When rock bands become adult contemporary (part 1)

u2

Motorhead and the Ramones played the same up tempo rock n’ roll all throughout their careers and to the very end.  AC/DC and Slayer are not ones to mess around too much with the formula of each one of their new albums. You can expect Tom Waits or Radiohead to experiment with their sound and provoke their listeners on practically every new album. But for some bands the road most walked is the better (and certainly more quiet) option.

Sometimes it’s growing older, losing some of the excitement or simply wanting to create more subtle music. Sometimes it’s because the adult contemporary , soft rock genres are a tested formula for success. For one thing, it’s listeners have the reputation of generally including fans enthusiastic about slow songs, that are unoffensive and feature universally relatable themes. If the Ramones is the sound of a shuttle going to the Moon with a million miles an hour, this is the sound of standing still in the middle of the round.

U2

Most discussions I’ve witnessed about this band start with the words “Nothing against U2, but…”. A good portion of rock fans are not exactly enamored with the Irish band at the moment. Granted, they’re still not that awful. But whether it’s giving their album for free through Apple because (obviously) the whole world needs to hear their new collection of middle-age crisis material, or constantly comparing themselves to bands like the Clash or the Beatles, U2 can get a bit on your nerves.

Before that, throughout the ’80s they were described as a “rock band with a conscience”. U2 was a group inspired by punk rock that took influences from traditional forms of American music, to make songs seemingly designed to be played on large arenas. With the help of wonder producer/musician Brian Eno they worked on creating soundscapes that they then used as a basis for their anthemic songs.

Their most significant claim to the adult contemporary throne (left vacant by Phil Collins perhaps) was made with the album All that you can’t leave behind from 2001. And while the album is not that bad, it plays into every trick that the band seems to think they are expected to come up with. It is filled with moments of mock inspiration, bombast and statements about just how swell life really is if you give it a chance.

Goo Goo Dolls

The Goo Goo Dolls began as a band inspired by punk rock/alternative heroes the Replacements. Throughout the late ’80’s through the early ’90’s they made music that was rousing, yet humble, a band destined to be remembered as a college radio staple in America. Then out of nowhere they got a hit. A big hit, with the song Name. It was a slow, well written song that could have just been the icing on the cake for a band with a strong, yet not all that popular catalog. But instead it became a bit of a formula for the band and their gateway into adult contemporary.

Sure, they got more hits, most of them resembling in pace and tone the pattern established on Name. Their biggest hit was Iris a song played by rock radio every other 15 minutes. And to be fair, it is a good song, but this was the point where the Goo Goo Dolls seemed to make it their goal in life to remain on the radio and become the Bon Jovi of alternative rock. And that’s fine if it’d your thing. It pays their bills, one would imagine.

Coldplay

When Coldplay released their first album it was supposed to be Radiohead by way of Jeff Buckley. Here was a talented, but really unassuming bunch of guys. They weren’t going to make anyone upset. Then on their second album A rush of blood to the head, Coldplay showed that they could write good songs, that could be hit singles all over the world. Some might say it’s been down hill from there.

There was a bit of a vacuum in the market for rock bands equipped with material that could fill stadiums. Brit-pop and grunge had all but ended and were a little divisive to some music fans. Enter Coldplay, with new found inspiration from U2 like grandeur and the production credits of Brian Eno. While their newer music is not terrible, it often feels created for the lowest common denominator. It’s music that will not piss anyone off and that radio stations have no problem playing. Add to that lyrical prowess of singer Chris Martin in the mega hit Clocks with inspiring lines like “You are, you are, you are , you are.” You are what? Like U2, Coldplay shows just how powerful pop rock can be when it’s supposed to contain and inspirational message that because it cannot be understood , can be universally relatable.

Collective Soul

Collective Soul became popular in the wake of grunge. And while other bands were busy being tortured and questioning the world around them , someone had to write some hooky singles. Like the other groups on here, Collective Soul is by no means a bad band. At least they weren’t entirely. While they were accused in the beginning of riding the coattails of the very lucrative alternative/grunge market, the band has made it clear that they can change with time. Their transmission to adult contemporary has been pretty smooth, like walking to the beat of a light power ballad.

Cold War Kids

A band currently enjoying a new life as an adult oriented pop-rock group, Cold War Kids was the indie rock band that all other bands seemed to want to sound like for  a while. The band drew inspiration from indie, garage rock and classic Americana and were the darlings of the press before falling somewhat out of sight. With their new musical direction Cold War Kids are planting their feet firmly (but politely) in adult contemporary territory.

 

 

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