Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering on this challenge, head over here.
In my previous post for Rockin’ Thru the Aughts, I focused on music from the more soft rock side of things. Here, I’ll pump things up a few more notches once again. Specifically, we’ll be uncovering the embarrassing time in my life when I unironically dug post-grunge, nu-metal, and industrial rock. These genres aren’t exactly the hotbeds of ripe, breath-taking talent – and the following albums demonstrate this.
Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy – Mindless Self Indulgence
I have been looking forward to reviewing this album ever since I embarked upon this very first year of this challenge. I first heard of Mindless Self Indulgence around the time I started downloading music. I was about twelve and a girl I was befriending gave me a list of songs asking me to make a mix CD for her (in exchange for $5). I also discovered Bad Religion and Black Flag through this list, but one of the songs I distinctly remember being placed somewhere in the middle was a song from Frankenstein Girls called “F*ggot”. Right away, I was intrigued by just how different this song sounded from anything else I’ve ever heard – the music seemed to have no proper sense of rhythm, the lyrics were wildly crass, and lead vocalist James Euringer (stage name Jimmy Urine) was the energetic force of screams and explosive falsetto, the likes of which had never before entered my eardrums.
Of course, I sought out more of their stuff immediately. It was super fitting that I had also just discovered Nirvana around this time and was swiftly entering the rebellious part of my adolescence. This was the kind of stuff I dared to play either really loud with headphones or really loud in my room when no one else was home. In either case, it must be played loud. I continued to listen to Mindless Self Indulgence pretty far into high school, but then their sound started to change and I just… grew up. Thus, I left them behind, and behind they stayed for the past near-decade. Still, just peering at the famous Jamie Hewlett-illustrated cover takes me back to a simpler time, when such things were still fresh and shocking. I even repurchased the physical copy of the CD in an attempt to somehow recapture that energy… even though I’m pretty sure
And, well… at least I wasn’t surprised. You know that you’re in for a bad time when the only song that comes close to being any good is the first track of the album. Unlike the vast majority of the album’s remaining tracks, at least “Backmask” has something to say: “Remember those people who claimed that old Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd records contained hidden Satanic messages when played backward? Pretty silly, right? Let’s make fun of them!”. Indeed, the “hidden messages” portion of this song lampoons this by stating innocuous messages like, “Clean your room” and, “Get dressed for church” – it’s not top-tier humor, of course, but at least it’s something.
The back of the CD case cover, below the track titles, is labeled with a quote from Lenny Bruce: “It’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness”. I’m not sure how the general culture of the year 2000 would have responded to the statement – while I fully acknowledge the significance of freedom of speech, nowadays such vehement upholding of its importance just comes off as a huge red flag. Indeed, Euringer and folks fully embrace their right for creative freedom in an “equal opportunity offender” kind of way.
Every song is incredibly vulgar, which isn’t a crime in itself. The problem is that MSI manages to trash any potential for poetry or craftiness in place of loudness and unfettered tastelessness, both in sound and in content. “Clarissa” is a needless diss track revolving around the 90s teen show Clarissa Explains It All. “I’m Your Problem Now” revolves almost entirely around the line, “I love my mommy ’cause she fucked the shit out of my dad”. There are many others along this line, but it’s frankly really exhausting trying to digest it all, especially when Euringer so generously peppers his lyrics with the aforementioned homophobic slur (which, as a queer woman, I will operate my choice to censor).
And it’s not even just about the lyrics. From one track to the next, the production is bombarded with a healthy dose of hip-hop effects, synth keyboards, distorted guitars, and irregular time signatures. It’s pretty cool at first – I didn’t really mind the prominent sample of Siouxsie Sioux’s “Happy House” in “Bitches”, and “Holy Shit” comes off as a relatively tasteful lampoon of the nu-metal genre as a whole. Of course, though, the band finds a way to make this style very tiresome very quickly. Of course, much of this is due to Euringer’s incessant personality, which make songs like the falsetto-sung “Masturbates”, the thankfully short “Futures”, and the mock-reggae “Played” just insufferable.
Thankfully, in true punk rock fashion, none of these songs are long enough to generate annoyance past a small pocket of time, with “I Hate Jimmy Page” as the only song that reaches and extends beyond the three-minute mark. Still, there are thirty tracks here (all arranged alphabetically by title, for some reason I’m not yet aware), which extends this album to nearly an hour. That’s an hour of jittery, jumping, scream-singing about such enlightening topics as masturbation and Cantinflas (an especially huge “fuck you” for that one). This one is best being left in the past.
