By June of 1995, the casual rock and roll listener was, indeed, stressed out. Worn out on the promise of the Alternative Nation, general ennui flowed in to fill the demigod-sized hole left by the death of Kurt Cobain. Grunge was over, a fad that had long since passed into parody. Like a bolt of neurotic, clingy light, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill stepped in to fill the gap between Generations X and Y.
What if your passion is for something terrible? Neil Hamburger, a painfully inept comedian, asks that very question on his 1999 album, Left For Dead in Malaysia. The album, recorded on a real, ill-advised booking in Kuala Lumpur, is in essence a perfect capsule of a show gone horribly awry. Hamburger, who is famous despite being terrible at comedy, takes the stage with a shaky “Selamat malam!,” before quickly reverting to English for the remainder of the act. An initial series of poorly-delivered jokes falls flat on the disinterested, Bahasa Malaysia-speaking crowd.
Even though Brook wasn’t exposed to Bill Hicks’ Relentless until almost a decade after it was recorded, Hicks’ words on MC Hammer were hilarious and fresh: “I can’t wait ‘til he drops the Hammer part, too.” MC Hammer has always been the guy who shilled for Pepsi, The Addams Family, Hammerman, ad nauseum. The seemingly endlessly unlucky, too-gregarious rapper who built a multi-million dollar mansion in his home of pre-gentrification Oakland, CA to inspire his community to strive for greatness, even as he was running out of money and filing for bankruptcy. The ultra-hubristic artist whose biggest hit samples another ultra-hubristic artist’s biggest hit, and which, when it comes on the radio, one cannot tell whether it’s “Superfreak” or “U Can’t Touch This,” until the vocal comes in. The guy who’s probably on tour with Vanilla Ice, right now. MC Hammer.
This was springtime, 1993. One of the biggest hits of the year was “Two Princes” from Spin Doctors’ Pocket Full of Kryptonite, a commercial failure on its’ release in August of 1991 that nevertheless went on to spawn five singles and be certified 5x platinum by the RIAA. “Two Princes” was literally everywhere, that spring. Maybe it was the underlying message of real love over a pile of money. Maybe it was singer Chris Barron’s goofy hat in the summertime. Either way, Brook was hooked on “Two Princes,” and so was everybody else.
Pop music sneaks into Brook’s subconscious in subtle ways. He doesn’t hear this stuff on purpose. When he heard “Shut Up and Dance” for the first time on line in a movie theater, he took notice because it’s a surprisingly sweet and endearing sentiment, for pop radio in 2015.
There’s a lot to defend, in Funny Girl. It’s a remarkable show, a remarkable body of songs. It’s good, but this album-length monologue by a recluse, half-crazed with loneliness is beyond Brook’s understanding. And he can’t be convinced that that’s a bad thing.
A lot of the hassle Nickelback take from rock nerds stems from Kroeger’s tenth generation Eddie Vedder impersonation. Yes, Vedder begat Weiland, who begat Stapp, who begat Kroeger. But the notion that Pearl Jam created an original sound has always rang false, to Brook’s ears. Yes, 1991 was the year we saw a tectonic shift in style and tone in popular rock music. But that sound had been churning through the underground for years, and Pearl Jam’s earliest records are just a slightly dirtier take on hair metal, which was just a slightly poppier take on Led Zeppelin, which was just a honky bastardization of the blues. So: let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
What none of us knew at the time was that Chumbawamba were a collective of Leeds-based anarcho-punks who had been making records together since 1982. What seemed to come out of nowhere was actually the culmination of years of hard work, networking and sticking to principles. Their signing to EMI was considered a controversial move by their early fans, especially considering their earlier contribution to the Fuck EMI compilation. And their one touch with fame was later revealed to be a calculated move to earn more money for anarchist projects the band wanted to contribute to. After the fuss around Tubthumper was over, Chumbawamba spent the remainder of their career distancing themselves from that album, and from the dance music that made them fame-ish.
Is listening to Celine Dion’s Falling Into You something deeper than a “guilty” pleasure? Is this the kind of record you don’t even admit to liking, at three AM, after the craziest sex of your life, when you’re unloading all of your darkest secrets? Call it Fetish Pop, but Brook finds himself sickeningly compelled to Falling Into You.