Why I think David Cook represents everything that is wrong with popular rock music today.

In this week’s AI post, MCQ said he doesn’t get my negativity towards David Cook. I decided to write a long, self-indulgent post to answer him rather than just reply in a comment. (And I’ll probably insult most everyone’s music tastes in the process. Bear with me. This should be fun.)

I don’t have anything against David Cook personally. Do I think he can sing? Yes. Does he have stage presence? Yes. Is he talented? For sure. He’s also an example everything that’s wrong with today’s rock music.


When I was a teenager in the 80s, hair/glam metal was what was passing for popular rock music. Bands like Poison, Winger, Cinderella. Meanwhile, I was going to see bands like Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nivana, and Tad play in little all ages clubs. Bands that really rocked. None of this “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” shlock. (Not that I don’t love shlock. I love plenty of shlock, believe me. Just don’t call it rock, please.)

And then Nirvana broke. Huge. And Soundgarden. And Pearl Jam. Like a huge breath of fresh air for the world of rock. Music that was raw, fresh, heavy. Real rock music.

Then Kurt died. Soundgarden broke up. Pearl Jam turned its back on the music industry machine and stopped making videos, tried to take on Ticketmaster, started pressing bootlegs of their own shows. Really decided to do things their own way. I love that about them. They basically turned their back on popular music. Or at least, the machine that is popular music.

Unfortunately, they spawned a whole slew of copycat bands. Bands that copied their sound, I mean, not their ethics. Maybe “copied” is a strong word—I mean they influenced a whole generation of bands. The freshness of grunge was lost. Alternative music became mainstream. And you can’t become mainstream without becoming watered down, over-produced, and way, way overplayed and overexposed. Kurt Cobain’s probably turning over in his grave.

We went from grunge, to Stone Temple Pilots and Smashing Pumpkins, to Creed, to Nickelback, to Daughtry—and this year, it’s David Cook. Today’s rock bands are the 80s’ hair metal bands: cheesy, overproduced, and barely recognizable as “rock.”

To me, anyway. Sorry to break it to you, David Cook fans, but you’re all really just Poison fans.

Today’s rock sound was old and tired more than five years ago. (I’ve actually been making this same complaint since the 90s. You’ve probably already heard it from me more than once.)

I keep waiting for something really rocking to break through. Something with teeth. (Or as my favorite hardcore metal band, Converge, puts it, “teeth with claws.”) Something new to dethrone the Creeds and the Nickelbacks and the Daughtrys. I’m beginning to lose hope that anything ever will.

Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s better that nothing new and fresh happens. It’ll just become part of the machine eventually, anyway.

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58 thoughts on “Why I think David Cook represents everything that is wrong with popular rock music today.

  1. Not that I have the strongest music-cred, but…

    I left on an LDS mission right as grunge broke (I left a month after the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” debuted on MTV). The death of hair metal was obviously coming, and I was convinced that thrash/noise and industrial were going to be the twin pillars of hard edged music when I returned. I thought Front 242 was going to be huge.

    Imagine my consternation when I returned to find all the Poison fans wearing flannel and NIN (the Depeche Mode of the ’90s) as the only popular representative of industrial.

    I will admit to this though: I have a weakness for pop-punk.

  2. Sorry to break it to you, David Cook fans, but you’re all really just Poison fans.

    Har! Great line Susan.

  3. So after giving this a little thought it dawns on me that we may be forced to admit that Rock is finally dead.

    Yes, there are always good new rock bands but it seems to me that the genre is pretty well played out. Any good new rock bands are updating stuff that someone else already did (often better) decades ago.

    Think rock can never die? Look at jazz. It croaked after the sixties and had its last gasps of life in the early seventies. After that is was “smooth jazz” tripe and revivalists. Sure people still play jazz and put out records and listen to it, but the genre is becoming a museum piece already.

    Rock is well on its way to that status I think. Grunge may very well have been the last gasp of rock… Everything after if is some kind of hybrid (mixing rock with hip-hop, rap, country, etc.)

  4. Totally agree Susan. David Cook’s derivative sound sucked 10 years ago, when we first heard it. I keep waiting for him to launch into “It’s been a whiiiile…”

  5. One of my favorite bands, the Hellacopters, (who I consider to be keeping rock’n’roll alive) has an album called:

    I thought about mentioning them in my post, but unfortunately they’re breaking up soon, after a final tour.

