Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Rock Gods? My Ass!

It's no doubt utterly futile to criticize Rolling Stone, but still, even given their need to be forever-hip while espousing all the blandness of au courant popular music, I have to object to their current issue's lame article on today's top-20 "guitar gods."

I admit, taking part in such a cock-fest of testosterone-fueled, frat-boy speculation is beneath, well, any self-respecting person. But seriously, the cover featured John Mayer, John Frusciante, and some guy I've never even heard of but who is apparently an Allman Brothers Band member. Now, John Mayer needs no criticism from me: His own lameness is so painfully self-evident that I'd be wasting space. As for Jack Frusciante, he should have stayed out the band. Stadium Arcadium was extremely weak (no matter what the rock-snots think), and having had the displeasure of seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers last fall, I think I speak for any true Chilis fan when I as, "When the fuck did you become a jam band?" We want to see Flea playing bass, not a washed-up junkie bending notes in a blues scale for 45 minutes and acting like he's Jimi Hendrix reborn.

The rest of their top-20 was equally bland. Tom Morello may be a shoe-in, but really, it's an Yngwie Malmsteem-type thing. The guy's a technical virtuoso, yes, but does anyone really want to listen? Any true Audioslave fan (God forbid such a person exists) should listen to one of the records in a bar, when the ambient sound drowns out the color, and they'll realize it's pretty much twelve songs with the same riff. Which is preferable, I admit, to having to listen to the godawful lyrics. Then there's Tool's guitarist; I like Tool myself, though I'm not a huge fan, but I wouldn't exactly call them a "guitar-driven" band. Moreover, they thankfully eschew the sort of machismo-laden posing that's necessary for rock-god status. My Morning Jacket is terribly overrated, and I thought that boat had long since sailed, so why Jim James and Carl Broehmel made the list, I don't know. Jack White was a clear shoe-in, but his schtick, too, is wearing thin; The Raconteurs was therefore a really good move, and despite critics' pannings, Broken Boy Soldiers was a good disc, and the band was not, again contrary to the whining of critics, the Jack White-show with extras. Mike McCready and Stone Gossard are good, we know this, but Pearl Jam's last album, with its garbly-vocalled lead single "World Wide Suicide", took the band too far in the direction of punk for this writer. At least previous punk-inspired efforts like "Spin the Black Circle" had good riffs, instead of being power-chord driven wannabe anthems. And when it comes to Radiohead, I'm sorry, they're phenomenal, but not guitar gods.

For my money, this list left out two people that, by all accounts, should have been on it.

These days, it's impossible to talk about contemporary rock guitarists without bringing up Josh Homme. Sure, a lot of people are fed up with him for his endless side projects, and the last Queens of the Stone Age album, Lullabyes to Paralyze, wasn't Songs for the Deaf. But as far as contemporary guitarists go, he's nonpareil: Of all the music to come out since 2000, what other song immediately screamed, "I can follow up 'Stairway to Heaven' on hard rock radio" like "No One Knows"? In alternative music these days (a term that's long since outlived its usefulness), the Queens are one of the few bands to eschew punk rock inspired guitar playing without falling back on endless recycling of older music styles (like the lackluster Wolfmother's endless channeling of Led Zeppelin). Seriously, what has John Mayer or Jack Frusciante ever done that compares to the frenzied lead opening to "Go With the Flow"? And Homme's guitar-god status was solidified by the understated closing to the otherwise so-so "Little Sister". And while "Burn the Witch" may not showcase anyone's virtuoso guitar talent, its riff puts anything Tom Morello's done to shame, which is ironic, because it's a bass-riff, which inevitably drives songs by both Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

Ultimately, Homme's great sin, insofar as I can tell, is that he doesn't take himself too seriously. He's not an emotional poseur like Mayer, whose songs seem intended to be bitching enough for guys to like while expressing tepid emotional sensitivity to make the ladies feel comfortable. As for Frusciante's playing, it frankly seems to serve absolutely no purpose in the music, the Chili Peppers having sacrificed their once impeccable pop-song tightness to let the moron prance about the stage, wailing through a less-than-inspiring solo. This in comparison to Homme, who doesn't fake political engagement and rarely admits to any deeper motivation than women and booze. But even then, he's not an asshole--he tossed Nick Oliveri out of the Queens for beating his girlfriend. And anyway, Homme laid down the most bitching riffs on Tool's 10,000 Days, while still finding time to record the Eagles of Death Metal's sophomore effort, Death By Sexy. EofDM seems to piss people off endlessly, for, apparently, doing what they want to do right: They're party, drinking, dancing music. People have a great time at their shows, just like with the Queens. Rockists, apparently, feel that boredom induced by neverending guitar noodles is the sign of true genius; I beg to disagree.

Then, there's J. Mascis, the eminence gris of indie rock. His page in rock history is already earned, for no less an achievement than giving indie rock a lead guitar, and breaking with punk's seemingly endless progression towards faster and harder. I saw Dinosaur Jr's reformed original line-up in Seattle in 2004, and they were mind-blowing. Mascis looks like shit, and Murph's showing his age (Lou Barlow alone remains fit and young-looking, due to his long years of success with Sebadoh), but they put most rock bands today to shame. Quite honestly, I've never seen an indie rock band play with a full double-stack of amps, and seriously, that was too much for the Showbox, but my God: the sounds he made were unbelievable. No jumping around to try to make the music seem more exciting than it was--Mascis played slightly hunched over his well-worn Jazz Master, and like Hendrix, the energy was all in the fingers. "Freak Scene" sent the audience into convulsions, and the guitar solo on the band's seminal cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven"--once overlaid with fuzz, flange, wah-wah, and a phaser--was a mind-blowing moment of rock and roll. The only comparable moment I can remember at any other show was Billy Corgan's pick-scratch intro to the frenzied guitar solo in "Zero" when I saw the Smashing Pumpkins on the Mellon Collie tour back in 1997. In fact, you could argue that Corgan himself should be on the list, since the Pumpkins are touring later this year and releasing a new album in July. But Mascis has been touring for two years now, with Dinosaur Jr, and they're hitting the road again later this year.

So there you are, the inexcusable omissions from Rolling Stone's idiotic list.

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Blogger the libertine said...

That's all gospel except Josh Homme seems more than a guitar god (maybe you've got a crush on him?).

11:08 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

May you never use the words "so so" in connection with the Queens ever again. Homme is an astounding guitarist with a sense of humor and all those drugs seem to make him more powerful. Also: handsome.

5:09 PM  

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