I’m a fan of Icona Pop‘s “We Love It,” which is a deft melding of Jesus and Mary Chain guitars with cheesy Europop rhythms and bleats and other goofy sounds, topped with a cheerleaderish infectious chorus. To their credit, too, the current single, “All Night,” is plenty catchy if not nearly so fresh. But listening to the album is a little like eating pop rocks while hopping on a pogo stick. The thing that makes the mostly-twinned vocals on “We Love It” sound so happy, enthusiastic, and attractive, in a small measure, quickly causes overdose as the same vocal timbre reappears, hardly wavering, on song after song after song. Recommended in small doses at lunchtime or afterschool discos.
I’ve never been a fan of Kings of Leon, who always seemed to have way too much reputation for the unrelenting dullness of their sound. I would read about their southern-rock style, I’d think of Skynrd or Tucker and give them another listen, only to be bewildered by why anyone would play this boring stuff a second time. I mean, if you’re going to make dull rock you better have killer lyrics, and they didn’t. They didn’t come close. Yet, spurred by a growing audience (and no doubt ambitious management weasels), they puffed up and went kind of U2 or Coldplay, full of arena grandeur—without a thought in their atmospheric heads, and that didn’t go so well. Now, after a couple years off they’re back, supposedly leaner and meaner. Nah, and not smarter either.
I remember the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” while driving through Rhode Island one sunny day, which was the first time I became aware of Nirvana. I remember the second time, too, at the Palladium with a bunch of friends, waiting for Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Mekons to play. We commented then that it was a helluva song. A really good video came out and lots of other people thought so, too, and one of the music’s historic bands was created out of sudden pop flames. In Utero, which has been rereleased in a 20th Anniversary deluxe set, was the followup to Nevermind, the album that couldn’t contain “Smells,” if you know what I mean. It was, it turned out, the last collection of Kurt Cobain songs released while he was alive. It has been remixed by Steve Albini, who says he really just added back in some tracks that were left off by accident originally. It also contains the 1993 original Albini mixes of Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies, which had been cleaned up by the record company because they were to be the elpee’s singles. That and lots of other extra stuff is of interest, of course, but hardly essential or revelatory. To my taste, each Nirvana record got more self conscious, and I prefer my heavy navel-gazing hard rock less self conscious than more, but all three albums (and Incesticide, too) are brilliant, essential rock albums by a band that somehow managed to make hard challenging sometimes radical sounds embraceable.