Alex’s Top 20 Hate Songs #20-11
We have our favorite songs, some of mine are 12 minutes long and feature distorted bongo solos. They are those songs that put a smile on your face no matter hat, that always make you smile or have you dancing on your desk. Then, there are your most loathed, your hate songs. There is something about a hate song since it is so much more powerful than songs you love. The hate song generates a deep visceral response when you listen to it; your blood boils and your eyes redden with rage. You yearn to take the speakers blasting its venomous tones and smash them into smithereens, you crave taking a hatchet to the DJ’s computer, and you may even consider crashing your car just to make the pain stop. As a grumpy music snob of sorts there are plenty of songs that I scoff at, stick my nose up at, and call lowest common denominator art, but there are songs….THOSE songs that lead me to wondering what being deaf would be like and how it might liberate me from ever hearing these numbers again. Here, for your entertainment, are my top 20 hate songs. I am not saying these are the 20 worst songs ever written, no, but rather 20 songs that cause me to consider a life as an isolated monk, free of any nearby radio.
#20 Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass
I’ve learned to cope with this one a bit better over time, but it when it first came out its faux doo-wop body positive message drew great ire. It’s hard to admit, but it is a catchy song, and even though future songs by her like Dear Future Husband torpedoed her good faith, it is nice to hear a song that has a nice message about loving yourself, even if it comes in conflicting contradictory statements. It is mildly infuriating to see the most basic of songs lauded over as some wonderful little reinvention of a genre that has garnered little attention in recent history. Truth is her song is nothing more than a musical rehash. There are plenty of similar doo-wop songs, I don’t know if any of them have a backing chorus of “booty booty”, but this is nothing new. There is always that annoyance of celebrating the unoriginal, not that some of our favorite music is not derivative, but when there is gushing over a completely bland, uninspired song I can not help but want to smash my head into a desk until the memories of music old are erased and I can experience what the general public is enjoying. If its any consolation the rest of the album is complete bland bubblegum pop trash with no value. Even stranger is that while All About That Bass has a quaint little positive message the rest of songs fly off the cliff in the opposite direction. Was it the music writing committee that told her to write the body positive song or let her have that one before letting her write a bunch of songs for 12 year olds about what their future man should be like. Her relevance may last just as long as Iggy Azalea, but with less creepy racist undertones.
#19 Iggy Azalea – Fancy
Speaking of Iggy, shit this number comes in with a whole load of weird baggage that I don’t have time to unpack, and has been unpacked more properly than I ever could. Iggy’s white privileged confused self has thrown away all the good faith she had been bestowed due to her inability to simply stop talking when told to. She’s her own disaster artist that needs a whole article to dissect, but since we are here we can piece apart this nightmare of a song that is Fancy. The beat itself isn’t honestly all that bad, the bouncy synth bass is fun dance to, but then Iggy opens her mouth, and she doesn’t stop opening her mouth and all the stupid pours out, a never ending pour of uncouth verbiage that confuses Fancy with “White Trash with a paycheck”. If you are fancy you aren’t getting drunk off the mini-bar nor are you trashing the hotel room. You’re having a nice WASPy dinner at Dusk at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, and then returning to your room for some lights off, blankets on, eyes closed, missionary. Maybe she is being ironic? Is that the joke? Are we supposed to go “Oh I get it, she is not fancy, HA, what a zinger!”? If Iggy is indeed being tongue in cheek here she is doing a poor job of portraying that. Is she meant to be taken seriously? If so she is doing a poor job of that as well. I hate music.
