Boston's Alternative Source!

Reinventing the steel
Buckcherry, the Cult, and Hardcore Superstar bring back the rock


AC/DC never really go out of style. But every few years they come back into fashion, and when they do, big dumb fun is almost sure to follow. Ian Astbury, for one, could scarcely have forgotten the last time AC/DC were in. From roughly 1984 to 1988 — the last time hard rock reigned, and hard rock, for our purposes in the next thousand words or so, will be synonymous with AC/DC — the man to see if you wanted to rock was Rick Rubin. If Rubin produced you — whether you were the Beastie Boys, Danzig, or Slayer — you were going to come out of the studio sounding a lot more like AC/DC than you did when you went in. No one benefitted more from that treatment than the Cult, whose “Fire Woman” was one of the best AC/DC songs (not to mention one of the best Doors songs) of the ’80s. And when in March of this year, at South by Southwest, a parka-clad Ian Astbury appeared at Stubbs’s BBQ and looked out over the assembled throng — critics, producers, A&R men, publicity hounds, hangers-on, disc jockeys, tastemakers, and sycophants of all stripes — he must have been struck by how long it had been since it was quite this popular to be Ian Astbury of the Cult.

Just a few years ago Astbury, the Cult, and hard rock in general would have served (if at all) as the butt of the jokes traded by hipsters perusing the music industry’s version of spring break. Now the Cult were the centerpiece, the hot ticket, the resurrectors and the resurrected. Astbury saw a sea of hands giving him the old devil sign, the one Kid Rock encourages by growling, “Gimme some metal.” They were giving Astbury some metal, and Astbury could scarcely conceal what a godforsaken relief it was, and slowly he raised his own devil sign and gave them a little metal back. “Yes, it’s OKAY,” he told them, as if the thought had just occurred to him right there. “You are free to rock again!”

Scenes like this have been playing out all over the pop universe, a realm suddenly willing to take itself a little less seriously. Britney Spears gets her tube socks on for a Joan Jett makeover so she can rock out with Aerosmith at the Super Bowl. Puff Daddy dresses his cute white teen girl group Dream in late-’70s vintage New York Dolls and Rolling Stones T-shirts. And no less a controlling hip-hop authority than Missy Elliott makes a point to be seen — in the video for her rollicking new single, “Get Yr Freak On” — wearing a Motörhead logo on her chest. Hard rock, doomed to the dustbin at the dawn of the ’90s, is suddenly high fashion.

Still, actual hard rock has until now been somewhat less popular — at least in modern-rock circles — than the æsthetics of hard rock. To explain this, I do what I always do when confronted with a trend I don’t like: I blame Weezer. (I also blame Lou Barlow, who a few years ago revived the three-quarter-length-sleeve baseball shirt for a Sebadoh T designed to look like a Morbid Angel knockoff; Barlow is also rumored to be an unrepentant Ratt fanatic.) Rivers Cuomo made it safe for geeks and emo kids to claim metal — as opposed to punk — as the skeleton in their adolescent closet, as their musical primal scene, messy and unshakable. A former guitar geek with impeccable ax chops who writes sad, confused, completely unflamboyant anthems, Cuomo sums up rock’s ambiguously bemused attitude toward sleaze metal: it’s cool to play it in your bedroom, but don’t try to drag it out on stage. The “Teenage Dirtbag” in the song by Weezer wanna-bes Wheatus may be dreaming of a girl who’ll take him to see Iron Maiden, but he ain’t trying Bruce Dickinson’s trousers on for size. And though the video for American Hi-Fi’s “Flavor of the Weak” is set in a Disneyfied hi-fashion version of the infamous documentary “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” (the definitively hilarious portrait of mid-’80s hard-rock youth tailgating before an Iron Maiden/Judas Priest double bill), the tune they’re singing isn’t Rob Halford’s, it’s Dave Grohl’s.

The best example of this was Weezer’s triumphant “reunion” tour just a few months ago, for which the band hired a hotshot LA club DJ specializing not in the latest emo-punk B-sides by At the Drive-In but in the finest discredited hard-rock vinyl ever. The between-sets playlist was like a mix tape from hard-rock valhalla, careering from AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” from fluff like Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” to Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom.” If you ever wondered what happened to hard rock, here was your answer. Consigned to the bargain bin — from which all revolutions of style and substance emanate — it found an audience of connoisseurs who transformed its appreciation from a scarlet shame to a rarefied taste. And now it was bubbling back to the surface with a kind of cultivated appeal; the overly obvious (say, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” wedged between the Who’s “Teenage Wasteland” and Ratt’s “Round and Round”) suddenly felt new, as several thousand emo kids looked at one another and realized that they all knew the words and, what’s more, weren’t afraid to sing them.

