Archive for the ‘Grunge’ Category

In a battle of Smashing Pumpkins vs. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who did “Zero” better?

“Zero” – Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995

We all know music is subjective, and if the internet is any indication, this song can be interpreted in many many different ways. Is it about love? Drugs? Or both? This song came out during a time where the music you listened to really defined who you were, and where I went to school, music was everything.

Mellon Collie was a double album that followed 1993’s massive Siamese Dream. It shows a softer side of the Pumpkins, as well as their heavy rock sound. At barely 3 minutes, “Zero” was one of the many incredible tracks that came from this album; the type of song that brings out our insecurities, and makes us feel like we never lived up to anything.

The grungy and grimy sounds evoke that feeling of disgust and self-loathing; at the same time, the repetition of that guitar riff throughout nearly the entire track, is both melodic and comforting in a way. But then you get to James Iha’s bananas chaotic guitar solo which brings your mind back into a state of disarray.

Bonus points for lead singer Billy Corgan’s long-sleeved tee (I still want one.)

“Zero” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz!, 2009

Just to get this out of the way: Karen O’s voice is peculiar, versatile and overall exceptional. Now to this track: the lead single off 2009’s It’s Blitz! – one fantastic album (the acoustic version of “Skeleton” is to die for.)

Contrary to the Pumpkins’ iteration, this one is much more upbeat. The music is fun and loud; just makes you feel like running and dancing and jumping in the air and spinning around (or something like that.) It’s energetic, vibrant and full of life.

It seems to be about someone encouraging a friend or loved one to get out of their shell, to go from a zero to the top; to climb that ladder (of life? of stardom? of….?) and make an impact. Be heard, be seen, be free. It’s motivating and empowering, and sure to get you out of whatever funk in which you’ve found yourself.

The Verdict

Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Mostly because it just makes you feel good.

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Different band. Different song. Same song title.

“Creep” by Radiohead, 1993

Emos, this track is for you. Here’s the story: you’re completely in awe of another person, so much so, you want to be around them all the time, you want them to see you as you see them. Except you know you have zero chance, because you know you’re not good enough. You’re obviously flawed, so why would they even know you exist?

It’s angering, frustrating, and hurts like hell. So you retreat to your imperfect self, and try and figure out what to do. You’re confused, and sad, then apathetic and disdainful; you can’t stop questioning your self worth. What’s the point anyway? Except, they’re the point; they’re perfect to you, and you can’t help yourself, so the cycle starts all over again.

The lyrics, Yorke’s vocals, and the music, all together take the listener on a journey through all the conflicting emotions; the overthinking, the back and forth, the pain, the admiration. Radiohead does it all effortlessly, even listlessly almost; like they too have given up and resigned to the fact that they’re a lost cause. It’s a timeless track.

“Creep” by Stone Temple Pilots, 1992

I’ll confess right off the bat that I have a soft spot for this track: it’s one of the first I learned on guitar, so I know and understand it in a much more intimate way. As a result, I’m much more drawn to this song musically.

It’s definitely heavier, darker and more somber than the Radiohead version. Here’s the story: someone trying to be better, do better. Someone who’s trying to put their life back together and make it normal again, but doesn’t know how. It’s filled with that all-too-familiar tortured soul vibe (my fave!), a highlight of the grunge scene, and whenever I hear it, I’m brought back to that time.

Lead singer Scott Weiland’s (RIP) raw vocals were – and still are – some of the best to have come out of the early 90s. You can hear the desperation and strain in his voice, like a guy with nothing left to lose. It’s a solid, honest track, capable of making us all look at our own demons.

Verdict

A tight race, but Radiohead wins mostly because of lyrics like these:

“I want you to notice,
When I’m not around,
You’re so fuckin’ special,
I wish I was special”

Sigh.

 

Chris Cornell first invaded my ears back in the early 90s as frontman of Soundgarden – a Seattle band front and centre in the grunge music scene. Those formative years wouldn’t have been the same without that distinctive voice, his voice. Cornell’s vocals were what set them apart from the plethora of grunge bands trying to make it big at the time. His ability to hit such high octaves with perfect control, but also be raw and loud, gave him such versatility, and a sound that will always truly be his own (start video at 0:19) 

In Soundgarden’s early days, even before they “made it big” with 1994’s Superunknown, Cornell lived with musician Andrew Wood, of the band Mother Love Bone. After Wood died of a heroin overdose in 1990, Cornell got together with Wood’s bandmates, and wrote and produced a tribute album, under the name Temple of the Dog. It also featured backing vocals of newcomer Eddie (of yet-to-be-formed Pearl Jam.) The whole idea behind this entire project was friendship, so it’s no surprise I’ve made long-lasting friendships based on a mutual love for this powerful, anthemic track.

Soundgarden inevitably broke up in 1997, like the rest of the grunge bands. Cornell decided to kick off a solo career with 1999’s Euphoria Morning, which fared pretty well. As a solo artist, he also performed covers, appeared on soundtracks, and even had one of his albums produced by Timbaland (which did not fare well with his fans.) Point is, he was always experimenting, always making music, always in our ears. This track appeared in the movie Great Expectations – the one with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. It was the best part of the movie, and revealed a much softer Cornell, reaffirming that he really was capable of anything.

If Cornell didn’t have enough going on already, in 2001 he joined ex-members of rock-metal band Rage Against the Machine, to form Audioslave. A hard rock band, similar in many ways to Soundgarden, just less grunge and more aggression. They were loud, but also musical. By this time, I was in University, a completely different phase in my life. But there he was – still ringing in my ears. This track is so incredibly haunting and proof that no matter how much noise was going on, Cornell’s voice could always rise above, and take the whole thing to another level.

I had the privilege of seeing Cornell play live 3 three times. Once as a solo act at a small venue in Hamilton. I drove through a snowstorm, in pitch black just to get there, and it was worth every second. The 2nd time was with Soundgarden on their reunion tour at an outdoor venue; when the sky turned gray, and they went into “Fell on Black Days,” the rain didn’t even matter. Lastly, a solo acoustic show at Massey Hall: just him, his guitar and a lot of incredible music. I went to this show all by myself, because I couldn’t miss this opportunity. I had goosebumps the entire time, and never felt I was there alone – Cornell, as usual, was right there.

There was never a time in my musical life that Cornell wasn’t doing something, or part of something. Everything he got involved with, somehow became a part of my life. A memory, a mood, a phase. It was comforting to know, no matter what he was doing, it would always resonate with me. When he performed live as a solo artist, the most remarkable thing was not only did fans get to see Cornell, but also Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave. So when Chris Cornell passed away on May 17th, not only was he gone, but he also took Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave with him. As a music fan, that’s a whole lot of music to mourn.