Column: Thoughts from an American idiot

By Brian Mellen

Like the bang, bang from a gun blast, Rage Against the Machine exploded onto to the mainstream music scene with their self-titled, debut album in 1992. The rockers’ sound combined rock, rap and militant politics from the left. Along with guitarist Tom Morello’s unique guitar playing techniques, Rage Against the Machine defined a new genre of music. They used the music they played as a means for political activism and fully believed in their band’s message despite the controversial reaction from many critics who strongly disagreed with their anti-establishment beliefs.

Rage Against the Machine’s political conscience was not just a gimmick, or another means to make a quick buck. No, like the few real artists who exist in popular music, Rage Against the Machine expressed themselves honestly through their music, and they just happened to be successful at it too. One of their later albums, “The Battle of Los Angeles,” went double platinum in 1999 just before the band broke-up about a year later.

One of Rage’s most famous lines challenges the listener with the question: “Why stand on a silent platform?” At first glance, it would seem that contemporary artists of today are seriously contemplating that question and taking action. The Associated Press recently said the subject of politics has become increasingly popular in music. More specifically, anti-Bush music has become the favorite topic among musical artists. For example, on her new album that was just released this month, “I’m Not Dead,” pop-singer Pink attacks and criticizes President Bush on the song “Dear Mr. President.”

The majority of Pink’s music can be categorized as pure pop fluff. Major singles that originally put her on the pop-music map include “There You Go” and “Get the Party Started” – fun, but obviously commercialized trash with the intention of cashing on America’s younger generation. So while Pink has always been blunt and rebellious in her own right, switching gears to politics should cause all music fans to listen with extreme skepticism. Bush’s approval ratings are at an all-time low right now. It’s especially trendy to follow the crowd without critical thought and be anti-Bush. So I wonder if Pink’s choice in subject matter for her new album was one motivated by artistic expression or her pocket book.

Now to be fair, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever enjoyed Pink’s music. Sometimes I wonder if banging my head against a wall over and over again is more fun than having to tolerate her inane music. But, I’ve seen the same trend happen with artists I actually like.

Green Day’s been around since the early 90s. Until their latest album “American Idiot,” their music’s topics have ranged from smoking pot to being a lazy slacker. And fans loved them for it. After slowly declining in popularity and relevance as a rock band, Green Day’s lyrics switched gears from fun punk music to a more serious political tone. In fact, their critically acclaimed album, “American Idiot,” can be described as an anti-war allegory.

But, the lyrics are rife with clich‚s and the instrumentals are mediocre at best. Listen to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and tell me it doesn’t sound like a second-rate Avril Lavigne song. But perhaps what’s most frustrating about “American Idiot” is that Green Day’s never been about politics.

It’s amazing to me that Green Day pumps out bland pop-punk with a politically-charged message and suddenly fans embrace them again with open arms. Critics greeted Green Day with praise even though the group has absolutely no prior experience or credibility on the subject of politics. The politics of the album are the main reason I can think of for people liking it so much.

Whether Pink and Green Day’s motivations were truly motivated by self-expression or money is difficult to prove. These conflicts definitely occur in the music industry and are perfectly legitimate gripes to have with most of the mainstream music scene. Pink and Green Day should stay true themselves because this American idiot doesn’t buy the act. Leave politics to future groups who have more substance to their music.

Brian Mellen is junior in Communications. He misses Rage Against the Machine, but at least the Chili Peppers are still around. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]