Hot Rods Are In

Photo courtesy Magnum PRMAXIMO PARK
A Certain Trigger

WHAT THEY SAY: “Sounds like every other band—but I LOVE every other band!”

WHAT WE SAY: Worry too much about realness and you'll get called a hillbilly, writes John Darnielle; true, but that's how I was raised, without traffic lights or pavement, in a house on a hill where the lightning would strike down the telephone lines—us hillbillies have our excuses and our prejudices inbred into us, and so like another madman from the desert once said: “Fake bands, I hate you so!”

No such thing as new wave? It's on every magazine cover, grinning into cameras for the big bucks, same detoxed smiles as the clip-art gals in the back of this mag. More Darnielle (Who? He's in a band): “When something reaches through the speakers practically screaming at you: 'A human being made me! He is speaking to you now! He's in pain!' there is something primal about it.” And when something reaches through the speakers, flips palm up and waits for a tip (and gives you nothing), there's something—well, it's still primal, but in the oldest-profession way. Hillbillies got a rigid code of morality, you know.

Hate's a strong word but a fun one, and you can hate that shit for artistic-ish reasons—”They suck,” because they always do—or for blurrier personal reasons, like when the fakeness pools up so heavily that hot virgin plastic drools out the bottom of the TV screen—like Charlton Heston, shoving through the crowd: “The Killers aren't people! AREN'T PEOPLE!”—or you can hate them for accountable cash-in-hand reasons. It's not even “selling out” (first time I ever typed that phrase); it's taking up space. For every fake band that got famous because some shiny suit sleeve reached out of a sunbeam with a cashier's check, somebody more honest and hard-working and recognizably human (and probably older and uglier and less photogenic) has to forever clock in at a fluorescent-lit computer-typing job that will eventually so heavily perforate the cartilage in their fingers that they finally quit playing, and they finally sadly clip their real life loose and let it float away above them.

A fake band is a thief. They steal opportunities and attention. They steal possibilities people might use to improve their lives: pop culture, a chance to make millions feel a little less alone, at best, but only if there's any life put into it at the assembly plant. It's so sad to see an artist starve: that uncomprehending glow in their eyes as they play is just like a puppy getting injections at the vet, because they don't understand why it's so bad for them. They see the fakers' fireworks around them, and they wonder what they're doing wrong—they weren't born with parents who knew someone, or they didn't go to prep school with someone who knew someone, or they didn't move to New York at 18, or they didn't sleep with the A&R guy/gal, or whatever.

Breaks my heart every time someone unearths a 30-years-lost undiscovered classic because that means someone else had their rightful life stolen away: doesn't do office-manager ex-musician much good in 2005 when someone shows up too long after the discovery was due. “What could have been,” you know? The people who are willing to starve to make something are the exact ones who shouldn't have to. Wouldn't you be a little sad if the Beatles—okay, not the Beatles but the Kinks!—had lived in their cars and eaten cold food at their friends' Chinese restaurant after hours, preventing them from most fully making the songs that you got married to/conceived children during/slipped an arm around your spouse and watched a sunset with/etc.? No, you wouldn't, because you would have never heard of them anyway. But what if there was a whole beautiful, peripheral world being ground a little more into the mud each day, all because you don't watch where you're going? It'd make you pretty nervous, if you were a certain sort of person—if you didn't like feeling like you were missing something, if you didn't like feeling like you were getting faked out.

Late-to-the-game Maximo Park—who among us didn't stop caring about Brit-pop invasion part two between Franz Ferdinand's first LP and Franz Ferdinand's just-leaked new LP, something-something history-tragedy-farce?—are not exactly as bad as a fake band because they make no pretense of authenticity/realness/etc.; they are humbly just serviceable. Copying a boring and successful sound is their sincere best. Their influences aren't other bands but the business guys who'd tell Lou Reed or the Wrecking Crew or whoever to write a song to an existing sound: hey, guys, hot rods are in—we need a song about hot rods! Or hey, bicycles—what rhymes with bicycles? Or even the library musicians who'd cut soundtracks for films: hey, here's a record from some guy named James Brown. Do this, but write it yourself, so we don't have to pay copyright. Punch out Maximo's Brit textbook research—Wire, XTC, the Jam and the Fall, all used just to add serifs to plain but acceptable pop—and you got what all these bands got: Strokes rhythm section, Smiths/Cure guitar, pretty-sad-lad singer who can mope or wink but not both at the same time. There's only two real flops (and one stick-out electronic downer) out of 13 songs here, and the other 10 sound exactly the same, variations on a proven winner, a cluster bomb for the British pop charts. All that could mean is PLEASE BUY THIS. Which is pretty honest.

A fake band always believes in its own real-ness: always smiling back when they catch themselves in the mirror—hey hey, still got it! If they understand where they really are, or if they've opted out of the life-and-death struggle that music can really be—(“Pop Goes the Artist,” by me, Aug. 12)—because they just want to cash the paycheck they're given, that's okay, in a way. If they understand that to suck is to succeed—if they know it won't last—if they don't believe the blowjobs they're getting—then that's okay too. People get lucky, but you can like them if they don't get cocky. Maximo are a band that totals perfectly at zero, that will probably disappear after one more album, but that's just efficient. No obnoxious trash-bag swagger like the Kaiser Chiefs, none of the first-over-the-finish-line cachet of der Franz, none of the first-time-drunk cockiness of the Cribs: Maximo are just five more faces in the wave, commendable players with technical songs and HONORABLE MENTION pinned on their snappy sport coats. There's not enough personality here—every lyric is basically Jarvis Cocker missing a girl—to register any sense of insincerity, and there's enough technique to make it work anyway; they do not create so much as deliver. They could probably play anything anyone told them to, but this is what happens to get the cashier's checks these days.

They are too inanimate to hate: they are just humans with instruments and clothes and there will always be another, and so they're also too inanimate to love. If a band doesn't have any unique humanity to them, they can still be okay—music is as technical as carpentry, and good playing and songwriting is worth appreciating as craft no matter what, even if the emptiness around it makes it echo out and out. Not everything in life has to be life-changing, and not everyone has to try, and Maximo don't really try; they saw a certain silhouette cut out in some label's bankbook, and they shifted themselves to fit it. That's not fake, that's just . . . getting by? As a hillbilly who cares about (to the extent that he is able to use his hillbilly instincts to assess it) realness, there is nothing in Maximo Park either direction to register: not real enough to be a real band, not fake enough to be a fake band. The fake bands are the ones who think they deserve everything they've got; bands like Maximo Park know they deserve everything they've got. Ten songs that sound just the same: if that's all they want, that's all they'll get. It's a living, not a life.


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