Where have all the good bands gone? It’s a question we should ask ourselves everyday. As complacency and convenience become the front running principles of daily life, the focus in music has clearly shifted from being a force of change to matters of practicality and ways to earn our keep. Everything has become so simple and menial; obtaining the latest music is done from the comfort of our own home, discovery is as easy as stumbling on to some trendy website and the process of thought has seemingly become obsolete (who needs to think when we can pay others to do it for us?). It is a uniform policy that stretches throughout our modern culture; it has all become commodity, gossip, hype and passing fancy.
Remaining within the bounds of music, it seems that in this day and age any ignoramus with a guitar has access to tools that will help him or her on their path to fame and fortune. Anyone who can raise their hand and say “I’m going to start a record label” has the resources to be the next label flag bearer of a musical sub genre and any asshole with basic HTML knowledge can proclaim their new website to be “the #1 source for discovering new music”. In truth, these advances are not to blame for the downfall of quality; they merely act to blind perceptions of achievement and popularity. We, as in the majority of us, are to blame for the complete mess we find the general state of music in. It is because we have sat back and said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll buy that crap” that hordes of fledgling artists continue to break ground for truly insipid and uninspiring. In terms of punk, this once drastically outcast subculture has become the inside lining of pop’s biggest joke; helmed by its proprietors of shaggy hair, tight t-shirts, hoochy-coochy melodies and the insulting fascination with broken hearts and teary eyed tales.
From the outside looking in, it is as if the music has distorted itself for the purpose of looking good on magazine covers, getting MTV2 rotation and a spot on the Warped Tour. It is this sightless perspective of success that has indelibly turned raw bitterness into saccharine humanization. And as those who follow this blueprint continue their excursion into mediocrity, there are few that teeter on the balance; seemingly undecided on whether to explore the hazardous path into social revolution or slide into distinct indifference.
S.T.U.N. are such a band; carefully molding their brew of rangy guitar modes with the alleyways of punk’s past in hopes to bring forward a new musical and social upheaval that has been absent since the early 90’s. While their discordant helpings of The Clash and Blitz do much to add to that sense of rebellion, there are clear moments of confusion and misguidance. It is easy to slap the tag “Get Your Mind Back” to your CD case (as S.T.U.N. do), but it is how the band influences you to do so that will ultimately make the statement.
Keen to display a brazen aura of energy, Evolution of Energy is a non-stop trek into voices of rebellion; albeit in a very broad sense, as S.T.U.N. tackles the subject on all fronts. However, their nonchalant approach often leaves a sense of partial progress; a call to arms that lacks edge. In “Watch the Rebellion Grow”, they drive the message of unity (“You need us / we need you / if we’re ever going to break through”) and a statement of uprising (“Watch the rebellion grow / We won’t give in / Until the new visions begin / Let’s get the boys and the girls together”), but it leaves the listener unsure as to what exactly they are rebelling against (perhaps they are rebelling against “everything”). One can say they strive to fight the system (“Movement”) and conquer the reigns of apathy (“Here Comes the Underground”), but they seemingly lack the conviction of their calls with their general lyrical methodology.
It doesn’t help that they veer into moments of bland melodics (the very Proclaimers sounding “Annihilation of the Generations”) and stunted misdirection (the tedious rock flared “We Will Come to You”); it reinforces the idea that even in uprising, modern musical traps are of no escape. The assumption is however, that S.T.U.N. will progress after Evolution of Energy; they certainly have the solid foundation and musical veracity to bridge their reach to the masses. And at all cost, they must avoid the utter stupidity that eventually consumed other notable major label “radicals” like Rage Against the Machine.
It would be foolish to think that S.T.U.N. are THE predecessors of the torch once carried by iconic figures of years gone by, but perhaps with the evolution of the music industry, true energy has to evolve as well – ultimately resulting in a new face for hope and urgency. Where have all the good bands gone? They’re out there, somewhere. And they’ll remain there until we refuse to listen to the garbage – until we tell the shitty bands to reap the very waste they propagate. And in their convoluted way, S.T.U.N. have, at the very least, captured moments of that ever elusive spirit, the active outlook that can make music a truly great thing.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.