In the current music world, the songs you hear on the radio and the videos you see on MTV aren’t always the best bands out there. In the music world today, everything is governed by image and how much money an album can generate for the record label. It’s a shame; it’s not about how musically talented an artist is anymore. In today’s music environment, bands like The Ramones, Chuck Berry, and George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic might not be as revered had they released their music today. However, their musical talent exceeds anything you will probably see on MTV. More recent but not so noticed bands also beat the commercialized image-makers out there.
Queens of the Stone Age is a hard rock outfit from the Mojave Desert in Southern California. They started in 1998, and their style of rock is hard to define. It is definitely hard rock music, but not in the way that heavy metal can be considered hard rock. Currently, their outfit includes frontmen Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri and ex-Screaming Trees member Mark Lannegan. On their soon-to-be-released album, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and ex member of Nirvana will return to the drum kit for one of the first times since he stopped playing drums for the Foo Fighters.
Their breakthrough album was “Rated R,” which was released in 2000 on Interscope Records. The songs on the album definitely have that hard rock element, but they add psychedelic elements to it, which makes it bear no resemblance to current metal acts like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. They have songs like “The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret” that is a slow but hard song that evokes a feeling of mistrust, with lyrics like “Leap of faith / do you doubt? / cut you in, I just cut you out / Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone”. An acoustic song with some nice lead guitar riffs over it, “Auto Pilot,” gives off a feeling of alienation. It even has a Bowie-esque break in the middle, “aaah / auto pilot no control”. They even have a creep-along acoustic instrumental, “Lightning Song,” in which anyone can be lost among the lilting melodies. This album is a must have for anyone looking for rock without an overly-aggressive element.
Another atypical hard rock act is At the Drive-In. This El Paso, Texas, band is now broken up, but their music is still relevant to anyone looking for something more in music than blatant sexual innuendoes and odes to drunkedness. Guitarists Omar Rodriguez and Jim Ward set up an unconventional wall of sound, to which Cedric Bixler would layer his Beastie Boys-meets-Zach de la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine) vocals over, while bassist Paul Hinojos and Percussionist Tony Hajjar would lay down a solid-yet-fluid backbone that makes the music almost danceable.
The overall sound of At the Drive-In is hard to pinpoint. Imagine Nirvana, The Cure, U2, Rage Against the Machine, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Beastie Boys, The Clash, MC5, Anthrax, Radiohead, and even a little bit of The Doors, mixed into one powerful 5 person rock band. Now imagine the music of that band being as potent as any of the aforementioned bands, and you get the idea of the band.
The album that brought them to the forefront of music consciousness was “Relationship of Command,” released in 2000 on Grand Royal Records (also now-defunct). This is an album you can put in your stereo, press play, and be moved emotionally until the album is finished. Their potent, powerful sound is tempered by other musical elements, such as pianos and keyboards. No matter what they add to the music, it works. Their song “One Armed Scissor” is a hard rocking song that channels aggression while not crossing the border into overbearing. With lyrics like “Banked on memory / mummified circuitry / skin graft machinery / sputnik sickles found in the seats / splintered larynx / this station is non-operational / species growing / bubbles in an IV loitering,” you wouldn’t think that the song would have a tinge of excitement, and you would be horribly mistaken. In their other single, “Invalid Litter Dept.,” the band adds calm piano and a trickling guitar riff to the rapidly vocalized verses, and on the chorus explodes into full blown powerful punk / alternative bliss. Mark my words, you will not hear music like this from any other band, unless it happens to be one of the two bands the members split into.
Bixler and Rodriguez now play in The Mars Volta, a band that captures the essence of At the Drive-In without being a complete carbon copy. Ward, Hinojos, and Hajjar now perform with Sparta, a more-traditional sounding rock outfit, although there is nothing traditional about them. The Mars Volta have released an EP, “Tremulant” on the Gold Standard Laboratories record label. Sparta have released the EP “Austere” on Restart / Dreamworks Records. Both bands are as great (or greater) than ATD-I, so these bands will definitely be critically acclaimed once they release their first albums.
And finally, we come to Zwan. Zwan is the current project of vocalist / guitarist Billy Corgan and master percussionist Jimmy Chaimberlin, formerly of The Smashing Pumpkins. With Matt Sweeny (formerly of Slint) and David Pajo (of Papa M) on guitar, and, currently, Paz Lenchantin (of A Perfect Circle) on bass, this is a supergroup of sorts, and their music definitely proves it. The song “And So I Died of a Broken Heart,” recaptures some of the essence of The Smashing Pumpkins, but also separates Corgan from the Pumpkins’ shadow. With a watery, almost smoky guitar sound, Corgan laments about a failed relationship. Zwan deals with themes that The Smashing Pumpkins barely scratched the surface of. With songs with titles such as “Jesus” and “God’s Gonna Set This World on Fire,” it sounds as if Zwan are becoming a Christian band, but the songs are done tongue-in-cheek. Before their first performance of “Jesus” in concert, Sweeney told a joke involving acne, Priests, and pre-teens that I cannot repeat in this article. Then, they go into the 10-minute psychedelic epic “Jesus,” which ends with a chant similar to the Doors’ song “Gloria”, “Jesus… J-E-S-U-S… Jesus… J-E-S-U-S…”.
The song “God’s Gonna Set This World on Fire” is a little less subtle. This song is the breakout song for Zwan, Corgan directs the audiences in a call-and-response gospel style. The lyrics “God’s gonna set this world on fire, one of these days, And all you sinners gonna turn up missing, one of these days… I’m gonna climb climb climb up Jacob’s Ladder, one of these days,” caught me by surprise as last I checked, Billy Corgan was not a member of any gospel choirs. But the song grows on you, as all of Zwan’s songs do. “Freedom Ain’t What It Used to Be,” “The Girl With the Cruel Face,” and their cover of Iron Maiden’s “The Number of The Beast” (definitely worth a listen) make it known that Zwan will soon be a musical force to be reckoned with.These bands show what Rock and Roll is supposed to be about, rebellion against the status quo. In a world where the status quo has become pretty faced teenyboppers and Nu-Metal Neanderthals-with-guitars, these are the type of bands we need to see more of to get more diversity on the radios and televisions of America.
Links:Queens of the Stone Age: http://www.qotsa.comAt the Drive In: http://www.atthedrive-in.netThe Mars Volta: http://www.goldstandardlabs.comSparta: http://www.spartamusic.comZwan: http://www.zwan.com