Out With the Old (Or X Marks the Hype?)

Entertainment Today
June ??? 1996

by Bill McKie

Just the other day, John Doe and Excene placed a few nails in the band X's coffin by stating they will never play together as X again. Statements/promises like these lead to subsequent multi-platinum selling records (e.g. the Eagles), but regardless of X's true destiny, their breakup is a shame, especially since they are a fantastic band to see live.

The band named X (John Doe, Excene Czervenka, DJ Bonebrake and Tony Gilkyson) have worked a long time to reach what I would consider "legendary status." They've toured dozens of years, released maybe 20 albums and influenced hundreds, maybe thousands of today's most popular punk rock bands.

To me what was sadder than hearing that the band was breaking up was the fact that the L.A. Times felt the need to stomp merrily all over the legacy of the band. No sooner had the words "we will no longer perform as X" escaped John Doe's lips, than the L.A. Times music writer, Richard Cromelin (who did not respond to my repeated inquiries about his article) rushed out to find a replacement for X as best band from L.A. (See the June 10 L.A. Times article "Fibbers Seem Ready For X's Mantle.")

Even though I've never been a big fan of the L.A. Times' ability to take the pulse of the L.A. music scene and report on it, I've got to hand it to them, though. The Times' writers' thesauruses are plugged in. Cromelin trudged out more ridiculous, flowery adjectives to describe how worthy the Geraldine Fibbers are, than I've seen in some full-page movie ads.

But rather than critique Cromelin' writing style (don't worry, I'll do that later), I figured I should first offer my own, somewhat scientific comparison between the aforemention bands. Here's how I would compare the latest of X's and Geraldine Fibbers.

X Unclogged (recorded live) 1995, Infidelity Records

John Doe's driven music and Excene's sheer poetry is what makes X's music so urgent and captivating. This CD does an excellent, thorough job of showcasing these great writers' talents. The highlights of this record are almost too many to mention, but here goes.

On "White Girl" (the ultimate white trash anthem), Excene's inimitable plainitive wails are shown to full extent. One weird thing, on this song and throughout the CD her singing comes dangerously close to hitting actual notes. On "Unheard Music" and "Because I Do," DJ Bonebreak's vibes create an inspired, classic aura around some of Doe's and Czervenka's best, most irreplaceable and timeless duets. This is an almost unplugged record (hence the title), and the change in arrangements works quite well. Where the testosterone grunge of Billy Zoom got in the way of the fantastic writing on their early records, Tony Gilkyson's thoughtfuly subtle playing pushes X's music even further. This should be a valuable part of anyone's X collection.

Geraldine Fibbers Lost Somewhere Beween the Earth and My Home 1995, Virgin

At first listen, this collection seems to concentrate more on the marriage of classical violin sounds and rock (closer to a hard-edged, Wild Colonials sound than X). This is, however, a uniquely adventurous album. I can see why this CD has made "the Fibbers," instant media darlings.

As for those nettlesome comparisons to X, some of them seem close to the mark. The writing is intensely familiar and seems to shine on the lowest common denominator of life (like X's). The musicians on this album are brilliant but they show none of the inspired performances that seem to grace most of X's songs. The singing is also vastly different. Lead vocalist Carla Bozulich, even though she has a quality singing voice, is no Excene. This is good and bad. Carla offers much more in terms of dynamic and range, but she's young musically, like the rest of the Geraldine Fibbers. Unlike Excene, she has not forged her own identity, her own unique brand of soul.

I guess the bottom line is the quality of the songs and the Fibbers do deliver several very enjoyable songs on Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home. Littered throughout this record is the same wild-eyed, goofy discord that made all the Pixies albums so fun to listen to. "Marmalade" and "A Song About Walls" are catchy little ditties about escapism, drugs and drug-laced escapism. "House is Falling" is rock and roll at its best--absurd and toe-tapping while managing to be stupid, blundering and accusative all at the once. This song brings the band closer to the Replacements than to X though.

I really enjoyed listening to "Lost," but it is so young and unrealized--it showed how close this band is to realizing their potenital but also how far away they are. The songwriting is quite sophisticated but their music is still "lost somewhere..between" the Pixies and some of Billy Corgan's meanderings.

I guess after comparing both of these records, Cromelin's article wasn't a complete, copper-bottomed mistake. Comparing the Geraldine Fibbers to X was not as stupid as starting a land war in Asia but it lacked an appropriate amount of thought and insight. Articles like Cromelin's make it hard to forget that the Times music editors have all the class of Billy Carter at a White House function. But bypassing their insensitivity towards fans of X's msuic, where is the logic in the Times comparing the Geraldine Fibbers--a band whose catalog is maybe 1/20th the size of X's--to a band recognized by almost everyone in the music community as being the seminal rock/punk band?

The fact that the Times picked the Geraldine Fibbers, a band that people barely recognize, to replace the most recognizable punk rock band from L.A. seemed to be the worst irony of all. Methinks they should bury the Geraldine Fibbers, not X, but let's look at the details of the article.

Witness the following:

The Geraldine Fibbers "offer up a gallery of characters who are tempted by inertia and torpor." Wait. I think that this means the Geraldine Fibbers sing about low-lifes just like X did. Whew. I feel like I just discovered the translation to the Rosetta Stone.

"If any current group seems primed to assume the challenge of chronicling the physical and psychic currents of the city, it's the Fibbers." The more vague your assertion is, the easier it is to prove. The fact that Cromelin had this published means it's proven, although I don't see how this nondescript phrase can mean anything to anyone, except maybe the band's publicist.

"Repeated messages of cathartic cacophony captured that urgency." Oh well. I'm stuck here. Does this mean that the music is noisy, which reflects real life which in turn is cathartic in some way? Construction equipment is noisy too, but you won't find me at the Red line with a microphone waiting for a catharsis to happen. "Cathartic cacophony captured" is a cool example of alliteration, though.

OK. It's gettting obvious that I'm just picking on the writer here and that's bad karma. I'm going to need all the good karma I can put my hand on in order to have a chance at connecting with "the physical and psychic currents of this city."

I think Cromelin got one thing right: "The band's (G. Fibbers') music builds on X's legacy of punk rock blended with deep strains of Americana." I think this phrase is perfect for describing what X did best. As for whether it applies to the Geraldine Fibbers, I'd say that was a huge presumption on Cromelin's part.

I just think all the shouting for a band that has barely proven itself is a mistake that the Times music critics make too often. It seems that their modus operandi in presenting every article is to hype new bands to the point of making them gods.

The wise use of promotional power (which these guys have to the nth degree) is always a beautiful thing. But it seems like the Times' power to tell us about new music has been abused so many times that it's not worth the trouble to hope that one day it will be used with some degree of restraint.

After such a complete emptying of the hype machine into one article, I know I'd feel guilty. Let's hope that one day the Times gets the hint. Who knows, maybe Richard Cromelin and his editor are thinking to themselves right now--"Yikes! All these superlatives for a band whose most recognizable lyrics are 'The biggest liar in town blows a kiss. My baby blows a kiss.' What have I done?"

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