As you might have noticed, this is a bittersweet week around here; because of budget cuts, we’ve had to say goodbye to pretty much all the Idolator contributing writers, from columnists to daily bloggers. The site is going to go on as a solo project of sorts, although the news cycle might run at a slightly slower pace. I just wanted to take a moment on this crappy day to thank everyone who’s contributed to the site during my tenure, from the people who helped me sift through the news cycle every day to the columnists, each of whom expanded the focus of the site.
So, to Mike Barthel, Dan Gibson, Lucas Jensen, and Christopher R. Weingarten; and to Andy Beta, Chuck Eddy, Tim Finney, Alex Goldberg, Matt Goldenberg, Rob Kemp, Anthony Miccio, Molly McAleer, Chris Molanphy, Kate Richardson, and Al Shipley–not to mention all the other writers and friends who pitched in with a guest-blogging day or two–thanks. Each one of you brought something to the site that I never could, and it was a pleasure working with you and learning from you.
Special thanks to Jess Harvell, who was a fine foil and remains an even finer friend, and Michaelangelo Matos, whose organizational skills on our year-end wrapups were only matched by his enormous reservoir of patience. Finally, thanks to Brian Raftery, without whom I wouldn’t be sitting on my couch typing this right now.
As you may have gathered, I’m raring to close the book on 2008, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t run down some of the site’s highlights during what was a pretty dreary year overall. After the jump, behold a pretty subjective top 12 of the year (thanks to our technological limbo I can’t run any sort of numbers, but I think this list accurately captures the best moments we’ve had during a long slog of a year). And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank all of you for coming back, reading, commenting, and pointing out when I get shit wrong (which is too often). If you think I got this list wrong, feel free to abuse me with compliments in the comments section!
9. Kate gets horrified by the Clique Girlz, June 5. On the bright side, their abject awfulness will sound even worse during the global economic collapse, so we’ll never have to hear of them again maybe.
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 Shipley examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of rock and roll. This time around, he gives Billboard‘s newest radio-airplay chart, which focuses on the lighter rock offerings served up by Adult Album Alternative (or “Triple-A”) stations, a once-over:
One of the biggest rhetorical divides that distinguishes music broadcasting from visual media is the difference in accepted connotations of the word “adult.” In film and television, using that word to describe content means that something sexy and/or exciting is on the horizon, but in radio, “adult” formats are the dullest, slowest stations, programmed for the broadest, most boring possible audience. Adult Contemporary and Adult Top 40 are looked at as background music for waiting rooms, the stations where the lamest pop hits go to die. Those formats have a younger, hipper sibling–Adult Album Alternative–that splits the difference between adult contempo and modern rock stations, but it didn’t have its own Billboard chart until this summer, when the mag added Triple-A to its stable of rock airplay charts alongside the long-running Hot Modern Rock Tracks and Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. Chris Molanphy touched on the new chart last month, but I thought I’d take a closer look since I’ll be discussing it a bit more often in the future.
One of Billboard’s sister publications, Radio & Records, has been publishing a Triple-A chart for years; Billboard simply appropriated the same data for its own chart, which first appeared in the July 10 issue. So while the Triple-A chart is technically only 14 weeks old, but several of its songs have been on it longer than it’s ostensibly existed, including Matt Nathanson’s 29-weeks-charting “Come On Get Higher.” The most recent available Arbitron data shows that while AAA hasn’t experienced substantial market share growth in the past decade, it’s held remarkably steady while Alternative stations have declined in listenership.
One of the things that immediately struck me about the Triple-A chart is its resemblance to the Modern Rock chart of the pre-Nirvana years: tons of singer-songwriters, bands that are a little too hip for the mainstream, and bands that are so far behind the curve that most young rock fans are so over them. In an era where the Modern Rock chart is marked by AC/DC’s first appearance and Metallica reaching unprecedented new peaks, it’s refreshing to have an alt-rock chart that filters out all the insurgent hard rock and metal elements. For the first time in almost a decade, we now have both Counting Crows and Sheryl Crow on a rock singles chart. Classic rockers with declining commercial fortunes like John Mellencamp and the Pretenders are sharing space with young bands from the MOR end of the indie rock spectrum like My Morning Jacket and The Hold Steady.