Her vocal delivery is stilted, like an impostor trying to sneak in, and doing a poor job trying. I am uncertain how she garnered so much attention in the first place, as she lacks any sense of dynamics or subtlety, just shouting violently that she’s tough, or cool, or something. The first verse is a combination or words that vaguely form coherent thoughts and ideas, but they barely make any sense. First she is in the “murda bizness”, although I doubt she has ever murdered anyone, and really, there is no reason to spell business here. “murda” fine, I’ll let “murda” slide, but “bizness”? No, I am not letting that one go. Then she spells physics correctly in the next verse “I can hold you down, like I”m givin’ lessons in physics”. Honestly, what does that mean? Why does she spell business, bizness, but not physics, fizzicks? Going back, what does that line mean, seriously, what does it mean? Are you physically holding me down? Are you verbally keeping me grounded? Does she understand that this not how physics lessons go? Does she mean that she is like gravity and is keeping me pinned? How is that a physics lessons? Why am I this hung up on this nonsense? Near the refrain we get the line “Rooftop like we bringin’ ’88 back”. What connection do rooftops have with 1988? Fuck, she wasn’t even alive in 1988. How can she bring back a year she wasn’t even alive for? I give up. This roll-out of faux-agro gibberish has caused too much mental anguish at this point. Every I hear that chuggy bassy triplet that opens this musical trash pile I pray and pray that Weird Al Yankovich will begin letting me know about his home improvement skills, and anytime that doesn’t happen I frantically search for two pencils to jam into my head and end the pain. It is honestly a shame that such a decent little backing track as obliterated by such a monsoon of nonsense. Gonna go hit the subweigh like I’m bringing ’05 back.
#18 Hair Metal….the whole damn genre
Who, WHO thought this was a good idea? What committee of suits on a 5 day cocaine binge decided this hairspray and leather train-wreck was the future? I need to know who was helping pump out dozens of these amateur hour cookie-cutter bands that looked like they had experienced an explosion in a Claires. I understand the ironic appeal these bands have in 2017, the complete over the top level of schlock and stupidity is so symbolic of the 80’s, but you have to understand that was not the original way we saw these groups. They were worshiped for being cool and sexy, for being monsters on the guitar, being “READY TO ROOOOCK” at a moments notice. They were bad-asses of their time. Sure, I do have some appreciation that a “cool person” in 1985 was wearing feather boas, leather pants, and had more make-up on than Divine in Pink Flamingos rather than a some bland assortment of clothes that contain as much personality as drywall, but it all screamed of try hard and taking things pointlessly too far. The 70’s “rock god” was an organic generation. People like Plant and Daltrey were not generated at a moment’s notice, they evolved into their ego monster selves. That is the stark contrast between forced cool and naturally cool. Hair metal is forced cool, it is Venn Diagram of things that in theory should be cool, but end up being embarrassing. The fact that this could convey itself via radio is in itself rather mind blowing.
We haven’t even gotten to the music either, which is just an assortment of 100 bpm chug-fests with high-squealing guitar solos, uninspired 4/4 drum beats, and the laziest double entendre’s about having sex with minors, forced or otherwise. It’s the musical equivalent of a pixie stick, , a sugar rush with no substance, and no value. In 2017 these songs get people broed-up, jacked up on feel good rape powers, and have women dancing on bars in some awkward white woman shimmy that makes me want to call all their mothers. Rigidly gyrating to Put Some Sugar On Me just makes me want to cry and hope you have a better tomorrow. Maybe that is part of it too, the truely ugly misogyny of the music. Yes I know that this is well beyond a Hair Metal issue, but its as if this whole genre is some sort of creepy rape fantasy in music form; “locker room talk” with a guitar solo behind it. I swear somewhere there is a song from 1984 called “Grab ‘Em By The Pussy (Cat)” some a band called TYGAR or something equally moronic. If soullessness was music it would be hair metal.
#17 Carrie Underwood – Before He Cheats
As any reader/listener knows I am not a lyrically inclined person. I grew up being forced to listen to jazz and opera where there is nothing to latch on to in terms of words. Most of the time when someone tells me that a song has deep lyrics I politely acknowledge the statement and go back to assuming all songs are sang in Kobaiian. That being said, when I do tune into the lyrics I have this tendency to either be blown away or wish I could blow myself away. Bless any artist for trying, but most are not strong lyricists. Most contemporary music has genuinely terrible lyrics, a gluing of innuendo, overly on the nose posturing, or vapid self degradation. Maybe it would be better for most artists to sing in Kobaiian.
