Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tough Times Got You Down? Tell SafetySuit [Oh, the Humility]

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 at 8:40 AM

lol Asylum.
  • lol Asylum.
Here’s a joke: Who remembers SafetySuit? (Badumcha!) I’m talking about the Nashville-by-way-of-Oklahoma quartet of aspiring arena rockers who, back in 2008, hoped to reach the heights of superstardom by looking and sounding like Banana Republic personified. (Badumcha!) Well, these musical suits (I call them EnsembleAsylum) are at it again — poising themselves to take a sophomore swing for the top 40 fences with their, ahem, topically titled second LP, These Times.

The album is set for release on UMG's Republic Records — the label fittingly and formerly known as Cheese Factory Records (Badumcha!) — and it drops Jan. 10. Just in time for Christmas. Not! (Badumcha!) Mark your calendars for Jan. 7, local SafetySuit fans. That's when the band is holding a pre-release-date record-release show and giveaway at 12th & Porter. (Badumcha!)

OK, that last bit wasn’t actually a joke, per se, but what is funny is how SafetySuit finds itself fit to voice the concerns of a generation looking for light in the darkness of tough economic times. The band wants to be that light. They also want you to make a video of yourself sheepishly holding up poster boards advertising your problems for the benefit of pushing their next single. But more about that in a moment.

These Times’ title track is an uplifting and sentimental little number that, in an email to the Scene, their publicist describes as “a poignant song about the current state of the nation.”

So, what does SafetySuit have to add to the national debate on staggering unemployment rates, taxation of the working class, the fight for collective bargaining rights in The Rust Belt or the diametrically opposed plights of suppliers on the side of private sector solutions? Well, with tried-and-true modern-rock platitudes, the band opts to weigh in on the emotional struggle endured by the marginalized masses caught in the rhetorical crossfire and/or the private-sector fat cats caught in the evil socialist regime’s Keynesian cross hairs.

Look no further than the chorus of “These Times,” in which lead-singing Suit Doug Brown croons “Sitting alone here in my bed / Waiting for an answer I don’t know that I’ll get / I cannot stand to look in the mirror / I’m failing.”

Failing is right. Poignant pearls of wisdom indeed.

Those words read like they were written using some form of modern-rock, MOR Mad Libs, or maybe just the template used for penning Christian rock lyrics. Though, unlike DC Talk, SafetySuit’s members might care if you label them Jesus freaks. Who knows.

Regardless, the aforementioned sentiment is one about as sage as “Shit’s fucked up and bullshit.” Seriously. The stanza is so broad, reeking of so much bad platitude that it could just as easily apply to coping with losing a pet turtle to eternal hibernation as it is to filing for bankruptcy or fighting the threat of foreclosure.

Nevertheless, Brown elaborates on his lyrics in a press release, saying, “You just get tired of being on the short end of the stick; I think a lot of people feel that way. There’s a lot of people out there who would kill to just have a job so they can provide for their families. It’s a tough time. And it was important to us that the song also has this uplifting line: ‘These times are hard / But they will pass.’ We’ve made it out of bad times before, and we’ll make it out again.”

Ooooooookay. Maybe Brown’s heart is in the right place, but his ego is writing checks his celebrity and his band’s relevance — or rather, the lack thereof — can’t cash. Motherfucker’s talkin’ like he’s Bruce Springsteen and shit. Like he’s important. But, like Johnny 99, SafetySuit — a third-rate Third Eye Blind — has debts no honest band can pay. I mean, come on. SafetySuit is a band that makes Third Eye Blind look like Black Sabbath. And I don’t even mean, like, Tony Martin, Cross Purposes Black Sabbath, or even Dio-era, Heaven and Hell Black Sabbath. But, like, full-on Masters of Reality, Ozzy Black Sabbath. You’re telling me that if hard times have got today’s kids down, that they should fear not because SafetySuit is there for them?! The delusional hubris of such a supposition is ... just, mind-blowing.

Forget for a minute that SafetySuit is the type of band that name-checks 3 Doors Down, Seether and Hoobastank in a press release. Forget that telling me I’m likely to like something that amalgamates such influences is tantamount to mixing up a concoction of sour milk, rotten eggs, onions, fertilizer, roofing tar and skunk spray and assuming I’ll like the way it smells. Forget that suggesting I check out their latest single is like asking me if I’d like to see video evidence documenting the moment of my own conception. I don’t need to see it or hear it to know that, subjectively speaking, it’s fucking gross and revolting. But instead remember that SafetySuit — a band many of you are probably hearing about for the first and maybe even last time — could have the sounds, smarts, sentiments and passion of Woody Guthrie jamming with Joe Strummer in Topical Songwriter Heaven and it still wouldn’t qualify them to help young Americans navigate the axis of quarter-life crisis-meets-economic crisis.

Lots of people hate it enough when musicians write explicitly political lyrics. I don't. But I really, REALLY hate it when musicians try to suggest that they’re making some important statement with lyrics that are really as circumstantially interchangeable and hollow as the hole in an emo kid's heart. Seriously, SafetySuit, if you feel so much, then why say so little? I get it. Growing up is hard, the world is scary and it can at times feel like the only trousers that fit are a pair of sad pants. And that after my sad pants hang themselves I should run to the comfort of a SafetySuit. But shit me out some actual, targeted insight or get off the goddamn pot. Because if you don’t, you’re making your faceless faces all the more inviting to proverbial pepper spray from my poison pen. If you're gonna write about tough times, here's an example of what a song that actually says something sounds like:

So the dudes in SafetySuit aren’t just positioning themselves to be the voices of a generation — they are listeners, too. Perhaps in search of the humility they so desperately need, the safety suiters are taking their timely cause to their constituency of fans — crowd-sourcing on-video testimonials to use in the forthcoming music video for “These Times.”