  6. I remember people saying rock was dead in the early 90’s (arguing that hip-hop and electronica would take over). So, that has kinda come true.

    People! Join me in bluegrass! It will be the next big thing!

  7. I don’t see anything wrong with supporting a dying art form. Some interesting stuff can happen in the death throes.

    (says the guy whose favorite form of narrative art is the novel)

  8. With Daughtry, we got another Nickleback. Yay!

    Cook and the comb-over will bring us another Goo-Goo Dolls. Even better!

    Something new to dethrone the Creeds and the Nickelbacks and the Daughtrys. I’m beginning to lose hope that anything ever will.

    I hope my favorite metal bands *never* try to hit the big time. Remember what happened to Metallica after …And Justice For All? Castration. When metal goes mainstream, it creates abominations like Godsmack, and Trapt, and Chevelle. (shudder)

    When Muse didn’t catch on in the states, I lost every ounce of respect I had for “top 40” rock music. We like our rock stars in corduroy sport coats and caligraphy’d t-shirts, with emo-bangs and a Les Paul, singing songs written by the same 55 year old guy that writes for The Pussycat Dolls.

  9. There’s a lot more good Jazz out there than simply ‘cool Jazz’ like Kenny G. Just think of the Marcellus brothers. Yeah Jazz’ golden age is long over. But there’s still a lot of good new stuff out there.

    One should note that Nels Cline of Wilco fame does a lot of interesting Jazz albums as well.

  10. I kind of liked some of Godsmack’s stuff. It wasn’t fantastic. But then most music isn’t. But it was good.

    STP wasn’t great but it wasn’t the travesty some make out either. Smashing Pumpkins I’m more mixed on. They always struck me as an “also ran.”

    I had hope there would be a rock revival with Velvet Revolver and Audioslave but to say they didn’t measure up is an understatement. I liked both of their initial albums but I think that’s partially just because everything else out there is dreck. Both there follow up albums were horrible though. And both broke up.

    Supposedly Rage Against the Machine is reforming though. That should be interesting.

    You all forgot Tool and Perfect Circle which, while not traditional rock, is still great.

    The big problem is that popular music is a horrid mess. The radio system broke down. The labels haven’t a clue to what they are doing. Everything is too diverse so it’s Indie all the way. Which means no band will have more than a small cult following.

  11. STP and SP were both decent bands. They both have some really good stuff. I was just trying to show a progression from grunge to the crap we’re stuck with these days.

    I thought Muse were pretty popular? About as popular as Radiohead, maybe?

    Tool’s been helping to keep prog rock alive, along with Mastodon and probably some other bands I’m forgetting. Oh yeah, Mars Volta.

    There is a glut of not just bands these days, but genres. Which has really helped to weaken rock itself, I think.

  12. And meanwhile, Queensryche and Dream Theatre keep on rocking, and no one notices.

    Operation: Mindcrime II came out, and it barely made a peep, despite the fact it rocks harder than 99% of the “rock” out there.

  13. Dream Theatre is touring with Opeth right now. And I’m not going. 😦

    Singer for Queensryche = one of the best-trained vocalists in rock.

  14. “Just don’t call it rock, please.”

    Can we call it rock lite?

    I get what you’re saying. I was a fan of alternative when it was still alternative, but I guess I still like the sound even if it is getting tired and played out. I think for me, today’s “alternative” is like my lesser of the evils substitute for what I used to really love.

    Does everything that starts out new and fresh automatically get shlockified when it goes mainstream? Is it possible for something to be widely popular and really good at the same time?

    And for the record, I never liked Poison. 🙂

  15. When alternative became popular, I thought it meant all good heavy underground music was gone. Boy was I wrong.

    Does everything that starts out new and fresh automatically get shlockified when it goes mainstream? Is it possible for something to be widely popular and really good at the same time?

    The problem is the industry sees something new and popular and starts ramming it down everyone’s throats. They don’t spend time anymore developing artists and new sounds. They see something that works and then just work it do death.

  16. OK, I get that.

    Educate me—point me in the direction of some good heavy underground music. (I’m thinking something along the weight of old school Nirvana or Mudhoney or Soundgarden, I’m way too wimpy for your favorite hardcore metal band—Converge made my brain hurt and not in a good way.)