This brings us to Carrie Underwood. Honestly, I normally don’t mind Carrie Underwood. Her songs are nothing special, but she’s a talented singer and has little moments of creativity that I do appreciate. She does a decent job of combining pop and country together to make catchy music with her own cultural tinge. Considering the vast majority of pop-country is cosmically embarrassing, she deserves credit for making it work. Problem is for Carrie, her better songs are often ignored for moronic pig slop like Before He Cheats. I don’t understand how her worst songs become her radio singles. I am aware I just cried for a more pro-female song in the entry above, but this feels a little extreme Carrie don’t you think? The premise, Carrie finds out her man/boyfriend/whatever has been unfaithful or just plain lousy as a significant other so she proceeds to spend the rest of the song destroying his truck.
I appreciate her sense of vengeance and venomous rage towards the scum bag, but this feels all sorts of extra. When you carve your name into his leather seats you are setting yourself up for arrest, and really, a Louisville slugger? That feels a bit cliche’ Carrie. Big tire iron has the same number of syllables and just has a slightly dirtier feel to it. It is a bit of a peculiar revenge story, and it comes off weirdly stilted and unsatisfying. I would have loved a good psychological thriller where she kidnaps him and has him going through a series of Saw like scenarios, or even better, letting him know that his patriarchal ways are coming to an end and she lied, she does support Roe V Wade. Instead Carrie finds out her man is a scumbag and she smashes his truck. Carrie, you can do so much better, and I know you can do better because I have heard it happen. There is also something about the whole cadence and pacing of this song. Why is the truck the highlight of the number? Why isn’t his inability to be a good faithful partner the focus? Why is the refrain this constant repetition of her destroying his truck and leaving evidence to prove it because she didn’t think it through? Carrie, this makes no sense. Your boring drudge of a song makes no sense and you should try again, because I know you are better than this.
#16 Foo Fighters – The Best Of You
Dave Grohl seems like a nice guy, a regular blue collar rock ‘n roller (Despite his solid gold mansion from all dat sweet sweet Nirvana money) that tends to look like the human equivalent of a Labrador; always happy and giving no fucks about life. I have nothing personal against Dave. He is a rather wise frontman, primarily apolitical, and just presents as a nice person. We do not know if he reads Breitbart, or if he thinks the Earth is flat. He is just the rock music guy. I also think Dave is a talented musician. I have no evidence to the contrary. He can play drums well, guitar alright, and has a singing voice built for belting out heavy rock anthems, like chunky peanut butter it is smooth with just enough crunch to add some excitement. I say all this to point out that this is not a personal beef with Dave Grohl the man. Dave, you are alright in my book. I liked your drumming in Them Crooked Vultures, and when I see interviews of you I can not imagine anyone hating you. I say this because I find Foo Fighters to be the textbook definition of average, passable, and meh as a rock group, with a fan base that has latched onto mediocrity and perched it upon a thrown not deserved. Like Titanic the movie or Cheesecake Factory, their middle of the road nature ensures the widest net gain of fans and followers. There is not anything to hate per say, but anything to love? I’d argue no. You can not hate anyone for loving Foo Fighters, but it is puzzling when you hear someone go gaga over them, over what exactly? It is like an overly avid Boston Yea sure, Boston was nice, but their biggest accomplishment is being completely average.
The Best Of You is the worst culprit of the middle-of-the-roaddom, worse than Learned To Fly which is a decent little rock number, and far worse than Everlong, which has a respectable amount of emotional chutzpah to warrant respect. The Best Of You, is an impostor, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is faux-emotional. A fake plea for emotional envelopment. From the opening heartless wail of “I’ve got another confession to make!” I’m immediately rolling my eyes and asking myself “This shit really?” Yes, this shit, and this shit for the next however many minutes, but which feels like 10 billion minutes. There is a feeling of falseness, like processed cheese, that is undeniable, it wants to get you feeling a certain way, but it doesn’t deserve it. Dave can’t do the song justice because the song isn’t well written. It wants to be rowdy, sorrowful, and defiant all in one swing, and because it tries to do play in three separate fields at once it strikes out at each. I do not understand how this song is supposed to make me feel. I do not think Dave and his Fighters knew either. Am I sad, angry, hungry? I do not know. It has a complete lack of identity or soul. When your band’s strong point is being safe than attempts to shoot this far out into the distance comes off as poorly guided.
