Generally speaking, it’s pretty easy these days to make a distinction between what alternative music (the genre-confused phrase no longer needs quote marks, does it?) sounds like at present and what it was during formative years of the early 1990s. Sure, a lot of that comes from the always-changing definition of the style. Still, it seems the older music had an express casualness, even within the influence it brought to music and society. Today alternative rockers, should they want to sustain a lucrative career in the business (which, ironically, seems to be such an abundant desire in many of the prominent figures in modern rock), need to be aware of trends in radio sales and overall criticism of the music, so as to stay more inventive or on top of the game. The business aspect makes the art so much more whore-like and disdainable. As an obvious result, the music suffers. It’s often more determined and abrasive, as opposed to being accidentally powerful. Take Rage Against the Machine, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Creed, Powerman 5000. Then look at Frank Black, Pearl Jam, Cracker, Pavement. It was breezy, sly, and plaintive. Now, it’s rigid, calculated, and assaultive.
Of course, I’m being intentionally blunt and presumptuous. It’s more fun that way. Point being, the alternative music today, on the whole, sounds vastly different than the earlier noise that made success and branding in such a venue possible. That being said (or whined, as it where, from a self-appointed and self-loathing soapbox), Thingy’s To the Innocent is quite a stunner. From the feel of the guitars, the inanely embracing lyrics, the two minute songs, and the involuntary importance of it, you’d almost feel that you’re trapped in 1990 on the verge of something which could have helped abolish hair metal.
It’s in the way that the charged-up opener, “Mayday,” can easily sound like a Lemonheads song produced by the Foo Fighters, complete with the Juliana Hatfield-esque background vocals from Elea Tenuta (accordion Julie’s sister?). Very It’s a Shame About Ray. It’s in the way that the generic acoustic arrangement, the spare, “In the Air Tonight” drum line, and singer Rob Crow’s oddly convincing and sincere repetition of the song’s only vocal, “I’m an inbecile/I’m a big dumb animal/Put my fingers in the fan,” on “Big Dum Animal,” can be so easily and unconditionally powerful. It’s in the way “Ballpoint Pen” is undeniably and inexplicably believable. It’s in the way O.B.1 is really just too cool to spoil with words. It’s in the way that 36 minutes for 19 songs seems to be just right, not a second too short. It’s in the way utter repetition works so well.
The album is no masterpiece, this much is true; but at it’s best, it’s a very encouraging and welcomed burst of catchy, exuberant simplicity. Ultimately, even when the attempts seem stale or recycled, there are great moments of inspiration. Whether it comes in the Perry Farrell hue of Crow’s saying “I don’t need no razors, cause/summer is cutting me again,” on “Plenty,” or the simplicity of “Rope Swing,” To the Innocent makes me appreciate music like I did in high school, and that is no small feat.
// Notes from the Road
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