Fuck That Noise: Bruno Mars, The Weeknd and Ballads By Macho Men

Bruno Mars’ single, “24K Magic”, is badass. Mars doesn’t so much sing as he speaks throughout the song with every line meaning the same thing. He’s cool, he knows how to party and has women. The latter is especially important, because we live in a new feminist world where attractive guys are still allowed to flaunt their women like dollar bills. He’s so confident that, really, why attempt a chorus? The first spin of “24K Magic” makes it sound more like a spoken word track over a Synthfunk backing rather than an actual Pop song. It’s one of the year’s best songs.

It’s also a game-changer for Bruno Mars. From here on out, the only reaction to his ballads is ‘fuck that noise’.

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The Weeknd poses for his philosophy book

Music is acting. I don’t care who you are in real life. What’s important in music is that the character you play in your music is believable, and will somehow makes sense when we connect the songs. Eminem is unconvincing because he’s at one point mocking Pop music, whines about people not liking him and then makes a song with Sia. Ian Watkins is an all-around terrible person, but the sound of “Rooftops” didn’t change just because we discovered he’s a pedophile.

Balancing bragging tracks with ballads is tough. We all experienced the highs and lows of life, but you need to connect these two. If your character is sad, I need to believe this sadness is real and is relevant despite all the parties you had. It’s especially tough to come off as vulnerable or sensitive when a second ago you bragged how much sex you have and how all the women want you.

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I don’t think this is what you do with crosses

The Weeknd also released a song with a similar vibe, but “Starboy” is vastly different in demeanor and content. The Weekend also brags about having a lot of sex and a lot of money. He explicitly says he has a girlfriend and a mistress, both of which are out of your league. Along with bragging about cars, it’s obvious Weeknd’s life is overall quite kickin’.

What’s different is the context. Bruno Mars is carefree and happy in “24K Magic”, and only brags about how good his life is. You can understand nothing else about Mars, other than that he’s probably an inconsiderate asshole outside having fun. A line like “Bad bitches and ya ugly ass friends” promises great sex and treating you like dirt. Weeknd, however, is so dark that it’s obvious there’s something wrong with him despie how much he parties.

The Weeknd starts off his song with “I want to put you in the worst mood”. Already, this song is more than just bragging. He wants you to feel bad, he needs others’ jealousy so he could feel good about himself. Instead of the social butterfly who’s inconsiderate, Weeknd’s song is upfront about how pain exists in our world (and he wants to cause it). When he proceeeds in the verse to brag, it’s always about how his good things should make you feel bad. The line about using drugs to kill any pain makes it obvious that Weeknd does have a shitty day and needs to do things about him. The line “We don’t pray for love, we just pray for cars” is quite nihilistic, expressing a dark worldview of retreating to materialism.

Musically, “24K Magic” is a straight-up banger with funky backing, a great bassline and a synth that farts all the way. It only contains happiness. “Starboy”‘s drums are colder and jittery. It’s also more sparse, almost sounding like Joy Division tweeked for the dance floor. By the time drums kick in the chorus, they’re aggressive. You can party to it – it’s even recommended since it’s also brilliant – but it’s not happy-go-lucky and it’s more suitable to planning revenge than celebrating your anniversary with a significant other.

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Ain’t no fun if the guys don’t get naked too

These differences make me react so differently to the ballads. When Bruno Mars put out “Versace on the Floor”, I could think in terms of ‘fuck that noise’ and ‘are women still fooled by this?’. A little before, Mars was a social butterfly who didn’t care about anyone. He was the person you invited to the party, but once everyone had too much to drink and talk about life he gets kicked out. He’s the guy who never holds a conversation but only screams jokes If Mars will be accused of raping a 16-year-old, I wouldn’t be surprised. Okay, I wouldn’t be surprised over any musician, but Mars is definitely in the top of musicians who have the highest chances of doing it.

I can’t connect the two. If “24K Magic” was less aggressive, more akin to Radical Something’s anthems of summer then it’d be different. Mars’ cocky aggression is integral to why his ballads doesn’t work. The line “Bad bitches and ya ugly ass friends” paint a picture of a guy women love so much he can afford to treat them bad without realizing it. Just ask Dessa. Neve in “24K Magic” do we hear a person who’s fun to be around, but a person who has a lot fun. It’s the type of person who fucks women instead of having sex.