  17. “Just don’t call it rock please”

    Somehow, this debate seems overly familiar and totally depressing. I guess it reinforces the importance of defining your terms. You want to define “rock” narrowly, according to your own taste. Ok, but people who made music before you were born had their own definition of that word, and it didn’t include Converge, which would be just noise to most rock fans of a generation ago.

    Everyone wants to plant their own personal flag on the word “rock” and claim it for their own. Sort of reminds me of the fight over another word: “Christian.”

    Sorry people, but it really doesn’t matter what your personal little genre preference is (alternative? prog rock? punk/pop? funkypunk? hardrock? What does it all even mean? Who actually cares?) with apologies to Billy Joel, it’s still rock and roll to me.

    “Sorry to break it to you David Cook fans, but you’re all just Poison fans.”

    Personally, I’m not a David Cook fan, (and I was never much for Poison). I never will be a David Cook fan until/unless I hear some of his original music. So far, I have only heard him sing cover songs, which he has done very well. All I said was that he was the best talent on this silly show, American Idol. How that evolves into a statement that he represents everything that is wrong with popular music is beyond me. Right now, he’s nothing but a contestant on a TV show. Isn’t there a way we can talk about whether he is doing a good job or not without getting into predicting the downfall of modern civilization? Try breathing through your nose, it’s really going to be ok.

    People have been predicting the death of rock and roll since the 50s. Last I checked, it’s still going strong. How can I tell? When I can go to my local lame-ass club in SLC and see four bands in one night, who hail from Sweden, Ireland, England and the US, and they all play rock and roll (by my definition anyway) and they are all great (in one way or another) then rock and roll is still kickin’. Halleluia!

  18. I didn’t say anything about underground, non-popular rock, though, MCQ. I’m talking about popular stuff you hear on the radio. What the radio defines as rock has very little rock in it, IMO.

    The reason David Cook is regarded as the best on AI is that he fits into what popular rock is on the radio.

  19. Also, for the record, I wouldn’t define Converge as rock, at all. Do they rock? Yes. But are they a rock band? No. I don’t expect to hear Converge on the radio. I would like to hear something that actually rocked, though.

  20. Crap. I agree with MCQ. I’m pretty sure you combine that with the snow I woke up to this morning and hell, indeed, is freezing as we speak.

  21. While I’m pretty sure that A Perfect Circle is done (at least in its original, Maynard-including incarnation), Tool still destroys their competition in first week sales when they release their long awaited albums. They blend Crimsonesque prog-rock decadence with almost minimalist simplicity. They also have a more (if still limited) popular folowing than most of their co-prog-metalers and garner a fair amount of radioplay when their albums are still new.

    Susan is right that serious rock doesn’t get much radio time these days, but I’m holding out hope that changes in media presage possibilities for serious innovation in sound that will catch on popularly.

    FWIW, AC/DC just announced a new upcoming album.

    And all indicators (at least leaks, some of which I’ve heard) are that Chinese Democracy, if ever released, will be pretty decent. Let’s be honest — GnR was a band that, at one of Rock’s weakest moments, both rocked and sold albums.

  22. Now country music is a genre that’s gone down hill even more. When pop music became dominated by rap and pseudo-techno, boy bands, and silly Disney girls country music was taking most of the 70’s and 80’s pop. My wife listens to the country station and honestly I don’t see a whole lot of difference from pop music. They even do tons of pop covers. The only difference is that they’ll have a steel guitar doing back up occasionally.

    Johnny Cash couldn’t even get played by the country stations. I’m not a huge country fan but there is some really solid music in the genre. (Cash, Nelson, Hank Williams, etc.) So most of the complaints you make about rock apply to country only more so.

  23. Scudworth, Susan things GnR is just schlock like Poison. I disagree but I know I’ll never convince her.

    BTW – why did Maynard leave Perfect Circle and go back to Tool. I thought A Perfect Circle was a pretty interesting band and quite unlike Tool.

  24. Susan, I like your stuff, but not this post.

    You know I’m a huge thrash metal fan (Iron Maiden, pre-1990 Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, etc.), and even a big grunge fan to some extent (old PJ, anything with Chris Cornell in it, STP, etc.), and I’ve owned up to myself and accepted what I like regardless of “what it has done” to other bands or the genre – e.g., I like Seal, U2 on a limited basis, DMB, Taj Mahal, and even some KD Lang and Sarah McLachlan. Sure, there are poser bands out there (remember Firehouse? How about Ratt?), and they’ll always thrive off the success of others.