The song, like all Foo Fighters songs is not terrible, but suffers from trying to tug at your heart strings while not deserving it. It bellows and howls, and rocks, and rolls, and does so much, but none of it matters because none of it is gripping. The sorrowfulness does not have the weight of an Elliot Smith song, the rowdiness lacks the oomph of early career Against Me!, and the anger does not meet the pure despising that comes from a Trent Reznor piece. No real itch is scratched, and you are left wanting more of something.
Want to know how I am right? Find (if you can) Prince’s performance of this song during the Super Bowl so many years ago. He dials it back, makes it mournful and passionate without the grit, giving it a sheen and a clear direction. A chorus group coos along, giving the song the weight it needed. The song suddenly is working, and makes sense as a ballad. Common is this issue with Foo Fighters, they want to do too much, but this is coming from a band that does not understand creating songs that are not safe for mass record sales. They want to be fun, but serious, but intense, but tender, but silly, but rockin’ and like Cheesecake Factory it provides endless options, none of which I really want to have. When I meet a Foo Fighters fan I want to to provide them with suggestions for any other band, like seriously, any other band with more focus and direction. I know though, that any suggestion will be made in vain because DAVE GROHL and because of DAVE GROHL we can’t enjoy a finessed well crafted meal, but instead a bland 300 item buffet.
#15 Maroon 5 – Animals/Sugar
Adam Levine is music’s parasite. Like the tapeworm, people initially thought it was good for you, helping us stay lean and hip, but once we learned how wrong we were we couldn’t get rid of it. What is worse, although we know tapeworms are bad for us, people still try and get them. He is the musical Antichrist, a creative vacuum incapable of anything remotely valuable, but for some reason won’t go the hell away. Suddenly he is a judge on a show about musical talent, the only saving grace being the show isn’t about integrity. When someone describes any Herbie Hancock song as “Avant-Garde”, as Adam has, I have serious concerns.
Maroon 5 is the vessel for which Adam rides into glory and stardom, glowing in the adoration of cheering fans who must not be aware of the Soma being pumped into the air, deluding their senses and awareness of the auditory massacre unearthing around them. I have to imagine a Maroon 5 concert is a public execution of music itself, walked out on stage with a bag on its head and shot in front of the cheering audience before they go into another painful rendition of She Will Be Loved. Their vapid pointless music is empty of substance, meaning, or purpose. Their wild changes in style from album to album, never for the sake of creativity, scream of opportunism as they hunt down the most recent trend in search of record sales. When Ryan and I reviewed V for the podcast I thought it one of the worst albums of the year, and to this day I believe it to be one of the worst collections of songs I’ve ever had to listen to, and I did it more than once. I think it somehow skipped away from being the worst album of the year, but let it be known that Animals and Sugar are not only two of the worst songs of that year, but ever.
Animals is pure creep, a predatory stalker wet-dream, about hunting down “prey” or something equally rapey. Levine’s voice is disturbingly high-pitched, either organically or by a computer, which makes the whole fantasy just a bit more Buffalo Bill. I can imagine him sauntering around the studio listening to Goodbye Horses and wondering why the band would not allow him to include “I’d fuck me hard” in the songs lyrics. It’s sluggish, soulless and as original as any bargain bin pop song about coitus. It’s not that it has no charm, it does not,but that its blandness mixed with its unsettling nature make for a weird and unpleasant experience, like if Leonard Cohen were reading you someone’s murder fantasy. The cliched howl at the end is the icing on this non-consensual cake. You would hope, whatever corporate suits Adam reports to would have said “Hey Adam, this song is creepy as hell, maybe we could add a bit of levity” before Adam absorbed them into is ever growing corporate music homunculus that he is becoming. Adam sings crassly about how much he loves having sex with his ex, and how she cannot escape his hunger and need for her. I would love the reverse of that song, where the female role is seeking out a cease and desist from Adam’s stalker self, “I can smell your scent for miles.” Really Adam? Honestly, what is wrong with you?