When the Weeknd shows up his vulnerable side, it’s believable. He takes the dark side of “Starboy” and expands it, or takes the small cracks and zooms into them. “All I Know” is believable because it’s a direct contrast to “Starboy” instead of being unrelated. It was what he tried to hide so hard by bragging about praying for cars. “Secrets” is the flipside, with Weeknd being the man pining after the woman who has all the guys.

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About as romantic as quoting Gamergate supporters.

They also sing their ballads differently. “Versace on the Floor” is full of vocal acrobatics. Vocal acrobatics are impressive and a great way to terminate your acting abilities. Since they point out you’re actually a singer, you forget about the mood and the content. “Versace” is less about having time with a girl and more about seducing a girl using the promise of romance just to ditch her (Ed Sheeran’s character does it all the time). Shifting singing styles so radically only serves to show you were acting all along. Weeknd always sings as Starboy and never tries to show off. Imagine “Belong to the World” if Weeknd sang it like Mars. Actually, it would probably still be good because of the lyrics.

Perhaps it has something to do with me being a guy, but then again I consider Lostprophets’ “Rooftops” to be a highlight in music history. That song was made by your worst nightmare, a guy so sexy he could do anything he want and have women supporting him. Watkins never did Mars’ vocal acrobatics there. When it explodes, he screams more than sings and that’s crucial. Of course, good actors are also the best at sexual abuse, so maybe Mars isn’t that in person after all. I don’t know. All I know is that, as an actor, he’s horrible. Give me songs like “24k Magic” any day, because, from him, songs like “Just the Way You Are” makes me worry what happens backstage. I shouldn’t, since there’s always a good reason to worry about things happening backstage.

If that’s not enough, listen to “Versace” while watching the video for “24K Magic”. Tell me how different he is from how Nice Guys(tm) describe your boyfriend.

Rob Zombie – The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser

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Rob Zombie’s new album isn’t going to win him any new fans. It’s hard to imagine his audience expanding. The face of Rock has changed. Loud guitars pretty much lost their cool unless you’re in the True Metal zone. That zone is about being the least original anyway. Nevertheless, this album is a step in the right direction.

This shouldn’t have happened. How many bands that rely on loud noise and grooves carry on for so long? Pretty much every band from Zombie’s era is dead, or drastically changed their sound. Many of them are still good, but Powerman 5000 are revivalists. They’re brilliant at mining great songs but they don’t push the sound forward. Metalcore bands now jump from section to section and act like hooks never existed and Marilyn Manson quit for blues.

Zombie is still doing the B-movie bullshit. Looking at the ridiculous song titles (“In the Bone Pile” is the most normal title here), two options come to mind. The first is that Zombie is desperate. He knows he’s not as popular and he’s trying to be as wacky as people to catch attention. The second is that it’s the most inspired he’s been since forever. All these paragraphs are a product of a mind that can’t contain his excitement.

“UFO”, the first single, features Zombie talking like a hillbilly about a story involving sex and UFO’s and aliens. It also features one of the best riffs in his career, that kind of riff that causes earthquakes at shows. It sounds like a gimmick, but it isn’t. The song merely reveals what’s the source of Rob Zombie’s greatness all this time. Riffs and hooks weren’t Zombie’s strength. His personality made him one of Rock’s most engaging singers.

The defining feature of the album is that Zombie’s personality dominates it. Previous albums had plenty of great hooks and riffs. They were the source of success in an era grooves and hooks shot Rock music to the top of the charts. Nothing here is as accessible as “Dragula” and all of it is way weirder.

Since the personality drives the music, the wackiness follow. From his early beginnings in White Zombie he had songs called “Drowning the Colussos”. Feeling freer, he now tries to rap on “Get High”, makes Garage-Rock-Fuzz-Noise thing on “Gore Whore” and a progressive epic closer that ends with a piano solo.