    But the bottom line is this: if you like it, listen to it. If you don’t, then don’t. I have a strange feeling that David Cook’s post-Idol success won’t change the rock genre very much, much like Daughtry’s (ephemeral) “success.” If you’ve found what you like, whether it is Cook or it isn’t, stick to what you like. Duh.

  25. Brit: he’s a contestant on a game show. Musically, he doesn’t even exist.

    gabby: Thanks for the love.

    Is there really anyone who still listens to radio?

  26. G’n’R I sort of have mixed feelings on. They definitely rocked, but they were sooooo cheesy. And the hair, and the glam…just so laughable.

    (BTW, my husband’s cousin bought his house from the keyboardist from G’n’R. There was a room that my husband’s cousin walled off and made into a studio apt and rented out that the G’n’R guy originally used to display his Grammys in. Kinda funny. We swam in the pool and imagined rock stars bbqing around it.)

    I thought APC was just a side project and was never meant to be anything more?

    Maynard’s wife is a singer, she was in a band called Butcher for awhile, saw them once, they were pretty rad. I can’t remember what band she’s in now.

  27. David J: I like just about everything. There are some Daughtry songs I like. I really liked David Cook’s version of “Hello” by Lionel Richie. I can even listen to some Creed and Nickelback (a song at a time—more than one and chances are good it’s being turned off). Like I said in my post, I love shlock—I seriously do.

    I just can’t stand it being called rock.

    People keep refering to David Cook as “the rocker” on AI. Comparatively speaking, he is definitely that. But he is not anything close to what I’d call a rocker. What I find sad is in today’s popular musical climate, that’s what passes for a rocker.

  28. I have to plead guilty here. DH bought a GnR greatest hits album and I was totally lovin it. Oh oh oh sweet child of miiiiiine.
    I’ve had the same feeling while listening to the radio lately but I thought it was just me. Everything sounds vaguely the same and other than a catchy pop hook now and then there’s not much there for me. I just download and mix my own stuff for the most part.
    Clark, I couldn’t agree with you more about country! Though I did go to a Rascal Flatts concert and must admit I loved the hell out of it.

  29. MCQ: People have been predicting the death of rock and roll since the 50s. Last I checked, it’s still going strong. How can I tell? When I can go to my local lame-ass club in SLC and see four bands in one night, who hail from Sweden, Ireland, England and the US, and they all play rock and roll

    By this definition not only is raock and roll alive and well, so are polka, jazz, be-bop, big band, baroque, classical, and disco since you can hear bands/orchestras/groups performing all of these on any given night in a large US city.

    I think the points being made earlier had more to do with vibrant creative movements within a genre. Genres do tend to pass their peak and I think a good argument can be made that rock (like most jazz genres, or most classical genres, etc) has indeed passed its peak.

  30. By this definition not only is raock and roll alive and well, so are polka, jazz, be-bop, big band, baroque, classical, and disco since you can hear bands/orchestras/groups performing all of these on any given night in a large US city.

    Totally missed the point Geoff.

    I’m not just talking about the fact that rock is being performed at all in any city. By that definition, experimental frog licking is a genuine movement.

    If you read carefully, you’ll see that I was concluding that rock is healthy beacause there are bands from all over the world performing it in a small club in lowly SLC (as opposed to LA or NY). That, my friend, is a sign of relative health.

    In fact, I will go further Geoff: Rock and Roll is the most healthy, popular, long-lived, prolific, widespread musical movement in the history of the world. And it’s better now than ever. Past its peak? It just keeps getting bigger.

  31. MCQ,

    Obviously Susan is using the term “rock” in a much narrower way than you are. She seems to mean basically “hard rock”. If the term rock means simply “popular music” or if some extremely broad Billy-Joel-esque meaning of the term where Neil Diamond and David Archuleta are lumped in with Kurt Cobain is what rock is then of course it if alive and well. And of course popular music will never get old (by definition). So I don’t dispute the point I think you are making.

  32. I think MCQ is using Susan’s definition. However to be fair SLC seems to get a lot more indie bands than they have any right to. Plus SLC has a pretty lively local scene and radio stations that are better than most major US cities. (Surprisingly – I’m always shocked when I got to most cities at just how crappy their radio has been the last 15 years)

    I think though that rock is alive in the club circuit well beyond what you’d be able to tell from the radio playlists.

