The New Age of Alternative Rock

Kurt’s voice welcomes me from across the room, droning the lyrics to “Polly” in his raspy voice. The words remind me of an age past and the real sound of rock and roll that spoke to a generation. With the death of Cobain, among other unsavory choices from other grunge rock bands (eg. Pearl Jam), the death of grunge was merciless and swift. Ushered in was an age of image obsession, candy-coated over produced music and the practice of selling sex with innocence. Now even rock music is tainted with the prefabricated, commercialized sound of popular music. Musicians such as The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears have contributed to a world in which alternative rock seems to have no place.

The in-your-face style and lyrics of bands such as Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins gathered a huge following. Disgruntled fans were forced to find music satisfaction underground after the sound of alternative rock died on the mainstream airwaves. The underground movement has been on the rise and from it a new sound has risen. The emergence of the new alternative rock has finally found its way back to the radio waves and the music media has pounced on the new sound of rock and roll like a starved dog on a 3 pound steak. For the first time since the death of grunge rock in the mid 1990’s there is inspiring, original and powerful music that doesn’t give in to the corporate regulations. Rather than an imitation of the sounds of alternative rock past, the new movement claims a sound and style all its own. However, at the soul of this movement lives the true spirit of the alternative lifestyle. The music doesn’t seek acceptance, or to be appropriate and it does not seek airtight perfection. Rather, it is raw, real music, the anti-hero of modern music. Many bands have sprung onto the scene, a few of which have recently grabbed a sliver of the spotlight.
The new sound of alternative rock incorporates grunge rock, punk rock and a bit of good old rock ‘n roll. Music from The White Stripes has a more classical feel, composed of impressive guitar lines as well as a deep reverberating march to their drum beats. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, bring an almost offensive vibe to their music, with wild lyrics and unexpected changes in pitch and rhythm. Thoughtful, simple yet graphic lyrics from Hot Hot Heat create a poetry that assaults the listener. The Strokes incorporate a traditional rock feel with a bit of technology in their sound. Altogether the new wave in alternative music inspires a feeling that has been missing in music as of late. All of the new alternative rock bands have in common an apathetic attitude. They are down to earth ‘rock stars,’ acknowledging the messiness of life, and not caring if anyone thinks it improper to expose the dark side of simplicity.

The White Stripes� who have created four albums to date� jumped into the spotlight with their critically acclaimed album, White Blood Cells. As the forerunners in the movement, The White Stripes compose music with steady drumbeats and amazing guitar riffs, stylistically reminiscent of both Hendrix and Cobain. The duo�Jack White on guitar and vocals and his ex-wife, Meg White, on drums� create a musical sound that is both retro and ultra-modern. The lyrics exemplify simplicity while maintaining a thought provoking mystery. In “Seven Nation Army” the first track and first single off the latest album (Elephant) a strong, slow drum beat accompanied by an eerie bass line leads the way into fitful bursts of music that liven up the eerie presence of the song. The strength of these chorus rifts mixed with a solid beat and incredible lyrics like: “Everyone knows about it, from the Queen of England to the Hounds of Hell” and “All the words are gonna bleed from me, and I will sing no more” create a graphic, assaulting song.

Humming in a washed out, electrified voice, Julian Casablancas creates a tranquil mood while maintaining an electricity through provoking lyrics. Lead man for The Strokes, Casablancas has a sound that is not readily replicated in the new genre. Almost blas�, The Strokes exemplify rock star; the five exude a Euro-hipness. Slow and steady, the band builds up their sound to an electrifying high blending all the elements of good alternative music together so that the music itself stands out, rather than particular elements. Some songs, like “New York City Cops”�pulled from release in the U.S. after 9/11�are filled with a raucous sound and message; while others, like Soma seem to croon while building up. The tension in the songs is as natural and intense as the stretch of a muscle, steadily pulling until the ligament of the music snaps in a final stretch to reveal a sound as red and raw as the pain of a retracted muscle.