Since Modern and Mainstream are both top 40 charts, it’s always been easy to measure how many songs they have in common (the average is around 50%). Triple-A will be a little harder to triangulate, since it’s only top 30, but the crossover is pretty minimal. It currently shares no songs with Mainstream Rock, and only “Cath…” by Death Cab For Cutie, “Take Back The City” by Snow Patrol, and two Coldplay hits with Modern. But that’s not taking into account the fact that several songs have been hitting both charts at different times. Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale’s “Love Remains The Same” was a blip on Modern Rock months ago, but it’s been a solid performer on Triple-A.
And then there are the getting airplay on both Modern Rock and Triple-A with completely different songs. R.E.M.’s up-tempo “Supernatural Superserious” was a moderate Modern hit, but the lighter, piano-driven “Hollow Man” is all over Triple-A; Beck has “Gamma Ray” on the former and “Orphans” on the latter. And while the Raconteurs charted with two singles from their latest album on Modern Rock, it’s a non-single, the rootsy “Old Enough,” that’s getting all the Triple-A love. Just for the novelty of it, I’ll be very curious to see what song, if any, will be the first to appear on all three rock charts; my best guess is that it’ll depend on whether U2 or the White Stripes releases a new album sooner. But then, if one of those bands releases a single hard enough for Mainstream Rock, I would be surprised if Triple-A stations skip straight to playing a mellower deep cut instead.
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.
Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he discovers a trio of modern rock heroes releasing a hit single under everyone’s noses, finally hears a certain blog-buzz band thanks to their rock radio crossover, and tries to figure out what makes one brand of strident political mersh-punk different from another.
Over the last few weeks, Billboard‘s Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart has seen a new entry by one of modern rock’s biggest mainstays, but it took me a while to figure that out, since said superstars are operating incognito.
“Mother Mary,” which dips to No. 29 this week after peaking at No. 16, is the first radio hit credited to the Foxboro Hot Tubs. But the trio behind the song is better known as Green Day, who quietly debuted several tracks online under the alias in December, and have since racked up some impressive radio spins without the benefit of name recognition.
This isn’t the first time Green Day has pulled such a stunt; in 2003, the group self-released an album as the Network, and for a few months kept up an elaborate ruse about having nothing to do with the mysterious new wave band whose singer sounded so much like Billie Joe Armstrong. But it’s interesting that after reinventing themselves rather dramatically, and successfully, with 2004′s guyliner-streaked rock opera American Idiot, Green Day still feel the need to moonlight under a different name to try out something a little different. And this time, they’re a little less shy about capitalizing
on that side project; unlike the Network, who never charted, the Foxboro Hot Tubs will release their album on Warner Bros. and the band is putting up less of a front about who they may or may not really be. Based on the peppy retro-jangle of “Mother Mary,” I’m guessing that full-length, due out in April, will be more enjoyable than whatever ambitious slog the next “real” Green Day album turns out to
One of the reasons I take an active interest in what’s going in the commercial rock market is that while I often don’t approve of the trends and biases it’s governed by, I can pretty easily identify and analyze them. And though I still listen to plenty of new underground rock, I pretty much gave up on trying to understand the machinations of the indie zeitgeist a long time ago; I’m generally pretty happy to remain blissfully unaware of whatever “blog band” is currently making the rounds. That is, unless they actually make enough of an impact to chart with a radio single, which is currently the case with both Vampire Weekend and MGMT.
The latter’s “Time To Pretend” is pleasant and expensive-sounding enough that I can understand why it’s crossing over. But it’s kind of amazing to hear the former’s “A-Punk” with the knowledge that this is the band that’s inspired the most fevered rock-crit debates of 2008 thus far. On a blind taste test, I wouldn’t give these guys two minutes, but at least that’s all that “A-Punk” asks for; at 17 seconds longer than Blur’s “Song 2″ and four seconds longer than the Presidents of the United States of America’s “Lump,” it’s one of the shorter songs to have made an impact on alt-rock radio. Unlike those songs, it doesn’t use that brief window to drill its hook into your head; I can’t remember how it goes a day after listening to it, nor do I have any desire to remind myself. If these guys have a shelf life on radio beyond their hipster buzz, I assume it won’t be with this song.