  33. Yikes, Smashing Pumpkins in the same sentance with Creed, Nickleback, and Daughtrey??

    Gish, still my favorite Pumpkins album, was released in May of 1991, prior to Nirvana’s Nevermind (granted, their 2nd album) in Sept 1991 and Pearl Jam’s Ten in August 1991. Though it may have taken Pumpkins a little longer to break into the mainstream than Pearl Jam and Nirvana, it’s not like they were Candlebox or Silverchair, who came along after the market had been saturated by the grunge sound.

    I’d also argue that the Pumpkins had their own unique sound, while it is easier to lump the sound of the Seattle bands (and STP) together. Pumpkins had a little bit of that 60s psychedelic sound, 70s arean rock sound, and 80s goth sound. Not a grunge copycat, but an original band in their own right.

  34. I was just trying to establish a quick run down of popular sounds after grunge hit. Do you think Smashing Pumpkins would have been popular if Nirvana hadn’t broke first?

    I’m kinda surprised no one’s brought up all the 90s bands like Offspring, Smashmouth, Collective Soul, etc.

  35. Clark,
    Susan’s right — APC was always just a side project. Both Lateralus and 10,000 Days were recorded while Maynard was still a part of APC.

    GnR may have walked the shlock walk, but they rocked the rock. Mr. Brownstone might be the finest mainstream rock song recorded in the 80s.

  36. Interesting, Susan, that you mention Collective Soul, since they kind of survived the Glam=>Grunge transition, more or less intact. Their music wasn’t particularly great, but they’re an interesting case study. I’m also fascinated by the mentions of Country here. I see a much more direct line from Hairbands to the twangy, assclownish country of BrooksnDunn, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, etc. — not just musically but in terms of their positioning on the pop cultural landscape — than from Glam to Grunge/”Alternative.” It should also be noted that many of the unparalleled musical geniuses who played hairband rock in the 80s themselves transitioned to Country once the Seattle scene crowded them off the rock airways. Brett Michaels, for example, comes to mind.
    I’m with Matt RE: SmP. I also think that “Ten” was a better album than “Nevermind,” but that “In Utero” was better than “Ten.” Early Alice and Chains was fantastic stuff as well.
    Watching Singles still gets me weepy.

  37. Watching Singles still gets me weepy.

    Oh man, me too. It came out when I was in living in Seattle. Something about the idea of Eddie Vedder and Matt Dillon in a band together is just so perfect. Best lines from the movie:

    “That’s one bitter mime.”

    “You’re from the high plains, Janet”

    “Well, I think “Touch Me, I’m Dick,” in essence, speaks for itself, you know?”

  38. Speaking of defining terms. Someone define “laughable.”

    LAUGHABLE?
    PS–Look who’s laughing now.
    PPS–It’s still you.

  39. Susan #47,

    Whether or not Smashing Pumpkins would have been more or less popular due to Nirana isn’t really the point, since popularity often has nothing to do with quality. I’m more interested in who influenced who, and in artistic merit independent of sales and magazine covers.

    I’d argue that from a timeline standpoint, SP and Nirvana arose concurrently; and from an artistic standpoint, while existing in the same general musical genre, are sufficiently different from each other to stand alone.

    But yes, the popularity of SP and most such bands owe a huge debt to Nirvana, who busted down the door.

    Having said that, Nirvana owe’s a debt to the Pixies.

  40. Well everyone’s standing on someone’s shoulders. The whole post is about today’s popular rock music and the state it’s in and how it got there. I’m sure there’s some popular bands who wouldn’t exist without SP, but *many* more so because of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

    I only wish Soundgarden would’ve had a bigger influence. 🙂

  41. I both love and hate Chris Cornell’s voice. When he reigns it in, he has a terrific sound. When he lets it all hang out, he makes my ear drums bleed.

    I love the toned down Cornell in his solo work, like on the song “Can’t Change Me.”

    As for Soundgarden, “Burden in My Hand” is an absolutely perfect song.

    Having said that about Cornell, Billy Corgan’s voice has many of the same problems, and it is nowhere near as strong as Cornell’s. When Corgan gets into the upper registers his voice is thin, nasally, and unpleasant.

    Actually, Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain have vocal blind spots as well… so maybe that is the hallmark of singers from this era.

    As for songwriting ability, it’s not even close, Corgan wins hands down.

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