Early in Cameron Crowe’s filmed memoir Almost Famous, the young version of himself complains that he’ll have to wait too long to be a teenager, to which his college-professor mother responds, “Adolescence is just a marketing tool.” That statement lingers in the mind upon listening to “Little Things,” the first single from the heavily promoted new pop-punk band Good Charlotte. After a spoken-word intro“This song is dedicated to every kid who ever got picked last in gym class”the track kicks in with a bland, start-stop guitar that’s like a blend of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” After a few tuneful howls and a smattering of yes-man background shouts, lead singer Joel (no last name given) begins reciting a list of teenage indignitiesgetting beaten up by rich kids, getting dumped by a girl, getting laughed at for not being stylish enough. Then the song speeds up to a conventional mosh-pit-ready chorus, in which the band sings how “the little things, they always hang around.”
There’s a handful of troubling things about “Little Things.” There’s the oddly jokey and distracting interjection of random comments by the other band members between lines of the song. There’s the strictly rote style and arrangement. And, dear heaven, there’s the video, in which geeks and punks seize the school from the jocks and teachers, then hold an assembly with cheerleaders bouncing around the gym like the girls from the “Teen Spirit” clip. Leaving aside the post-Columbine question of whether it’s responsible to encourage the adolescent disenfranchised to rise upand this from a band that claims to be composed of born-again Christians!the bottom line is that this song and its promotion are just plain old pandering. It’s yet another impersonal, unoriginal attempt to make money off the torment of the young.
Coincidentally, Good Charlotte’s blatant pandering hits the racks at the same time as a new single from Green Day, “Minority.” The most popular of the pop-punk bands has been stressing the first half of that compound genre lately by playing zippy acoustic-based ballads. “Minority,” though, is a total throwbacka retro snot-punk stomper with lyrics that advocate being outside the mainstream. Although one could argue how far the multiplatinum Green Day has stepped outside that mainstream, the band does have some cred since it made it big with music that was not, at the time, already popular. Still, the commodification of rebellion in “Minority” and “Little Things” is getting a bit ridiculous, especially since both songs are coming from softball artists with none of the dangerously offensive edge of an Eminem or the mindbomb-throwing activism of a Rage Against the Machine.
Writer Jas Obrecht has written many informative blues reviews over the years. A “Keeping the Blues Alive” Handy Award winner for journalism, he has provided an invaluable service to blues and popular music fans with his latest project, the comprehensive book Rollin’ and Tumblin: The Postwar Blues Guitarists (Miller Freeman).
Obrecht wrote the book’s introduction, edited the text, and conducted several penetrating, at times disturbing, interviews; other critics contributed interviews as well. Although such thoroughly chronicled figures as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Albert King, and Otis Rush are featured, Obrecht and his colleagues elicited from them frank, unrestrained comments usually made only to insiders off the record.
For example, in the Muddy Waters interview, it’s clear the blues legend is referring to Leonard Chess as an “asshole” when he discusses the difficulty of making records with certain people in the studio. And Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown repeats, in salty fashion, his long-standing objections to being labeled a blues guitarist. Rather than tread over old ground or spend umpteen pages talking about frets, fingering, and tuning, Obrecht and company take the reader inside the blues.
Platters that matter
What’s new in record stores:
The Shazam, Rev-9 (Not Lame) Middle Tennessee’s dynamic power-pop trio takes a leap forward with this EP, the centerpiece of which is The Beatles’ inscrutable “Revolution No. 9,” given an epic “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” treatment.
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Interscope) Finding that their experiments with electronica-spiked postmodernism get played on the radio about as often as The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” the Irish rock gods have reportedly retrenched with a set of anthemic rock songs heavy on the gee-tar. About f-ing time!
Snoop Dogg Dead Man Walkin’ (Death Row) One hopes that the title of this set of unreleased outtakes isn’t prescient, given the troubles that Snoop’s had with his former label. Be warned: This album isn’t the least bit artist-approved.
The Chemical Brothers, Music Response (Astralwerks) The dynamic duo of Tom and Ed return with an EP of dancefloor beats and hypnotic grooves.
Southern Culture on the Skids, Liquored Up and Laquered Down (TVT) The North Carolina trio promises yet another romp through trailer-trash culture and good old rock ’n’ roll.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Anthology: Through the Years (MCA/UTV) A 34-track, two-disc distillation of the sprawling Playback box set of the group’s MCA years, featuring nuggets from “American Girl” all the way through “Into the Great Wide Open.”
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