None of this sounds particularly new, though. None of it sounds like Zombie is deliberately pushing himself into new territories. Yet it stills sounds like progress instead of mere revivalism. Zombie was meant to be here. The Electric Warlock isn’t his heaviest album like he said, but it is his weirdest. Nothing here serves any genre or general around but exists to contribute to the whole ‘carnival rock’ thing.

Originality isn’t simply sounding different. It’s about having a personality that’s your own, that can’t be easily replicated. Zombie used to sound like just another Industrial Metal-er with a weirder personality, but Static-X had songs like “Dragula”. No one can make another “Teenage Rock God” because you’d need the exact inspiration Zombie has – cheap B-movies and their ridiculousness – and his passion.

Thankfully it’s not all sound. Although it’s less diverse than “Get High” would’ve hinted at, the songs still sound like individual pieces. It helps that every song has a clear idea behind it. While the hooks are slightly disappointing and only “Teenage Rock God” sounds like a single, Zombie’s personality makes up for it. I wouldn’t want to hear anyone else singing these songs.

The album also contains some of his more ‘artsy’ work. Beyond “Wurdalak” and the two instrumental interludes (which are actually necessary, providing respite and fitting in with the atmosphere) there are touches of psychedelia, Doom Metal and Hip-Hop all over the album. The most frustrating thing about the album is the oddest flaw you can have. It’s not extreme enough.

As charming as it is, it still sounds like Zombie didn’t go all the way. He could’ve taken more direct inspiration from Carpenter and added 3 more Horror Synth-length tracks at a decent length. He could pile weirder sounds and he could make the Hip-Hop on “Get High” more apparent. It’s not clear why he doesn’t push into those territories. He’s clearly very excited over this music. Perhaps his passion is still mostly in loud guitars. Although he deviates occasionally, he’s not interested in these experiments enough. It’s a shame, because at this point he’s an experienced artist with a solid fanbase. It’s the ideal position to be with. It worked for Marilyn Manson.

The Electric Warlock won’t attract any new fans, but fans who are into Zombie’s shtick instead of just the loud guitars should have plenty to enjoy here. Even at its short length, these are 12 tracks of silly, loud Rock that sounds like it’s too passionate to care about how cool he is.

3.5 really really really long song titles out of 5

The Nu Metal Revival

It’s sad how the most dynamic genres don’t last for long. Nu Metal’s fate was like Big Beat, and it shared a lot with it. It relied on a synthesis of styles, accessibility, aggression and fun. This is the sort of genre that should’ve kept going, surviving by its ability to always change.

Of course, critics were angry. How dare these bands not spit pseudo-poetry over thrashing guitars about how Jesus is evil? We all agree that Slayer (Ripping apart/Severing flesh/Gouging eyes/Tearing limb from limb) is a lot of fun while Limp Bizkit’s lyrics about rollin’ are just stupid. The critics had their way and Nu Metal was replaced for a while by uber-serious Metalcore that had no sense of melody (Hello there, Killswitch Engage).

Thankfully, times are changing. That Metalcore has now been replaced by a more hedonistic, Pop-influenced version that sometimes borrows ideas from Electronica. While this new version of Metal is still making waves, Nu Metal has also been making a comeback. It’s not a well-publicized one, but it’s a great new addition to the genre. These are some bands that are parts of this revival. I do not include Nu Metal bands that are still active in their genre or re-united. Korn, Slipknot and Coal Chamber are still going on if anyone’s interested.

1. Islander


Of all the bands in this list, Islander sound the most disconnected from the trends. They’re not a Metalcore band who discovered you can do more than breakdowns and screaming. They’re not a band who are Nu Metal by chance – borrowing ideas from distant genres. Islander is a good old-fashioned throwback. They sound like all they know is Nu Metal. There are no Hardcore or Metalcore shades in their music. The ‘rapping’ is more informed by P.O.D.. There are sludgy downtuned riffs. The vocalist jerks from clean singing, to screaming to half-rapped vocals in the wild Patton-esque way. The screaming is also very Nu-Metal-ish, not sticking to one tone but alternating.

