Long ago I accepted something about all the loud, heavy, angry bands and artists I listened to. They can not and will not continue putting out the same type and quality of music forever and when they no longer are, I most likely won't find adequate replacements for them. In every single case, one of two things will happen to them sooner or later. Nirvana and Pearl Jam are great examples. The first option is they can die. And by that I mean either the band can die (when they split up) or the artists themselves can die (OD is usually the way this happens, but there have a been a few notable exceptions where people die in accidents or so someone can get all their money). Those that survive eventually go the route of Pearl Jam and get to a place in their lives or in their careers where the angry thing just doesn't work anymore. They get tired of going up on stage and bitching to teenagers about their girlfriend who dumped them 15 years ago. It just doesn't work anymore. Audiences grow. As an artist you either need to grow with them or continually find new audiences. People don't stay pissed off forever. And the artists don't either, so you can't expect them to put out the same quality of pissed off music when they're 35, sober, married and have two children as they did when they were 25, alone, strung out on drugs, and had a string of girlfriends who all cheated on them. It's just not a realistic expectation. And I came to accept that and as the bands I love have grown I've grown with them and been able to appreciate their music more because of it. I guess this is just a really long-winded way of saying that artists change and that's okay.
Today a little piece of me died. I know people say that a lot, but I actually mean it. First, let's rewind a few years.
It was 1995. I was listening to my favorite Toledo rock station's nightly bit "Cock Fights at Night," a segment in which two new songs by new or little-known artists were played, then voted on by listeners to determine a winner, with songs that won several consecutive nights usually getting into the station's regular rotation. The winning song then went against a new challenger on the following night's segment. I have no idea who the other song on that night's segment was, all I remember was the announcer saying "It isn't often I say this, but I don't think tonight is much of a contest. From their "Wither, Blister, Burn and Peel" CD, this is Stabbing Westward with their song "Shame."" Five minutes later I had found what would be my favorite band thus far in my life.
I quickly went out and bought the CD, then bought their next CD "Darkest Days" on the day of its' release. That CD remains my all-time favorite CD to this day. Three things struck me about the band. The first thing was...well...look.
In an era where image is so much of a band's approach to selling themselves, Stabbing Westward was about the least image-driven band I've ever seen. They're just a group of totally normal fucking guys. They don't look especially cool. And frankly, to be brutally honest, they're not the manliest-looking rock band ever assembled. I was amazed that such powerful songs came from such an unimpressive looking group. They even had a keyboardist for fuck's sake. What rock band in their right mind actually takes a fucking keyboardist on stage? They were about as unconventional as you could get. But it worked. They were a good band for all the right reasons. Not because they looked macho or cool, and not because their jeans were ripped in precisely the right manner. Because they sounded fucking good.
The second and third things that struck me about the band were largely due to the band's singer, Chris Hall, one of the most underrated musicians and lyricists of our time. For starters, their often-quirky musical style was so fucking good at conveying a mood that you could almost picture a scene in your head before a word had been spoken. Not to be outdone by the music, the lyrics Chris Hall came up with were so much more meaningful and thought-provoking than 99% of the rest of the shit that was out there. His use of imagery in songs was nothing short of phenomenal. I once had a creative writing teacher who emphasized more than anything else the difference between telling and showing. You don't want to tell your audience what's happening. You want to show them what's happening. Chris Hall showed you what's happening.
Unfortunately, the band split up in 2001 following a switch to a different record label and a different manager who led this already successful band to alter their style. They produced a fourth album that was so God damn aggressively awful that most fans don't even count it as a Stabbing Westward album. Those of us fans mourned the death of the band and stayed in touch for years via an email list that kept several hundred of us in touch with correspondence that numbered 5-10 emails a day between us long after the band split up. There was, however, a silver lining for us when Chris sent out a bulletin to the coollist crowd telling us he had formed a new band, called The Dreaming.
Slowly we got more information about this new effort and we began to hope. Early interviews with Chris promised The Dreaming would be more like the old Stabbing Westward than the shitty, watered-down version we were fed on that last, ill-fated CD. He said the band was taking more of a darker, ethereal turn than even Stabbing Westward had experienced. This gave us more hope. A couple months later, a recorded sample of the first song by The Dreaming, titled "Let it Burn," was loaded onto the band's site. We listened, loved it, and clamored for more. Finally, we got a 4-song EP self-released by Chris himself mailed out of his own home. I still have that EP in my glove box to play in the car. It seemed like finally, something good would come of the ashes of a band I had loved.
There were, however, setbacks. The Dreaming played a lot of live shows in the L.A. area, but had little luck finding a record deal or the means to play anywhere outside California. Months, then a couple years went by and I started to give up on ever being able to fully enjoy my all-time favorite musician's new project. Fast-forward to today.