Sugar is added because as a double whammy of a rape fantasy/ grocery store background song gives you have one of the strangest contrasts one can get on an album. Sugar isn’t terrible per say, its inoffensive, bland, dull, boring, uninteresting forgettable, tame, plebeian, and some other words the describe an indifferent experience worth forgetting. I’ve said it before, but bland songs are the worst, and Sugar is lord of blanddom. So when you pair Adam Levine’s sexual assault fan-fiction with a JC Penny song you get something truly wretched. Considering their latest single, I Don’t Wanna Know, is just as pointless and painful as Sugar I think we know where this Train wanna be is heading. I’m starting a kickstarter to buy every copy of V and send them into the sun. I also need verification that Adam is actually of this earth and not some sort of alien parasite hell-bent on destroying us all.
#14 Sublime – What I Got
Sublime was a relatively average stoner band of the early 90’s. It is impossible to express how basic their songwriting was, how hijacked their sound was, and how ridiculous the culture they breeded was. I think latter isn’t their fault to be honest. It was just a few friends getting wasted and writing silly faux-reggae songs about marijuana, jail rape, and surfing. Fine, a weird little footnote in musical history that for all intents and purposes should have evaporated into the ether of 90’s music much like Porno For Pyros and Marcy’s Playground. Their live performances were an erratic mess of slurred lyrics and off-tempo musicianship, and their studio albums were just plain “whatever”.
Somewhere along the way Sublime wrote and recorded What I Got. Again, it shouldn’t have mattered as it was a relatively uninspired song of minimal substance, with some nice feel goodery. I often mix it up with Santeria, and when starting this article I even thought they were the same song. Somewhere along the way though some ass-holes in a dorm figured out that its a relatively easy song to perform on a guitar after 12 Keystone Lights and a few blunts with an end result of thousands of bros who know 4 or 5 chords performing the song at every.damn.open.mic.night. I mean, seriously, every open mic night you go to in a college town will feature some guy with a fraternity tank-top playing this song, hamming it up when they sing the line “I can play the guitar like a mother fuckin’ riot” because OOOOOO that’s edgy or maybe it validates you bullying your parents into buying your acoustic guitar that you mostly use for hiding your weed stash.
Suddenly you have a bunch of people who don’t have a whole lot of lovin’ telling the world they have a lot of lovin’ and then everyone in the audience is like “YEA I GOT LOVIN’ TOO” as they carve “Dave is a faggot” into the wall of the bathroom. Even if Bradley Nowell meant sincerity in this song it was hijacked and has become the anthem of wasted people before they yell at a homeless veteran to “get a fucking job”. Its content is not congruent with the culture that surrounds it. So you hear this pretty forgettable Bob Marley And The Wailers rip-off about loving people or just not having standards for those you care about, I don’t know, being hollered by people who will then elbow you to get to get to the front of the bar. I have never experienced positive feelings when hearing this song. It’s a hi-jacked anthem. Everytime I see that stupid 40oz. to Freedom sun I want to break a window. Santeria is pretty equally stupid, but with just the slightest of lesser following. Or I don’t know, El Oh El Lou Dog is cool 420 blazzzzzin.
#13 AC/DC – All Night Long
I have this love hate thing with AC/DC. Their slightly, I’m sorry I meant completely, obnoxious, style of rock music is both endearing and headache inducing. They consistently teeter a fine line between “aw shucks bless your heart” and “this is the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life”. That in itself takes a load of talent, but there are moments where they completely fail to tow that fine line. For every Big Balls there is an All Night Long. All Night Long, one of many AC/DC songs that sounds exactly the same as any other AC/DC song, is so unpleasantly forceful and audacious that it leaves me stunned in confusion and irritation. An over played wedding anthem, All Night Long turns all the men into pseudo moshing cavemen, and the women into…..well I guess pseudo moshing cavemen, all over a song about fucking into the wee hours of the morning. People suddenly start making weird hand gestures that resemble some sort of waving motion and start jumping around like the we are 5 and the floor is indeed made of lava.
