Like The Ravyns once sang, I was raised on the radio. But I haven't been a regular listener for many years. By missing the radio for so long I feel like I've been missing an important piece of the present, so every month I've been downloading the Top 20 songs from the latest Billboard Hot 100, and grading them, A.V. Club style.
This month, things are a little different. The Hot 100 has been pretty stagnant lately. So, in the interest of my sanity and yours, I'm reviewing the 20 most popular songs from the "Hot Modern Rock Tracks" chart for Feb. 2. (I'll check back with the pop chart next month.)
20. Paramore, "Misery Business"
In case you hadn't heard, Paramore singer Hayley Williams is the new Avril Lavigne, only angrier and possibly more subversive. (She's also ballsier than most of the guys on this chart.) In "Misery Business" Williams calls out the "whore" who stole away the boy she likes: "When I thought he was mine she caught him by the mouth." The line would make more sense if "by the" were replaced with "with her," especially considering how Williams talks a few lines later about finally landing the guy and how they "caught on fire." (This other girl really gets around, apparently.) At any rate, Williams' business of misery isn't self-directed (as I suspected) but rather at anyone who fucks with her. So, who I am to mess with that? Grade: B
19. Eddie Vedder, "Hard Sun"
Eddie Vedder was my least favorite part of Into The Wild, and that's saying a lot. (I know Sean Penn really wanted me to admire the self-absorbed, misguided rich kid who, like, was totally deep because he wanted to make snow angels with grizzly bears, but I just couldn't do it.) Vedder's songs tended to be even more on-the-nose than Penn's heavy-handed script and direction, but "Hard Sun" is a welcome exception. A jangly folk number with some Crazy Horse-style dissonance creeping on the horizon, "Hard Sun" shifts the focus away from the supposed nobility of Christopher McCandless and puts it where it should be: the best big, shining non-Pearl Jam Pearl Jam chorus since "I Got Id." Grade: B+
18. Puddle Of Mudd, "Psycho"
Of all the songs on the chart, I was most curious about Puddle Of Mudd's "Psycho." Honestly, I could not believe it actually existed. Puddle Of Mudd named its latest album Famous, and no matter how dumb these former Fred Durst protégés might be, I refuse to believe that's wasn't meant ironically. (It's been seven long years since these guys went platinum.) But here they are, a blast from a glorious past, to remind of us a time when Woodstock was synonymous with sexual assault, overpriced water, and balls-shaving, backward-hat-wearing doofuses. So, "Psycho" obviously sucks, right? Not so fast! I'm convinced head Mudd Wes Scantlin spent most of the '00s studying Fountains Of Wayne, and the proof is in the verses, which on "Psycho" sound uncannily like the title track to FOW's underappreciated 2007 release Traffic And Weather. The idiotic chorus—"Maybe I'm the one who's a schizophrenic psycho"—doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, but the verses scale back the self-hating bile to reveal the gooey power-poppiness at the song's core. Grade: B+
17. Jack Johnson, "If I Had Eyes"
Whenever I hear Jack Johnson—the blandly dopey singer-songwriter, not the kickass Miles Davis album—I understand why some people hate Band Of Horses. I really like Band Of Horses, fuck you very much, but what Band Of Horses sounds like to haters must be what Jack Johnson sounds like to me. It's not that I dislike "If I Had Eyes"—it's solidly OK—I just can't figure out why this particular stoner peddling good time, sub-Grateful Dead shuffles about livin' life and wearin' flip-flops is so successful.
To my ears Jack Johnson could be any vacant-looking, guitar-playing dude you go see only because he sells you weed. Grade: C+
16. Linkin Park, "Bleed It Out"
Singer Chester Bennington still hasn't moved beyond the raspy-baby vocal tics of Linkin Park's rap-metal period—Linkin Park is now "U2-metal"—but otherwise "Bleed It Out" is a surprisingly brisk and rocking two and a half minutes. Between enjoying this and the Puddle Of Mudd song, maybe I'm the one who's a schizophrenic psycho. Grade: B
15. Atreyu, "Becoming The Bull"
A common trait shared by many bands in the modern rock top 20 is the (mistaken) assumption that equating pummeling with rocking will conceal your inner embarrassingly wussy lame-o. I single out Atreyu only because "Becoming The Bull" is the most obvious and least successful example of this obfuscation. The guitars might be huge and the vocals aggressively growly, but "Becoming The Bull" still is a song about how life is like a bull and (sigh) you have to take it by the horns to "keep a level head," whatever that means. "Becoming The Bull" essentially is the most clichéd gym teacher lecture ever, delivered by a band that tipped its hand by naming itself after the protagonist of The Neverending Story. Grade: C-
14. Radiohead, "Bodysnatchers"
Radiohead strides into the supremely nerdy Dungeons & Dragons party this is the "Hot Modern Rock Tracks" chart with the greasy cool of Daniel Desario. The most rocking song on In Rainbows—the only rocking song, really—"Bodysnatchers" still is considerably less testosterone-y and chest beat-y than many of its fellow charters. But, c'mon, you knew the third or fourth best track on the latest Radiohead album—maybe its greatest album—was going to be the best song in a walk here, right? Grade: A
13. Silversun Pickups, "Well Thought Out Twinkles"
If D'arcy had been the lead singer of Smashing Pumpkins instead of Billy Corgan, you'd have something that sounds a lot like "Well Thought Out Twinkles" by Silversun Pickups, for better and for worse. (I just saw the video and it appears a man is singing this song. Really? OK then, replace D'arcy with James Iha.) Corgan's strained, pained vocals were always the most annoying part of any Smashing Pumpkins song, but the generically fuzzed-out pop-rock of "Well Thought Out Twinkles" shows how non-descript the alternative can be. For all his lyrical and vocal petulance, Corgan's out-sized personality elevated the Pumpkins' beyond being just another grunge-colored arena rock band, a feat Silversun Pickups can't, and don't, achieve. Grade: C+
