The rules to SongPress are simple. One writer picks a song, but does not reveal their reasons for doing so. The other writers offer their opinions about it, and when all is said and done, the person who chose the song lets us all in on the reason why. This week it was Scott’s pick, and he chose The Stereo’s ‘Can’t Look Back,’ off of their album No Traffic.
Opinion #1 Casey:
Ahh shucks, remember back between 1999 and 2001, when former punk rockers and ska skankers decided that there was a lack of pop rock bands? I’m sure they thought they had a real abrasive edge, but they rocked about as hard as my grandma crocheting a scarf (get it, she’s in a chair…no not a wheel chair, nevermind). Looking back at bands like Sugarcult, SR-71, and The Rocket Summer, reveals radio-ready pop that never hit the airwaves because programming directors were busy ramming shit like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit back up our own asses. I would like to say that a song like ‘Can’t Look Back’ was an unappreciated treasure in its time, but unfortunately it just doesn’t hold up all that well when listening to it today. I wanted to like The Stereo – I bought this album blind, way back in ’03, a few years after its release. I can vividly remember driving around southern California, going surfing, and generally being a post-college unemployed bum while genuinely trying to get myself to like this album, because I had spent good money on it (I was so poor that I would literally freeze cheeseburgers from “0.39¢ Cheeseburger Sundays” to eat throughout the week). I couldn’t afford to not like this album. It never worked, and the record slipped into the recesses of my mind (like so many meat patties into the back of my freezer). The problem with ‘Can’t Look Back,’ as well as most every song on the album, is that it’s unabashedly generic. The riffing is good but it loses its lustre when all the good riffs are repeated ad nauseum. Also, the vocals are astonishingly mediocre, and I hate to say it, but they could probably be helped with a little computer enhancement. The song isn’t bad – I would even go so far as to say that it has parts that are quite good – but it is ultimately a let down. It’s like having a breakfast of plain oatmeal and decaf coffee while watching The View…sure it could be so much worse, but dear lord could it ever be better.
Opinion #2 – Brennan:
I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when I knew I wouldn’t like this song, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before this SongPress assignment, I knew that The Stereo existed, but I also knew almost nothing about them beyond that. I was actually pretty excited to have a reason to check them out. The Stereo, however, didn’t win me over with what will probably be the only chance I give them to do so. The vocal line of ‘Can’t Look Back’ wasn’t particularly interesting, the delivery was somewhat irritating, and the instrumentation was pretty standard (especially considering that it was released in 2001). Despite all of that, there was a glimmer of hope when the song began – an opening riff that offered some promise. Then I arrived at the 0:13 mark. At that point, the second guitar (playing power chords, panned right) got to the fourth chord of its progression, and there, instead of trying to do something new, The Stereo settled for a cyclical, generic, and boring progression that pretty well submarined the whole song for me. Sorry, The Stereo, but I will look back. (Editor’s Note: Sorry everyone. That is just a terrible, terrible play on words.)
The Intention: Scott
Oh wow. Just, wow. I honestly expected a completely different response from my two colleagues. I must confess that my heart is hurting a little bit right now. Yes, there is definitely a quietly painful throbbing. Brennan, why must you hate everything that is good? Like rainbows and baby moose? Ok, I admit it, The Stereo sounded a lot better when I was 16 and all I listened to was punk and hardcore (I think Casey hit the nail on the head with that era of pop rock). The Stereo’s No Traffic is likewise dated, and doesn’t really hold up – in fact, it didn’t even really hold up back in 2004, when I came back to it after a substantial break. “So why bother using it in this Songpress, Scott?” you ask, with just a touch more sass than is really necessary. Well, despite the album’s shortcomings and dated sound, there are two songs that I hold close to my heart, and indeed, my ears: ‘Can’t Look Back’ and ‘I Confess to All This Mess’ (the latter of which has a very ‘Jesse’s Girl’ feel to it, but no doubt my colleagues would disagree).
As for ‘Can’t Look Back,’ I can say with total honesty that I believe it holds up. I can’t argue with Casey’s criticism of the repeating guitar riff, because it does indeed repeat. My only response is that it is a super catchy riff that makes me want to rattle my rump-shaker and bob my head until it falls off. As far as the vocals go, I could not more adamantly disagree with Casey. The vocal line in the verse is decent while the pre-chorus and chorus absolutely rock. I can’t count how many times I played air drums while belting out the chorus in my 1987 Suzuki Samurai back in ’01. I know some of my love for this song is tied to nostalgia. I accept that. I, however, refuse to believe that is the reason I enjoy this song so much. The style isn’t necessarily out of date, and the recording is a good mix of shiny pop and low-budget grit. What I am getting at, is that this song could have been released in 2012 and it wouldn’t sound out of place.
Brennan is a new friend, so I am slowly learning what floats his boat and what sinks it. Apparently poop floats it, and happiness makes it sink (Editor’s Note: Sorry, that was me. I’m still mad about the pun). For a guy that is borderline obsessed with Gatsby’s American Dream and The Receiving End of Sirens, it makes complete sense that he didn’t dig a sweet old-school jam such as this. The Stereo, for all their great melodies and catchy riffs, are lacking in the creativity and experimentation departments, so of course Brennan wouldn’t be into it. As far Casey, well, all I’ll say is that he thinks The Second Stage Turbine Blade is Coheed’s best album. Do we really want to trust his judgement?
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