The Four Horsemen of Rock’s Apocalypse Rode High Last Week
Here's a shocking, unheard-of revelation: Mainstream rock is in a pretty shitty state. Aggression is nowhere to be found; instead, manufactured buzz bands fall more in line with current pop trends than anything resembling rock music. One would hope that acts from the past would be able to save us, reminding young fans that guitars not only make cool noises, but it's totally fine to play in heavier tunings. Not the case! It seems that the next generation of legacy acts are all throwing their hats in the ring to wrangle a new kind of hit, breaking into the pop landscape that groups like Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco have conquered. Thus, in the span of a week, we were hit by four songs from Linkin Park, Weezer, Blink-182 and Incubus, and each one of them were horrible in their own unique way. Four songs this bad can only be a harbinger of the apocalypse, so we tried to hammer down exactly what makes each one so horrific.
LINKIN PARK "BATTLE SYMPHONY"
Linkin Park's inclusion might be the most heinous in terms of pure songwriting. After releasing two records that seemingly bookended nü-metal's cultural relevance, the group realized that they could pretty much throw whatever they wanted on an album and fans would readily eat it up. After 10 years of confused releases, ranging from collabs with Page Hamilton to tone-deaf EDM remixes by Steve Aoki, the band put out their most unabashed pop song (and transparent play for radio) to date with "Heavy." They grabbed pop singer Kiaara for the track and put out a super-sincere video featuring AA meetings, co-frontman Chester Bennington driving around in his Mercedes, and Bennington literally fighting himself in the end. Fans were pretty pissed — its utter lack of venom or energy was apparent — but no one could've expected "Battle Symphony."
Hearing "Battle Symphony," it seems like LP put all their misguided effort at crafting a perfect pop song into "Heavy," then totally forgot how to do it again. That lead into the chorus is such a deep cringe, your whole body will probably retract into itself. The song totally drops after its verse lead-in, Bennington's singing sounding not only awkward, but just plain bad. Plus, what is the rest of the band doing here? Guitars are nowhere to be found, the only human presence being their synth man and Bennington. What's up with Mike Shinoda, the rapper? Part of the reason Linkin Park were successful back in the day was the push-pull dynamic between the two. It would breathe a lot of life into the music; hell, if they're on such a pop trip, maybe he could copy some of the current rap conventions. Imagine a Migos-style verse! Anything would be better than the totally catatonic, impersonal pop they've been coming out with.
BLINK-182 "PARKING LOT"
Holy hell do I wish that the young teen suburbanites of America picked a different band to deify than Blink-182. Maybe if their discography were trapped in a kind of amber that wouldn't let them embarrass themselves after 2003, it wouldn't be so bad. But Blink had to come back with more records, and after the departure of award-winning conspiracy theorist Tom DeLonge, Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba joined the group. For a lot of people, it piqued renewed interest in the band.
And then we received last year's California, its finest moment being a glimmer of the band's earlier humor in an 18-second song called "Built This Pool." Apart from that, it was stuffed with half-baked ideas, ultimately a harmless record for the kids. Now Blink are re-releasing it with a couple of new songs, "Parking Lot" being one of them. I get it: Band of old men laughing to each other, "Hey, we should totally write a song that sounds like the old us," about the dumb minutiae of coming from a suburb, but the song ends up being depressing and weird. Aside from dropping every pop-punk cliche in the book, the song suffers from a kind of ouroboros of influence — bands that were inspired by Blink expanded on their formula to try something new, which Blink are now jacking. It seems pointless to listen to a bunch of old guys sum up what the genre has been doing in small clubs across the country, just for one new time-killer at the impersonal amphitheaters and stadiums they now play.
WEEZER "FEELS LIKE SUMMER"
Remember last year when your friend messaged you, saying that Weezer put out a new song that didn't completely suck ass? Then you heard it and, lo and behold, it was pretty cool! Then more and more songs came out, eventually comprising what would become the band's tenth LP, The White Album. It was cause for celebration, a legitimately fun record that obscured the band's patchy past, hopefully even paving the way for an exciting new future of consistent good music. But then, as always, Rivers Cuomo had to go and fuck it up.
On some level, I truly believe "Feels Like Summer" is some weird joke Cuomo is playing. On a recent Song Exploder podcast, he detailed what his songwriting process is like these days: extremely mechanical. It starts with him listening to older songs and melodies, recording on guitar, then banking riffs on his computer, analyzing lyrics he comes up with (down to the rhyme scheme and number of syllables), then creating a Frankenstein's monster out of the whole thing. This approach explains why "Feels Like Summer" is a completely empty attempt at writing a summer hit, music written entirely for the benefit of H&M store speakers and the advertisements you hear sitting in the back of a cab. It's the musical equivalent to a shitty talk show host, its by-the-numbers synthesizer the equivalent to fake, but reassuring laughter. In short, it's pure evil.
Unlike the other horsemen of the apocalypse, who have made obvious plays for radio or nostalgia, Incubus are still being Incubus, staying totally true to themselves all the way through. "Glitterbomb" is sure to please a lot of their fans, too. It's just too bad Incubus have always been insipid garbage for dudes who wear Affliction.
Is a kid going to listen to Linkin Park's new song and want to pick up a synthesizer? What are the long-term effects of popification in established bands? Is there a silent majority that will quietly eat up these songs, or do the vocal parts of each band's fan base speak for everyone? It's hard to tell what'll happen next; all we can hope is that it stops sucking soon.