Clear Channel Gives Your Mersh Rock Correspondent A Considerate Gift

Al Shipley | June 12, 2008 10:00 am

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 celebrates the return of modern-rock radio to his home city of Baltimore with a look at the newest crop of artists to hit the rock charts, and reveals superproducer Max Martin’s stealth assault on the corporate-rock airwaves.

Early on in the life of this column, I acknowledged one big caveat: I’d be reporting on modern rock radio without having easy access to any such station on my radio dial. I’ve based whole columns on songs that I’ve yet to actually hear on terrestrial radio, like the Flobots’ “Handlebars.” Since the demise of the trailblazing WHFS, the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. rock radio market’s rock outlets have been reduced to the active rock station 98 Rock and the active/modern hybrid (DC101). So the dirty little secret of a lot of my reportage is that it’s come from following the charts, playlists, and streams of modern stations in other markets, which has allowed me to see what modern-rock hits haven’t crossed over to active-leaning stations.

But all that’s changed in recent weeks: Clear Channel has flipped one of its smooth jazz stations to Channel 104.3, Baltimore’s first full-time mainstream alt-rock station in over three years. The station is borrowing its morning show from DC101, and from what little I’ve tuned in to hear so far, the playlist may turn out to lean a little Active like its sister station. But for better or worse, it looks like I finally have somewhere to hear crap like “Handlebars” on my car stereo.

Last time, I focused on the new hits from established acts that are currently dominating the Modern Rock top 10. So in the spirit of new beginnings like that of Channel 104.3–albeit symbolic beginnings that tend to bring the same old shit–I thought I’d take a look at some of the more unfamiliar names that are scoring their first radio hits in the lower reaches of the rock charts. By far my favorite recent debut is “Love Me Dead” by Ludo, which is still crawling slowly upward, currently peaking at No. 19 after nearly three months on the chart. I’m not really sure what this band’s deal is, and I’m hesitant to try and describe the song. So I will instead merely hope that you’re as entertained by the video as I was the first time I stumbled upon it:

Another chart debut that’s been kicking around for about the same amount of time with greater success–currently No. 3 on Mainstream Rock and No. 15 on Modern–is “Addicted” by Saving Abel, a band that seems to be striking the same nauseating balance between nu-grunge sludge and Sunset Strip sleaze as, say, Hinder. Hell, “Addicted” sounds eerily similiar to Hinder’s first hit, “Get Stoned,” which is to say, get ready for these assclowns to become the next big Active Rock dynasty. Safetysuit’s “Someone Like You”, at No. 22 on Modern Rock, likewise fits into a comfortable preexisting radio niche of big, sweeping sub-Coldplay arena balladry, even if it’s a little surprising that the band hails from Oklahoma. And the only odd thing about yet another grungy debut, Another Black Day’s “Wicked Souls,” is that it reached No. 25 on Mainstream Rock while on an independent label, Bieler Bros. (As far as I can tell, the only other acts on either chart that aren’t on a major label or a subsidiary thereof are Nine Inch Nails, who of course are record industry castaways by choice, and Vampire Weekend.)

“They Say” by Scars On Broadway, which recently entered the Mainstream Rock chart and currently stands at No. 27, is a new project by some familiar names, System Of A Down’s Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan. With System currently on an ambiguous hiatus that’s widely speculated to be a permanent breakup, Scars On Broadway is the second offshoot of the band to hit the airwaves, after two successful solo singles by singer Serj Tankian. If things proceed at this pace, we could have another vaguely exciting face-off of ex-bandmates, in the fashion of the dueling Angels & Airwaves and +44 singles that followed the breakup of Blink 182 a couple of years ago. And when bands that weren’t that great to begin with start splintering into seperate projects and competing on the chart, the overall effect tends to bring to mind the tagline from 2004’s Alien vs. Predator: Whoever wins… we lose.

Apocalyptica, the Finnish cello ensemble that became something of a novelty act in the mid-’90s for playing classical covers of Metallica songs several years before string tributes to popular rock acts became a cottage industry unto itself, has gradually become a career band with original material, often collaborating with various hard rock and metal vocalists. And in “I’m Not Jesus” with Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, Apocalyptica have finally broken through with their first big mainstream radio hit, “I’m Not Jesus,” which is currently at No. 9 on Mainstream and No. 26 on Modern. It’s not a bad song, but I really have nothing to say about it other than that it still cracks me up that the singer from Slipknot’s real name, after being known as simply “No. 8” all those years, turned out to be “Corey.”

By far the most eyebrow-raising new artist on the Modern Rock chart is Carolina Liar, whose “I’m Not Over” is currently at No. 24 and rising. Carolina Liar frontman Chad Wolf is a scraggly Southerner, and his hit fits in nicely alongside other slick, guitar-driven rock radio fodder, but his band boasts a unique pedigree. Somehow, after relocating to Los Angeles, Wolf ended up rubbing elbows with adult-contempo types like Dianne Warren and Celine Dion, before ultimately meeting Euro pop mastermind Max Martin, who assembled a band full of Swedish session musicians for Wolf and put together a debut album:

Martin, once known as the architect of the bombastically synthetic sound of his countless hits for Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, has moved toward guitar-driven pop rock like Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Pink’s “U + Ur Hand” in recent years with the aid of another songwriter/producer for hire, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald. But those songs were recorded by female pop stars, and while many rock fans and critics admitted (sometimes grudgingly) a weakness for their crunchy riffs and shoutalong hooks, rock radio never touched them. So it’s interesting that Martin has finally, yet somewhat stealthily, broken through to one of the few corners of American radio that had previously eluded his Midas touch, and one wonders if Wolf was deliberately recruited for just that purpose. Even if that’s not the case, it’s still pretty funny to imagine that back when Martin was ruling the world with hits like “I Want It That Way,” he may have been fantasizing about having his very own Days Of The New.