band that wrote songs like “Kick Him When He’s Down” and “Beheaded” have written a power ballad like “Gone Away” if they were still with Epitaph? Probably not.The term sell-out was written for times like this when artists turned their back on their past in order to presumably make more money. That is not to say that the opposite is not true. Famed 80’s band Talk Talk, who are remembered now mostly for the Gwen Stefani remake of their classic “It’s My Life”, started out riding on the tails of Duran Duran and the other New Romantics. (The term refers to a sleek, perfectly produced danceable type of Pop Music, combined with heavy make-up and fashionable stage garb.) After achieving a fair amount of success on their first two releases, Talk Talk reinvented themselves. By embracing Jazz, Ambient, and other music styles, they created a wholly unique sound that distanced them from their peers and began to alienate them from their record label.

The other side of selling-out is the number of acts who start as viable products and continue in that vein throughout their career. Take Brittany Spears, who can hardly be considered original, but can be credited (for better or worse) with bringing back Teen Pop in a big way. She was the first in the endless wave of Boy Bands and Pop Singers who sprang up around the turn of the century. Additionally, Creed became the driving force in late 90s Hard Rock, and they influenced a generation of imitators like Nickelback and Hinder who seemed to spring up one after another in an industry that will forget them as soon as their profit margins slip. This is not a knock on the artists themselves, but an industry that is only too eager to drain the artistry from the music. It was rapper Ice-T who said it best on his track “Hate the Playa”: “I don’t know why a player wanna hate T/ I didn’t choose the game, the game chose me”. We cannot fault the multitude of acts that all seem the same for trying to become rich and famous, but take Kelly Clarkson for example. A media darling with two platinum albums and two Grammy Awards, Kelly famously feuded with RCA head Clive Davis over the direction of her third album (My December, 2007), and as a result her label refused to promote it and cancelled her tour. (She is already working on follow up.)

There are plenty of artists who sell a lot of records and are truly talented individuals. Aside from the obvious Madonnas and Michael Jacksons, people seem to forget that for a while in the 80s George Michael was just as popular. It was not just the perfect dance pop he created with Wham!, his debut album “Faith” is a classic, blending Dance and R&B elements into a more adult sound. It’s smooth and listenable and shows how truly vocally talented Michael is. Recently, the band Keane became stars with a largely piano driven sound that shimmers with its maturity and poise.Depeche Mode have been making dark electronically driven Pop for nearly 25 years, and with their 2005 release “Playing the Angel” showed no signs of age in their abilities. Steve Winwood is still making great albums more than 25 years after his classic “Arc of a Diver.” There is so much beautiful music out there; it is a shame that people adamantly refuse to go out to find it.

What I am listening to: K.D. Lang – Absolute Torch and Twang

At the peak of her Nashville faze, Lang had found her voice in a decidedly more Pop oriented Country music. Her voice is supple and strong with just a hint of smoke, and it’s truly astonishing that such a sound can come from a person. It is a strong batch of songs and worth listening to if only for the voice, but the music stands on its own as well.

I knew the song “Closer”, but nothing could have prepared me for the opening track on Nine Inch Nails’ epic 1994 release “The Downward Spiral” where a man get shot to death. I was thirteen when I picked the album up and it scared the hell out of me. The violence, the intensity, the barrage of sounds and textures were a little more than I could handle. The truth is that I liked it because of its ability to instill the darkest fears in me. I would lie in bed listening to the album, shivering in my jammies even though it was the middle of summer. The music, if stripped of its lush aural soundscapes, would probably seem very straight forward, but with Trent Reznor’s creativity it was anything but. Combining the hooks and crunch of Heavy Metal with a solid dose of Electronica and odd time signatures, Reznor created a musical envelope for his dark brooding personality. In short he was not about Industrial Music, he was of it.

