Monday, March 23, 2009

Shame On Me: Vol I or Let's See How Far We've Come

Shame On Me, the newest recurring topic on The Black Converse, aims to get to the root of two core TBC beliefs: 1) It's the song that matters, meaning a good song is a good song, no matter who sings, wrote, likes, blogs about it, slogs it, is in its video; 2) Everyone is allowed some guilty (in this case: frowned upon by indie rock blogoscenti) pleasures that- when no one else is in the car (and, in brazen moments, when the car's full)- you don't change the station, maybe even sing along. Kind of like rooting for Kobe in the Olympics.

We'll explore what, for us, those songs/players are and why a) we like them and b) we know we shouldn't.

Matchbox 20- How Far We've Come

- It's 3 AM, they must be sucky.
Their list of crimes against humanity (not to mention charges of being The Poor Man's Counting Crows, Wussier Edwin McCain, and The Guy Who Wrote That Crappy Santana Comeback song) is endless.
Besides this song, I can't think of another Matchbox 20 song I'd go near with 15 terrible Santana PRS guitars.

- Two words: Rob Thomas.
His solo record is so terribly tailored for dumb, saccharine radio, for taking us in and out of commercials on Entertainment Tonight, for pleasing at least 72% of all focus groups in selected target demographics.
People should stop insulting Adam Duritz by comparing him to this dude. Say what you will about the last handful of Counting Crows albums, but there's no way in hell Duritz would sell out to the popcrapstic degree that Mr. Thomas did. Every note feels like an autotuned clone from the same Photoshop lab that brought us Fergie and Nick Lachey. It's like watching (arguably) good-looking people do math.

- Rob Didn't Start The Fire.

I googled "How Far We've Come" and read about the video, which is apparently one of those big Billy Joel Didn't Start The Fire-ish laundry lists of shots that are culturally relevant and compelling. For example, just the bookends: the civil rights movement -> Obama. Ugh. I shed a tear on election day and still I will not watch it, Sam I Am. You can almost see the guys inputting the formula for most licensing opportunities...did I mention this seems like mathematic songwriting? I've heard Rivers Cuomo has an actual equation.

-"Exile On Mainstream?"

Really, guys? 9 out of 10 gynecologists recommend your music and you're gonna try to throw a Stones reference in there? Yeah, I get that you're playing the "We Don't Get Props Because We Write Hits" martyr card. But come on. Wasn't there a Lionel Richie album you could borrow from? PS: Liz Phair did it before and better than you with Exile On Guyville.

- The B-Sides.

Supposedly, the single features the band doing their version of the Black Crowes' "Remedy" and Bowie's "Modern Love." I will pass, thank you.
No, really, thank you.

- The Lyrics.
Leonard Cohen it's not. Try it on for size and see its anthemic generalities and vague desperation/dissatisfaction almost move you. Almost.


Maybe this is a bad way to categorize, because, man, I just like it. I do. I listen to it EVERY TIME IT COMES ON. Stereogum is welcome to come on over here and revoke any indie credentials I may have once had. (But first they'll have to stop pretending that Billy Corgan news is relevant. Those are my conditions.)

- Two more words: Rob Thomas.
I read an interview once, that unfortunately I couldn't dig up online, where
Mr. Thomas talked about how bummed out it made him when he realized that Matchbox 20 was the band every other band liked to crap on. He gets some points for being self-aware enough to see and acknowledge that. And even more points when he followed it up by saying, "I guess Creed is my Matchbox 20." (For all of you thinking, "No way, Spike. I can't name a worse band than Matchbox 20," I believe Rob has done the research for you.) For all the flogging every other band and I give them, Mr. Thomas knows hooks. And this song's got hooks like Kareem.

- America's Newest Hitmakers.
Speaking of hooks, in the Why I Shouldn't section above, I railed against how Mr. Thomas' solo record was Exhibit A in writing for radio, writing for media placement, riding trend waves, etc. This song is no different. If you ask me, Matchbox 20 sat down and said, "We should write a song like The Killers with some Arcade Fire," except for mainstream radio. (Not that the Killers will ever have to bear the albatross of being indie, but I don't think I have to do a dissertation on the stratification of mainstream) Anthemic, manic, driving, fist-pumping shouty choruses, etc. U2 has been mining the youth movements for a few albums now. Why can't the Matchboxes? Even the normally grating delivery of Mr. Thomas (our whipping boy, or Scott Stapp, if you will) is more than appropriate.

- The lyrics + the melody.
Crap. I cannot condone this brand of Vaguely Anthemic 101 at Coldplay University lyrics. But I'll be darned if they don't con me into singing along everytime it gets to: "if you got someone you can SAY GOOD BYE TO..." Good writers marry the lyrics to the melody and this song does that really well, even if the words on paper read like a Clippers media guide.

- The bridge. I should hate everything about it, but somehow I kind of dig the way Mr. Thomas delivers the bridge in that weird, i don't know, is he brooding voice? It should bug me, right? And there I am, halfway hoping it doesn't end. And the guitars are good. And you know exactly where it's going. But you go there anyway.

- The horn part on If You're Gone. I know it's not even this song. But it's kind of money and I felt like, while I was confessing, I might as well lay it on the priest.

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