12. Three Days Grace, "Never Too Late"
The contemplative power ballad "Never Too Late" was written by Three Days Grace singer-guitarist Adam Gontier while he was in rehab for Oxycontin addiction in 2005. See kids, drug abuse can inspire shitty songs, too! Grade: D+
11. The Bravery, "Believe"
I loved The Bravery's critically disreputable 2005 debut because, as the Stone Temple Pilots of '80s revival rock, this was a band that understood that being inauthentic sometimes makes your authentic, like when you play music that at its best is supposed to be giddily superficial and shamelessly trashy. Last year's The Sun And The Moon wasn't as good, but it was still pretty good. The fake lyrical "seriousness" of its hit single "Believe"—"Give me something to believe, because I am living just to breathe"—seems like another mercenary move to keep pace with The Killers' and their impressively earnest bolo tie collection, but Bravery singer Sam Endicott's transparent pandering makes the song less annoying than it could (or should) be. Unlike Brandon Flowers, Endicott doesn't take his lyrical posturing any more seriously than we do. Grade: B+
10. Rise Against, "The Good Left Undone"
Rise Against's horrifically cheesy punk rock facsimile "The Good Left Undone" is best summed up by the following lyrics: "There's a point we pass from which we can't return/I felt the cold rain of the coming storm/All because of you, I haven't slept in so long/When I do I dream of drowning in the ocean, longing for the shore where I can let my head down, I'll follow your voice, all you have to do is shout it out." (For further analysis, please see the Atreyu entry.) Grade: C
9. Finger Eleven, "Paralyzer"
"Paralyzer" sounds more like "Take Me Out" every time I hear it. I hope that doesn't mean I'm going to hear Finger Eleven at baseball games this spring instead of Franz Ferdinand. Grade: B (down from B+)
8. Paramore, "crushcrushcrush"
Paramore is back with another sassy tale of high school romance in "crushcrushcrush." (Based on its singles Paramore's chief influences appear to be Fall Out Boy and Degrassi: The Next Generation.) Some of the spirit of "Misery Business" is missing here, and Williams is way too young to sing: "Nothing compares to a quiet evening alone." Grade: B-
7. Avenged Sevenfold, "Almost Easy"
While Puddle Of Mudd's Wes Scantlin is willing to entertain the possibility that he might be fucking insane, M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold forcefully insists I'm not insannnnnnnne! in "Almost Easy." Avenged Sevenfold flirts with camp—one more time, I'm not insannnnnnnne!—but this is mostly just straight-ahead metal for junior high boys, a role the band seems to embrace unapologetically, as it should. Grade: B
6. Chevelle, "I Get It"
"Hey guys, what if we wrote a song with a quiet verse and—check this out—a really loud, heavy chorus? I know it sounds weird on paper, but as music it would be freakin' emotional, man. Who's with me?" Grade: C
5. Serj Tankian, "Empty Walls"
The bizarre gratefest that is Alicia Keys' "No One" is the craziest song to play in heavy radio rotation in the past six months, but Serj Tankian's "Empty Walls" is a solid No. 2. I'd long resisted Tankian's grandly operatic, almost rap-style vocals whenever I tried to get into System Of A Down, but my defenses finally lowered and I've learned to love his rapid-fire, kinda creepy insanity. Sadly, it happened after SOAD went on hiatus, but Tankian is no more restrained on his own, packing a rock opera's worth of sweeping drama into a demented little four-minute single. Grade: B+
4. Foo Fighters, "The Pretender"
Alec Foege of Rolling Stone sagely predicted in his review of the Foo Fighters' excellent 1995 debut that Dave Grohl would become the '90s punk equivalent of Tom Petty. OK, so Foege got the punk part wrong—rock writers had a bad habit of calling any mainstream rock band they liked "punk" back then—but Grohl has been positively Petty-ian in his ability to wrest really good singles from merely good albums over the years. I stopped buying Foo Fighters records after 2002's One By One, so Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace could be the second coming of The Colour & The Shape for all I know. What I do know for sure is that "The Pretender" is yet another well-crafted, radio-perfect rock single with a simple, rampaging hook that stands up to repeated listens. The album might be great, but Grohl only needs to write two or three songs this good every couple of years to keep the Foo Fighters rolling forward. Grade: B+
3. Foo Fighters, "Long Road To Ruin"
Actually, maybe Dave Grohl doesn't have to write songs as good as "The Pretender" to get on the radio after all. Grade: B-
2. Linkin Park, "Shadow Of The Day"
Hey Linkin Park, remember how I complimented you earlier on "Bleed It Out"? Hopefully that bought me some street cred in your camp, dawgs. After hearing your (sorry!) tedious, seemingly endless ballad "Shadow Of The Day," I want to offer some free advice: Ripping off The Joshua Tree is OK. Ripping off How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is not. On the plus side, good job not breaking into an impromptu rap during the intro! Grade: C
1. Seether, "Fake It"
Seether takes a courageous stand against people who fake it on the No. 1 modern rock single in the land, "Fake It." I imagine this song would be enjoyable if you were pissed off about your boss and how he's the biggest fucking phony in the world, and you just can't wait to unleash a tediously long, expletive-spike rant about it to any poor friends and family friends within earshot when you get home and for the next several weeks. If you don't belong to that particular demographic, well, have you heard the new Puddle Of Mudd song? It's kind of good, actually! Hello? You still there? (P.S. Seether named its latest album Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces, so for further analysis, please see the Atreyu entry.) Grade: C