What makes Islander different is something that a lot of revival bands share. There’s an emotional depth that the original Nu’ers didn’t have. Slipknot couldn’t make “The Sadness of Graves” or something as beautiful as “Kingdom”. They also stray from the hedonism. Nu Metal was music for an angry youth, but it cherished the youth and hated the idea of growing up. No one would write about how being young is shit. Being young is fun, wild and all that stuff. Even “Counteract” sounds more mature than other anthems about how to defeat the world.

Recommended tracks: Cocount Dracula, Counteract, The Sadness of Graves, Side Effects of Youth, Kingdom

2. Of Mice & Men


Everything this band made before their transition towards Nu Metal is crap. You might find in total 4 good songs on their first two albums. If any band makes Metalcore sounds like it ran out of steam it’s these guys. The screaming was horrible, high-pitched and unpleasant. The guitars just made a lot of noise. There was some good melodies but it was mostly acrobatics. All that noise amounted to nothing.

It’s amazing how good their transition is. Maybe it shouldn’t be, because they had a knack for ballads. Like Islander, Of Mice & Men have an emotional vulnerability to them that makes them sound different than the original style. You can tell from the titles like “Another You”, “Would You Still Be There” and “Glass Hearts”. It works. The main problem with Nu Metal is that it tried to be macho while still talking about sorrows. These songs have a humility and warmth to them. For all the screaming and chugging that “Bones Exposed” has, it’s very tender.

Of Mice & Men’s version of Nu Metal is more limited. They have some atmospherics which may remind you of Deftones, but they borrowed the harsh-clean vocals dynamic and that’s it. They did way with Metalcore structures and made the screaming coherent, which is great. Still, even if they’re not one of the more creative bands they add some of the best melodies the genre has.

Recommended tracks: Would You Still Be There,  Another You, Bones Exposed, Feels Like Forever, Something to Hide

3. Bring Me the Horizon


How come nobody talks about this? Sempiternal isn’t just Nu Metal, it’s one of the best Nu Metal records there is. Sure, there’s pretty much no Hip-Hop or Funk, but Electronics and atmospherics were a big deal too. The album sounds like Mudvayne’s early output the most. It’s artistic rock that’s full of teen angst.

That’s a good thing, of course. It gives every experiment a purpose. The main element of that album is that it does the melodic-aggressive thing. There’s no more alternating between clean and harsh vocals. The best bands always blurred the lines and Horizon does it here. Is the chorus of “Go to Hell” clean or harsh? “Antivist” was a deliberate attempt to make a Nu Metal song, and you can’t get more Nu Metal than asking people to put their middle fingers up.

That’s the Spirit goes in an even more melodic direction, but it has plenty shades of Nu. “Happy Song” has a Hip-Hop beats and the atmospherics and electronica sounds a lot like Linkin Park. Even the blunt lyrics are Nu Metal-ish. The genre’s lyrics were always frank and made things as obvious as they can be. There was never much room for big words or pretense that this is poetry.

Recommended tracks: Happy Song, Go to Hell for Heaven’s Sake, Antivist, Throne, Can You Feel My Heart?

4. King 810


This is the oddest one on the list. King 810 are full of angst like any band, but this time is serious. The band hails from Flint, Michigan which is supposed to be a crime-infested city. The band doesn’t just talk about this life of crime but express the hardship of it. It’s a contrast to the Gangsta Rap, where a life of crime is something to be proud of. For all the songs about how the streets have no mercy, the rappers express more strength than sorrow.

King 810 are tortured over it. The whole thing is the musical version of PTSD from constant robbing and shooting. The band stops like a tank but the screaming is hurt, not powerful. When he screamins he’s going to “Killem All”, he doesn’t sound very happy or excited about it. He sounds hurt because he knows that’s all he can do. It’s a band that’s more suited for listening in darker times. It’s often uncomfortable, but fascinating. If any band on this list deserves to become viral it’s these guys.

The music borrows heavily from Korn and Slipknot. The vocals have those emotional crackles and while there’s a lot of screaming, it’s always coherent and never buries the lyrics. Although Slipknot influence should be obvious, it’s quickly overshadowed by the band’s life. The harsh life of crime informs the sound more than anything.