It’s so repugnant and gaudy, not that the band isn’t known for a song about having big testicles or blowing up people, but the entirety of the lyrical content is something akin to a 12 year old’s idea of what sex is. You are just waiting for the singer to howl about hanging onto those bags of sand or something equally stupid. The chunky riffs are just the icing on top of this juvenile cake. I do not mean to disregard all songs that are so juvenile, being a fan of a song where the majority of the chorus is just the word “booty” over and over, but the ferocity at which this is thrown at me causes my eyes to roll. Then you add a gaggle of bodies flying around to it and I just want to jump off of a bridge. Even your grandparents will get up and awkwardly shimmy along to this song, just trying to fit in. I do not understand how this became some sort of wedding staple. It’s grotesque and nasty on every level, like nearly all AC/DC songs, but completely lacking in that slight hint of “guys I’m just fucking with you”. Perhaps its just vague enough that we all let it slide. The innuendo just subtle enough that it is no longer “sick and depraved”.
I usually can roll with All Night Long, its my chance to grab some fresh air, grab another drink, or anything but be a part of the chorus of sweaty bodies rubbing together. Of the songs here, it is one of the least offensive. There are obviously worse offenders. One of the things with this song that I have not mentioned yet, is timing. You can’t just play All Night Long whenever you want. It has to be played at the right moment, at the peak of intoxication and jubilation. Too late into the evening and you get some sort of half-hearted flailing, like playing Ms. New Booty at a funeral, but too early and you can kill the dancing vibe for the whole night.
Having attended some weddings in my day I have witnessed this. The bride and groom, eager to save a few bucks on their event, hooked up a laptop to a PA and called it the music for the evening. Fine, I’m not here to judge what people invest their money on for their wedding, unless its a photo booth with “ZANY PROPS”, that shit is pointless and you should be ashamed of wasting your money like that. Unfortunately, someone’s cousin thought he was entitled to changing songs because he fancied himself a DJ. I fancy myself a DJ too, but I also know when to not touch people’s shit like a goddamn toddler. This poor fool decided this needed to be song #3 of the night, and had started the night with another AC/DC song. So to recap, this was the third song of the night of a particularly dry wedding, and was the second AC/DC song of the wedding night of a particularly dry wedding. The few dancers trying to get things going vanished in an instant leaving the dance floor a barren wasteland of embarrassment. Things would never recover and that dill-hole kept insisting on ending songs two minutes for some insane reason. I hope that man is now deaf, or had his computer privileges taken away due to a court proceeding.
#12 The Fray – How To Save A Life
There is the pointless flashback episode somewhere in the 5th or 6th season of Scrubs, where JD recounts a bunch of things from the show we have already seen, and as this came out at the boom of binging shows on DVD we have seen a million times ourselves. JD, played by lord of faux-insightful schlock Zach Braff, recounts that for SOME REASON when he recalls events he always hears The Fray.
Like a few other songs on this list, I have mix this song with others due to its nondescript nature. I often mistake How To Save A Life with Over My Head, both are inoffensive soft rock ballads designed for white people to feel better about their break-ups or lack of relationships. They have just the right amount of emotional vigor to insight a gut reaction and give you, as they say “all the feels”. Both are as inspired as white bread, have the same flavor and nutritional value. Like white bread, it’s fake , it is pretty, but completely hollow. As a 90’s child this came out as I was exiting high school and entering college, when ipods ran wild with various mixes, and this little number came on, all the damn time. Every hangout in someone’s dorm room featured The Fray. I would return to my dorm and cuddle with a 2005 The Mars Volta live bootleg. At the time I was partial to their May 6th performance in New York City.
I think its a song about a break-up, perhaps, maybe, I don’t care. How pompous a song title “How To Save A Life” and its about leaving someone, maybe. The lyrical content is moot. The band didn’t care about it, they just knew those power chords and piano keys make you feel feelings that you didn’t know you had. It’s like an even dumber version of Green Day‘s Good Riddance, but without the positivity. Even the band name The Fray just feels smug, like a person who wants to remain emotionally mysterious, they post vague statuses on Facebook, declare they are getting into poetry, but give up after 3 poems about their ex. Their ego is inflated every time they get 20 comments cheering them on when they post their status as “I don’t wanna talk about it”. They listen to The Fray because it speaks to them, because its so over the top, clubbing you on the head with emotion slop. They ask “Where Did I Go Wrong” during the refrain and the answer is, when you wrote this shit.