Best track: “Backmask”
Infest– Papa Roach
Alright, I got a little out of control with that long review up there. Unfortunately (Fortunately? Thankfully??), I want to keep most of my reviews on this challenge relatively short. So, I’ll continue. I can’t say that Papa Roach ever had as much of an impact on me growing up as, say, Linkin Park or No Doubt; however they have always just been around. I remember classmates and family members mentioning them in passing when I was still listening exclusively to Top 40 radio, and then I finally added their songs to my library sometime during middle school. Later, I missed a chance to go see the band live at my local county fair.
These aren’t exactly the most riveting experiences to connect to the band – though I guess it’s fitting, considering that this record isn’t very impactful either. The title track opens up the album, and like most of these opening tracks, you get a good idea of what the rest will entail. Leading vocalist Jacoby Shaddix introduces the track with, “My name is Coby Dick; Mr. Dick if you’re nasty”, and the remainder of the verses are rapped with a flow that actually isn’t too bad, if a bit stiff. The album as a whole relishes in this juxtaposition between angry, bitter rap lyrics about problems with polished-but-still-angry choruses, although some tracks, like “Broken Home”, are decidedly more melodic throughout. These problems range between depression, alienation, angst, addiction, betrayal… basic early 2000s rap-rock stuff.
Of course, “Last Resort” is the big track on this one. The fact that this song has become a meme of sorts demonstrates how poorly this style has aged. The sound is big, aggressive, and heavy, but the lyrics, no matter how forcefully posited, are just pedestrian. “Broken Home”, additionally, leaves no room for subtlety: “I know my mother loves me, but does my father even care? / If I’m sad or angry, you were never ever there”. And it gets more embarrassing from there. “Revenge” attempts to paint a domestic abuse situation with cartoonish violence and guitars that are awkwardly mixed at the foreground. “Binge” could have been a truly resonating track about alcoholism, but it never hits deep enough to really make an impact. “Between Angels and Insects” is an impassioned rant against money, materialism, and… employment? Yeah, these lyrics somehow try too hard without trying at all, and maybe not the best coming from a band with a record deal from DreamWorks.
Not gonna lie, though – I did like “Dead Cell”, as it feels like one of the only tracks with a real pulse. Granted, it’s not enough for me to listen to it on my own free time – it’s just the best in relative terms. I guess this is a good album if you’re fourteen and hate your parents, but otherwise I’m not sure what anyone could get out of it.
Best track: “Dead Cell”
Broke – Hed PE
I should admit now that nu-metal has never really been my thing. Even though I was pretty young in its hey-day and didn’t exactly make the best decisions in terms of music, I still understood that most of the genre was pretty try-hard and silly. Of course, I still had my own guilty pleasures of the genre, like Slipknot, Static-X, and others. As for this band, I never heard too much from them – they only made a minor splash at the turn of the decade, and are now mostly known for being 9/11 Truthers. Oh, fun!
Thankfully, Hed PE mostly choose to keep their seedy political views out of their music (and the fact that this was pre-9/11 helps). For the most part, Broke just combines a whole slew of gangsta rap clichés with loud and aggressive alternative metal vocals. The vocals come from leading man Jared Gomes (aka M.C.O.D.), and while you can’t say that he has no personality, his style is… aesthetically unpleasing. His rap flow is on point, sure, but it also features that insufferable whine that Fred Durst has perfected to an art. Just taking a listen to the first two tracks “Killing Time” and “Waiting to Die”, which also both feature some pretty annoying guttural vocal inflections that are just… painful.
As I mentioned before, the gangsta rap elements of this are pretty palpable. The main theme of this record is hedonism – specifically through alcohol, drugs, and sex – while also touching upon the darker sides of this. Their single “Bartender” is the only track of theirs I knew before this record, and it’s actually a succinct demonstration of their style when it isn’t overly saturated with ego and empty flexing. Unfortunately, the next track “Crazy Legs” does exactly this, with aggressively uncreative rapping about getting loaded and getting laid, with generic distorted backing and an awful chorus that interpolates The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” of all things.