For most of the past few months, the Modern Rock chart has featured two political punk bands with the word “Against” in their name that I’ve never brought up in this space, partly because I have trouble remembering which is which. But I recently decided on this handy mnemonic: Against Me!’s frontman is the one with the really annoying voice and Rise Against’s frontman is the one with the really annoying hair. Currently, the former is at No. 27 and rising with “Stop,” while the latter’s “The Good Left Undone” has just now finally slid out of the Top 10 in its 38th week on the chart. I may not like them, but I can appreciate that these bands are keeping a more strident and aggressive strain of punk on the radio in the era of MySpace emo. And they’re getting a little backup from veterans Pennywise, whose “The Western World,” down at No. 28, is already the highest charting Modern Rock hit of the band’s two-decade career. Green Day may be taking a break from both political comment and straight-up punk rock, but the airwaves are not currently lacking for either.
Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he experiences some emo-related schadenfreude, ponders the question of crossover ballads, and takes a look at a band you probably know nothing about but that’s topped the mainstream rock chart as many times as some Napster-hating metal heroes.
Perhaps no band epitomizes the dearth of household names in mainstream rock quite like Puddle of Mudd. Sure, you can call Nickelback faceless and bland, but you still probably know what the singer looks like–you might even know that his name is Chad Kroeger. But Puddle of Mudd, whose extra “D” was mandated by law during their Limp Bizkit-assisted rise to fame, back when knowing Fred Durst meant something, have quietly become the most anonymous sure thing on the airwaves.
When Puddle’s current single “Psycho” began its residency at the top of the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart a few weeks ago, I foolishly assumed it was their first time at No. 1 since “Blurry,” their massive 2002 crossover hit, held the spot for ten weeks. But in fact, “Psycho” is the fifth Puddle of Mudd song to top the chart. To give you an idea of what that means, only ten artists have reached that No. 1 spot more than five times, many of them monsters of rock like Van Halen or Aerosmith, and Nickelback is the only relatively recent entrant to that club. Puddle of Mudd are actually now tied with Active rock poster boys Metallica. In fact, they’d have more chart toppers if their last single, “Famous,” hadn’t stalled at No. 2 last year. “Famous” is also pretty much the only song of theirs I’m willing to go to bat for; I’ve got a weakness for that dramatic intro and the Dire Straits-biting chorus. But as for “Psycho,” I find it even more repulsive than any of Puddle’s previous
hits, and am kind of mystified by its success.
In my last column, I looked at a few new songs that were going for adds at the time, and now begins the fun part, where I get to see how my predictions are shaking out. And I have to admit that it tickles me a little that one of the bands I thought I was harshest on, Panic (!) At The Disco, have actually fallen short of my modest expectations. As I foresaw, “Nine In The Afternoon” is a canary in the coalmine for their inevitable sophomore slump, but it hasn’t even reachted the Modern Rock Top 10 yet, like I assumed it quickly would. It might get a boost once the album is released in a couple weeks, but for the moment I’m enjoying my schadenfreude.
It’s always interesting to see how rock radio’s core constituency responds when a typically harder-edged band scores a crossover ballad. The latest instance of that is Buckcherry’s “Sorry,” which has been all over pop radio over the last three months, peaking at No. 9 on the Hot 100. But it only recently entered the Mainstream Rock chart after it had already been climbing the big chart for eight weeks, and has so far only slowly risen to No. 34. One might assume this is a standard pattern, but for a close point of comparison, Hinder’s “Lips Of An Angel” absolutely dominated both Mainstream and Modern Rock charts while it was crossing over to Top 40. Meanwhile, Nickelback’s softer material has been fairly hit and miss with rock stations; they embraced “Photograph” and “Savin’ Me,” but ignored “Far Away” and “If Everyone Cared.” It might be a simple matter of labels only activing pushing certain songs toward formats where they know they’ll work, or maybe there are some subtle aesthetic distinctions between these songs that make some more suitable for Active stations than others. All I
know is, when Puddle of Mudd drop their power ballad–and oh, they will–watch out.
Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he grades six modern rock bands looking to get their new singles added to radio playlists, both on their chances for hitting big and the relative suckiness of the songs in question.
