Hated in the Nation: The 30 Biggest Punching Bags in Pop History
We open up the case files to see who's gotten a bad rap and who's just bad
CHARGE AGAINST: Floridian FM wangos feasting off ’90s grunge leftovers, ushering in a deeper morass of toothless, modern “adult alternative.”
CASE FILES: Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas (a shorthair, it should be said) offered a neutered take on Eddie Vedder’s marble-mouthed mewling, but kept his lyric book clean of any wild-eyed abstractions or chest-beating psychodrama. In turn, his band’s hookless, faceless brand of alt-gone-soft-rock was every bit as portentous and plodding as grunge at its worst. Critics massacred the band (Quoth the NME: “Musically, this is the sound of middle America at its most ugly and nauseating”), ultimately prompting Thomas to tell CNN: “I say, if you’re going to bash us, just be clever.” Prior to their 1998 SPIN cover (sorry!), MTV sent a camera crew to a Matchbox Twenty show to ask audience members to name the band’s members. The network would later air a montage of puzzled expressions. Thomas’ star would rise even higher with “Smooth,” the inescapable Grammy-winning collaboration/abomination with Carlos Santana.
THE DEFENSE: Matchbox Twenty never sought to project an image any different from what they actually were. Thomas, in particular, made light of the fact that they were punching bags, appearing on an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and hilariously calling their latest album Exile on Mainstream. D.B.
EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER
CHARGE AGAINST: Hollow virtuosos who took prog rock to its ill, logical extreme.
CASE FILES: In addition to dressing like medieval gentry, ELP incurred charges of self-important muso-mania via countless pompous gestures: unending solos, the Freudianly oversize kit of drummer Carl Palmer, the spaceship-sized keyboard rig of Keith Emerson, the haughty ballads of bassist Greg Lake, and snooty interpretations of works from the “high art” canon. Desirous of a solo-larded, electric version of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures from an Exhibition”? Look no further! Want the most accurately titled album in history? Might we direct you to 1974’s triple-LP Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends? Not for nothing, a common joke of the era suggested that “pretentious” was spelled “E-L-P.”
THE DEFENSE: There’s not exactly a world of difference between the time-signature intensity of ELP and, say, the rhythmic assault of Battles. Additionally, Lake’s gentle, humble “I Believe in Father Christmas” is one of the few holiday rock songs worth humming sincerely. And the H.R. Giger–designed skeleton-queen cover for 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery is undeniably fucking awesome. D.M.