And then there’s the misogyny. Women in these lyrics serve little purpose besides acting as sex objects (in the tradition of gangsta rap, I guess), and there’s an uncomfortable infatuation with Gomes fucking other people’s daughters. Rock bottom comes with “Stevie”, a violently disgruntled song aimed toward a woman who does this guy wrong, with a breakdown that strongly suggests physical abuse to keep her in her place (not to mention that the title comes from the line, “I’m no deaf or dumb, I’m not Little Stevie Wonder”).
The two final tracks “Jesus (Of Nazareth)” and “The Meadow (Special Like You)” offer a bit of emotional depth to the record – but it’s too little too late, not to mention that Gomes’s impassioned singing on the latter is atrocious. Yeah, this record sucks – it’s easy to see how this band just faded into utter obscurity after the nu-metal trend died out.
Best track: “Bartender”
Something Like Human – Fuel
So, everyone who knows of Fuel was probably introduced to them through their rock radio hit “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)”, which comes from this record and remains possibly their most well-known single. Not me – I was introduced to them through their lesser single “Bad Day”, which was featured along the tail end of Now That’s What I Call Music! 8 (which I gave more than a few spins in my day). Later on I would definitely come to know
Maybe I’ve just had a bad run this week (I mean, take a look at the three albums I’ve reviewed so far), but I was actually surprised going into this album how not awful it was! Sure, “Last Time” is a bit too repetitive for my liking, but it’s got a decent guitar groove by Carl Bell – who is also the primary songwriter – and is generally… well, okay. This leads into the aforementioned “Hemorrhage”, which continues to ride this wave, even adding in a blissful little melody line at the pre-chorus (“Don’t fall away… and leave me to myself”). Bret Scallions’s nasally vocals take a bit of getting used to, but it honestly works so well for the grueling, anguished style of this record overall. These lyrics never cut too deep and offer the same brand of angsty melancholy from one track to the next… but there’s nothing inherently wrong with being consistent!
Nonetheless, the problems become clear the further the record digs in. Bell’s guitar work is solid through and through, which helps to elevate lesser tracks like “Empty Spaces” and “Scar”. But after a while, one can’t help but to desire a little something different, which is something that is introduced briefly with “Bad Day”. It switches gears by introducing an lone guitar that builds upon itself, a strong melody-driven hook, and an unconventional lyrical structure. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia talking, but by the time Scallions sings, “And she swears there’s nothing wrong…”, I find myself unconsciously singing along. But then “Prove” comes around, and we’re back on the same ol’ post-grunge angst schtick that now seems dull by comparison.
I’ve somehow just come to realize that what all four of these records (Frankenstein Girls, Infest, Broke, Something Like Human) have in common is that they’re all second-album efforts from their respective bands. Although the Fuel record is easily the best of these bunch, it’s now clear as to why they call it the “sophomore slump”.
Best tracks: “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)”, “Bad Day”
Vapor Transmission – Orgy
Oh cool, another sophomore album… okay, I’ll stop whining about that. So, this one goes back to high school for me, during the couple of years when I was really into EBM, darkwave, and industrial rock. Even before this, though, I was familiar in passing with Orgy’s cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, which was their biggest hit and came from their debut Candyass. This album spawned their two other hits (much smaller than “Blue Monday”) before they fell off the map altogether. I never listened to this album as a whole, but I did gladly bump “Opticon” from time to time.
Even without having listened to their debut album, I can already get the hunch that this album was their steering into more pop elements than with which they had started. A quick listen to the opening tracks demonstrate this, with the relatively by-the-numbers “Suckerface” and the plainly melodic “The Odyssey”. Of course this is all backed by the buzzing synths and the ultra-distorted guitars that characterize industrial rock, and it’s clear that vocalist Jay Gordon is putting up a front of toughness in order to get this mood across. Yet once it reaches “Opticon”, this tone loosens up a bit – the song is in 4/4 and has a chorus you can sing along to. Okay, so the lyrics are a tad too sci-fi to be straight pop, but you can’t deny it’s catchy.