Certainly not the first person to experiment thusly in Rock, Reznor can be accounted as one of the few who was able to make the sound mainstream. Some of the earliest influences came from avant-garde composers like Luigi Russolo, whose manifesto “The Art of Noises” argued that the human ear had grown accustomed to the modern urban soundscape; therefore, new approaches were needed in order to push music forward. He often incorporated household items in his compositions as a way to approach “Noise Sound” (engines, rustling trees, car horns, etc.) and break from conventional music methods. While this was a more abrasive way to enrich the sound palate, other composers were approaching the idea of sound as music from a more ambient perspective. A quick definition, Ambient is a style of music that focuses on sound and atmosphere more than the notes themselves. The immortal John Cage (who any artist dabbling in ambient productions owes their livelihood to) was instrumental in taking everyday sounds and using them in a way to “affirm life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.” The best example of this is his 1952 composition “4’33”. A pianist (or an entire orchestra) sits with their instruments without sounding a single note; the point being that the surrounding sounds of the concert hall, people coughing, the air conditioning blowing and so on, create the composition itself.

In this examination of early ideas of Industrial music, it is interesting to note that as the music began to grow in popularity and scope, the songs became about nihilism and despair. The very style that was created as a source of hope for the future of music began to be its death knell. If we look at the idea of the Industrial sound as a deconstruction of known forms, the growth of pain and hopelessness as underlying themes in the music is a natural deconstruction of the love and sex themes in Pop Music that have become familiar. It is Rusollo’s idea taken from the realm of sound and applied to lyric.

Industrial music was still more of a curiosity then a viable movement of its own. It was during the 70s when bands began to take the idea of the music to its potential. There is a trio of bands considered to be the founders of the genre; each brought their own creativity to the form. The first, England’s Throbbing Gristle (yes that is really their name) made powerfully distorted and twisted music; however they were more known for their live shows which were more about performance art. The second band, Einstürzende Neubauten from Germany, focused on the sound itself, pushing the boundaries to their most extreme by using power tools and construction materials. The last, England’s Cabaret Voltaire experimented with Electronica as a tool with which to dig into the harsh sounds the movement was obsessed with. It was raw and unfocused but it was Industrial, and it was something new.

That bands like Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM (more on both soon) were able to create their own tonal landscapes speaks to their predecessors who gave them these very singular musical experiences to draw from. Interestingly enough it was another form of music (that was also viewed as a breakdown) that helped the New Wave of Industrial acts find their voice. Punk’s raw, explosive power was exactly what Industrial artists needed in order to polish their music. Where early Industrial music had a tendency to ramble on in unfocused directions, adding the terse manic energy of Punk directed all of that noise into a more constructed package. Beyond that, bands like England’s Nitzer Eb and Canada’s Skinny Puppy injected pounding Electronic beats that pushed the music forward.

It was bands like Ministry and Germany’s KMFDM who were able to take all of these precedents and create what is considered the true blueprint for Industrial success. KMFDM did it by tapping into Electronic Music and highly distorting it. Consider it Disco music for a generation of audiophiles raised on feedback. Ministry took it to the other side. They filled their music with hammering Heavy Metal guitar riffs, and through that were able to appeal to a much more vast audience.

So the table was set for Nine Inch Nails (whose only real full-time member is Trent Reznor) to take the world by storm. By using his musical talent and charismatic personality, Reznor was able to bring the music into the mainstream and influence an entire sub-genre of imitators with limited talent. The only Nine Inch Nails follower that had any true and lasting success was the Richard Patrick-led Filter. Patrick had toured with NIN as a guitar player on their first couple of tours, and as such drank directly from the Well of Knowledge that is Trent Reznor. Filter’s first hit “Hey Man Nice Shot” had them pegged as a one-hit-wonder, but as they have developed as a band they have successfully distanced themselves from that song, growing lyrically as well as musically.

