Idiotic though it may be as a genre designation, however, “post-grunge” does mean something specific in music-biz speak. It refers to a particular type of journeyman, we’ll-do-anything-to-make-it band; the kind of group that would have worn spandex in the ’80s or flannel in the ’90s; the kind of group that recognizes that it’s good for business to bathe yourself in the patina of alternative-rock.
Thanks to these bands, and the continued presence of ’90s warhorse Goo Goo Dolls, we are living through the rebirth of the power ballad, pop music’s most odious oxymoron in rock history. In truth, the power ballad never really went away, but it kept a low profile for most of the ’90s. Its current form is so ugly that it almost makes you pine for the days of Motley Crue’s road-weary “Home Sweet Home.”
In its ’80s incarnation, the power ballad didn’t bother to disguise itself as anything other than what it was: a double-slice of grilled cheese crafted purely to tug at the heartstrings of prospective groupies. You didn’t want to listen to them, but they were too crass to hate.
Hinder, Nickelback, and Goo Goo Dolls are different, though. Their power ballads berate you, like the uncle who admonishes you for forgetting his birthday. They reek of joyless careerism. These are self-described rock bands who don’t rock, and hearing their monotonous harangues is a bit like having a world-renowned chef serve you fast-food take-out.
I’ll say this much for Hinder. The Oklahoma City quintet might be the most accurately named band in rock history. Not only do they hinder the vitality of modern rock, every time I hear their hit “Lips of an Angel” on the radio, it hinders my desire to take another breath.
Hinder’s debut album is available in “explicit” and “clean,” and which one you prefer depends on how frank you like your creepy sex talk. Hinder knows only two moods: arrogant horniness and self-pitying horniness. They specialize in the mid-tempo, whiny rock ballad, the kind of song that advertises its sensitivity with acoustic guitars at the beginning, then gets all compression-crunchy on the chorus. “Nothin’ Good About Goodbye” boasts a title that would embarrass even the hackiest Nashville hack, and this beautiful couplet: “Then you come in again/to tell me you’re going to blow my best friend.”
“Bliss (I Don’t Wanna Know)” is more crybaby, breakup stuff, and it can’t even maintain a consistent message. For most of the song, we hear how miserable the singer is, and then the chorus tells us, “I don’t wanna know it’s over, ’cause ignorance is bliss.” This is the kind of bliss you experience when you spend a half-hour on the phone with a pushy telemarketer.
Ultimately, it should tell us everything we need to know about Hinder that the group is currently planning to cover the 1986 Eddie Money chestnut “Take Me Home Tonight.” Just like Ronnie sang, “I’m leaving your control-freak ass, Phil.”
Before it attained rock stardom, Nickelback was a Calgary cover band, and, rest assured, these guys are true to their musical roots. Like Hinder, Nickelback gets all raunchy on the deep cuts (as in deeply buried, not deeply profound), but they sell themselves to the VH1 crowd with wimpy nostalgia like “Photograph.” If I wanted to hear some aging dorks talk about how cool their high-school sexcapades were, I’d keep the Four Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” in constant rotation.
In its friskier moments, Nickelback makes dance music. As in pole-dancing music. There can be little doubt that the carnivorous “Animals” is providing the topless bars of North America with appropriate innuendo.
The Goo Goo Dolls are the godfathers of the alterna-ballad, and they taught Hinder and Nickelback everything they know. It was a canny move, being that the Goo Goo Dolls were always an Option C kind of band. They were the group you’d consider seeing if you missed Soul Asylum, and Soul Asylum was the band you’d consider seeing if you missed the Replacements.
The Buffalo, New York, trio is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, and bands this mediocre don’t last that long without a lot of perseverance and a lot of selling-out. Over the last decade, they’ve bombarbed us with K-Tel memories such as “Name,” “Iris,” and the title song from their latest album, Let Love In.
If you can’t remember a single note from any of them, you’re not alone. For those of us forced to endure the collected works of Hinder, Nickelback, and the Goo Goo Dolls, the best part of the power ballad is the power to forget.