#11 The Shins – Saint Simon
Speaking of Zach Braff, once upon a time he wrote a film so ham-fistedly self-indulgent and pretentious Natalie Portman’s lousy acting couldn’t do anything to save it. Enter Garden State, a 2005 indie darling once lauded over by high-schoolers who were in touch with their feelings and liked The Postal Service. In retrospect it is a relatively embarrassing film filled with capital W Whimsy, and even more embarrassing is my historical adoration for this disaster. At age 17 it is hard to not find it insightful and thought provoking, what with its quirky scene structure, crying male protagonist, drugs, and quintessential sitting in a bath tub scene where everyone has a deep insightful revelation about their lives. This type of nonsense was really blossoming in the mid 00’s, which did help shine a light on deserving indie art, also shined a light on undeserving trash, but since it was “indie” it got lauding it didn’t need.
The clutch snot-nosed scene is where Zach Braff, waiting to see a neurologist for a nonsense medical condition, meets Natalie Portman, who has the social skills of a woodchuck. Natalie, not knowing a single thing about the beige in human form sitting next to her, declares he HAS to listen to The Shins because it will change his life. That song is New Slang, a pretty decent 60’s pop throwback that has all the hallmarks of a mid 00’s indie darling like a tambourine, vocals drenched in reverb, and smug lyrics. I like it, but life changing? Nat, please, The Woods came out in 2005, why could you not have that.
So then why Saint Simon? It wasn’t in Garden State, wasn’t from Oh, Inverted World, and wasn’t a particularly popular song by the band, all of which should keep it free from scrutiny. No, and no, and an extra dose of No. Saint Simon is Garden State in song form, smug pretentious drivel that strokes its audiences ego better than a Salvation Army sport-coat. It’s plodding strolling down the boardwalk style pacing reeks of upward turned noses, and a “us vs them” mentality.
Lyrically it has a bratty tone to it, the word of the day calendar at maximum velocity. It opens up with the lines “After all these implements and text designed by intellects/ So vexed to find evidently there’s just so much that hides”. Now I do not mean to say that you cannot use words like vexed in a song, it doesn’t really have a catchy sound, and you can’t get nasty to the word vexed (I don’t imagine David Banner will be saying vexed anytime soon), but you could use it if you so choose. It comes without saying, though, that if you were to choose to use vexed in a song you are gong to gather a certain level of scrutiny, and when you mix obtuse and large words with music made for the promenade you come off like a smug twat.
Maybe it was not the their intention to come off this way, or maybe even their song is dripping in satire that I am missing. I do not know, I may not be smart enough to appreciate it its dry wit. What I do recall is when I first heard this song, wandering into a garage full of weed smoke and people belting out the lyrics while playing beer pong intermittently having faux-intellectual conversation masked by their inebriation (and now I have become the snob). The moment of observing a group of people using this song to feed their attitudes and beliefs in their piousness mid pipe hit is eternally etched my mind and a perfect encapsulation of a song such as this.
It is the justification of “I listen to smart music”. That one friend you have that picks albums based on the word choice, band photo, and Pitchfork review score. I’ll even skip the racial overtones this attitude tends to carry, (a consortium of New Englander musicians in sweaters rarely yields any cultural diversity), but it is the type of band that fancies itself smart, witty, whimsical, or clever in their clever use of wordplay, quirkiness, or theft of musical ideas from other parts of the world. Maybe I am reading too far into this, but bands like The Shins, Death Cab For Cutie, or Vampire Weekend have this tendency to jerk off the ego of its audience, who are sitting in their Goodwill acquired wing-back chair reading Slaughterhouse 5 for the 7th time. None of this a problem in isolation, but as it compounds together it tends to generate an individual you want to punch in the face. Not only because their used chair smells like cat urine due to its previous owner, not only because their “unique lifestyle” seems to be a patchwork of ideas they read online to be bohemian yet sophisticated, but specifically because if you really want to be a music snob you listen to jazz, not The Shins.
I am such curmudgeon.