Is There A Place For Good Charlotte In 2018?

31 May 2018 | 12:26 pm | Ross Clelland

"Those rebels without a clue will still go for the tune that sings of their pain."

Among the timeless tropes - and timeless moneymakers – of the popular music is the yell of apparent empathy to the disaffected and disenfranchised youth. Those rebels without a clue will still go for the tune that sings of their pain.

Strangely, around the turn of this century the Americans in particular tried to package this music for kids in the basement as ‘punk’, and a little later – when stealing their mum’s eyeshadow became a statement of rebellion – as its more sulky sibling, ‘emo’. One problem though, 20 years on when the acne’s gone, and you’ve made millions from your adolescent angst, can it still “mean it, maaaaan”? Actual Pain (MDDN/BMG) would have been an ideal title for a Good Charlotte song back when, but can you really still have a sook about not having a girlfriend when one of your number is married to Cameron freakin’ Diaz?

Throw in this having an odd modern rock style, even with some autotune rather than the whiny ache of yore. Then there’s a more prosaic commercial problem for the brothers Madden: while #Straya has been one of their more lucrative markets of late, how will this go sales-wise now that they’ve been replaced on The Voice’s revolving chairs by another guy who does the brothers-in-music thing? Hot tip: in the next series Joe Jonas will be joined by his sibling - er, good old Whatsisface Jonas - on the Madden’s two-seater version of the big red chair. Other old mate Jonas of course once had a tabloid-celebrated fling with Delta – so the whole thing can be even more of a soap opera back story.

On a decidedly upward trajectory, and hopefully never destined to be judges on a karaoke TV talent show – although they might want to, what do I know? – Newcastle’s Trophy Eyes are kind of mining that abovementioned style and maybe trying to engage with the otherwise disengaged as well. But they seem to have a bit more millennial cynicism about it: “Some of my friends sell drugs/But I just sell sad songs/To the ones that feel alone”. But You Can Count On Me (Hopeless) keeps to some other conventions of the form: Soft, loud, soft, and into a big yellalong chorus. Yep, absolute certainty for the playlist of ye olde national youf network on the radio.

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Elsewhere, genre lines are being very deliberately blurred. A lot of women who once might have been lumped somewhere around the ‘alt-country’ line often being ones taking risks: Kacey Musgraves, Neko Case, Amanda Shires all adding other textures to the fiddles and banjos – often even putting down those instruments altogether. Add Maggie Rogers to that list. Fallingwaters (Debay Sounds) comes with waves of electronics and perhaps even some dance sensibility. Production and songwriting input from Rostam – credits including Vampire Weekend and Frank Ocean, if you’re looking for even more variety – means Ms Rogers can go from guesting with The National to touring with Haim (as she is now…) without batting an eyelid.

Of course, sometimes the cross-pollination of very different musics can be done for its own sake. The trick is for the song, and the delivery of its rejigged style, to be good enough so you go beyond the chuckles of the novelty of it and play it repeatedly simply because it’s pretty good. With a name like Twisted Pine, the bluegrass twang is almost already in the words. But yes, this is that Heart Of Glass (Signature Sounds) with the Blondie standard subverted by big double bass and keening Appalachian vocal replacing the Moroder synthesisers. Thankfully, this is a band that can play it straight and well – a sly smile and subtle approach being far better than the hoedown square-dance some might have tried to make of the ingredients.

Emma Davis is also going a bit outside the standard-bit-well-wrought singer-songwriter stuff she would probably have once defaulted to. The phrase used for her taking two years to get around to a new record was that she was ‘collecting sounds’. For the purposes of Best Of Times (Independent) that appears to mean finding some new textures to cradle her words and experiences, and engaging exactly the right fella in Greg Walker – aka Machine Translations, collaborator/producer with everyone from Paul Kelly to Jen Cloher among others – to end up with something that ostensibly sounds quite free and breezy, but does have something further going on beneath. Probably.  

If Dirty Hearts didn’t appropriate their name from the old Dallas Crane song, I’m very badly mistaken. Sand-Lea (Near Enough) has the Brisbane combo spooning out goodly sized dollops of meat-and-potatoes suburban blues, albeit with the tomato sauce on the side, stomping it out and getting the job done in two-and-a-half minutes, and knocking off for a couple of schooners. They deserve it.

Conversely to the short sharp shock of that, sometimes letting things unfurl in their own time can work as well. The return of the venerated and celebrated Underworld has them engage the venerated, celebrated, and just about mythical character that is Iggy Pop for the seven-and-a-half minutes of Bells & Circles (Caroline). And what they’ve done is use him in perhaps a far more sensible manner than Josh Homme did last time round. Having the leathery septuagenarian version of the world’s forgotten boy trying to rock it out was a little fraught, and a little variable in result.

So, let’s sit him down with a smoke and a couple of snifters of good scotch and let him meander and chat away about doing too many drugs and trying to pick up too many air hostesses back in his heyday like the mad old coot he so obviously and superbly is. Hyde and Smith provide a bed of insistent electronic racket which carries the whole thing along quite grandly until Mr Osterberg is collected by the staff and taken back to his ward.