Industrial music grew from early avant-garde roots to briefly top the charts as the most popular music in the land. As it stands today it is a mere niche, a small footnote in music history. What is interesting about Industrial music is how it grew from a style hell-bent on deconstruction to another cog in the great machine of the music industry. What is even more interesting about that is that none of the artists mentioned here would compromise their sound in order to sell records. So in that respect they made the industry bow to them, if only for a brief period of time.

What I’m listening to: Army of Anyone: Self Titled

Comprising of Robert and Dean Deleo of Stone Temple Pilots and the above mentioned Richard Patrick, the band went a bit under the radar with this, their first release. The music is straight-up Hard Rock, with added nuances courtesy of the Deleo Brothers who seem to play off one another with an almost psychic gift. The music is tight and Richard Patrick’s vocals soar above. A great album.

In the mid 70s everything in popular music seemed ok. Led Zeppelin released their epic “Physical Graffiti,” and Pink Floyd put out their classic, “Wish you were here.” Brian Eno, began to experiment with Ambient Electronica on his release “Another Green World,” while Aerosmith were putting nuts in the cracker with “Toys in the Attic.” Across the pond, David Bowie released a legitimate Soul classic with “Young Americans,” and Queen took us out to “A Night at the Opera.” It was a magical time where the boundaries of musical exploration were constantly being tested and expanded. Progressive Rock was at its peak, Funk was ruling the party scene, and Electronic music was getting its feet wet at the deft hands of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. Something had to give, and something surely did.

Almost at the same time two bands formed that were to crush the mighty with their loud yet simple ways. Even legends like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones have predecessors. Emerging from NYC and Ann Arbor Michigan, the New York Dolls and the Stooges were stripping down everything the aforementioned bands had spent years building. The Dolls had a bit more of direction with their heavily influenced Chuck Berry meets the Rolling Stones sound, although to see and hear them you would never know. The music was loud and dysfunctional. It was everything they could do to not fall apart on stage. Similarly The Stooges went even further. Raw and manic, their playing seemed to try to prove the point that anyone can be in a Rock band, and the less you knew the better. The fascinating thing about these two bands is that their debut albums were both produced by famous members of other musical movements. John Cale, who produced The Stooges eponymous debut, was known for his contributions to The Velvet Underground as much as his experiments with Ambient and Electronic Music. Todd Rungren, who produced The New York Dolls debut, was famous for his work with Carole King. These two men saw something in this new gritty style of music, and chose to offer their talent to help the fledgling genre along.

It was not until The Ramones and the Sex Pistols that Punk, which got its title when people adopted it as a source of pride rather than let arrogant music journalists use it as an insult, began to achieve mainstream success. The desire was to strip Rock down from its high horse, and bring back the fun. That many of the bands advocated drug abuse and violence added to their influence both positively on the youth and negatively on the critics who initially panned them for being unpolished, and uninteresting. Despite their best efforts though, by the end of the 70s a whole slew of bands had reached the upper echelons of the Rock sphere playing this base and unintelligent style of music.

So Punk had effectively killed off everything good about 70s music. But what of Punk itself? Could a style formed on such basic principles last? What would the artists themselves do to keep the music interesting? Well there were two schools of thought. In one instance bands began to incorporate a greater palate of sounds to the same stripped raw sound of early Punk. On the other hand was the Hardcore movement based largely in California. The best known acts came out of the Post Punk-New Wave scene because of the acceptance of diversity in the style allowed for greater radio play. The Clash were experts at this, and their 1979 release “London Calling” was a testament to that. Incorporating Reggae and Pop elements with the uncompromising lyrics of Punk, the album is still considered to be a landmark release, and one of the greatest albums in history. The realization that their genre could only go so far showed that Punk had a bit of maturity after all. It seems that the catalyst for that was the death of Sex Pistol’s Bass player Sid Vicious of a heroin overdose. His death was seen by many as a symbol of Punk being doomed from the start, a sentiment that Punk’s numerous and vocal detractors would take to heart.

