One of the great rock ‘n’ roll stories: Band makes hit record. Gets real famous. Struck by tragedy, nearly killed. Creates a stellar comeback album detailing said tragedy. Regains spotlight.
Now, this disaster could be drug abuse/overdose, loss of an extremity, adultery exposed, death of a friend, plane crash, car crash, etc. Whatever adversity there is to overcome, the band is stronger for having gone through the ordeal — hopefully. In this case, Alien Ant Farm endured a severe bus accident that left the driver dead and the band and crew seriously injured. Suffering such injuries as broken legs and a cracked vertebra, the band had a lot to overcome just to get their bodies back in order. Adversity with a capital “A”.
But, AAF is back with truANT, the band’s newest album from Dreamworks Records. Now, just because they survived a near-fatal bus crash, doesn’t mean they have to write about that incident. They don’t have to reflect and lecture on mortality. Pretension certainly isn’t flattering. Indeed, rather than bemoaning how temporary and fragile life is, these California natives bounce all across the board, writing shameless pop-rock songs about drugs, breakups, moths, infidelity and sinking ships. Maybe the band hopes to show their complete recovery from the accident by writing music that doesn’t have much to do with reality.
Singer, Dryden Mitchell, mourns the deterioration of a fictional heroin addict on “Sarah Wynn”. He writes nonsense verses on “Quiet” simply because he likes the way they sound in his ears. He cites John Lennon as inspiration for this technique. “I’ll be the bumblebee behind you / I’ll tear up everything inside you”. OK, sure. He makes up a balloon ride on “Drifting Apart”, fictionalizing a failing relationship set during the ride. He sings about moths that constantly travel towards light even though that light will eventually kill them, much like an unhealthy relationship. On “S.S. Recognize”, he even uses the metaphor of a sinking ship to describe feelings of hopelessness.
This is all well and good for a four-piece pop-rock band from California whose only interest is scoring a couple hits on modern rock radio and then fading into the background. But, ANThology sold 3 million copies, and featured tight compositions of emotional honesty and forthrightness. Mitchell’s voice held a certain potency on “Attitude” and “Movies”. And their version of “Smooth Criminal” paid slick tribute to the original. In other words, ANThology had guts and grit.
Given the artistic context within which AAF now exists, they should be producing deeper, more earnest work. Sure, Terry Corso plays his guitar with typical rock aggression. Tye Zamora and Mike Cosgrove beat on their bass and drums with a heavy-handed consistency. And, yes, Mitchell’s voice gets way too nasally after more than a few songs. But, these guys suffered broken bones! Their driver died! Mitchell fractured his neck! Sadly, AAF don’t seem to have come away from their near-death experience with any sense of their own limitations or their own transience. Instead the band simply exists within these limitations.