Instead of bitching about how little the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts have changed since the last time I bitched about them, this week I thought I’d take a look into the charts’ near future, the new slate of songs that are, in radio biz parlance, “going for adds” on Modern and/or Active Rock formats in the coming weeks. (As you may have guessed, this means they’re currently up for consideration from station programmers looking for tracks to add to their playlist.) I’ll try to evaluate each song’s odds of becoming a hit, as well as whether it’s any good. (Since, as we all know, those are frequently not the same thing.) If nothing else, I’ll be able to laugh at how wrong I was about at least one of my predictions in a few months.
Seether, “Rise Above This”
With “Fake It,” the biggest single of their career so far, still entrenched at the top of the Modern Rock chart, Seether should have no problem getting attention for their follow-up single. But even with the added
emotional tug–it was written by frontman Shaun Morgan about his brother’s suicide–”Rise Above This” is such a bland midtempo slog that I can’t see it matching its predecessor’s success. And on rock radio, big hits can linger so long that a band’s next release often gets swallowed, as evidenced by Finger Eleven’s inability to capitalize on the momentum of “Paralyzer.”
Panic At The Disco, “Nine In The Afternoon”
Although it’s officially going for adds this week, this is arguably already a hit; it’s at No. 18 in its second week on the Modern Rock chart. I’m going to go out on a short limb, though, and predict that while its momentum will shortly catapult it into the Top 10, it won’t stick around the airwaves very long, and that even an initially successful lead single can’t fully stave off an inevitable sophomore slump. Panic At The Disco, now punctuation-free, followed in the footsteps of My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy a couple of years ago in bringing histrionic eighth-generation emo to the TRL crowd. But even with a platinum plaque for their first album, they never had the same foothold in rock radio as their peers; only one of their five singles broke the Modern Rock Top 10, and it wasn’t even their iconic video hit, “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies.”
Having taken longer than their peers to follow up their initial success, it’ll be harder to maintain it, since an extra six months is an awful long time to make a fickle tween fanbase wait. And with this bouncy, lightweight track foregoing the darker undertones that colored the band’s previous hits–plus its garish Sgt. Pepper’s nightmare of a video–the bands true colors as overly ambitious drama club nerds are showing. And I don’t think alt-rock radio, now leaning more toward meat-and-potatoes power chords than ever before, will continue to embrace them once the debut’s afterglow fades. This may all be wishful thinking, however, since I fucking hate this band.
Coheed & Cambria, “Feathers”
I always kind of felt like these guys, if you could ever get past the nerdy sci-fi backstory of their songs and the grating helium vocals, could be a good, hooky radio band. And this song is remarkably free of
most of the proggy quirks that people tend to find off-putting about C&C; it’s a simple verse-chorus-verse tune, the squeaky singer reins in his higher register, and even the video is refreshingly devoid of graphic novel bullshit. I kinda hate to say it, but I’m rooting for this song to do well, although I’m officially predicting it’ll be another moderate hit.
3 Doors Down, “It’s Not My Time”
Though not as inexplicably durable as Nickelback, 3 Doors Down are about as much a sure thing as exists on the Mainstream Rock landscape these days. I can’t say the lead single from their forthcoming album has left much of an impression on me, but neither has anything the band’s done besides “Let Me Go.” That hasn’t stopped a ton of their songs from becoming massive hits.
Story Of The Year, “Wake Up”
Story Of The Year are a whiny “punk”-with-quotation-marks band that I frequently confuse with Hawthorne Heights. And after one successful album on Maverick Records and another that failed to do quite so well, they’ve been kicked back down to Epitaph. That’s probably the best possible label for a band like SOTY, but Epitaph hasn’t broken a band on the radio in a decade now. I can’t picture “Wake Up” becoming popular, but then, I probably would’ve said the same when I first heard their 2004 radio staple “Anthem Of Our Dying Day.”
The Cribs, “I’m A Realist”
British bands have been a hard sell on American rock radio for a good long while now, even bands breaking U.K. sales records and being hailed by the NME as the second coming. (Which only happens once a year, maybe twice.) So The Cribs, who seem to be only moderately popular in their home country, don’t stand much of a chance. I can picture radio programmers reaching for the skip button after the first heavily accented couplet. Hell, I wanted to hit the skip button.
Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he examines a recent spate of alt-rock radio stations flipping formats and what it might mean for the future of the tenuously defined Alternative and Active Rock split:
Abrupt format flips are one of the cruelest traditions of the radio business. You get in the car, tune into your favorite station, and discover that for some reason it’s playing Celine Dion. Or salsa. And at first you’re not sure if it’s just those wacky morning show guys playing a joke. And then it just keeps on like that, all day, and into the next day. Usually, it’s a rude awakening for the staff at the station, too; they show up to work, and are either out of a job with little or no advance warning, or are suddenly a lot less enthused about what they’re paid to play and listen to all day. You’ve seen Airheads. You know how it goes down.
Recently, Maura sent me a few news items about a couple of Alternative stations that had just flipped formats, and asked me if I wanted to write something about it right away. I said I’d wait a week and see if any more fell. I was joking, but I was also right: two days later, another report of a flipped station popped up. Granted, these were not all total format flips, with the station completely changing its playlist or throwing out music entirely; that only happened with 107.1 WLIR in New York, which lost its frequency to ESPN Radio. Meanwhile, 94.7 KHBZ in Oklahoma City and 99.7 WNNX in Atlanta both made the subtle but significant switch from an Alternative format to Active Rock.
As I’ve pointed out several times in this space, the line between Alternative and Active Rock formats has gotten blurrier than ever in the past few years. It used to be that there was a pretty clear dividing line between the stations that focused on Guns N Roses, Metallica, and the heavier grunge bands, and the stations that played the wide, weird variety of ska punk, white rappers, Brit rock, and all the other fads that made ’90s modern rock radio diverse, for better or worse. (Often worse.) Now, all that remains is pretty much straightforward guitar rock. Jack Johnson or Eddie Vedder might sneak an acoustic guitar in there now and then, and Linkin Park still throw drum machines and rapping into their tunes, but big, compressed power chords rule Alternative and Active stations alike. And if Billboard‘s Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock singles charts feature half of the same songs, as they frequently do these days, how long will it be until Billboard realizes they only need one chart, or radio brass realize they only need one kind of rock station.
My usual source for radio biz perspective–FMQB writer Joey Odorisio, who I grilled for a previous column–notes that in general these recent format changes weren’t unanticipated; apparently WLIR’s parent company had been flipping it back and forth with its sister stations in recent years, and WNNX had been plagued by bad ratings. And it’s quite common for these flips to happen at the beginning of the year, so it shouldn’t be a shock to hear about so many in the space of a week. But they’ve become increasingly common since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, that notorious little bit of legislation that deregulated media ownership, and directly resulted in the rise of monstrously big radio conglomerates like Clear Channel that buy up stations by the dozen, and frequently play musical chairs with formats in a given market (incidentally, Clear Channel owns KHBZ).
So I won’t go completely Chicken Little about the future of alt-rock radio in light of these most recent flips, since it looks like business as usual for the time being. But, as can be observed in the Arbitron chart for format trends that Joey previously pointed me toward, the Alternative format has lost a lot of market share in the past decade, while Active Rock has held steady since its rise back around 2001. And if radio ownership bigwigs all decide that they can gain more than they lose by going Active, and don’t get the same outrage and protests from listeners if they make a more dramatic flip to reggaeton or easy listening. It might take a few more quarterly reports to see whether these are continuing downward trends or just standard fluctuation, but I’ll be on the edge of my seat to see how they play out, if only to figure out how to calibrate my Modern Rock Death Watch clock.
Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he gives Billboard‘s current rock radio charts a once-over:
Considering that my last couple of columns have been full of December detritus, I thought it’d be good to start off the new year in the now, so let’s look at Billboard’s current Hot Modern Rock Tracks and Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. I’d talk about them more often, but both charts move so sluggishly that it’d be an exercise in redundancy to base every entry off that data. For example: 13 of the top 20 tracks on the Mainstream chart maintain their positions from the previous week (and 11 on Modern), and no songs dropped out of or entered either chart. Part of that is due to radio playlists in general freezing up for a while before and after the holidays, but I don’t think those numbers would be too different in the middle of July.
