Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Under the Radar

There are those rock groups out there that the casual listener typically likes, but never really gloms onto who they are. These bands have reached the tipping point of fame, but they don't pass over to the tipping point of brand name recognition. A radio station (an imaginary one, of course, as no radio stations really do anything like this today) might play two or three different songs by the band in the space of a couple hours, and only the fans would know it was the same group.

Therefore, I, your humble music geek web servant, would like to imprint a trail of little glowing footprints, like those sung of in the Byrd's "Mr. Spaceman," to help the casual listener find their way to these worthy bands. I hope to invoke the response "Oh, those guys!" and to help fill out iPod playlists for maximum shuffling pleasure.

The first band may have enough brand recognition to not be included here, but just in case, I'll mention them. Collective Soul creates the exact kind of tunes that music snobs love to hate: festooned with riffage and guitar hooks, great melodies, compelling lyrics, and lush, top-shelf production values. No lone dude or dudette with a guitar and a harmonica belching and honking along nearly tunelessly, no DIY lo-fi garage punk band, no Velvet Underground wannabes, and no "street cred" whatsoever. Nope, just great, straight-ahead rock played by crack musicians who know what they're doing - eminently listenable.

Collective Soul has some sonic tics that might annoy some. Their favorite trick is to start a song with the recording compressed down so that it sounds as if it were squeaking out of a little plastic AM radio - a conceit first heard on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here - and then blast into the full spectrum of sound after a couple bars. They usually do it well, though, so those of us who blissfully do not have the souls of music critics dig it.

The albums to check out are their hits collection and their first eponymous album, which is almost a hits compilation on its own. There's not a lot of overlap between the two, so you won't be wasting your money by buying both.

Specific songs to sample are :
Gel
Energy
When The Water Falls
December
The World I Know

I had a hard time culling that down to a small list, by the way.

Note: If the links to the samples don't work, just follow the album links and click on the song sample icons directly.


TLD: Before I go on (and on), one example of a band who I think DOESN'T fall into this "just missed" category is Everclear. They reached the tipping point when "Father of Mine" broke big. After that, they were anthologized on the American versions of the NOW CDs - CDs which combine the hits from top pop radio - in amongst Britney Spears, Rappers, and other rabble. (Full disclosure, I did like "Toxic," Lord help my immortal soul, because it reminded me of ELO on steroids - say an unreleased track from the Xanadu soundtrack.) I think Everclear is a fantastic group, and they would be included in this post as one of the many under the radar bands if not for their wide popularity.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming:
Another band that just didn't crest like it could've because the lead singer was fully invested in the rock and roll lifestyle was the Stone Temple Pilots. I hope I never bump into any of the members because of what I'm about to say, but they only created just enough good songs to have a greatest hits compilation, and maybe a couple tracks on it could qualify as filler. Yet, the songs that are good are very good.

Worth a listen:
Vaseline
Big empty
Plush
Interstate Love Song


And now the band that was the impetus of this post: Toad the Wet Sprocket. Of the many incongruities of this group, their name comes from a Monty Python skit, but their music is thoughtful, soulful rock. You'd expect all sorts of silliness, not the pretty tunes they actually offer. But then, these guys were all over the road in their sound and the hits they had, so maybe the name does fit. Their albums were kinda spotty, with one or two great tracks while the rest was forgettable, so the best thing to get is their hits compilation, named oddly so it's hard to identify it as such: P.S. (A Toad Retrospective).

Highlights include:
Walk on the Ocean
All I Want
Something's Always Wrong


This final band has no business being in this post because they are a one hit wonder, but I plug their first album whenever I can, because I think it's a minor classic. This is one of the handful of CDs I just never tire of. I laugh at the jokes every time (and there are a bunch), and I never fail to fully achieve Jimmy Buffet mode during "Mexico." Folks, if you haven't given the Refreshments and their minor classic Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy a try, why not start today?

Check out:
Banditos (the one bonafide hit)
Mexico
Down Together
Don't Wanna Know


Thanks for listening.

1 comment:

Ned said...

Glad to see a recommendation of the Refreshments' Fizzy Fuzzy. It's a shame they never caught on, and had to break up (although I never heard their second album, so I don't have a full picture of their output).

Interestingly, their best-known song (and true legacy, thanks to syndication) is the theme to King of the Hill.

I agree that Collective Soul made some great, eminently listenable alterna-rock - I own that greatest hits collection - but often find the lyrics cringe-inducing. Ech, maybe I'm a snob...