Friday, August 1, 2008

Reboot, AMG, and Enuff Z'nuff, part 2

I’ll start with a digression into heavy metal music.

When people of my generation (grew up in the 80’s) talk about “heavy metal” they are actually often talking about two different things. There’s “heavy metal” the musical form featuring bar chords, distorted guitars, unconventional vocals (yelling, growling, or screaming), and lyrics focusing on confrontational, controversial or taboo subject matters. Then there’s the “heavy metal” image, a mixture of the “leather man” from the Village People and a puffed-up, pink poodle wearing lipstick. Quite often bands which play the first definition of heavy metal did not conform to the image of the second definition of heavy metal, and vice versa.

People forget that one of the notable, “out there” and “cool” things about the thrash bands (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, etc.) of the mid- and late-eighties was that they dressed like “normal kids off the street.”

Back in the 80’s, after a couple heavy metal albums (Def Leppard’s “Pyromania,” Van Halen’s “1984,” and Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” in particular, all from 1983/84) rocketed up the charts, a number of bands incorporated the “look” of heavy metal, while playing a polished commercial pop/rock that had little to nothing to do with the music. Bon Jovi was the first and most successful of the “poseurs” as we called them back then. There soon developed a strange dichotomy within the “metal community”; or more properly, there soon developed two communities which deemed themselves “heavy metal.” The commercial, “mainstream” bands that throughout the decade into the 90’s would continue to exaggerate the look while polishing all the edge off of their sound. These bands had their big power ballad hits, and then faded from consciousness soon after. Then there was the thrash underground, that blossomed into all sorts of creative directions while taking a very “punk” attitude towards image, but was only ever able to make Metallica anything more than a cult phenomenon.

Older metal bands that pre-existed the split were forced to make a choice: go hair or go underground. Many chose to “go hair,” KISS, Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, etc. They managed to stay popular or even regain popularity temporarily, but never put out any good music for the rest of their careers, and with the exception of Aerosmith were completely buried by the alt-rock explosion of the 90’s. Some tried to straddle the line and found their career heading off into oblivion until the alt-rock revolution allowed for a come back: Alice Cooper, Ozzy Ozbourne, Scorpions, Judas Priest. Then there were the few who stayed underground, while never losing their core fans, never really got all that popular: Motorhead, W.A.S.P. And one notable band tried going back and forth, managing to utterly destroy a promising career: Celtic Frost.

Only two bands seemed to be able to straddle the line while retaining credibility with the “thrashers” and popularity with the “glam crowd” – Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses. The first because of sheer talent, exuberance, and the fact that they were always somewhat outside the heavy metal crowd to begin with – the glam image wasn’t all that different from their original presentation. The second because they were a band, whether due to plan or accident, that seemed to be created for no other reason than to destroy the pre-conceived notions of genre that had so calcified the rock of the 80’s – they served their purpose like lighting and then just as quickly disappeared.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself…

Let’s time travel back in time to 1988. Turn on MTV eleven o’clock, Saturday night. Headbanger’s Ball, the purported late night “heavy metal” show. They’d show Poison’s “Nothing but a Good Time,” followed by Megadeth’s “In My Darkest Hour” (before the latter was banned due to supposedly pro-suicide lyrical content), and to our modern eyes and ears we’d have to wonder what in the heck these two songs were doing on the same specially targeted genre-specific show. You’d have to wonder why anyone would think that the fan of one would like the other. They didn’t even have the superficial image similarities that you would have seen five years earlier if you’d have compared, say, Mercyful Fate and Venom to Motley Crue and Ratt.

So what you ended up with is resentment. The “thrash” crowd didn’t like the “glam” crowd because, despite the great critical acclaim being heaped on the thrashers’ music of choice, the glammers appropriated the name of the thrashers’ music, claimed it as their own, saw it get tremendously popular, and then had the whole world think “that wimpy crap” was heavy metal while Slayer and Metallica didn’t even bother making videos because they knew MTV wouldn’t play them. The “glam” crowd didn’t like constantly being told how bad their music was by both the critics and the fans of “real” metal.

The rivalry extended to the bands, too. Sam Dunn’s “Heavy Metal – A Head Banger’s Journey” (2006) has a great interview with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, talking about how much he resented Motley Crue and Ratt when they were still all playing the same clubs in Los Angeles, to the extent that Lars would hurl invectives to the guys in Motley Crue in the street and then run away. (Apparently, Nikki Sixx is a pretty big dude, and Lars isn’t.) The interview was spliced together with an interview with some of the guys from Ratt who were completely baffled by the sentiment… “We’re all metal, aren’t we?” Apparently not.

So what does all this have to do with Enuff Z'nuff and Looks like I’ll have to get back to that in part 3.


Max said...

"And one notable band tried going back and forth, managing to utterly destroy a promising career: Celtic Frost."

Are you talking shit about "Into the Pandemonium?" Maybe it's because I first heard it 15 years after the fact, but it doesn't sound to me like a genuine attempt to go pop so much as a band willing to try any damn thing, category be damned. Not always succeeding, of course. But I'm far more likely to listen to "Pandemonium" straight through than "To Mega Therion."

Anyhow. We met at Winter War. I hope you find a chance to write more -- it's good stuff.

Chris Tichenor said...

Not Into the Pandemonium.

The next album... Cold Lake.

It destroyed their career.