Tuesday, November 27, 2007



I wrote about a few bands a few issues ago & used the phrase "Wuss Rock", to articulate a few things. A few months later, my friend John (who plays guitar in the local Metal band Iscariot.) e-mailed me & asked me what recent "Wuss Rock" I had been checking out lately. That & a few other incidents have made me proud to think that perhaps I have spearheaded a label for all the wussy music a lot of us like but face ridicule for enjoying. I don’t seem to know what could define "Wuss Rock", but I think some of the traits might include the following:
Music that has a certain grace to it, a non-macho thing. Maybe even rock music that females like.
Lyrics that at times center around confusing feelings involving the opposite sex, occasionally even non-gender specific lyrics about confusing feelings. (I know what some of you are thinking: "Fag." Yeah, whatever.)
Rock music that features other emotional qualities besides, "let’s fucking rock!" or "isn’t this loud stuff annoying? How liberating. I feel like a badass!"
"Badass" probably wouldn’t be words to describe the following bands that I have included here in this article. A lot of people I’m sure hate most of this shit, & that it gets on their nerves, or that its "gay" or whatever. I understand all of that. But to play "Wuss Rock" & pull it off, to sing like some of these people, takes more nerve & guts then a roomful of Lemmys, Ted Nugents or Bon Scotts.
Nothing against Bon Scott, mind you. He was a badass.
SHUDDER TO THINK: When I think of the term "Wuss Rock", I think of the recently deceased Shudder To Think. Originally a post hardcore Dischord records band, they grew by leaps & bounds & annoyed everyone within earshot who wasn’t into them. Most of this, heck.all of it, fell on the shoulders of the bands lead singer Craig Wedren, whose fey vibrato drenched art rock voice was the deciding factor in anyone’s enjoyment of the band. Everytime I saw this band play live, they would enrage people due to the fact that the stage vibe was fairly homosexual, which they played on to great effect. The rock god sexual poses of goateed guitarist Nathan Larson didn’t help either. But if you were on their side, it was fucking great. One time between songs, I witnessed Craig bending down delicately & biting into a ginger root that was placed near his mikestand, along with a glass of water, which he sipped. It was too much! The last time I saw them was opening for Pavement. A lot of the audience did not like them AT ALL & they rose to the challenge by playing a great set, pouting & posing times ten! Not since the heyday of the early Melvins have I seen such a glaring example of "audience versus band." I will miss these "Wuss Rock" pioneers.
WHAT TO CHECK OUT: "Pony Express Record" on Epic records. A masterpiece.
JEFF BUCKLEY: Okay, he is dead. & Oh yeah, he was also very good looking. Oh! & There is a very soulful & romantic dreamy quality to his music. Women loved & threw bras at him onstage. Most of the guys I know think that he was "a pussy". I can’t think of a finer "Wuss Rock" recommendation then that.
& Although its true that there is a tendency to romanticize the dead, let’s face it, Jeff Buckley was a pretty daring guy that was all over the map & held it together with his hard to pinpoint singing, which was kind of like Robert Plant meeting Chris Cornell at forty five speed. His only real record "Grace" continues to influence & amaze, & the fairly recent live recording "Mystery White Boy" is a great example of Jeff & his band in the live setting. My girlfriend pointed out to me that one of the things that she likes about Jeff is that his singing is pretty fearless, & that he was not afraid to sound ridiculous. & Even that sometimes his singing was kind of bad, but since it was so daring it suddenly became good. I never thought of it that way.
Jeff Buckley: "Wuss Rock" explorer.
SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE: I haven’t heard a note from this band until I picked up the recent "Rising Tide" C.D., which is easily a recent "Wuss Rock" fave of mine. The playing & the guitars are often big & expansive, but it is all very melodic & the vocals of Jeremy Eniqck come on like a sensitive blend of (get ready for this) Geddy Lee & Cat Stevens. & I THINK ITS FUCKING GREAT. The dense shimmering sometimes "Kashmir"-ish wall of guitars further cements their obvious "Wuss Rock" status. Like Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren, Jeremy’s voice will be the deciding factor in whether you think these guys are a bunch of sissies or not.
