Vocalize It

11 01 2008

Close your eyes. Breathe deep. Let the air dance through you, vapors clearing your mind of any errant thoughts. Think of a tree, standing alone, recalcitrant in a field of heather. Approach zen. And think of Nickelback.

Let the coarse lawnmower of Chad Kroeger’s voice pervade your being. Allow yourself to walk alongside him as he leads you through the life of a Rockstar, in the eponymous track.

Shake with the eloquence of the first four lines:
I’m through with standin’ in line,
to clubs I’ll never get in
It’s like the bottom of the ninth
and I’m never gonna win.

One of the most banal of the Pearl Jam and Metallica derivative bands, Nickelback is also one of the most successful. Its peculiar blend of two chords and preschoolish songwriting seems an unlikely combination to sell more than 25 million records. But what Nickelback does possess is access to the culture of masculinity, access granted by Kroeger’s Eddie Vedder rip-off of a voice.

In American pop music, two male vocal styles reign. Just as the socio-economic gradient has polarized, whittling away at the middle class, so have vox. What’s more is that each one of the tones represents the general style of their music. On one side, you have Kroeger’s river-mud thick bass-baritone, sunk deep in the throat, with its attendant masculine, fratty and poorly designed lyrics. Combine it with guitar mush and you’ve got hits. Creed, Godsmack, Three Doors Down — they all put out the same straightforward, down to business music. (Not that that’s a bad thing)

On the other, with the tenor/countertenor purveyed by, say, Ben Gibbard of Deathcab and most emo bands, you see a more emasculated style. It’s a style characterized by more literate, albeit more squirrely, songwriting. These voices sing out lyrics that are filled with equal parts thought and snark. The pretentiousness flows like tears.

This dynamic strikes me as representative of the cultural tension in the US, between the especially practical and the especially thoughtful. It’s a battle that’s raged — coalescing an image of down-to-earth Republicans vs. out-there Democrats — since at least Nixon’s pronouncement of the Silent Majority.

Is this so? I can’t think of any exceptions to this idea right now. It seems that once you go up an octave, you suddenly have to have read Kerouac and Proust and personify each one of your emotions. And once you drop an octave, you have to have done keg stands for the last 12 years in a row in lieu of any reading.

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8 responses

11 01 2008
Nick

I can’t think of any real good examples that go against that theory. I’d say Serj Tankian for System Of A Down (and Daron Malakian) is an example of a guy who sings aggressive music at a very high pitch, but SOAD is an incredibly liberal band as well, and not really an example of a working-class Chevy truck drivin’ man’s preferred music.

And with Pearl Jam, who unfortunately spawned a lot of hacks trying to be like Eddie, has shown a much different range over the course of their career and has hardly stuck with the more arena style rawk of Ten (although lyrically, even Ten is far better and more intelligent than anything bands like Creed and Nickelback ever even came close to approaching).

12 01 2008
Jon Goldberg

Nickelback is Canadian.

12 01 2008
Nils Reid

Keg Stand = Loads of Booze = Shot Vocal Chords = Nickleback = SUCK

And, I agree, they are Canadian after all.

12 01 2008
scheity

What continent is Canada on, gentlemen?

12 01 2008
Scott

Can I take Ben Folds for the block?

Not Shitty Emo. Not Shitty Deep.

12 01 2008
Scott

I’ll take Ben Folds for the block.

Not Shitty Emo. Not Shitty Deep Voice.

12 01 2008
obeese

I miss Soundgarden. So much.

22 01 2008
Drew

you need to listen to The National.

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