Friday, March 09, 2007

a few final (well, most likely) disorganized thoughts on the subject (Metal Week is in danger of turning into Metal Month )

it occurred to me that in addition to the hipster metal as separate defined category there were two other ways that people who aren’t patriots for metal “engage” with the genre:

1/ ironic affection/attraction

the missus was an early practitioner here, she was a 80s New York club kid, sorta New Romantic-blurring-into-Goth Anglophile, but she and her friends developed an ironic fandom for Ratt, wearing the T-shirts, etc, no doubt genuinely enjoying the band's one Good Song "Round and Round" and the cuteness of the singer, but with a non-reverence that would have scandalised true fans of their Artistry out there in the rock heartland such as Chuck Klostermann

also, my friend Mike Rubin of Motorbooty magazine went further still: he and his ‘Booty cohorts out in Ann Arbor had some kind of parody metal band called Motorhome (umlauts on both O’s I think) back in the late Eighties, sufficiently convincing to earn a place in fellow Michiganite Chuck Eddy’s Stairway To Hell book on the Top 500 Metal Albums of All Time (I think they place in the 300s, not bad at all for a not-fully-serious proposition, especially since Iron Maiden don’t even make the 500). Having heard the Motorhome tape I can say that Mike has got a set of Ian Astbury gale-force lungs on him.

There’s plenty other examples of irony-tinged enjoyment crossing the line into irony-clad practice, e.g. Zodiac Mindwarp (didn’t that guy later have some kind of association with Bill Drummond? The plot thickens…)

2/ exceptions that prove the rule

i.e. groups felt to transcend the hipster-perceived irredeemable shitness of the genre by some exceptional quality (literacy or artiness, a pop sensibility, sense of humour, personality/charisma/eccentricity). Examples:

i/ Blue Oyster Cult. Seem to have gotten respect from non-metalheads from the git-go for their clever lyrics, that admiration waning rapidly as the group “sell out” from the late 70s onwards. There’s no denying “Don’t Fear the Reaper” though is there…

ii/ Thin Lizzy. Lithe and limber, Hendrixy-tinged raunch'n'roll, lots of gappy bits where the sound strips down, terrific rhythm; a series of great rock-goes-pop hit singles; rogueish charm of singer-as-character; "intelligent bad boy" lyrics tinged with Van Morrison-ish romanticism. In 1976, the year of punk, Jailbreak was NME's Album of the Year.

iii/ Motorhead. For the affinities with punk; Lemmy’s “integrity” and piss 'n 'vinegar character; his
intelligence, being well-read (admittedly mostly re, the Third Reich), opinionated; relative lack of self-indulgence on the gtr solo front; the drummer; doing great pop singles like “Ace of Spades” and “Leaving Here”.

iv/ AC/DC. Ramones-like sublime simplicity and unchanging sameyness, plus sense of humor. That killer groove thang. Angus Young's school tie and shorts thing goes down well with non-metalheads for dramatising the retardation/puerility of the genre as they see it.

v/ ZZ Top, another great singles band (well for a couple of years there anywhere), great videos; another group who seem to be in on the joke. One of the Gibbons is really smart and erudite, into surrealism, etc.

vi/ Rush. Their incredible earnestness and flashy musicianship (oh my lord the size of the drummer's kit), the weedy thin screech of Geddy Lee's voice (and keyboards for that matter) would seem to make them pure-metal in the way that most hipsters cannot stomach, not to mention the proggy conceptualism and right-leaning Ayn Rand-influenced lyrics. Nonetheless there was a definite phase when hipster types were giving them props—in the early 90s, for some reason (certainly not the records they were putting out at that point). Never quite got around to their albums myself but I did love “Spirit of Radio” when it originally came out: that proto-Husker Du glancing powerchord drive thing that I don’t know enough about guitar-playing to describe adequately, the lyric about “all the machinery making modern music/can it still be open-hearted?”, those thrilling guitar runs that are actually a bit like the ones in "Skank Bloc Bologna" . Talking of skank, I heard it again recently on car radio and had completely forgotten it goes into this bizarre reggae coda, cutting back and forth between leisurely skank and blistering power trio sprint.

vii/ Guns N’Roses. See earlier post below.

viii/ Faith No More. Erudition (several members of the band into Nietzche), eclecticism/fusion-ism, misanthropy. Must admit I succumbed to their dubious charms circa Angel Dust, wrote a favourable review which described FNM’s music as being like a scab you couldn’t stop returning to pick at. Imagine my surprise when the record company turned that into a pull quote and made it the slogan for their double-page spread adverts in the music papers.

ix/ Jane’s Addiction. Artiness adding a perceived patina of bohemian cool to the decadence (c.f. mere oafishness of regular metal band indulgence); eclecticism-fusionism factor as per FNM, but more Goth-meets-tribal-percussion-meets-funk than FNM’s Zappa-meets-Stranglers-meets-Stanley-Clarke-meets-Beasties. I was a big big Jane’s fan, they seemed really special, and potentially important. They are one of those groups where I’m a little scared to go back and listen to the albums again, for fear it’ll all seem a lot less magical. Still they regularly show “Stop” from Ritual as a video on VH1-Classic, and it still sounds amazing, and of course the shoplifting one, their one pop moment. The reunion of a few years, a concert from which I saw on TV, was perfectly ghastly (oh those clothes Perry was wearing) (the theme tune to Entourage grows on you, however). I had an unsettling moment the last time I listened to Ys where one song I suddenly thought Joanna's voice sounded like Perry's on Porno For Pyros's "We'd Make Good Pets"--that Tinkerbell quality--but luckily it faded fast.

x/ Napalm Death. Seem to recall them getting some attention and love outside the metal realm (big pieces in NME perhaps) on account of the extremity, the 1 second song, plus didn’t they have sorta Discharge/Chumbawumba-like anarcho-punxy politics?

xi/ Voivod. Lyrical intellect (all songs relating to some complex sci-fi on-going saga type thing if I recall right), a lean-and-clean vaguely futuristic sound (missing link between Chrome, Killing Joke and Young Gods? it’s been a long time since I heard them). At any rate they were sufficiently buzz-worthy outside the metal domain at one point that I bought a couple of their albums, about which I remember almost nothing, as you can tell.

There’s probably more examples but the above all seem to belong to a lineage of hipster-embraced "transcends the genre's inherent inanity and repellentness" bands. Its negative mirror-image would be the lineage of true-school metal that would never get an ounce of respect from hipsterland and that would run something like Judas Priest/Iron Maiden/Scorpions/Dio/W.A.S.P…

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