For reasons I'm not sure of, I suddenly remembered The Dreaming and thought I'd do some internet hunting to see if I could find out anything. I'd just assumed the long-gestating debut CD had never come out and the band had disintegrated. I looked them up on google and saw a link to their wikipedia page and I decided to check it out. My heart skipped a beat when I saw that they had a CD coming out at the end of this month, I couldn't believe my good fortune. I clicked on the link to their myspace to get a sample of the new music. Then I saw this...
I thought to myself, no no no no no oh Jesus no, it can't be. I moved down the page, desperately hoping there had been some mistake. After all, none of those assholes look anything like Chris Hall, maybe his band had broken up and some shitty emo band had adopted the name The Dreaming. Or maybe they had started turning emo so he'd left and been replaced by some random asshole. Or maybe somebody had mistakenly posted a picture of Good Charlotte instead. But alas, I scrolled down the page and saw this.
Seen closer, and with one of his eyes visible, there was no mistaking it. This was Chris Hall, straight out of some evil, twisted, emo nightmare but him nonetheless. The singer whose band had impressed me so much by not being concerned with their image at all was now the frontman of a band who was all about emo image, the worst kind of image there is.So then I thought, "Okay, he's emo now. But the music of theirs I've heard doesn't sound emo at all. Maybe they're just trying to look the part to get a record deal and the music doesn't actually suck. So I scrolled over and listened to their music samples.
And that's when the part of me that worshipped Chris Hall as a musician and lyricist died. The new songs were absolutely 100% emo and the old songs I loved so much that gave me hope in a great new band? They had all been re-recorded and made into shitty, watered-down, emo versions of themselves. The first Dreaming song Chris ever teased us with "Let it Burn" has been redone in such a poor shell of the original version it's depressing. The song is still a lyrical masterpiece, because thankfully they left the words alone, but the music is so disappointing. It was like the first time I heard Puff Daddy rapping over Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. That's how heartbreaking it was. And most depressing of all is the lyrical content of almost all the new songs. It's the most emo part of all. One of the songs from their new CD contains the line "Your sticks and stones will break my bones but your words will break my heart in two." Another song's chorus is just the line "You're nothing, you're no one, you're dead to me" repeated over and over. The same man who wrote a song with such vivid imagery of memories of the sunlight's reflection as you're waking up next to someone you love is now penning generic shit about being pissed off and yes, sadly enough, not wanting to be like your parents. That's how emo has has sunk. A man approaching middle age writing about not wanting to be like his parents. Letdown isn't even the right word for this. It would have been like Leonardo DaVinci's followup to the Mona Lisa being a stick figure drawing done with nothing but a paper and pencil.
What's most disturbing of all is that the band wasn't like this the last time I heard anything from them. They had serious potential as a band. Somewhere along the way they made a conscious decision to be less dark and more emo. They decided to be less musically innovative and more slavish to the cookie cutter three-chord punk wanna-be style. They decided to add someone from Deadsy, hands-down the shittiest band I've ever had the misfortune to see live.
As a slight side-note here, Deadsy was/is (don't know if they're still around or not, God I hope not) a shitty Orgy ripoff whose big song was a cover of the Rush song "Tom Sawyer." Seriously. They were on the Family Values tour one year because for reasons beyond my wildest imagination, Jonathan Davis likes them. When the Family Values CD was put out they were the only band who only had one song on the CD, and that one song was their "Tom Sawyer" cover. That should tell you something about them.
But back to the Dreaming. Perhaps most disgusting of all, is that somewhere along the way The Dreaming made a deliberate choice to dumb down their lyrics and make them less meaningful. Their song "Bleed," which was on that original 4-song EP I got sent to me straight from Chris's house contained the line "The nirvana that you promised life could be was a deadly blend of hell and ecstasy." When the song was re-recorded to be included on the soundtrack for the movie "Electra" the song was not only emo-ified, but the line was changed. The word "nirvana" was replaced with the word "heaven." Why they chose to make this change is beyond me, because it's an absolutely horrible change. In addition to sounding awkward with the tempo of the song at that particular juncture, the word "heaven" is less descriptive and more generic than the word "nirvana." I don't know if they didn't think people would know what that meant, or if they wouldn't like it, or hell, maybe they thought people would think "Boy, listening to this emo shit makes me wish Nirvana were still around," I don't know. But whatever the reason, the end result was a line that was dumbed down in a song that had already been changed for the worse.
And I'm not alone in this. Searching the internet I've found review after review by people who think exactly the same thing. Even without comparing them to Stabbing Westward, The Dreaming leaves something to be desired. Their early music sounded better and their early lyrics sounded better. The stuff they've come up with since I stopped following them so closely is musically lackluster and lyrically empty, which fits their new shitty emo image. I keep trying to tell myself that maybe they made the switch because they went so long without a record deal that they decided they'd have a better shot as a shitty cookie-cutter emo band, but I don't know.
And it isn't that it's bad by the standards of today's radio. Taken at face value, the music itself isn't that awful compared to other shit on the radio. But what it boils down to is this. I expected more out of Chris Hall. Chris, you're better than this. Why?