The Hardcore scene took Punk at its word and made it heavier and faster, the lyrics only coming out in a series of grunts. Ruled by The Misfits, The Dead Kennedy’s, and Henry Rollins’ first band Black-Flag, their uncompromising assault on the senses did not win them much fame, but it did afford a dedicated following that persists to this day.

It is the New Wave and Post Punk movement that is most interesting though. It is almost as though the artists began to realize that they destroyed something beautiful, and needed to scramble to make up for that. The Talking Heads began to toy with electronic production methods. Blondie embraced Disco, and The Police helped to make Reggae mainstream, bringing a whole new generation of fans to the music of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. These bands showed that the music could still contain the same frantic scathing lyrics, without sacrificing musical experimentation. It was no longer about youth culture sticking their middle fingers into the face of the government. The second wave of Punk was led by some of the most intelligent artists of our time. It shows in the way they were able to achieve mainstream acceptance at the same time they were politically active, and trying to broaden their musical horizons. Interestingly enough, it was the collaboration between the Talking Head’s David Byrne, and Brian Eno that afforded the band their greatest creative period.

Looking through the lens of early Punk trying to break rules and destroy what came before them, it is almost funny to see where Punk stands, as one of the most popular styles of music today. That the music is based on simple rhythms and chord progressions is not lost in an industry where digestibility is paramount. It is for this reason that early pioneers like Johnny Rotten, hate these new kids. He sees himself as a martyr to a cause that has long since left him behind, and is angry about the people that took over. Many of the artists understand this growth, this need to adapt and change. It is not that Punk killed what was good about the 70s, not really. It is more that a few bad seeds got loose and upset the balance for a while. It came together in the end, it nearly always does.

What I am listening to: The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

One of the most ambitious albums from the Grunge era, Mellon Collie… is an epic, two disks, with songs that range from Heavy Metal, to Classical, and almost Folk. Billy Corgan, described the album as “The Wall for Generation X.” It is a rewarding listen. Full of beautiful compositions the material almost never lags. It is the sign of a man at the peak of his creative gifts.

They always hated the label Funk Metal, yet here they were, one of the founding members of the form. I hope the irony of dedicating an entire column to a sub-genre a scant week after saying that sub-genres were meaningless is not lost on you dear readers, but I digress. Faith No More hated the term because they felt it pushed them into a corner when they were trying so hard to do so much more. It even sounds obscure – Funk and Metal. The two styles seem so diametrically opposed that the term itself seems to be an oxymoron. Let’s examine the terms at their face value. Funk implies groove, soul and good feelings; Metal implies rage, pain, and speed. The truth is that as we will discover, the two are not as different as you think. But before I can tell you about all of that we have to have a history lesson.

Funk is a style of music that was born in the late 60s and early 70s as a development from R&B. By focusing on complex rhythms and primarily bass driven sounds, early artists in the form were able to make R&B sound more raw than ever. The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, a man who collected nicknames like fake tattoos from a bag of potato chips, was actually The Godfather of Funk. With such classic recordings as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)” James was able to showcase his airtight rhythm section and wail over songs where the melody was less important than the groove. The next founding member of the form, Sly Stone (of Sly and the Family Stone) was able to build on James Brown’s sparse raw sound to create more lush soundscapes, still heavily bass driven but now with a touch of psychedelia that made the music more radio friendly. On a side note, with men, women and black and white musicians, Sly & the Family Stone was the first fully integrated band in Rock history. George Clinton, the man probably most responsible for making Funk popular, took Sly’s psychedelic influences to their fullest and made the music the ultimate party soundtrack. This is not to say that the music lacks real creative weight.

Thematically, Parliament/Funkadelic’s long time bass player Bootsy Collins is a legend in his own right. Along with Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone, Bootsy is credited with the invention of the slapping and popping method of playing bass. Instead of plucking strings, the thumb and index fingers aggressively thump on the strings, creating a popping sound. A great example of this is on the song “Thank you for Talkin’ to me Africa” by Sly and the Family Stone.

