I hate it when a good band with an annoying vocalist has a chance to fix their problem . . . but blows it.
Let’s talk about Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, for example. I really liked Rage in the beginning, loved their first two albums, and consider Tom Morello to be one of the alltime greats when it comes to guitar. But by ’99, when I reviewed Rage’s The Battle of Los Angeles, I’d begun to have a different view:
Of course, Los Angeles also features frontman Zack de la Rocha–and therein begins to lie a rub that’s getting increasingly hard to ignore. The problem? De la Rocha is cut from the same limited vocal cloth as Henry Rollins: both artists have single note ranges, but compensate for their short-coming by changing volume where most singers change pitch. This loud-quiet-loud approach creates a completely monochrome vocal field, which forces listeners to focus on lyrical content in lieu of melody as a mechanism for distinguishing one song from the next. And here Rollins and de la Rocha diverge. For every didactic “Scream” or “My War” or “Damaged” that Rollins once roared, he would counter with a lighter “Slip It In” or “TV Party” or “Annihilate This Week” that actually allowed listeners to comprehend him as an at least moderately well-rounded human being. De la Rocha, on the other hand, never, ever, ever lightens up, slinging one politically-charged lyric after another, until his issues begin to bleed together and become indistinguishable one from the other, until his humanity is lost beneath a sea of sloganeering. Maybe someday de la Rocha will learn that his righteous rage can rise faster and higher if it’s leavened with just a pinch of love and laughter.
So when Zack left, I was thinkin’ that could and should be a good thing: Morello, Wilk and Commerford would find some good, compatible singer, and things would be cool. But they picked ex-Soundgarden shrieker Chris Cornell . . . and that really wasn’t an improvement, I don’t think. I actually felt the same way about Soundgarden that I did about Rage: great band, shame about the singer. But I was willing to give them a chance, and the first Audioslave single I heard on the air (“Cochise,” I think) was promising. The next one, “Show Me How to Live,” was less so . . . and was almost made laughable by the little hiccuping vocal delay/phase shift thing tacked on at the end, a really, really bad and pointless studio edit. But the next song I heard by group, and the one that’s getting nearly constant radio play on modern rock stations hereabouts, “I Am The Highway,” was a totally different ball of crap: this song is such a middle-of-the-road mediocrity as to almost boggle the imagination, a 21st century remake/remodel of Bob Seger’s pitiful “On the Road Again.” It saddens me, somehow, every time I hear this song on the radio to think that it’s Tom Morello playing the guitar on such a lame-o number. I take it back, Zack. Please come back and yell at us some more, thanks. I didn’t know what I was asking for.
Or here’s another lame-o second choice for a great instrumental band: the core of Guns n’ Roses have formed Velvet Revolver with Stone Temple Pilots frontman/addict Scott Weiland. Boy, he’s sure a dependable replacemenent for Axl, huh? Feh.
And, of course, there’s always Van Halen . . . back on the road again in their bleh Van Hagar mode. I’d love it if the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony would just put out an instrumental album . . . they’re the reason I listen to Van Halen (when I do, which isn’t often), not David Lee Roth and certainly not Sammy Hagar.
Why don’t people check with me before they do these things? Sheesh.