KATATONIA: Not since the days of the early Cure has a band achieved such a rabid ascent to owning the mantle of dark depressing "Wuss Rock". From Sweden, Katatonia started out as a silly kind of extreme death metal kind of band. But slowly they mutated with each release until they came out with the epic "Discouraged Ones" a few years back, which is a record so good that even after a thousand spins I still like
Just as much as the first time. Poundingly heavy yet delicately sad & dark, "Wuss Rock" just wouldn’t be what it is without Katatonia putting a new wrinkle on the map. New album out soon.
SMASHING PUMPKINS: There is a huge offramp in "Wuss Rock Expressway" that goes straight to "Guilty Pleasure City", & this is where the Smashing Pumpkins live for me. I think the hardest thing I will ever do is try to defend this band, for there is a lot to hate about them, & yes, they are pretty "wussy". But the couple c.d.’s that I have tucked away far from prying eyes reveals a lot of heavy dense guitar riffing set against pillow biting arrangements & the annoying (to put it lightly) singing of head baldie, Billy Corgan.
His singing is so bad that I kind of dig it in a Celtic Frost "Cold Lake" sort of way, but really, if you take away the singing you are stuck with a "Wuss Rock" band firing at all engines. Has anyone ever sat through the entire "Mellon Collie" double c.d.? Well, I have! Several times! & Besides, in the end of the day, liking a band like this is the most punk rock thing I could imagine. Anyways, since they have called it a day, it is now officially okay to come out of the closet & say, "y’know…I like some of their songs!"
KING’S X: Another band I have liked for years, King’s X is a power trio of spiritually moving/old guys that somehow embellish certain elements of "Wuss Rock" without fully falling into the form of it. I have seen these guys once & it was like being inside a church made up of the sort of people that love Rush & wear baseball caps. People were hooting & hollering over EVERY single note they played while they just smiled & soldiered on, surrounded by candles. I know a lot of people think these guys blow, but I don’t think anyone has really heard any of their records, which is too bad, because they are all good listens. King’s X tried for years to get noticed by mainstream America but it didn’t quite work, so now they just continue to play their borderline wussy YET heavy rock to sell-out places around the country. Bass player Doug Pinnick intrigues me as well. Who else do you know is fifty years old playing loud rock music that has intelligently deviated from his religious beliefs, clarified that he was not heterosexual, & in the process has been a bigger threat to Christianity then a thousand Glen Bentons ever could? Hey, go on line & you’ll see what I am talking about.
THE POSIES: From the Grunge capital comes the often-ignored Posies. Heavily praised in only the wussiest of wussy power pop publications, the Posies had been criminally ignored for almost all of the years in their existence, the closest that they came to being noticed was during the time that their 1993 c.d.
"Frosting on the Beater" came out. And even then they were sort of ignored, due to the rage of the then current grunge explosion. It seems that no one had any time for songs like "Flavor Of The Month" & "Solar Sister", which both feature ass kicking powerhouse wuss rock combined with the vocals of Kenneth Stringfellow & Jon Auer, two guys who could actually (try this one on for size.) SING AND HARMONIZE BETTER THEN ANYBODY DURING THAT TIME! Seriously. And "Frosting on the Beater" is definitely the bands landmark release. Jon & Ken did time in the semi recent Big Star reunions, which is ironic since besides playing with some of their heroes, they also got a chance to join the likes of Big Star as being seminal wuss rock pioneers like their heroes! It’s a weird world that we live in!
