Craving Theo: self-titled

Craving Theo
Craving Theo

How to become a corporate rock star, in six easy steps:

  1. Think of a name that will stick in people’s heads, no matter how stupid. Like Hoobastank.
  2. Facial hair is crucial, be it goatee, soul patch, Van Dyke, or whatever.
  3. Blatantly steal your sound from either Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, or Nirvana. Copy Candlebox, when all else fails.
  4. Your singer must possess a manly, raspy voice, and should mimic either Eddie Vedder, Layne Staley, or Kurt Cobain.
  5. Song topics must alternate between testosterone-infused mosh pit anthems and “poor, poor me”, Aaron Lewis-style complaining, sung with no trace of irony whatsoever.
  6. You must have absolutely nothing relevant to say.

Craving Theo succeed on five of the above steps. The only thing wrong is the name. As soon as you read the name “Craving Theo”, you instantly forget it, and the fact that Craving Theo’s music is even more forgettable doesn’t help things. When a band names generic nu-metallers Godsmack, of all people, among its major influences like Craving Theo does, you have no choice but to lower your expectations. Still, that bar is much too lofty for the Portland, Oregon outfit, as they try desperately to rawk like it’s 1992, and fail miserably.

I look at this eponymous CD of theirs and think, there’s nothing here. Craving Theo is trying awfully hard to sound like Alice In Chains (though I also hear some 1988 Ozzy-era Zakk Wylde in the guitar work), even employing the services of former Alice In Chains producer Rick Parashar. There are plenty of sludgy, Jerry Cantrell guitar riffs, and singer Calvin Baty’s vocals are layered exactly like Layne Staley’s, but it all sounds like Alice In Chains playing their weakest songs over and over. If they’re going to pretend to be AIC, where’s their “Rooster”, their “Man in a Box”, their “Would?”? It’s like paint-by-numbers: it’s not bad from a distance, but up close, it looks artificial and completely lacking in originality (conversely, the now-defunct Drain STH did an excellent job copying Alice In Chains on their terrific album, Freaks of Nature).

Also, whatever happened to the days when hard rock bands sang about Satan, witchcraft, Greek mythology, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and their heartfelt desire to rock? When Alice In Chains sang “Sea of Sorrow” in 1990, it was wicked cool, a welcome change from the bombast that dominated 1980s metal. Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan took the personal themes a bit further, which was fine, but ten years later, it’s this introspective, Sensitive Guy style that seems tired (which probably explains the rising popularity of the perpetually silly Andrew WK), but Craving Theo carries on this overused tradition that still dominates rock radio. Their vocalist, and sole songwriter, Calvin Baty, shoulders all the blame here. The following sampling of lyrics from this album says it all: “Can’t get a fix what’s killing me . . . I’m dying slowly . . . Confusion, all I want to know . . . All I got is trash left at my door . . . Inside this place of sorrow / Life begins to end . . . I have died inside . . . Might as well just lie / Down in the street . . . Will life change the empty hurt inside . . . Walk with me down / The path of my destruction . . . Pain is now what surrounds you . . . Our time together drained the life out of me”. Oh, shut up, already.

The songs on Craving Theo never rise above mildly tolerable. “When” kicks off with a bizarre R.E.M. riff, a musical direction that completely (and refreshingly) clashes with the rest of the album — that is, until the crunchy guitars rear their ugly heads and Baty sings the vomit-inducing chorus “When I was younger / I thought about dreams of tomorrow.” The song that comes closest to standing out is “Stomp”, the album’s requisite Mosh Anthem. If anything, it’s a silly, guilty pleasure, a bit like Drowning Pool’s cheerfully insipid wrestling anthem “Bodies”, but if Craving Theo wants to match Drowning Pool’s fleeting commercial success, they’d better hope a WWF wrestler chooses “Stomp” as his theme song. Besides, nobody these days has managed to match early moshpit classics like Anthrax’s “Caught In a Mosh” and Exodus’ “Toxic Waltz”.

Never has a 37-minute CD seemed so long and tedious. The presence of a band like Craving Theo in today’s new music scene is completely useless, except to show us how great a band Alice In Chains was, and how much easier it is to go through the motions and match your favorite band note for note, than to develop that influential sound further while adding your own moments of inspired brilliance that makes a song special. While contemporary bands like System of A Down, Soulfly, Queens of the Stone Age, and Tool continue to elevate hard rock music to higher standards, hack bands like Creed, Linkin Park, Staind, and yes, Craving Theo, take the easy route, knowing full well that banal familiarity equals more airplay on lowest-common-denominator radio. I can’t hate this album the same way I despise something like Shelby Lynne’s latest album, where it’s easy to get angry at genuinely talented artists who choose money-making vapidity over artistic integrity. The sheer mediocrity of Craving Theo, on the other hand, deserves nothing more from listeners than complete indifference . . . but then again, Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory was the best-selling album of 2001, so I suppose anything’s possible. Now, where’s my copy of Facelift?