Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Impressions: What Sh/Could Have Been

On the fine evening of November 18, I've been primarily listening to Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York. I've never before heard either of these albums, and grunge is an undiscovered dirt mine to me. Nevertheless, even when not in the mood, I've forced the 90's alt-metal branch onto me all evening, and because of the records of my choice, I've come to this pondering:

Grunge should have gone acoustic.

Now I'm no grunge expert. Hell, I'm barely a grunge novice. But the subgenre appears to be little more than metal-like instrumentals with excessively detached vocals and bored and/or vulgar lyrics. Metal takes its stance in the rock world with its fist pounding, hormone drilling headbang quality. The vocal stylings of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. clearly do not allow their music to fit into this aesthetic. Theirs is the voice of bored passion, of hopeless want.

You can imagine how the poor to middle class children of the 90s would find a perfect niche for their economic and educational frustrations in the angry-yet-sullen monotones of grunge. But how much longevity does this polarizing subgenre have? A sorry fact it is that gruge is certainly not a timeless concept. It quickly grew old, and by the approaching of the 2000s, it was fading away quickly. In modern rock, yes, there are a lot of bands out there with heavey grunge influences, such as Seether and Velvet Revolver and Foo Fighters, but none can withstand the industry without packing in some new, commercially glamorized, expensive aspect to their music. The essence of grunge is in the passions of the members, and it no longer fits in modern society; it has been lost.

That is why, if one listens to Nirvana today, they are likely to pause and wonder why they just can't get into any of it, despite its nationally known success and historical importance to rock. It certainly was an awkward period for rock, in a way comparable to the Baroque Period for the classical world.

So it was that I sludged through Ten, finding lyrical bright spots in occasional songs like "Even Flow" and "Deep", but for the most part remaining entirely unimpressed.

Then it was that I flipped to MTV Unplugged In New York and felt a glimpse of what grunge must have meant to those of 15 years ago.

Acoustic, grunge becomes a whole new ballgame. The annoying guitar distortion is dropped, and the drumbeat is eradicated to concede to acousticism. With these impediments out of the way, the material crap is removed, leaving only the chords, the voice, the content and the music. It's grunge stripped to its rawest format, with all the time-relevant noise rock docked away. Without impediments, you can feel Cobain bleed his lyrics through his mouth even without active listening.

I bash grunge instrumentals only as a statement of the changing times, just as I appraise the acoustic music of MTV Unplugged In New York over normal grunge because of grunge's place on the timeline. I severely doubt Cobain knew it at the time, but his participation and performance in New York exactly 15 years ago today turned one grunge album from a temporary social staple into a timeless masterpiece.

It only leads one to wonder, what may have been if grunge had gone acoustic? Ideally, it would have pushed out a lot of the shit pop punk circulating today, but that's a speculation for another day.

1 comment:

Chrono said...

MTV Unplugged is the best thing Nirvana did, in my opinion. Grunge bands tried to exert their emotion by turning up the volume, but you're right; they should have taken down a notch rather than up.

You've become something of a blogging prodigy. We need some more participation from everyone else, myself included. I think I'll review a Coheed and Cambria album at some point. Not sure which one yet.