Many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock. To help figure out which is which, here’s “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al “GovernmentNames” Shipley examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of rock and roll. This time around, he observes a few shake-ups on the normally staid Modern Rock and Active Rock charts.
Since I began writing this column late last year, there’s been a relative dearth of big-event releases on the rock radio landscape. Early-’07 albums released by Linkin Park and the Foo Fighters have continually dominated the airwaves, and even now the Modern Rock chart is, as Idolator’s Chris Molanphy memorably termed it, “Fooless, but not Linkinless.” Meanwhile, decidedly second-tier bands like Seether and Finger Eleven have been topping the chart whenever Dave Grohl and Chester Bennington weren’t playing musical chairs with the No. 1 spot. So the last month, which has featured an onslaught of chart debuts by some of alt-rock’s biggest names, has been exciting to watch, even if I dislike most of the songs. Those debuts, and the significance thereof, as detailed by Billboard last week:
The Offspring earns a career-best debut on the Modern Rock chart as “Hammerhead” opens at No. 5, logging the highest entry point for any title since Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done” debuted at No. 1 on the April 21, 2007, chart. This marks the fourth consecutive week that the Modern Rock chart has hosted a top 25 debut, following Coldplay’s “Violet Hill,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Discipline” and Weezer’s “Pork and Beans.” It is the longest streak of top 25 debuts since a five-week stretch of lofty debuts in late summer 1999.
Not only are these all significant debuts from big artists, they’re all lead singles from new albums dropping this summer–or in the case of Nine Inch Nails, an album already out online but due in stores soon. And, more significantly, each of the songs was given a big, official online unveiling, the immediacy of which no doubt contributed to the tracks being added to playlists even more quickly than what the artists’ name recognition would’ve otherwise guaranteed. Weezer streamed “Pork & Beans” on the band’s official Web site, and more than half a million people downloaded “Violet Hill” the first day Coldplay made the song available for free on their site (at least 44,000 iTunes customers bought it for 99 cents anyway). “Discipline” was, of course, just one of several online insta-releases that Trent Reznor has orchestrated in the past few months, including the song’s aforementioned parent album The Slip. And Sony trumpeted the online release of “Hammerhead” with such fanfare that, for a confused moment, I thought that it was a major label-sanctioned free download of an entire album, which surely would’ve made Reznor grind his teeth a bit.
Rock radio playlists are infamously some of the most sluggish in the biz, and sometimes it can take even the biggest hits time to crawl to the top with a new single. So this crush of big debuts, along with the Raconteurs’ “Salute Your Salution,” which debuted just outside the top 25 a few weeks earlier, may be ushering in a new era of quicker Modern Rock chart impact, aided in no small part by this here Internet. Established bands are not only getting new singles to their hardcore fans faster, radio stations are picking up on the songs as soon as they hit the blogosphere; in the past potential hits have often wafted around online for weeks before the label pushes programmers for an “add” when the song is officially serviced to radio. Songs becoming inescapable on the radio within hours of an online leak are old news on urban radio, while hip-hop DJs have long since adapted to getting new hits via e-mail.
The only one of these songs that I really enjoy is also the one with the most personally interesting chart progress. “Discipline” is a little more groove-oriented and vocally restrained than the average NIN hit, and it’s also pretty easily my favorite single the band’s released since the ’90s. But it’s also the first song the band has pushed to radio after parting ways with Interscope, so we’ll soon see if Trent Reznor’s lack of major-label support will affect radio’s embrace his work; over his last two albums, he’s racked up four Modern Rock No. 1s. The last single NIN released on Interscope, “Capital G,” was not obviously radio-friendly and didn’t seem to get much support from the label–but it still became one of the most-played Modern Rock hits of 2007. So it won’t shock me if “Discipline,” which ascended into the top 10 in its third week of release, continues to rise.
I’m not ready to talk shit about “Violet Hill” yet, if for no other reason than that I simply haven’t gotten over the shock that Coldplay has released a song that doesn’t sound like “Clocks” and “Speed of Sound.” And Weezer, a band whose fanatical following has been completely mystifying me for 14 years now, is generally good for at least one single I can stand per album, but “Pork & Beans” ain’t it. I haven’t bothered to listen to the other leaked songs from the band’s new album not so much because of the negative buzz as the fact that they haven’t charted yet, and you pretty much literally have to pay me to listen to Weezer voluntarily.
But by far the worst of these new debuts is the one that’s the biggest–and the most surprising. Like the other debutantes (save Coldplay), the Offspring rose to prominence, and peaked in popularity, way back in the mid-’90s. They started off annoying and just got worse from there, alternating hilariously blatant crossover attempts with monotonous punk-pop dirges. Their latest isn’t a debacle on the scale of “Original Prankster,” but their most ridiculously goofy hits arguably promise more entertainment value than the band’s blander, more somber track. And “Hammerhead” falls decidedly into the latter category.
It’s gonna be a long summer if this lot is rock radio’s Big Four for the next few months.