“Fiction – Dreams in Digital” may be the furthest this record strays from its industrial sound (with a few small changes in lyrics and sound, it might as well be a HIM song!), but it could very well be the strongest track. It’s such a nice modern take on a Blade Runner-like dystopian scenario where technology controls everything, even our dreams! A similar idea carries on with “Eva”, which is basic mourn-rock, but suggests that the computer age offers an alternative life after death. Most of the rest of the album is pretty basic filler material, but some of these lines are pretty remarkable considering how early in the decade they came along. “Eyes-Radio-Lies” especially tripped me out with the lines, “All alone now, I can see you a way to the drone / Radio waves hitting your brain from the phone I can see”. Just another reason to be paranoid about social media…
(“Dramatica” begins with the line, “Such a fool for the Amazon”, which isn’t all that mind-blowing, but I find it funny because I’m a child…)
I don’t want to overhype this album – ultimately, it’s just pretty decent, and it’s really not as ambitious as I think it needed to be in order to stretch its sci-fi concept to the highest potential. But given that I really wasn’t expecting very much from listening to this whole album, I’m pretty pleased!
Best tracks: “Opticon”, “Fiction – Dreams in Digital”
Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water – Limp Bizkit
Yeah, I knew I saved this one for last for a reason. I’ll let it be known that I never quite had a Limp Bizkit phase – as I mentioned elsewhere above, I always found nu-metal to be pretty lame, even while at the age where it would appeal to me most. Nonetheless, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have “Rollin'” and “My Way” floating around somewhere in my library at some point. It might have been for novelty value, but it fits within the rules of the challenge… and thus, I must listen to and review this album.
Going into this, I expected this to be the worst thing ever… but really, this album just fascinates me. Upon release, this record debuted at number-one on the Billboard 200 with the largest first-week sales of any rock album ever. And by the way, it still holds this record! Unlike me, though, I doubt that very many of these one million plus purchasers snagged this album just to laugh at how bad it is. This genuinely was The Rock Album of the New Millennium – it was the coolest shit ever to enough people to make it the fastest-selling rock album of all-time.
All of this is just so funny to me, considering how much of a punching bag lead vocalist Fred Durst is these days. Durst’s performance throughout this album ranges between two modes: hard, flexing rap flows with the same consistent crackly whine, and off-key singing that seems to follow the same melody from song to song. He is also responsible for most of the album’s lyrics, which tend to fit his voice like icing on cake. There are a wide assortment of lines that I could cherry-pick from this album, but it’s really just worth listening to in order to get a vivid idea of the sheer rap-rock inanity of it all.
But let’s look at a few specific examples. The first official song of the album is “Hot Dog”, which is limply repetitive with an almost non-existent rhyme scheme – besides the internal rhyme of “fucked up” in almost every line in the verses. Durst makes light of this later on with the meta-observation of, “If I say ‘fuck’ two more times / that’s forty-six ‘fuck’s in this fucked-up rhyme”. “My Way” begins on a softer, more melody-driven side of things, before slamming into the absolutely try-hard chorus: “This time I’ma stand up and shout / I’ma do things my way, it’s my way, my way or the highway”. The gem of this whole record, though, might be “Rollin'”, which is the sonic equivalent of a white teen boy with a backwards baseball cap playing music way too loud for the sheer purpose of making his parents angry.
And I really wish that there was something worth praising in terms of the production – but there really isn’t. Wes Borland’s guitars are competent, but offer no variance outside of the same basic riff from song to song. DJ Lethal’s programming was probably cool back in the day, but now sounds atrociously dated. All in all, it’s so easy to hate this album – after all, haters are what Durst craves and helped give him material for this album in the first place. But I find it a bit more fascinating than that. It clearly tries so hard to be so hard yet juvenile (the title of this record and its repugnant album art prove this), yet the mere fact that this is what millions of people wants at some point and as soon as possible… well, that’s just oddly compelling. I guess I’ll mark it up to the sheer naivety of the post-9/11 pop scene – it was a simpler time, indeed.
But for real, though, there’s no redeeming qualities to this album when taken at face value. Its party tracks are corny and embarrassing, its more downtempo melodic stuff is all boring filler, and it all goes on for way, way too long. All the negative reviews are correct, and this is garbage.
Best tracks: Well… let’s call this “tracks worth giving a listen to for historical and/or novelty value”. In that case, listen to “Hot Dog”, “My Way”, and “Rollin'”… although I could make a proper case for basically every track here. I’m so confused.
This week was one hell of a wild ride. I’ve been slacking off on reviewing albums credited toward female musicians, so I’ll make up for that next week. Anyway, thanks again for joining me on this crazy-ass journey. Keep on rollin’.