Smashing Pumpkins. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Nirvana. Green Day. Those who say the 90’s were devoid of great rock were and continue to be sorely mistaken. The 90’s gave us some of the greatest bands of all time, as every decade does. They spoke to a time when the nation was getting over the excess of the 80’s, when a generation of youth was bound together by a profound apathy, the rise of Slacker-dom. If our generation was a character in The Breakfast Club, we’d be Ally Sheedy (The angriest of us might have been Judd Nelson. Nowadays, kids are more likely to be an Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, or Anthony Michael Hall.) But then something happened. Perhaps it was the effect September 11th had on art as a whole. Maybe it was just a natural evolution every musician goes through. (Except the Black Eyed Peas. I maintain that their evolution is more cynical than it is artistic. More on this another day.) Either way, every single band I enjoyed that made it out of the 90’s went on to disappoint me in the 00’s.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers used to be an unstoppable force of rock, hip hop, and funk all rolled into one. They could play anything from minimalist guitar tunes to epic, choir-backed crescendos (sometimes all in one song). They covered Love Rollercoaster in a way that may be better than the original. Suck My Kiss. Give it Away. Aeroplane. The Chili Peppers were so cool in such a funky, crazy way. Then came Californication. Yeah, I love that album. Singles like Around the World, Scar Tissue, Get on Top, and Otherside are the Peppers at some of their very best, even though they seemed to be shelving their funkier notes for a more somber approach. Every band gets one album to break away from its comfort zone and try something new. My problem with the Peppers post-Californication, is that roughly every song sounds like Scar Tissue. The funky rock band I knew and loved from Mtv in the 90’s had become just another melancholy, blah VH1 group in the 00’s.
As sad as I was to lose the Peppers, Green Day hurt infinitely more. Green Day was authentic garage punk that had broken out into the mainstream, nothing more, nothing less. If you believe Dookie to be the best album released in the 90’s, you have a valid argument (I’ll take Boyz II Men’s II, but that’s just me.) Green Day was this fun-loving, slacker band. When I Come Around is one of the first videos I remember watching on Mtv. (Just a side note about Mtv as a whole. We all fondly recall how Mtv used to play, you know, music on the tv and lament the programming shift brought on in the 00’s. But think about it and be honest with yourself, if Mtv stayed with the programming model of airing music videos at least 12 hours of every day, you wouldn’t watch. No one would. I’ve watched 5 or 6 music videos on Youtube while writing this piece alone. If I had to choose between waiting for my favorite video to
definitely maybe air on Mtv, or definitely watching that video within seconds on the interwebs, I’d choose interwebs every time and you would too. So, I guess you’re forgiven for Super Sweet 16 and The Hills, Mtv. This does not, however, excuse you for the Harbinger of the Apocalypse that is Jersey Shore. And, seriously, can we bring back the “Adult-Swim-before-Adult-Swim” that was Mtv’s Oddities? Alright, back to the show.) After 9/11, Green Day shifted. American Idiot featured a more somber tone (like the Chili Peppers), and a more serious message, even if the title track is vintage Green Day. Wake Me Up When September Ends spoke to a nation sick of remembering the pain of September 11th and the anger that carried us into war shortly after. It helped us to begin moving on and stands as the one mainstream folk song of this generation’s defining moment. Unfortunately, Green Day hasn’t moved on from their moving on song. Wake Me Up When September Ends became the sound Green Day would go with for the remainder of the decade, totally abandoning the don’t-give-a-shit punk sound that made them famous in the first place.
If you would have told 1995 me that Green Day would be all serious all the time and The Red Hot Chili Peppers wouldn’t be funky in ten years, first I’d ask if 2005 me is playing in the NBA yet (No.), and then I’d say you were crazy. How could a band abandon the very sound that sets it apart from the rest? In fact, it happens all the time. No Doubt used to be a ska band. Outkast used to be among the most prototypical of southern rap. Hell, the Beatles went from bubblegum pop (I Wanna Hold Your Hand) to their rock phase (Come Together) to their trippy hippie phase (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds), and they were only together for ten years! Musicians change their sound all the time.
Maybe my disappointment comes not from nostalgia for these bands, but the times they represented. My personality comes in large part from the seeds planted by the pop culture of the 90’s. We weren’t as angry. We had no defining moment with which to base our entire artistic point of view (unless you count the AIDS epidemic that seemed to shape the first half of the 90’s). We were just kids who were more bored than anything else. Septemeber 11th and the internet and cell phones and two endless wars and cameras everywhere all the time weren’t the reality. Music was more about the introspections of slackers and stoners. Maybe I’m not ready for my slacker-youth bands to grow up because it signals my own
growing up getting older.