INTO ANOTHER: Who said former straight edge punkers can’t make wuss rock? This now defunct New England band started when two ex members of some famous crappy hardcore band combined forces with a death metal bass player & a "classically trained" (always a bad sign.) guitarist. The end result was a sound that fused sissy emotive vocals with Bad Brains like fervor & wacky arrangements as a bonus. The major label c.d. I liked, "Senseless", vanished without a trace, & Into Another vanished without a trace. Buncha pussies….
THE LEFT BANKE: The true pioneers of wuss, the Left Banke were perhaps the first true example of wuss rock, as their pioneering sound was lush & deeply melodic at the same time. If you buy the "Calm Before the Storm" anthology, you will hear more fey harmonies & harpsichord then anywhere in your entire life. & A lot of the tunes definitely rock, in that wussy kind of way. Everyone knows about their oldies station hit "Walk Away Renee", but that is just the tip of the iceberg where these sixties sissies are concerned. & They just don’t make songs prettier or more dainty then "Ivy" or "Pretty Ballerina". When I think of today’s emo rockers carrying on on their guitars & bleating out their (to their minds, anyways) heartfelt lyrics, all I can think about is how all of those guys need to be force fed the Left Banke to see how it is really done. At times, they are even more cloying then the Beach Boys. That says a lot.
SHOES: I think that these guys were from the Midwest or something, & that they enjoyed the briefest amount of success in the early eighties, when they were lumped in with all of the other "new wave" bands of the time. The Shoes were more or less the sappiest example of "power pop" that I could imagine, way more cutesy then the Raspberries, only with snappier arrangements & economical playing. The album, "Present Tense" is the kind of record that would have probably gotten your ass kicked if you were in junior high at the time of its release. From the first note to the last, lush sounding understated catchy tunes about the opposite sex where the word "GIRL" is mentioned so much you’ll want to hurl at the end of it all. But as far as wuss rock goes, it’s a pretty great little record. Bonus points for the semi-arty front cover featuring all of the Shoes with their feathered back hair looking moody & in pain. One of them looks just like Alex Van Halen, too! Amazing. Killer cuts: "Tomorrow Night", "Now & Then" & "I Don’t Want To Hear It".
THE CURE: The undisputed kings of eighties wuss rock, if you think about it. The influence of the Cure is extremely widespread, showing up even in extreme heavy metal of all things, to great effect I might add. What is it about these early eighties English poofters that seems so engaging? Yes, there is the gender-bending look & the death rock pose, but at the end of the day it has to be leader Robert Smith & his songwriting & pained wuss rock voice. Face it, a lot of their output is pretty great & a lot of it holds up pretty well. Try spinning "Faith", "Seventeen Seconds" or "The Top" for obvious proof of some of the finest (& most dramatic, I might add.) wuss rock ever put down on tape. "Pornography" is probably my favorite release by the Cure, but its overall effect is DEFINITELY not wuss rock, more kind of like a attention seeking thirteen year old threatening to kill him/herself by swallowing a bunch of baby aspirin.
But up until "Head on the Door", the Cure hit paydirt in the wuss rock mining fields.
PAUL McCARTNEY: The master of wuss rock. I am here to stand up for Paul because although he will never be as cool (or as dead) as his former songwriting partner, Paul wrote a lot of great songs that one tends to forget about. I mean, think about it for a minute. & Not just the Beatles, there is a handful of solo songs that are in all honesty pretty cool, like "Jet" & "Junior’s Farm", for instance. I am sure a few of you are now sitting there thinking to yourselves, "y’know. He’s right…that song is pretty kick-ass!" Plus there are a lot of other non wuss-rock qualities to Paul. Did you know that he’s been a painter for years? That is pretty cool. & Did you know that he actually did a musical collaboration with Alan Ginsberg when he was alive? I bet that was probably pretty interesting. & Did you know that he wrote "Helter Skelter?" I mean, think about it…that’s also pretty cool. I will not, however, defend his duet with the clown prince of wusiness, Michael Jackson, so don’t worry.
I could go on & on but I will stop here. Wuss Rock. Are you man enough to dig it?

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