I’m trying to think if there’s anything overtly gay about Head Automatica (the way there is with Franz Ferdinand), because this New Yorker I was talking to not too long ago got sort of fidgety when I brought up the name. Maybe, though, they’re just overtly critically unacclaimed.
Just to take you on a walk down memory lane, I put in Led Zeppelin II earlier. My first thought: the rudiments are obviously very primitive. I’m going to deny the repugnant hippy myth and say that this is not always good.
John Bonham goes considerable way, though, toward absolving Zep of its anachronistic barbarism, until that is Robert Plant steers them back into just that — barbarism that isn’t necessarily anachronistic, but by all means indicative of a certain low-foreheaded football-playing shirking of cultural cognition.
Ok, I’ll admit, cultural cognition doesn’t get you anywhere but to a bottle of Jim Beam, which Jimmy Page also enjoyed. But as long as we’re talking about music at all, we might as well talk about what’s good and what’s bad. There’s been a lot of music since Zep that has made it sound good by comparison, and sure, their sound is bigger in both guitar and drums than all their cohorts. So the reason why they were bashed by critics is elusively musical, music defined not by sheer mass of volume or head-spinning shred histrionics, but more just like an emotional integrity and artistic undeniability. Am I ripping on poor John Bonham? No, he’s an excellent drummer, in fact he’s almost surely what put them on the map. But does he excuse an oversexed cro-magnon jock slobbering on the mic?
Sometimes it seems like British people get jealous of Americans‘ justified ability to lash out against their own government. Enter Grateful Dead. “There are two reasons why the British will never get Americans,” wrote Everett True in Nirvana: The Biography, “The Grateful Dead and the Dave Matthews Band.” And indeed, the British seemed to rip off old Delta blues men, even in lyrics, more than Americans, because black Americans‘ gripes are different from white American gripes. Grateful Dead: got a lot of haters (Everett True, Lester Bangs, disgusting Portland hipsters) and a lot of homies (Jay-Z, Ken Kesey, the largest touring following in history), and a song like “U.S. Blues,” which admittedly is more relaxing than stylistically innovative, paints a pretty clear picture of what a Spanish man is in America, in fact it’s not too far from the Italian Tim Rutilli of Califone: “Shake your change cold and loose / There’s nothin‘ safe in your stars.” Whadyu want Jerry Garcia to do, work in a stockyard his whole life?
Anyway, if you like Led Zeppelin now, then congratulations, you like something that’s critically unacclaimed. Red Hot Chili Peppers fans hold out hope, esp. since Zeppelin probably never even wrote a melody as good as “Cabron.” But enough name calling. Let’s get down to semantics.
And it seems that the critically acclaimed will never get poppier on an ensuing album, only the underestimated. Decadence, by Head Automatica, though, seems more like a lava storm from Vesuvius than an album. It’s got Dan the Automator on it, first of all (learn it, know it, live it hippies) and Darryl Palumbo is at his more than most mudslinging on “King Ceasar”: “You want a place in the history books / But no one has changed history with double talk and dirty looks.”
It’s the tool of everyone to act like a song is about themselves, and this is just what I did with this song. I’d listen to this, and then go to work canvassing for the Sierra Club, reading Alan Watts‘ The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are. I’d get imparted by zesty black women on the street, and I’d kinda just be like, I dunno, yeah. Feelin‘ alright. But I knew there were still problems on my homefront; this was Denver, and I missed my home, with all the rainstorms and craziness. I got into Supergrass, which sure enough didn’t get poppier, just more implementing, on sophomore album In it for the Money, and “G-Song” would give me the same feeling: “Cool, whatever.” I didn’t really have any thoughts at all, and I don’t think a rant about wanting to fu** by someone on the mic could have ever delivered me to this.