Recommended tracks: Eyes, Killem All, Fat Around the Heart, Write About Us, Best Nite of My Life

5. My Ticket Home


My favorite on this list. This is the most stereotypical Nu Metal will ever get. The harsh vocals that are pretty comprehensible. The aggressive, groovey riffs that aren’t Groove Metal. The rhythms make it sound like a guest rapper will appear any minute. The vocals are melodic, tender and are a complete opposite to the harsh ones.

You can trace so many elements to other bands. Linkin Park, Korn, Slipknot, RATM, Dry Kill Logic, Deftones – the band borrowed from them all. It didn’t make them sound unoriginal, but made them sound like they understand the genre better than everyone else. They sound like they didn’t just listened to the well-known bands but to every obscure ones, too. Their transition was only informed by Nu Metal but it was informed by a lot of bands.

There are also F-bombs dropped everywhere, which makes it even more fun. “Kick Rocks” is the best fuck-you song the genre ever produced. The guitarist mistakes his guitar for a turntable occasionally. Best of all, it’s both fun and angry. Their album works perfectly whether you need to vent because things are going wrong, or whether you want to throw a metal party. The lyrics are as silly as they are on-point. I first thought this was just a fun Nu Metal throwback, but it’s one of the genre’s defining albums.

Recommended tracks: Keep Alone, Kick Rocks, You All Know Better Than Me, Painfully Bored, Hot Soap

Mudvayne – L.D. 50

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Nu Metal always had its weird side, and Mudvayne are trying to take it to the extreme. “Dig” was an obvious single, but Mudvayne’s quirks are there. The hook is a catchy chant, but behind the chanting the band just beats the sound to the ground. There’s a messiness and intensity to the riffs that doesn’t match other Nu Metal bands. More is going on besides noise or groovey riffs.

The bounce of “Internal Primates Forever” only confirms Mudvayne are on to something special. The “jump!” screaming adds some fun to song that tries so hard to be complex. For all of its shifting part and Patton-esque vocals, it’s a fun rocker. Both of these songs are brilliant because the band sounds like they can do anything and still make it accessible and intense and moshpit-friendly. It’s a more complex but organized version of Slipknot’s early output.

The next two tracks are okay, but it’s hard to find the difference between them. The band had a great sound, but all of their ideas were done in the first two songs and “Under My Skin” which only arrives at the end.

What went wrong? There are interesting moments. The tempo shifts in “Death Blooms” are effective and the band sounds good in a more funky setting. The melodic beginning of “-1” isn’t catchy, but it’s an addition that still contributes and adds contrast. The band never sounds tired.

It’s so boring, though. It’s hard to make a loud album that wants to literally break ground with its anger. Some did it, but not like Mudvayne. Glassjaw had heartbreak that made every song stick out. My Ticket Home’s album was short and catchy. Nine Inch Nails made it an EP. Even Slipknot couldn’t drag this for a whole album. Melody made their music heavier, but they still ran out of steam at the end of Vol. 3.

It’s somewhere around “Cradle” that the album loses all potential of a masterpiece. The song doesn’t end where it should but literally restarts. It exhausts all of its ideas and restarts anyway. Worse, it’s not very different than what came before.

It turns out Mudvayne don’t do much with their intense sound. Most of the songs consist of the vocalist screaming while the band pummels in the back and being loud. Catchy hooks and funky breaks are rare, and they’re always too short and too late to save the song.

The attempt at rapping in “Under My Skin” is a blessing. It doesn’t matter whether the label ‘forced’ them to make it or not. You can actually find traces of Hip-Hop in previous songs, anyway. It’s a lighter, catchier and more organized songs than everything around it. The band finally sounds experimental as they want to be. Being experimental isn’t just removing hooks. It also offers the guitarist to play other riffs besides slow sledgehammers.

L.D. 50 deserves some credit for making interludes sound like a good idea. The interludes scattered around the album (which also steal all the best song titles) connect to the songs, and the weird electronics offers a nice respite from the chaos. “Dig” sounds more effective if you have the build-up of “Monolith”. If only Mudvayne used these electronics to create actual songs. Maybe we could have had a nice contrast of cold electronica and chaothic Nu Metal. There’s some fun to be had here, but it’s a band being ambitious without any idea what to do.

2 doses out of 5