I’ve been listening to a lot of rock music from today’s most popular bands: Bowling for Soup, Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, Fountains of Wayne, Green Day, Avril Lavigne, Good Charlotte, and the like. Having grown up on popular 80’s rock and metal bands like Def Leppard, Poison, Tesla, Bon Jovi and the like (too many to name), this new form of rock was difficult to digest at first, more punk than metal and faster than most of the popular songs from the 80’s. But I found it to be good music for the treadmill, loud and up-tempo, and as I listened, I came to a realization:
This new brand of rock is vastly superior to the rock and metal that I listened to as a teenager.
This is not easy to say. Most people remain exceptionally loyal to the music of their youth, often declaring “those good old days” to be the best and continuing to listen to the music of their youth throughout their lives. But if given the chance to listen to Def Leppard or Bowling for Soup, Tesla or Good Charlotte, and even Bon Jovi or Jimmy Eat World, I’ll take the latter every time.
Sacrilege, I know. But here’s why I like today’s rock better:
First, the sound is less produced. It relies heavily on guitar and the sound is rawer and more real than almost every band from the 1980’s. While 1980’s bands tried to rid themselves of their garage band sounds, the rock bands of today seem to have embraced the sound.
Second, the lyrics are more intelligent. They contain humor, irony, self-deprecation and honest insight. They often acknowledge their musical predecessors through both praise and insults. These are songs that tell stories and convey clear imagery to the listener. And sure, there were a few of these songs in my youth, but rarely could you find a song and a band that didn’t take itself too seriously. The music that I grew up with possessed no humor or irony, and never was a band willing to make fun of itself for the sake of the song. While Def Leppard was singing about how unrequited love through Love Bites:
Love bites, love bleeds
It's bringin' me to my knees
Love lives, love dies
It's no surprise
Love begs, love pleads
It's what I need
… Bowling for Soup is singing The Girl All the Bad Guys Want, another song about unrequited love, but in their song, the spurned lover has started watching wrestling and listening rap metal in a desperate to impress the girl and “see her naked.” But he can’t grow a mustache and is still stuck driving a moped and just isn’t cool enough for the girl.
See the difference?
Def Leppard’s song is overly dramatic, with references to blood, love and death, while the other conjures images of a loser on a moped, trying to garner the attention of Nona, a rocker with a nose ring who prefers tough guys in Trans-Ams who watch wrestling.
One image is real and tangible and perhaps even familiar while the other is not.
Lastly, the musicians of today have changed dramatically as well. While bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and Poison all looked about the same, skinny guys with long hair and back tee-shirts, the rock bands of today are all unique. Bowling for Soup has a fat guy on bass, something that you would have never seen in the 1980’s, and their costumes are often simple, everyday items of clothing (jeans, tee-shirts, football jerseys, and shirts advertising other bands) or ironic twists on something outrageous or bizarre, like powder blue tuxedos. The four members of Fountains of Wayne look like slacker office workers with un-tucked button-downs and loosened ties. Blink-182’s trio is tattooed, pierced, spiked, and angry. And the members of Good Charlotte have their own brand of the Goth look. Their music clearly possesses the same sound and the same approach to lyrics and performance, but to look at these bands, one would think that they all perform entirely different styles of music.
How refreshing to see bands avoid conforming.
So yes, I still listen to my 1980’s rock and metal bands from time to time (Bon Jovi seems to have transcended the decade and remained fresh), but more often I find myself turning to today’s rock instead, wanting to hear raw, ironic songs about real people. Songs that tell stories and reveal secrets. Not overly-produced, overly-dramatic and often indiscernible songs that suggest that I pour some sugar on someone, teach me that every rose has its thorn or tell the obscure and indefinable and stupid story about a sweet child o’ mine.
That’s right. I even went after Guns n’ Roses.
Sacrilege. I know.