The Modern and Mainstream charts are currently 40% comprised of the same songs–down only slightly from their 45% overlap two months ago–so let’s talk about what they have in common before getting down to their differences. At the top spot on both is “Fake It” by Seether, a South African band that again proves, a decade after Silverchair, that bad Nirvana wannabes aren’t a uniquely American resource. But I will say that “Fake It” definitely deserves to be the biggest song of their miserable career so far, if for no other reason than its big, goofy “woah-oh, woah-oh, you’re such a fuckin’ hypocrite!” hook that’s so much fun to sing along to. Still, they lose points for the video (above), which interprets the title in the most obvious way possible with an oh-so-clever “music video that exposes the artifice of music videos” concept you’ve seen a dozen times before. The other song entrenched in the top 5 of both charts is Serj Tankian’s “Empty Walls,” a song I find completely charmless despite having enjoyed almost everything System Of A Down ever did.
Other common ground between the charts include the usual hard-rock suspects like the Foo Fighters, Breaking Benjamin, and the hit that would not die, Finger Eleven’s “Paralyzer.” Now spending its 50th week on the Mainstream chart and sinking slowly enough that it should easily reach a full year’s residence there in a couple of weeks, the song has pretty much gotten as high as it can get on every chart that’ll harbor an uptempo guitar rock tune these days. I don’t know what the longevity records for either chart are–resident chart experts, feel free to chime in if you have an idea–but its run is certainly impressive, especially considering that it only peaked on Billboard‘s Hot 100 in the past month. Meanwhile, the song’s follow-up, “Falling On,” which Wikipedia tells me is “another example of Finger Eleven’s new genre, Dance/punk,” has struggled to capitalize on the momentum of “Paralyzer” for several months, and has yet to make a significant dent on any charts outside of the band’s native Canada.
As for tracks that are the sole province of the Mainstream chart, at No. 2 is Sixx: A.M.’s “Life Is Beautiful,” the debut single from Nikki Sixx’s questionably punctuated new band, which is quickly eclipsing both Methods Of Mayhem and that Vince Neil song from the Encino Man soundtrack as the most successful Mötley Crüe solo project. And… well, I try to accentuate the positive in this column most of the time, and figure out what’s worthwhile in a format that, for most critics, is a total blind spot. But pretty much every other song on the chart that hasn’t crossed over to Modern is fucking terrible, and they’re by several artists you’ve probably hated since the turn of the century: Kid Rock, Puddle Of Mudd, KoRn, and even Creed, in the form of the slightly less offensive Alter Bridge. The entries by Killswitch Engage and Five Finger Death Punch are admirably heavy for radio fare, but I can’t say I actually like them. Godsmack recently released a greatest hits compilation called Good Times, Bad Times…Ten Years of Godsmack, and while it might make a good title track for a career retrospective, “Good Times, Bad Times” is just about the last Led Zeppelin song I’d want to hear the brooding hard-rock band cover.
The Modern Rock chart is at least a little better, despite the presence of The Bravery and Angels & Airwaves, both of whom I’m slightly shocked and appalled to find still have careers. Chevelle’s “I Get It” (which peaked and dropped off the Mainstream chart already) is almost as catchy as “Paralyzer,” and I’m of the opinion that two Paramore songs are better than none, even if “Crushcrushcrush” is one of the last songs on Riot! that I would’ve picked as a single. Currently descending down the lower reaches of the chart is Eddie Vedder’s sleeper hit, “Hard Sun,” which has done pretty well for a song off the soundtrack to a low-grossing Sean Penn movie, let alone the sole acoustic number on a chart full of crunchy, compressed hard rock. Not that the Pearl Jam frontman doesn’t have a long track record of success on rock radio, but a cover of obscure Canadian singer-songwriter Indio featuring Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker is certainly one of the unlikelier hits of his career.
Of course, there are more songs from Linkin Park and Three Days Grace that have been on the charts for months, and will probably hang around for at least a couple more. As nice it is to pretend like January brings a whole new year with a clean slate, the fact is that most radio formats will be full of lingering 2007 hits until at least March. I thought last year was easily the best and most interesting in recent memory for rock radio, but based on this evidence I’m not entirely optimistic about 2008.
Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he takes a look at Billboard‘s Top 40 Hot Modern Rock Songs Of 2007 to see just what “rock” meant to radio this year:
Billboard‘s end-of-year lists, as always, provide a feast for those of us who care to painstakingly analyze not just popular music, but exactly what was the most popular and why. While Chris Molanphy made a meal out of the stats–including the Modern Rock numbers–last week, he left plenty of meat on the bones for me to dig into. And the Top 40 Hot Modern Rock Songs of 2007 chart is a mix of the usual suspects with some intriguing surprises.
As is generally the case with Billboard‘s year-end charts, which start in December of the previous year and end in November, this one heavily favors hits from the first half of the year and holdovers from 2006. Pretty much the entire Top 10 had impacted radio by the spring, giving the shaft to songs that have been inescapable over the last few months like the Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender” and Paramore’s “Misery Business,” which had to settle for Nos. 14 and 25, respectively. Unsurprisingly, if depressingly, the top spot is held by Linkin Park’s “Another Version of ‘Numb,’ This Time Without Jay-Z,” with Finger Eleven’s unlikely dance-rock smash “Paralyzer” (a personal favorite) taking runner-up status.
By far the most unexpected and inexplicable stats on the chart are the respective placements of Nine Inch Nails’ two hits from Year Zero. “Survivalism” landed at No. 37, with “Capital G” coming in eight spots above it at No. 29. “Survivalism,” the album’s lead single, was out longer and peaked at No. 1 on the Modern Rock chart. But follow-up “Capital G,” released just before Trent Reznor began his very public divorce from Interscope, didn’t have a video or even a remix single with a “halo number”; it peaked at No. 6, making it the first NIN single to not top the Modern Rock chart since 2001. And the song itself, aside from a drum pattern that was eerily similar to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” sure didn’t smell like a hit, with Reznor’s goofy vocal delivery and heavy-handed indictment of the Bush administration. I’m totally open to any theories on how this song, which I scarcely remember hearing on the radio at all, not only racked up more airplay than “Survivalism,” but apparently became one of the biggest rock hits of the year. Perhaps it became a favorite on West Coast stations I don’t listen to, or a few liberal DJs got a kick out of playing the song as much as possible during graveyard shifts? I’m stumped.
What the list demonstrates most is that modern rock radio in 2007 operated in its own sphere, with a limited amount of pop culture crossover. Fall Out Boy may have been crowned by media outlets like MTV as the biggest (or at least the most visible) young band in the world this year, but their tabloid-fodder relationships and numerous hip-hop collaborations cemented them as pop stars, not rock stars. Their sole entry on the list, “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” (No. 26), reflects the fact that this year’s Infinity On High skewed far more pop than their 2005 breakthrough, From Under The Cork Tree. All of Infinity‘s singles peaked higher on the Pop 100 and iTunes sales charts than on rock radio, and only “This Ain’t A Scene” scraped the Modern Rock Top 10, at a lower peak than earlier hits like “Dance, Dance” or “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down.” Meanwhile, FOB was beat out on the year-end list by bands like Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Sick Puppies, and The Almost, none of whom you were likely to see on television this year (unless you watch Fuse, maybe).
While a handful of bands land on the list twice, including Muse and My Chemical Romance, only one is there three times, and you probably wouldn’t be able to guess who it is: Incubus. Though their highest spot is a modest No. 12 for “Dig,” the first three singles from the band’s late 2006 album Light Grenades wound up on 2007′s top 40. When Light Grenades debuted at the top of the album charts last November, I figured it was just the usual case of a band’s diehard fans coming out in full force on the release date, coinciding with an otherwise slow week for new releases. But Billboard‘s list reaffirms that Incubus still has a tight grip on Modern Rock radio, even if they’re a long way out from their peak of mainstream popularity in the late ’90s, when frontman Brandon Boyd was the token rocker pin-up on TRL, a spot currently occupied by FOB bassist Pete Wentz. Unless Fall Out Boy plan on completing their transformation into this generation’s Duran Duran with their next album, they might want to consult the guys in Incubus for some advice on how they can avoid losing rock radio’s support entirely.