Check it out. That hyperlink takes you to a site the band launched proclaiming and enticing, “WE NEED YOUR HELP, YOU COULD BE IN OUR NEXT MUSIC VIDEO!!” Unfortunately, this is not a casting call, but a petition to fans to, with brevity, share their stories in the forthcoming video for “These Times” — because, as the band tells their fans, “We have always felt so honored that you have been so vulnerable and open in telling us your stories and how the music has been a companion to you through the hard times.”

Hey, kids out there: Please stop going to meet-and-greets and regaling members of your favorite bands with weepy anecdotes of how their music helps you cope with getting grounded, or getting dumped, or getting cancer, or whatever it is you’re telling them. Let them speak to you through their music, and you speak to them by singing along and leave it at that. You’re not helping them make better music or be more tolerable to the rest of us who know they suck and mock you for liking them — you’re further insulating them and expanding the egocentric bubbles of their own inflated senses of self-importance. It makes bands like SafetySuit think they’re worthy of blog posts as long as this one. It’s the worst.

Anyway, the band are asking fans to take a poster board and a “good marker” and on one side write a single sentence explaining something that has made these turbulent, Obama-era times tough for them. Suggested examples include “I lost my job,” “I struggle with my weight,” “My mom is battling cancer,” “No one seems to notice me” and “I have been abused.” Then, on the other side, participants are to write “THEY WILL PASS.”

Once that catharsis is over with, participants are then instructed to take a flip cam or comparable recording device (“The higher quality the better”) and, for 10 seconds at a time, record themselves holding each side of the sign like stoic, stone-faced hobos. In case those instructions are too hard to follow, there is even a demo. Check out how Chico (band member?) does it:

My God, this "These Times" video is gonna look hilariously dated one day. Can't wait. By the looks of it, I’m guessing that SafetySuit is loosely trying to capitalize on the Occupy movement and viral YouTube youth culture, while at the same time nodding at this emo-licious little clip from 2005:

Listen closely, kids: The Internet never forgets. And you don’t want viral documentation of how you were once a SafetySuit fan who got canned from your Hot Topic gig among the cache of Google-able skeletons in your closet. Proceed with caution. Have you seen the video in which the makers of Heavy Metal Parking Lot go and track down the infamous Zebraman after 13 years and find a dead-eyed suburban square who listens to country now? Then allow me to scare you straight.


Are you a SafetySuit fan? This guy is cooler than you.

... And after:

Are you still a SafetySuit fan? This guy is STILL cooler than you.

As far as SafetySuit is concerned, I know that eviscerating a band that is such a non-entity in the vast spectrum of MOR pop rock seems a little, well, needless and mean — especially considering how ostensibly well-intentioned their plea for poster-board testimonials is. But, via their intermediaries, they're the ones that emailed me looking for love. I mean, get real, if you were SafetySuit, or were plugging SafetySuit, would you email me?

But SafetySuits minions aren't the only ones not paying attention to stuff. I have that problem too. For all I know, the guys in this band are newly minted superstars somewhere and I just haven’t bothered to notice. I mean, shit, Hot Chelle Rae played Madison Square Garden earlier this month and I feel like I just remembered that they exist, like, 10 minutes ago. (BTW, when it comes to backhanded criticism and calling a band out on the artistic-shamelessness-on-sleeve dismissal of musical integrity that is every fiber of their sonic being, this recent All Music Guide review of HCR’s aptly-titled sophomore effort Whatever is an expository masterpiece.)

This band is from Nashville. Condolences.

If it's truly the case that SafetySuit is destined for stardom, then perhaps the band really does need and deserve a no-holds-barred humbling that wouldn't fit on a poster board. Besides, it doesn’t really matter what curmudgeons like me, or what people with taste and/or were born before 1994 have to say about SafetySuit, because they take a hard-line Styx-and-stones approach to warding off criticism. Through loyalty and brotherhood the band members have long managed to shield one another in the warm and fuzzy impenetrable force field that is the bond between them.

As this 2008 Cream post by former Scene music editor Tracy Moore notes, SafetySuit is all about two things: comfort and playing it safe. The post quoted Doug Brown (The singer, remember?) as saying, "I think the key word is 'safety’ … The four of us in the band have been friends forever. We feel comfortable around each other. We're in a safe environment ... and that makes us feel free to be who we are. And, if we can inspire that moment or that feeling in our fans, we've succeeded.” A sentiment that Moore then summed up quite categorically by musing, “Not surprisingly, [SafetySuit] make the sort of radio-friendly beige-rock that only deep intimacy and comfort levels among band members can evoke.”

Indeed. And these suitors of safety are now extending their indomitable sense of identity and comfort to a fan base that they hope is as proactive and savvy with video and editing software as they are fervently suited for the sentiments of safety. Sure, these times will pass, but probably not as quickly as Universal will drop SafetySuit if this painstaking attempt to pander to the young and yearning to be affected fails. Remember, we've made it through bad times before, and we'll make it out again.

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