Bad taste

Mashing sounds to find success in modern rock is a big mistake

You know Jelly Bellies, right?

They're those miniature "gourmet" jellybeans that come in fanciful flavors like Strawberry Daiquiri, Jalapeno, Caramel Corn, Cappuccino and even Dr. freakin' Pepper. Individually, Jelly Bellies are pretty much like anything else in life, from people to movies to songs — a few are awesome, a lot are pretty good to mediocre, and some are abhorrent.

Ah, but eating them one at a time is only part of the allure. One of Jelly Bellies' most interesting qualities, according to the good people at Jelly Belly, is their ability to create even more exotic flavors through combination. In the mood for honeydew melon? Toss a Green Apple and a Cantaloupe into your maw! Ever had a candy that tastes like tiramisu? Gobble two Cappuccinos, an A&W Cream Soda and a French Vanilla simultaneously!

In reality, however, two Cappuccinos, an A&W Cream Soda and a French Vanilla do not taste like tiramisu; in reality, two Cappuccino Jelly Bellies, an A&W Cream Soda Jelly Belly and a French Vanilla Jelly Belly, when eaten together, taste like disgusting sugary death. Most of the clever little Jelly Belly recipes do. It's inevitable. The subtleties of each ingredient are completely lost as the bigger, blunter, less uniquely satisfying characteristics collide, rarely complementing each other, but much more often competing to be the dominant element. And the result is usually an affront to the palate, an indistinct, mushy mess of the broadest and least thrilling flavors.

That's exactly what's wrong with modern rock.

Hey, stay with me here.

Since the early '80s, the film industry has increasingly used what we'll call The Jelly Belly Mentality to conceive, pitch and sell movies — everything has become "Indiana Jones meets National Lampoon's European Vacation," "A Time to Kill meets Rosemary's Baby," "Jaws meets Jurassic Park." And as the studios have become less tentative and circumspect about calling these movies what they are — elements of previous popular movies thrown together in the hope that the process will create something new and exciting — they've unleashed more and more completely unwatchable shit upon the American populace.

Well, now The Jelly Belly Mentality has come to mainstream rock music with a vengeance.

It's always been a part of the industry to some degree. The Jelly Belly Mentality is directly responsible for such unfortunate trends as rap-metal and, before that, hard rock's extremely misguided late-'80s dalliance with watered-down funk.

These days, though, the quicker product-delivery schedules engendered by newer, cheaper technology have inspired both industry executives and ambitious musicians to unapologetically embrace The Jelly Belly Mentality to an unprecedented degree. When somebody at a label looks at Linkin Park's success, and wonders how they can get some synergy going between that and the rising popularity of both female pop acts and Christian rock, there's already an Evanescence — or a band that could easily be made into Evanescence — out there somewhere.

Occasionally, something worth hearing emerges from these experiments. Occasionally, somebody goes looking for "Oasis meets Jeff Buckley" or "Black Sabbath meets Black Sabbath," and the world gets a Coldplay or a Wolfmother.

But usually, the world gets the aural equivalent of shoving four different Jelly Bellies into its mouth; it sounds a little like the most obvious characteristics of four familiar things, but it sounds mostly like a mistake.

What's worse, the music industry creates its misbegotten flavor combos from an ever-smaller assortment of ingredients. The film industry has hundreds of spectacularly successful movies to bastardize. Hell, even Jelly Belly has 50 flavors with which to experiment. Modern rock, on the other hand, insists on working largely with only the last thing that did really well, and the thing that the last thing that did really well ripped off.

Here are the 10 songs that, for better or worse (and largely for the worse), have been Jelly Bellied incessantly to create modern rock radio's dominant sounds of the last few years:

• "Dine Alone," by Quicksand

• "Stars," by Hum

• "What's This Life For," by Creed

• "Enjoy The Silence," by Depeche Mode

• "Basket Case," by Green Day

• "Understanding in a Car Crash," by Thursday

• "Come As You Are," by Nirvana

• "Love Will Tear Us Apart," by Joy Division

• "It Ain't Like That," by Alice in Chains

• "Buddy Holly," by Weezer

Most of the above songs are excellent. What's more, most of them can't be reverse Jelly Bellied without citing obscure influences that never received widespread exposure. (Creed's "What's This Life For," the worst and most pervasively influential song on the list, is the obvious exception.)

But think about it. Ten songs, responsible for hundreds of offspring saturating the airwaves, most of them nowhere near as vital, as exciting, or as just plain good as the tunes that, in combination, spawned them. Ten songs.

Think I'm kidding?

• "What's This Life For" + "Come As You Are" = "Blurry," by Puddle of Mudd

• "Dine Alone" + "Stars" = "My Hero," by Foo Fighters

• "Enjoy The Silence" + "Love Will Tear Us Apart" = "These Things," by She Wants Revenge

• "Basket Case" + "Enjoy The Silence" = "Miss Murder," by AFI

• "Buddy Holly" + "Basket Case" = "Get Over It," by OK Go

• "Enjoy The Silence" + "Basket Case" = "Somebody Told Me," by The Killers/ "The Adventure," by Angels & Airwaves

• "Stars" + "Enjoy The Silence" = anything by 30 Seconds to Mars

• "Basket Case" + "Love Will Tear Us Apart" = anything by My Chemical Romance

• "Stars" + "Basket Case" + "Understanding in a Car Crash" = anything by Taking Back Sunday or Hawthorne Heights

• "What's This Life For" + "It Ain't Like That" = anything by Nickelback or Default

• "Come As You Are" + "It Ain't Like That" = anything by Seether

• "Dine Alone" + "It Ain't Like That" = anything by Godsmack

The ratio of timelessness to trendy drops precipitously from the first list to the second, does it not?

We all know that rock 'n' roll is built on influence, borrowing and outright theft. But it's also built on personality, something that too often gets lost when The Jelly Belly Mentality takes over. Rock bands don't need to be blindingly original. They do, however, need to bring something to the table besides two riffs and a vibe that, if they're quick enough, might still be cool when they get out of the studio. Because one Wild Blackberry, two Peach and one Lemon are more likely to taste like ass than "Wild Blackberry Peach Cobbler," but one Very Cherry is always tasty.

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