“I’ve been poking a voodoo doll that you do not know I made of you, let’s see what needles do,” proclaims Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat. Hailing from Canada, Hot Hot Heat infuses lively rock music with talented drumming and keyboard as well as wordplay that is both dark and emotional. Not newcomers to the scene, after a slew of albums and EP’s, Hot Hot Heat has finally risen to get the respect they deserve with their latest musical endeavor, Make Up the Breakdown. Their first single, quoted above, is the electrically charged “Bandages.” A microcosm of the new wave alternative music, “Bandages” proclaims injury, revenge and heart-break with surprisingly up-beat enthusiasm. The bands way with words and their vivacious approach to music give them an uncommon sound.

Similarly, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s have created a truly unique sound with a similar feel. Essential to their sound is the rasp and somewhat violent croonings of Karen O. Like Meg White, Karen O. embodies the female presence in the world of rock and roll. She is the antithesis of the perky, over-sexualized pop idol, resembling the members of the femme grunge band, Hole. The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s unique sound� incorporating the furious style of 1980’s thrash punk, with themes reminiscent of traditional garage rock bands� is incomparable. “I’ve gotta man that makes me wanna kill…yeah, we’re all gonna burn in hell…” The shocking lyrics taste of violent brilliance as well as proclaim the title of their first full length album, Fever to Tell. Once again, thoughtful and talented wordplay leads the way to brilliant music. In their first single, “Date with the Night,” there is an assault of the senses. The graphic yet simplistic images with shifts in rhythm make for a rather invasive and compelling song. The brilliance of the in-your-face style is derived from strong, unexpected guitar lines and soul shaking drum beats as well as powerful and distinct vocals.

Whether it be a slow and determined drill of music into the skull, the thrashings of a gloriously composed set of lyrics, or raw and unabashed style; alternative rock is stomping down the zombies of a pop-culture generation to reclaim the life of rock and roll. I feel fortunate to have been a little part of the grunge rock generation. It saddens me to know that those only a few years younger have been denied music that speaks to the soul and confronts the normal with brilliant flashes of the absurd. The hope of a lost generation lays in the hands of a new movement in rock. It is my hope that alternative rock can rise from the depths of the damp garage to form a new army.

Suggested Listening:
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s: “Date with the Night”, “Man”, “Black Tongue”
White Stripes: “Jimmy the Exploder”, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, “Hotel Yorba”, “Seven Nation Army”, “There’s no Room for You Here”
Hot Hot Heat: “Bandages”, “Talk to me Dance with Me”, “Le Le Low”, “5 Times Out of 100”
The Strokes: “New York City Cops”, “Take it or Leave it”, “Soma”
Nirvana: “Polly”, “Rape Me”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Heart Shaped Box”
Smashing Pumpkins: “Today”, “Tonight”, “Cherub Rock”, “Zero”, “Quiet”
Pearl Jam: “Alive”, “Yellow Ledbetter”, “Go”, “Corduroy”, “Better Man”, “Black”, “Daughter”
Hole: “Violet”, “Doll Parts”, “Jennifer’s Body”
Some other bands worth listening to: Everclear, Sonic Youth, The Vines, The Hives, Better than Ezra, Weezer, Live

3 thoughts on “The New Age of Alternative Rock”

  1. I like your writing style. Gave good helpful information and flowed nicely.

    I was kind of disapointed though. You started speaking about the White Stripe’s “White Blood Cells,” but didn’t really follow too much information on how and why it broke into mainstream. It’s like you kinda skipped that part. You briefly mentioned it to discuss “Seven Nation Army.” just a thoguht for the future.

    Good details.

  2. Great column. I like most of what I’ve heard from Nirvana. I like to give some of the guys on the board a hard time about them though, cuz they blow me shit about the music I listen to. White Stripes are okay. Bandages is a good, catchy song that gets stuck in my head for the rest of the day after hearing it. And, I’ll admit, SOME Pearl Jam songs are pretty good.

  3. Wow, this was a great article. And it actually broadened my listening horizons. I was a Strokes fan and a Hot Hot Heat fan before this, but when you included The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s (whom I have never heard of.) with thier names, I gave them a listen and enjoyed it. I am looking forward to more articles, good job.

Comments are closed.