I thought this was their big record until I listened to it. It was still (sadly) a pretty big record, but the big hits I was expecting are not here. That means I don’t know these songs. But that doesn’t make it any better.
Let’s go through this from beginning to end:
First, the songs are 1990s generic post grunge – derived from the least interesting moments on Ten and Superunknown as filtered through Collective Soul and Live. I want to say they wouldn’t be so bad with better lyrics but that’s not true as these are some generic riffs, some of which really do not stand up on their own. I mean, maybe if you’ve never heard alternative rock before, some of these riffs would sound original… (I mean at least they don’t all sound like “Release,” like their later singles do.)
As to those lyrics, well, like so many post grunge lyricists, Stapp seems to have missed the point entirely. He heard people singing about their own problems and he thought he could do that too! But none of the “grunge” lyricists were ever so navel-gazing as Stapp is here and Stapp seems to have decided that the narrative and poetic devices used by people like Cobain, Vedder, Cornell and others are not necessary. Instead, Stapp presents his own mundane, uninteresting struggle with his spirituality, which he articulates on the level of a teenage boy who thinks he’s more profound than you, with basically outright, no-frills confession. I mean, maybe, at 15, I might have found something to relate to here (though I was already no longer a Christian, so probably not) but it’s hard to think I could find something in the lyrics, especially given how generic the music behind them is. (It’s a balance, right? Sometimes you can excuse weak lyrics when the songs are great and sometimes you can excuse a weak melody or riff because the lyrics are brilliant)
Let’s get to the performances:
It’s impossible to ignore Stapp’s Vedder worship. Why Vedder? Whatever you might think of Eddie Vedder, it’s not his fault that a whole bunch of mediocre singers in the mid 90s decided to copy him. I think it’s just that Vedder’s voice is more apable than, say, Cornell’s (Cornell being a way better singer). I think Vedder’s range is just more accessible for the average wannabe rock star circa 1995. Stapp et al. don’t seem to realize that copying someone outright is not how you should sing.
The band behind Stapp seems to be trying to channel a less funky, less classic rockish Pearl Jam circa Ten as performed by a Metallica cover band inspired solely by The Black Album and Metallica’s subsequent dalliances with grunge. So much of what they do sounds like 1991, albeit bad. Everything’s neutered and safe – they’re loud but just not quite Metallica loud and they rock but not weirdly enough to be mistaken for any of the Seattle bands.
Then there’s the production. Certainly one of the things that is appealing about a band like Pearl Jam, or one of their contemporaries, was the uncommercial risks they took when presenting what was otherwise pretty accessible rock music. Even the poorly produced Pearl Jam records are at least idiosyncratic. Not so this record, which sounds fine, I guess (though it sounds a lot like 1991, as I’ve said), but which also has no warts. Weren’t the warts sort of the point of grunge?
This is a band with boring, generic songs, shitty (pseudo-profound) lyrics, and singer who does not know he sounds so much like Eddie Vedder that he should be in an SNL skit. The band has taken the least interesting aspects of the music they liked and reproduced it without any kind of personality or idiosyncrasy. They are, in many ways, the negation of alternative rock – everything about alternative rock that was good, they copied, made terrible, and made a shit load of money off.
Is there anything at all about this that is redeeming?