DECEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 12


Rock's Girls and Boys Indulge Their "Deepest" Diary Doodlings

Rage Against the Machine review

Stone Temple Pilots, 311, Dream Theater


Sound Bites

December 7

"Being John Malkovich" - Original Soundtrack

"Deuce Bigalow - Male Gigolo" - Original Soundtrack

Sheryl Crow - "Live"

L'il Kim - "Notorious K.I.M."

Notorious B.I.G. - "Born Again"

December 14

"Man on the Moon" - Original Soundtrack

"The Green Mile" - Original Soundtrack

December 28

Jay-Z - "Volume 3: The Life and Times of Shawn Carter"

January 4

"On Any Given Sunday" - Original Soundtrack

- © 1999 ICE Online
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Supposed Former Journal Junkie:  Rock's Girls and Boys Indulge Their Deepest Diary Doodlings
Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Creed, Live


Youth rules, at least when it comes to the realm of pop-consumer music. Consider modern rock radio, the MTV/VH1 monolith and the all important 18-35 year old demographic, then bow, by all means, to the newly christened stable of stars who want you to adore them.

Alanis. Jewel. Live. Creed. Their success is storied; their fame uncontested. They have survived the one hit wonder litmus, bested Billboard and are likely here to stay. That's okay. Maybe, as they mature, they'll enliven their music with a little lifeblood. Their lyrical spirits, on the other hand, could use a transfusion, post-haste.

The problem isn't exactly the young ones themselves, though it may be their lack of perspective and their trust - as substantiated by fan worship - that their off-the-top-of-my-head sentiments are ... well, good. Sure, we all kept diaries at some point in our awkward adolescences, but not many of us felt compelled to cast those thoughts to music, back them behind million dollar marketing campaigns, and clog the national airwaves and record bins with them. Most of us in fact are probably pleased that such trifles are locked up in volumes of past-perfect mustiness; too bad many of todays singer-songwriters can't say the same. In thinking out loud, so to speak, through navel-gazing refrains, these precocious stars are setting themselves up for the ultimate embarrassment: growing older on a public stage.





Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette branded an entire franchise of ex-boyfriend bitterness on her debut album, 1996's Jagged Little Pill. But when not soul searching (read: screeching unreservedly), she had ridicuously little else to say. The album contained oddly erroneous meditations on misconstrued concepts (irony does not equal coincidental bad luck, Alanis) and toothless slice-of-silly-life observations - remember "I've got one hand in my pocket/And the other one's giving a peace sign"? That, of course, is just one segment of the song's oft-repeated chorus; other notable projects for her paws included hailing a taxi cab and lighting a cigarette. Compelling subject matter, no?

Her 1999 offering, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, supposedly finds her a couple years older and wiser. True, there aren't as many rampantly raging tunes, though heart-on-her-sleeve contemplations continue to run amok. Take the album's second single, "Unsent," which tries to be more adult about things by posing as an open letter from the desk of Alanis to all those who have presumably taught her a great deal. "Dear Matthew," she writes, "I like you a lot and I realize you're in a relationship with someone right now and I respect that." Okay. Did she jot this on Matthew's brown paper bag book cover during History class? Then to Terrance: "I love you muchly and you've been nothing but open hearted and emotionally available and nurturing and consummately there for me" Believe it or not, the song carries on in this fashion with Alanis expressing gratitude to no less than a half dozen former boyfriends. I guess this impressionable dame of indebtedness didn't get a warm enough feeling from thanking the entire country of India (pop. 1 billion), to whom she also acknowledged appreciation in the album's first single, "Thank U." Has the whole wide world really taught Alanis a lot or has she just a lot to learn?

