Does anyone here remember the ‘80s? Not the quaint, punk rock record store ‘80s depicted in the sorry spin-off That ‘80s Show, but the highway rock, gravel-voiced, every-video-must-contain-driving-rain-and-a-convertible ‘80s. The John Cougar Mellencamp ‘80s. The Bryan Adams ‘80s. The “Life is a Highway” ‘80s.
I suppose here is supposed to be where I say, “Well, I do.” And I do—sort of. Mostly I remember it as what I thought rock was supposed to be all about, because my childhood was “Little Pink Houses” and “Summer of ‘69” instead of, oh, I don’t know, Peter Frampton and Kiss. It’s not so much a matter of history but of genealogy: each historical moment contains the seeds of the future as well as the trace of the past. I just didn’t happen to know what the antecedents were to my particular moment.
At any rate, the music I grew into rejected wide-open spaces for a sort of solipsistic claustrophobia; and the music I grew past mostly opted for bubble gum over grit. The reaction to that moment—possibly best personified by Slipknot and their neumetal compatriots—has largely rejected softcore takes on rock ‘n’ roll extremism.
Largely, I say. Somewhere in there was the Goo Goo Dolls, Marcy Playgrounds, and Matchbox 20’s of the world, those who took a post-punk sensibility and brought it to the top 40. Along with that came the same softening that the Bryan Adamses of the world brought to arena rock—and thus, it would seem, the seeds for Pete Palladino’s band, the Badlees, were sown.
The Badlees had two top 10 hits in the late ‘90s: “Fear of Falling” and “Angeline Is Coming Home.” Anybody remember those? Me neither. Strikes me as completely likely that they faded into the background that will allow those of us who haven’t managed it already to forget Staind in the next few years.
Flash forward to 2001. Out comes Pete with his first solo album, his chance to “think outside the box” in which his collaborative efforts had confined him. The result? Sounds a lot like Bryan Adams. Or the Goo Goo Dolls.
Yes, kids, another softcore pseudo-retro apologia has begun, and with a whimper, not a bang. This album is boring. It is crunchy power pop mid tempo ballad boring.
Mr. Palladino has rather a good voice of the alternately gravelly and soaring type; again, don’t think Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, think Eddie Vedder (who was always a softcore pseudo-retro apologist at heart), without the weird mannerisms. Even the cover art announces his allegiance to a hodge-podge of recently-and-possibly-rightfully overlooked styles: his hair is curly, moussed and highlighted, and trimmed to a fluffy shoulder-length (that way he can put it in a ponytail if he wants to go folkie). He wears neat silver pirate rings in each ear, a conspicuous “soul patch” below his full mouth, and either a disarming grin or a distant “thoughtful” expression in each of the album shots. The only exception to this is a shot of his bare chest from neck to waist—he’s a hairy man, folks, and too “real” to work out, apparently—which I’d encourage his PR folks to leave out of the next album (like all of us, it can only go downhill from here).
Aside from the voice and a rather competent sense of rhythm and melody, there’s not much to note on this album. Track one, “Home At Last” begins with enthusiastic scat singing and the sound of metal pipe against metal pipe—when was the last time you heard that sound, was it “Everybody Dance Now?” The next song starts with pleasing acoustic strum and features that kind of stuttery, searching guitar that I remember from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley”. The album shifts tone here, including samples and sparse but fuzzy backing instrumentation on “Fate Can Be a Beautiful Thing”, but we’re back to crash and romp on “What a Difference a Year Makes,” the only difference here being that Palladino’s switched to his lower register.
After that the album oscillates between boring midtempo ballads (a few highlights: Spanish guitar, synth strings, multiple lyric references to the moon) and boring uptempo power anthems. “Time Honored Tradition” includes an incredible drum flurry buildup, complete with insistent, modulating arpeggio—but then pays out this energy too quickly and resorts to more earnest scat singing/keening by the end. “Fourth of July” adds a slightly different shade to the uptempo/enthusiast palette (Feedback! Bullhorn!! Anger!!!) but again, finds nowhere to go after setting the volume at 11. The title track is a drone with more metallic pounding, which I suppose is meant to be prophetic or meaningful or something.
Lyrically, I’ve got to hand something to the lyricist Mike Naydock for finding a rhyme in “Fate Could Be a Beautiful Thing” for “status quo”—it’s “traffic glow.” He also uses the word “redundant” in the same verse. Yikes. For all his mastery of SAT multi-syllable words, he does not seem to be able to come up with much meaning. The most promising idea expressed is on “Time Honored Tradition”, in which he tells a lady “You could turn your pirouettes / Somewhere off in confidence / But I’m the one who never gets / To see you dance that way.” Of course, what promises to be a rather painful exploration of the roles we make for ourselves in relationships (and trap ourselves in), ends up with the bland platitudinous chorus: “I couldn’t love you any more / I couldn’t leave you if I tried / Another’s muse is envious / For what I feel inside”.
That’s envious of, moron. And I feel sorry for the girl who got stuck being the muse for this pap.