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The Fucking Champs - V

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Artist: The Fucking Champs

Album: V

Label: Drag City

Review date: May. 21, 2002

Metal is a much-maligned genre, the proverbial red-headed stepchild of rock and roll, Ozzfest notwithstanding. It doesnít really get much respect, even when it sells. At best, the word ďmetalĒ brings to mind a skinny, pale kid wearing an ďEntombedĒ t-shirt and headbanging to vintage Exodus. At worst, it recalls Winger. Now, Iíll be the first to say that metal is a worthy genre. In my formative years, I listened to Metallicaís KillíEm All and felt that there was something intensely powerful, bordering on evil contained within the music. It was frightening, but exhilarating, something that sounded forbidden, which is all you need when youíre thirteen. The populist metal band, GunsíNíRoses, dominated my Walkman for almost the entirety of sixth grade, and no matter how hip anyone of my generation might like to consider themselves, I know theyíve got the GíNíR Lies poster rolled up in their closet. You werenít always listening to Japanese laptop music. This was evidenced by a recent visit to NYCís Knitting Factory, where the GíNíR cover band Mr. Brownstone played a set. As they set up their instruments, I was dismayed to see that they looked like typical New York downtowners: lanky, unwashed hair, tight denim jackets, and a general air of well-calculated ambivalence. However, as they emerged from the backstage area, I was thrilled to see that theyíd all donned costumes for the performance. For, as everyone knows, what made GíNíR so special was not simply that they had great tunes, it was the way that Duff sang out into the audience, wide-eyed with those dumb suspenders, the way that Slash would hide behind his hair and top hat, and the way that Axl Rose thought he was the coolest fucking guy in the room. And he was, for a while, anyway. And while itís hard for me to take GíNíR entirely seriously these days, the reason that so many people liked them was that their music simply kicked ass. They were dangerous (or at least seemed so to a 12-year-old), they looked weird, and they had song after song that sounded great loud. The Knitting Factory was packed for Mr. Brownstone that night, and everyone there was treated to note-perfect versions of all the classics.

The point to all of this is that metal, for all its baggage, bad press, and silly leather pants, is a vital part of musical history. If it gets a bad name, this may partly be due to the fact that it had one of its most successful runs during the early eighties (teased hair), and that the music, and the people who play it, represent rockís Id. The music can be offensive, unpredictable, disturbing, and near-unlistenable. But this is what makes it unique and worthwhile. And so, while my copy of KillíEm All was sold long ago, probably to help pay for a crappy Posies album or something, metal will always have a soft spot in my heart. What, then, is there to say about the Fucking Champs? Drag City Recordsí own metal-revivalists have released V, which is definitely the follow-up to their previous album ďIVĒ but questionably their fifth full-length album. The Fucking Champs are comprised of two guitarists, Josh Smith and Tim Green, and a drummer, Tim Soete. The band can certainly generate some skillful noise, but the question remains: is their music worth a damn?

Iím undecided. My musical tastes of the past ten years or so have been rooted more or less in the ďindie-rockĒ vein, and as such, Iíve been to a lot of indie-rock shows. While I still enjoy the bands, I have to admit a growing sense of distance between myself and many of the people in attendance at concerts. I mean, does everybody really have to wear the same t-shirt and chunky glasses? Moreover, it often feels like about half the people at a show are there simply because itís the thing to do, like going to a bar on $5 pitcher night. On top of that, people are often so self-conscious that they canít even respond to whatís happening onstage. Music, especially rock music, should be about excitement and beauty, and people actually experiencing something, not just standing around and sucking in your cheekbones. The Fucking Champs have been proposed as an antidote to all of this, a swift kick in the ass to lame indie-rockers who need a dose of noise and danger to spice things up.

Well, I donít buy it. The only thing I find more tired than carbon-copy indie-rockers is the idea that playing ďmetalĒ to the same crowd is doing anyone any good. Donít call them revivalists, either. The metal scene is alive and well, just ask anyone who listens to it. The Fucking Champs can play, no question. But they canít play better than dozens of other metal bands that are out there right now. And without lyrics, thereís nothing transgressive or new or invigorating about their music, either. Just a bunch of arpeggiated guitar solos and stop-start drums, with occasional ďatmosphericĒ moments thrown in for good measure. Fans of the Champs might protest that the music isnít meant to be ironic, that itís a genuine reflection of their influences and passions. This may be. Still, can we expect nothing more from (indie) rock than simple regurgitation? When I used to work in a radio station, I once found an instrumental metal album by some character who called himself Guy Mann Dude. His record had it all: nasty, shredding guitar solos, killer double kick drum action, even a cover of the Stonesí ďPaint it BlackĒ. The album art featured Guy and his cohorts shirtless with snakes and naked women draped around their necks. This guy thought he rocked. He didnít, he sucked, but Iíd still rather listen to his tunes than to the Fucking Champs. At least Mr. Mann-Dude had a genuine, non-Post Modern love for metal. People who go to Fucking Champs shows, as far as Iím concerned, are either lame or confused. Just because youíre listening to metal in an indie-rock club doesnít mean youíre transgressive or different or interesting. If you really want to see metal, go to a Cradle of Filth show or something.

Since my promo copy of the album doesnít provide a track listing, I canít point to any particular songs for illustration, but it hardly matters. The songs follow two paths: fast, heavy, guitar solo-laden rockers, plus the occasional down-tempo piece, which inevitably sounds like the soundtrack to a movie about elves bounding through ancient glades. The band clearly does believe in what itís doing, and it doesnít seem to be ironic in its execution, but for me the album still feels patronizing. Playing metal to a knowing indie-rock audience is not that much different than the same crowd watching the film ďHeavy Metal Parking LotĒ, where a documentarian interviews various Judas Priest fans prior to a show in Maryland in 1983. Itís easy and fun to laugh at the people in the film, with their tight acid-wash jeans, faded Iron Maiden t-shirts, and rusty Camaros. Itís also mean and condescending. Metal is a genre that means a great deal to people, and it has its own particular aesthetic and set of customs. Whatís more, metal tends to be much less of a middle-class phenomenon than indie rock. So while itís fun and easy to jokingly bang your head to the Fucking Champs while youíre drinking a microbrew, is it worthwhile music? Does it make you feel good about yourself? Does it? I thought not.

By Jason Dungan

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