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October 26, 2001

Bland, mindless nu-metal music: many bands still love it

So it's Thursday night, and I'm in the basement of Ida for the meeting at the Maroon Headquarters. They need an article and the benevolent dictators of the Voices section proffer up a pair of CDs for review — Puddle of Mudd's Come Clean and the new one from Adema. These two bands are both inbred sons of the rap-metal brigade (Adema's lead singer is the half-brother of Korn's Jonathan Davis, and Puddle Of Mudd is the first album to come out on Fred Durst's new Flawless label), and if there is one thing that stands out about these two bands, it is that NOTHING STANDS OUT ABOUT THESE TWO BANDS. My poor, defenseless ears suffered 92 minutes of vapid nu-trash that made me sorry I ever showed up for that meeting. You bought Staind? You heard these albums. System of a Down? These albums. Static-X? These albums. This is arguably the most unoriginal music ever created in history, Mandy Moore excepted. These two bands pick a formula and proceed to murder it, just as so many other Bizkitesque charlatans have done before them; it is studio-honed, undifferentiable, mindless headbanging fodder. I'd say more about these albums, but I can't. They're just that boring. I think Adema's front man Mark Chavez, midst angsty wailing about his broken childhood, sums it up pretty well in "The Way You Like It:" "They would always say I'd never be shit, but look at me now, look at me now!" News flash, Chester: Nothing's changed.

So while collecting the $10.50 store credit I got for the two albums, I deplored the pathetic situation that contemporary music, and rock in particular, has fallen into. I bought some Handel, some Santana, some Savoy Brown, noted that nearly all the 16 CDs I bought were at least 20 years old, and ruminated on what I'd be listening to in two years. I was reminded of an intriguing theory posed by a fellow undergrad, Scott Hanson. Here is Hanson's Theorem: Scott believes that there will soon be a totally new genre entering the scene, a style of creating music that has never been explored before. Where, you ask, will it come from? He draws from history. Almost every time there is a breakthrough genre in popular music, it comes from underground black music. A white superstar infiltrates the new genre and gains a white, mainstream audience, thus making the new music "safe" for the general public. The White Man then proceeds to capitalize on The Black Man's talent and ingenuity by corrupting, for better or for worse, the original genre. His examples abound. First off, he cites rock itself as a prime example — in its earliest forms, rock and roll drew heavily from Delta and Chicago blues, and the major breakthroughs for rock in the mid-50s came from white stars like Bill Haley and Elvis, who were by and large co-opting the likes of B.B King, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. The boy-band craze fits the mold, too — all their tricks are from black vocal soulmen like New Edition and the old Motown stars. Hip Hop, he claims, is undergoing the same transition, with Eminem as the pivot white artist. So the up-and-coming genre, as yet undiscovered and unknown, will rise from an underground music movement from the black community, but White America won't embrace it until a Caucasian crossover star makes it big.

It's an interesting theory, but it suffers from some glaring historical shortsightedness. First off, all the examples fall apart when subjected to further scrutiny. One must remember that alongside Buddy Holly and Elvis were black rockers like Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard — and they were hitting big among black and white audiences, despite the racial climate of the era. Rock and roll unquestionably grew out of the blues tradition, but these rockers, white and black, were the talent in a new, shared genre, blazing their own trails irrespective of race. The hip-hop example cracks, too, when two main points are made: first, the Beastie Boys have been in this business for a long time, and have enjoyed a huge mainstream following for years; and second, rap and hip hop sells amazingly well among white upperclass suburban teenagers, and not just Eminem. 2Pac, Dre, Snoop, Jay-Z and countless others have posted heavy album sales in suburbia for years, indicating that whites have been up on rap for a long time — I would argue since as far back as the DMC-Aerosmith version of "Walk This Way." Right now, hip hop is the mainstream. A quick look at the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart shows that the entire top five, seven of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 singles in the country file under "hip-hop." Furthermore, Hanson's Theorem neglects to explain the explosions of doo-wop, '60s soul, funk, and disco, all by black artists. As such, it is probably not a reliable indicator for the new directions in music, but it still serves as a fascinating case study in popular music history.

So where is music headed in the future? I think Hanson's prediction of a new genre is actually a solid idea in theory, however spurious his reasons may be. I think it is quite likely that a completely new style will emerge; where its roots will lie, however, is a query much more difficult to answer. Perhaps it will grow from the constantly shifting sands of electronica; maybe it will stem from a resurgence in jazz, or folk, or even of classic rock itself. If Peter Gabriel has his way, the next wave will be riding on the burgeoning American market for world music. We may be on the cusp of exciting new times for music. And if Adema and Puddle of Mudd are in any way representative of the current state of music, let's hope, for Pete's sake, they get here soon.