Jewel joins Alanis as singer-songwriter ingénue, and as published poetess; she almost surpasses her in sheer unabashed pretense. Check any track on her Pieces of You debut - I personally would've combined her and Alanis for a Jagged Little Pieces of You super-summit - for staggering degrees of mawkishness. Jewel, too, claims greater sophistication on this year's sophomore(-ic) follow-up, Spirit, though one listen finds it steeped in the same confessional, reach-out-and-relate-to-you motif. Even worse is the lead-off single, "Hands," which boasts one of the most shudder-inducing first lines ever, "If I could tell the whole world one thing/It would be that we're all all right." Hmm ... would she buy us all a Coke while telling us so? And does she really believe, in all her insufferable naiveté, that the downtrodden of the world will willingly trade a warm hug for her pearls of wisdom? At least Alanis strains only toward some sort of self-reflective craft; Jewel is a much worse offender if she aims to dress the full scope of LIFE itself with her innocuousness. Then again, this is the gal who expects us to buy her yearning empathy for the obese with a song callously and unelegantly titled, "Fat Boy."

Men are certainly not immune to "diary doodler" temptations either, even when they clad their musings in tougher and more hulking soundscapes. Singer/songwriters Scott Stapp (Creed) and Ed Kowalczyk (Live) try a little tenderness on their respective new albums, Human Clay and The Distance From Here. But rather than remain intensely personal, these Cyranos of social consciousness tackle larger, more worldly issues like spirituality and politics. Creed, apparently unable to save us all last year with helpful reminders like "We're headed for mutiny/When all we need is unity," continue their state-of-the-union campaign on Human Clay. On most of the album's tracks, Stapp paints himself a noble searcher - in other words, a melodramatic cliché who plods through the cosomos of the overwrought: "I can't sleep beneath the trees of wisdom" and "We swim in the fountain of youth's timeless maze." (As long as he doesn't mix the two up and sleep in the fountain.) In "Wash Those Years Away," which features some of the album's more obtuse lines, Stapp writes, "We have crossed many oceans/And we labor in between/In life there are many quotients/And I hope to find the mean." Math as metaphor? Are we sure this guy isn't still in school?

Live, also known for being overblown, has tread much the same ground for most of the decade, which makes frontman Ed Kowalczyk a bit older at 28 than most of his peers. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to know any better. While his band occassionally subverts their tag as brawny-yet-brainy "message" rockers for mainstream radio offerings like "I Alone," they are still firmly rooted in introspection. The Distance From Here, their 1999 offering, is chock full of adolescent pretense, ranging from the ornate - "God laid me down into your rose garden of trust" (watch for thorns, Ed) - to the absurd - "Classy holy hooker!!!/Hey, I've made up my mind, yeah!" I suppose we shouldn't be surprised; this is, after all, the source from which has sprung forth hokey song titles like "White, Discussion" (note the strategic comma), a song in which Kowalczyk actually rhymed "politically correct" with "leaves me quite erect."

The longer Live lives, in fact, the more they seem to verge on self-parody. The Distance From Here is so replete with drama you'd be tempted to mistake Kowalczyk for some high school Hamlet. On "Run To The Water," he bellows, "We'll cut through the madness ... /with a nuclear fire of love in our hearts ... /Rest easy, baby, rest easy" How can she? She has the nuclear fire of love in her heart! Later in the album, on "Where Fishes Go," he offers, "Yeah, I found God/And he was absolutely just like me/He opened my mouth, looked down my throat/told me I was thirsty." Must be that nuclear fire acting up again. Perhaps Kowalczyk and company could use a bicarbonate or two before continuing. (Save a few for your listeners, Ed.)

Certainly Live - along with Alanis, Jewel, and Creed - is enormously popular and successful, so who exactly are we to judge? Maybe Jewel has already said it best herself, though: "My hands are small I know/But they're not yours, they are my own." (Quick, burn the precious pages that spawned such poesy.) Still, even with such self-proclaimed "small hand" limitations, couldn't Jewel et al. compensate with a little extra effort in their songcraft?

Alas, simply the fact that each artist is authenticated by a rabid fan base of record buyers allows them some semblance of industry invicibility - though admittedly, the fact that these backers are mostly under legal voting age serves to explain a lot. Still, what we have here more than anything is a crisis of context; Pop/Rock history is filled with tough, literate songwriters who did some of their best work in their twenties - Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King, to name a few. Perhaps if their contemporary counterparts - wherever they may be - were allowed to crawl out of their respective corners and sit a bit in the fashionable limelight, we might just come to see what we've been missing.


RICK CONNELLY is the staff television writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.

PICTURE of Alanis Morissette copyright ©1999 Maverick Records

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