So, everyone was having a great time, the music was selling well and charting on Billboard’s top lists. What happened? The decline of the Funk era came in several stages. To begin with, the highly reviled Disco era owed much of its influences to Funk. When Punk took over in the early 80’s and Disco burnings were held in stadiums, Funk suffered the ire of the record buying community. The second stage was the development of equipment in the 80s. Synthesizers were taking over the roles of entire horn sections, and drummers were fired to make way for the Roland TR-808 drum machine. The slick overproduced sound of 80s Pop and R&B owed much to the earlier Funk days, but not in a way that its influences could be easily recognized. They are there though. Take Bandy’s 1994 hit “Wanna Be Down” – the pounding bass is there though the Rap beat disguises it.

Down but not out, Funk received two helping hands that brought its’ influence back from obscurity. In the mid-80s a black guitar player by the name Vernon Reid formed the band Living Colour, who had the noticeable distinction of being an all African-American band in a Heavy Metal world. While the Metal world at large was playing with demons and hot-chicks, Living Colour was injecting a serious dose of soul and rhythm. Popular almost at once, their style of Hard Rock built over a solid foundation of Funk was an extremely new sound. Similarly, when The Red Hot Chili Peppers formed, the partnership between Hillel Slovak’s Funky grooves and Flea’s popping bass at Punk speeds was dynamic. Hard Rock had another band that was championing their Funk influences.

Another movement that fully embraced their Funk predecessors (almost to a fault) was the G-Funk era of West Coast Rap in the 90s. Almost every song that was a hit in those days was lifted from Parliament, Stevie Wonder and others. Some examples: Dr. Dre – “Let me Ride” (Parliament – “Mothership Connection”), Warren G – “Regulators” (Michael Macdonald – “I Keep Forgettin”), Tupac – “Staring at the World” (Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”). Led largely by Dr. Dre and the Death Row Records family, G-Funk partnered violent hedonistic lyrics with smooth laid back beats. Interestingly, Rap used Funk in order to make hard lyrics seem more laid back. Rock and Metal used the style in order to add a smoother dimension to their music.

Once Faith No More came onto the scene in the late 80s, the form was ripe for the picking and this they did with great adeptness. They were able to combine an appreciation for earlier Funk with an understanding of 70s Soul music, and incorporate all of that into their vision for Heavy Metal. The problems came after the band’s demise in the late 90s. Mike Patton, the lead singer, had tried to distance himself from the legions of Funk-Metal followers that came onto the scene. From Korn to Limp Bizkit and P.O.D., almost every Heavy Metal act in the post-Grunge era flirted with Funk as an influence. Part of the reason is Funk’s ability to be hard and uncompromising while remaining easily digested by the masses. It is this link that best ties it to Heavy Metal. When a Metal act is looking to add melody without sacrificing the sheer weight of their sonic force, they need look no further than Funk. Fieldy, the Bass player for Korn, seems to understand this best and his super detuned Funk basslines drive Korn’s aggressive approach without sacrificing intensity.

It is upsetting that all these bands influenced by Faith No More are denied respect from their heroes. Like Dr. Frankenstein refusing to take responsibility for his monster, Mike Patton has moved on to different projects in other realms of the musical sphere. It is not his dislike of the genre, rather his fear of being typecast has driven him to branch out into such diverse genres.

With the death of Disco, Funk had lost almost all of its credibility. It took visionaries from the opposite ends of the spectrum to return it to glory. The tradition we remember so gloriously today owes almost all of its revival to, of all things, Heavy Metal. At the same time Funk can blame its’ death on Punk. I think that there is a column in there somewhere.

What I am listening to: Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – Texas Flood

Bringing the Blues back from the brink of destruction, SRV’s debut shines with the influences of his heroes while paving new ground. The set is a high energy burst of Texas Blues in the image of Lightning Hopkins. From the tone of his guitar to the killer licks of “Rude Mood” and “Testify,” the album is a classic.