September 28, 2000

The Pearl Pilots of Nirvana

Print More

It’s growing increasingly hard for music critics to find things to say about new albums. This problem, currently sweeping through the newsrooms of entertainment newspapers and magazines all over the country, can be tied to the current crop of lackluster, headbanging rock bands.

Ah, the poor music critics! What are we to do when, for instance, Fuel releases a new album? Are we to praise the originality and vision involved in resurrecting grunge? No, because Fuel is certainly not the first band to ride grunge’s flannel coattails to fame, and I doubt they’ll be the last.

Nevertheless, on their sophomore effort, Something Like Human — the follow-up to 1998’s million-selling Sunburn — Fuel demonstrates that grunge didn’t necessarily die with the break-up of Soundgarden.

Packing as many heavy, distorted guitar riffs and angry vocals as possible into twelve radio-ready songs, Something is very much a formulaic album. At times, though, the band proves they can craft some good songs. “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” is sure to be a hit, with its jumpy guitars and dramatic vocals.

On other tracks, it’s songwriter Carl Bell’s guitar theatrics that steal the day, especially on “Prove,” “Empty Spaces,” and “Solace.” Bell is no guitar wizard, but his playing is forceful enough to make an impression and stand out from the dozens of other faceless guitarists out there today.

In other places, though, Fuel falls into the trap of imitation rather than innovation. The entire album would not seem out of place in the Alice In Chains discography, but specific songs also recall Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and even more recent star Creed. On “Bad Day,” Fuel attempts to reprise their hit single “Shimmer,” using similar loud/soft dynamics, but with far less impressive results.

The main problem with Something Like Human is the complete lack of memorable hooks. The guitar melodies don’t stick in your head any more than the generic vocals do, and ultimately you’re bound to forget what this album sounds like barely ten minutes after listening to it.

It’s disappointing to see a band whose songs “Shimmer” and “Bittersweet” were pretty much engrained in the collective consciousness put out such a forgettable album.

Despite a few signs that this band might have a bit more to offer than this by-the-numbers grunge imitation, the album as a whole can only be described as a let-down. Although going the grunge route may seem like a shortcut to fame for many young bands, it might be better if a few more bands resisted the temptation to take this easy way out.

Increasingly, grunge seems to be the easy route to fame for many young bands, rather than going through all the trouble of thinking up their own original ideas. If a few more young bands were able to resist the temptation of easy stardom, it might be better for all involved. Just turn on the radio at any given moment, and there’s a good chance you might hear Fuel or one of the countless other bands trying to bring grunge back to the forefront. But with Soundgarden broken up, Alice In Chains in limbo because of drug addiction, and Nirvana gone from the scene for obvious reasons, the new grunge hitmakers seem pale and lifeless by comparison.

It’s kind of hard to get worked up over the anguished, angry lyrics of Fuel’s music when you have no idea who the singer is, why he’s so angry, or even what he’s trying to say.

But it’s safe to assume that nothing will be changing anytime soon. Unfortunately, the end result of this is to cause more anguish for music critics, who are left with the task of saying something new and different about each new album that comes out — even if every one sounds just like a thousand others.

So the next time you see a music critic wandering dejectedly around with a Fuel CD spinning in his discman, give him a hug, won’t you?

Archived article by Ed Howard