Sad to say, the American emo scene is quietly turning into what will most likely be the next decade's nostalgia-tinged Monster Ballads compilations pitched on late-night TV. You may argue the point, of course. Emo fans are nothing if not fiercely protective of their turf. But then, so are unreconstructed cheese-metal buffs, too.
Tellingly, then, the third Promise Ring album wheezes along like scarves flapping listlessly in a tepid fall breeze, its musical clichés at least as tiresome as its lyrical bons mots. Of the former, well. . . . With precious little variation, every song here features virtually the same 4/4 beat; this isn't writing to proven formula, just a dully repetitive experience for the listener. Secondly, guitars have a kind of homogenized melodic punk blur, a choppy Jam lick in "Arms and Danger" and a riffy Ramones groove in "Happy Hour," for example, that comes across as squeaky-clean efficient and utterly devoid of any dynamic tension, making things as numbing as a Weezer boxed set. And thirdly, the vocals are all delivered in that follow-the-bouncing-melody-ball-exactly style that passes for singing these days. Sorry, but Steely Dan did the same 20 years ago, and it was pretty annoying then, too.
Lyrical scrutiny doesn't offer much payoff, either. Somewhere along the way, somebody must have given the Promise Ring a crash course in Hallmark card rejects. "I'm losing my voice talking to you about talking to you." "If I come to New York, can I sleep on your floor?" "My heart skips a beat over you." "Sometimes I wake up early to say goodbye just in case you don't come back." Sheesh -- it's about as profound and moving as Poison's "Something to Believe In," Whitesnake's "Is This Love" or Winger's "Headed for a Heartache." While it may seem unfair to take rock lyrics out of context, in emo's case, the singing is deliberately up-front and meant to be heard clearly. Such no-subtext literalism offers a withering experience for anyone interested in curling up with a good metaphor.
Bands like the Promise Ring and their ilk may have the dork eyeglasses, thrift-store shirts and jarhead haircuts to set them apart visually from their '80s metal counterparts, who had their eyeliner, silk blouses and poodle 'dos, but in terms of musical resonance (you know, the kind that kids semi-wistfully and semi-uncomfortably look back upon when they reach their 30s) and cultural relevance (if Weezer is emo's ultimate legacy -- Cap'n Jazz is already long forgotten -- then there's something pathetic going on, Mr. Jones, and you don't know what it is), not a quantifiable whit of difference exists.
But hey, some folks love this stuff, right? Coming to a late-night commercial very soon. . . -- Fred Mills
Face the facts: Iggy Pop hasn't been the same since he recorded for Arista in the early 1980s, when he began confusing punk rock with hard rock and found neither wanted him anymore. Turns out he was the idiot after all, too dumb to give it up when he discovered the times had changed and, too bad and too sad, so had he. Now all we're left with is this record, on which an old man (he's 50 now, for chrissakes) squares off against his mortality and loses the fight before the first-round bell rings. Hasn't been an ex-punker's record this moribund on arrival since his old pal Lou Reed sold Magic and Loss in the cutout bins. Or since Ig's own Instinct in 1988, and a more inappropriately titled record there hasn't been since. Don't know how to take Avenue B's opener "No Shit" -- as profound revelation or self-serious laffer. Over some Twin Peaks strings, the former rant-and-raver ponders his middle age like some dude on his deathbed. "It was in the winter of my 50th year when it hit me," Iggy croaks, as though reading from a dusty diary. "I was really alone, but there wasn't a hell of a lot of time left. Every laugh and touch that I could get became more important. Strangely, I became more bookish, and my home and study meant more to me as I considered the circumstances of my death. I wanted to find a balance between joy and dignity on my way out. Above all, I didn't want to take any more shit, not from anybody." Pretentious and ponderous -- say farewell to relevance, old friend.
Next up: "Nazi Girlfriend," whom Iggy wants to "fuck . . . on the floor among my books of ancient lore." She can't cook, she's elegant, she wears two crosses "tangled up," and she ain't dumb -- just a Nazi girl who stole his heart and his talent. And then: "Avenue B," rendered as lounge-pop paean to Pop's old stomping grounds in NYC -- lotsa organ and acoustic-guitar ramblings set to a shuffle-skuffle beat. "Rappers standing on the corner," Ig begins and ends, because damned if I can make it 53 seconds into this dreary neighborhood. Afraid of getting mugged by formerly interesting musicians looking for spare change and stale ideas.