On first listen, the first song off Buckcherry’s new Time Bomb (DreamWorks) appears to be set above the Arctic Circle, on a long summer day; we know that’s where they are because the first words out of Josh Todd’s mouth are “It’s after midnight, the sun is fading.” In the liner notes, the passage reads “the sucker’s fading,” though my guess (after repeated listenings) is that someone pointed out the rarity of such sunsets to the band only after the disc was mastered. Not that either line makes much sense, but that’s kind of the point: there are plenty of genuinely dumb moments on Time Bomb, and that’s a large part of its appeal.

Since 1996, when Sweden’s the Hellacopters released Supershitty to the Max (Man’s Ruin) and introduced the world to the possibility that hard rock might be the next international underground, dozens of punk-inflected hard-rock bands have filled the seven-inch bins with MC5 and AC/DC knockoffs. Most of them, even the best of them, betray the fingerprints of hard-rock connoisseurs: amid the mayhem, there’s a sense of nuanced calibration, a curator’s participation in the restoration of a faded masterpiece. What is remarkable about Buckcherry is that they arrived at the same station as the punk-rock-and-roll underground without any of the calculation — without, it would seem, having any idea that such an underground existed.

With one perfect riff and one certifiably loony cocaine-glorifying chorus, Buckcherry did what several crates worth of stellar Scandinavian hard-rock bands and the Tight Brothers from Way Back When couldn’t: they got an AC/DC song — their breakthrough single, “Lit Up” — on commercial modern-rock radio. And they did it because they sounded not like a punk band bridging the gap between Social Distortion and Guns N’ Roses (e.g., Backyard Babies, whose new Brand New Hate will be released this month by Warner Bros. in almost every country on earth except the US) but like a Sunset Strip club band who’d been frozen on ice for 15 years. Which is to say you can’t fake a song like Time Bomb’s title track, whose rousing chorus sounds like AC/DC the way the Sex Pistols might have played it and sums up a rock-and-roll world view that hasn’t been stated as succinctly since the real party moved from Hollywood down to Compton — to wit, “Life ain’t nuthin’ but bitches and money.” Time Bomb has everything you could want out of a summer blockbuster in a season shaping up to be the hardest-rocking in recent memory: stubbornly minimalist one-note bass throbs, fatuous open-chord strut, obstinately sleazy vocal hysterics, and the inevitable melodramatic piano ballad, reviving a convention that’s been in mothballs since GNR’s “November Rain.”

The prospect of a summer-of-rock revival — spearheaded by the threat of a full-fledged Guns N’ Roses tour — is said to have kept Monster Magnet’s God Says No (A&M) off the shelves till now; it’s been out for months in Europe. Or perhaps A&M was just postponing the inevitable realization that the Magnet haven’t come up with a pyrotechnic follow-up to 1998’s Powertrip, the misanthropic, self-reflexive paean to sex, drugs, and rock and roll penned in homage to the Stooges’ Raw Power by frontman Dave Wyndorf during a brief Las Vegas bender. The sense of spontaneous combustion is gone — Wyndorf’s promise that he’d “never work another day in my life” seems to have been followed by several years of overwork. Even the standout tracks on God Says No — “Heads Explode,” the closing “Silver Future” — find the Magnet reverting to their blearily psychedelic, pre-stoner-rock selves.

There are other saviors. The Hellacopters’ new High Visibility (led) — their first to make an explicit grab for mainstream attention, and a return of sorts to their fusion of Kiss grandeur and MC5 idealism — languishes without a US release date; fellow Swedes Gluecifer canceled a US tour in support of last year’s fantastic Tender Is the Savage (Sub Pop). But the closest thing Sweden has to Buckcherry is a band called Hardcore Superstar. And unlike the scads of Backyard Babies/Hellacopters imitators that have emerged in both Europe and the US, Hardcore Superstar are clearly in the game for money, fame, bitches, radio hits, and mass adulation — none of this connoisseur shit. Their US debut, Bad Sneakers and a Piña Colada (Koch), updates the old glam-punk formula of Hanoi Rocks and Faster Pussycat with hooks purloined from the Oasis songbook. They’re not afraid of Aerosmithic power-ballad soar or second-hand Hollywood Boulevard rockscreech (their “You Will Never Know” knowingly snatches from “Welcome to the Jungle”). They are shameless and bountiful, and as such they are perhaps the first Scandinavian hard-rock band to have a real chance here in America.

They’ll have that chance in a summer that sees many of the children of the last hard-rock revival flexing their muscles. A decade after the release of the Rick Rubin–produced, AC/DC–fied album Danzig (American), a live version of Glenn Danzig’s “Twist of Cain” — another perennial nominee for best AC/DC song (and best Doors song) of the ’80s — is being sent to radio as a potential single in support of a forthcoming live album on Restless. Because if there’s room for one AC/DC tune, there’s room for a few. Stranger things have happened

AC/DC’s performance at the FleetCenter on May 5 is officially sold out. The Cult are preparing a tour to include Monster Magnet and Buckcherry that’s slated to roll out later this summer.

Issue Date: April 12 - 19, 2001