Saturday, December 11, 2004

My Current Favourite Rock Groups

Like most people, my musical tastes have changed throughout my life. I have gone through my various phases. Like many I listened to New Wave and electropop in the Eighties. And I listened to alternative in the Nineties. But for much of my life there has been some consistency in my musical tastes. I have been a fan of the British Invasion since I was a baby. I have been fan of heavy metal since I first heard Black Sabbth and Led Zeppelin as a child. And I have been a fan of power pop since I first heard Cheap Trick's "Surrender" on the radio in the late Seventies (no surprise that I would be fan--power pop can be traced to the British Invasion bands...). It should be no wonder that my favourite groups of late tend to be either heavy metal or power pop.

For the past eight years among my favourite bands has been Fountains of Wayne. Founding members Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood met at Williams College in Massachusetts, where they discovered that they shared a love of the British Invasion bands. They went through a number of short lived bands and as Pinnwheel finally released an album. Unfortunately, legal difficulties prevented the album from every being released. Schlesinger joined indie-pop band Ivy, Collingwood joined Boston country band The Mercy Buckets. In 1996 they reunited and formed Fountains of Wayne. In the meantime, Schlesinger gained fame as the man who wrote the title tune for Tom Hanks' movie That Thing You Do. The song "That Thing You Do" was supposed to be the hit of the one hit Wonders, the fictional band of the movie. To Schlesinger's credit, the song sounds like something from 1964. It is also one of the most listenable songs of the late Nineties.

It is through That Thing You Do that I discovered Fountains of Wayne. With a sound reminiscent of The Beatles, The Who, and The Zombies, Fountains of Wayne were definitely power pop and thus they were right up my alley. Their sound brings to mind such British Invasion bands as The Beatles and The Zombies and such classic power pop acts as Cheap Trick and E'Nuff Z'Nuff. Beyond that, Fountains of Wayne are blessed with an incredible sense of humour that shows up in their songs. "The Valley of Malls," from Utopia Parkway, is an attack on Yuppies and their spending habits. Their bigget hit, "Stacy's Mom," from Welcome Interstate Managers, is a paen to teenage lust. Not only do the Fountains of Wayne have great riffs, they also have a great sense of humour.

Another favourite band of mine at the moment is Bowling for Soup. Like Fountains of Wayne, they are also power pop. And like Fountains of Wayne, they also have a sense of humour. Bowling for Soup was founded by Witchita Falls, Texas native Jaret Reddick in 1994 with the simple goal of creating a band that was, well, happy. They released an EP in 1997 on Denton, TX based FFROE. In 1998 they released their first full length album, Rock On Honorable Ones. They became very popular in the Dallas area. In fact, I discovered Bowling for Soup through my brother, who lives in Denton County. Their popularity in Texas led them to signing with a major label, Jive/Silvertone. It was on that label that they released Let's Do It for Johnny; however, it was their second album on Jive/Silvertone, Drunk Enough to Dance, that brought them to the attention of many. It was on that album they scored their first real hit, "Girl All the Bad Guys Want," the lament of a nerdy guy who wants a rather bad girl. They also wrote and performed the theme song to Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. Their latest album, Hangover You Don't Deserve, features their latest and perhaps biggest hit, "1985," an unabashed bit of nostalgia for the Eighties. Bowling for Soup shows influences from both the First and Second British Invasions, New Wave, and the classic power pop bands, albeit with a joy and a sense of humour rarely seen bands today. They are among the funniest bands around.

At the other end of the power pop spectrum is The Killers. Compared to Fountains of Wayne and Bowling for Soup, The Killers are a very young band. The band was founded by Brandon Flowers and Dave Keuning with the intent of creating a guitar driven group. Founded in Las Vegas, The Killers came to the attention of London based label Lizard King. The group then journeyed to the UK where they had a small tour and "Mr. Brightside" was released in limited edition. After playing in New York City, they were signed to Island Records. It was on that label that they released their first album, Hot Fuss. Unlike Fountans of Wayne (who tend to see the world through a sardonic lens) and Bowling for Soup (who are very, very happy), The Killers' songs tend to be very, very dark. Their first single and best song, "Mr. Brightside," deals with the suspcions and jealousies in a relationshp and the paranoid fears that can arise form them. "Andy You're A Star" deals with stalkers while "Somebody Told Me" deals with confused sexuality. While both are guitar driven groups that are identifiably power pop, The Killers are about as far from Bowling for Soup as one can get (they certainly aren't happy...).

The last of my favourite groups of late is Velvet Revolver. Unlike the aforementioned groups, Velvet Revolver is heavy metal. In fact, it can be fair to say that it is more Guns 'N' Roses than Guns 'N' Rose is now. Velvet Revolver consists of three former members of that band--leader guitarist Slash, Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. The rest of the band are veteran musicians as well. Lead singer Scott Weiland was once with Stone Temple Pilots, while guitarist Dave Kushner had belonged to Wasted Youth and other bands. Not surprisingly, Velvet Revolver sounds a lot like Guns 'N' Roses--in fact they sound more like Guns 'N' Roses than GNR does now. They made their debut on The Hulk soundtrack with "Set Me Free" and cover of Pink Floyd hit "Money" for The Italian Job. From there they recorded their first album Contraband. "Do It For the Kids" is wonderfully raw--what if one crossed grunge with heavy metal? "slither" sounds like old G 'N' R to me, although I personally think Weiland is a better singer than Axl Rose ever was. The only thing I dislike about Velvet Relvolver are their power ballads, which fall a little flat for me. But then I never was a fan of power ballads...

Anyhow, those are the current groups that I really like. I suspect that all four of them will see much success in the future, even if it has taken awhile for Fountains of Wayne to see any. I know I would much rather kids today listen to these bands the current crop of rappers and teen divas...

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