It’s an international power-trio showdown! From Wales, the young men in Stereophonics bring to the table their new album, Just Enough Education to Perform (V2). The challenger? Three dopes from southern California who call themselves Blink-182. You may have seen them running around naked on MTV. Who’s the better band? Let’s find out…
The three young Welshmen in Stereophonics have been around since the late 90s, and have found their brand of Manic Street Preachers-style arena rock to be very palatable to UK ears. Frontman Kelly Jones sounds like Rod the Mod at 2 in the morning after a pack of Dunhills; the music is capable midtempo rawk, crashing riffs sharing space with quiet moments. Throughout their 3-album career, they have been a singles machine, cranking out fist-pumping, pal-hugging numbers with the efficiency of The Army Corps of Engineers. Just Enough Education to Perform (V2), their latest album, is a misstep on the level of Howard The Duck.
Stereophonics are kind of like the UK Blink-182: Three good-lookin’ kids who bash out anthems just serviceable enough to justify their garrulous tour riders. But while Blink has stuck to the same sophomoric pop-punk formula since the band’s inception, Stereophonics – most notably principal songwriter Jones – have decided to become ah-tists, mate. Maybe that’s why their new album stinks like blue cheese.
Blink-182 has never apologized for their utter lack of originality. Their mantra seems to be, “if it ain’t broke, copy it.” “What’s My Age Again?,” the head-rush lead single from 1999’s Enema of the State, is like hearing Tommy Tutone on speed. Who can blame them? “867-5309” was a great song. Blink-182 have since released a string of well-received, completely serviceable rockers that retain the band’s So-Cal, skate punk sense of humor while still selling millions of records. It’s Joke-Punk for the masses, and those boys’re getting away with murder.
Since their appearance on the pop culture radar screen, Blink-182 have gone on to rekease a live album chronicling their recent world tour. I’m sure it’s very nice. Most likely, when a new studio album surfaces, it’ll be more of the same sugar-punk that the trio has become rich playing. And if there’s a “We Didn’t Start The Fire”-esque history ballad in the bunch, I’ll wear a barrel. After all, these are the guys who rhymed “would never make it” with “can’t drive naked.” But Stereophonics? Well, let’s just say Kelly Jones might have been spending some time towing the line on the Downeaster Alexis.
J.E.E.P.‘s “Have A Nice Day” is the kind of decade-per-verse historical rock crapola that no one besides Don McLean has any right to perform. Here, as Jones yaps about Kennedy and The Moon and whatever else, he and his band end up sounding like a Jesus Jones cover band doing their modern rock take on “Right Here, Right Now.” Unfortunately, “Have A Nice Day” typifies what’s wrong with Stereophonics’ new material. With his lyrics, Jones is trying way too hard to be lyrical, man, and you know, make people think about shit, you know? And I really don’t think that’s a good avenue for three young guys from Wales to travel down. The group’s Performance & Cocktails (V2) LP from 1999 struck a balance between boozing, cigarette-smoking rave-ups (“Roll Up And Shine”) and Brit-pop ballads (“Just Looking”). There was no pretense. Songs were about girls, drinking, and drinking with girls, with plenty of influence from Faces and AC/DC. Unfortunately, the bland rock of J.E.E.P. keeps putting shitty Mike & The Mechanics songs in my head. “Can you hear me? Can you hear me runnin’…?”
The band’s new material is probably just up to snuff enough to sell a few tickets to their gigs on the annual UK festival circuit. Even though J.E.E.P’s mediocrity will stink up the joint, “classics” like “Thousand Trees” or “Local Boy In The Photograph” (both from 1997’s Word Gets Around) can carry a crowd. Even when Canadian-Rock-sounding tripe is spilling out of his mouth, Jones’ roughshod voice is still cool, and very Rock and Roll. So that’s something. But he and his mates should really take a page from Mark, Tom and Travis of Blink-182: Less cock, more rock! Crank up the amps, order a round of pints for the lads, and leave the proselytizing and message songs to Billy fucking Joel.