The Nu-Metal Classics

Fort Wayne’s 98.9 THE BEAR writes that it’s the city’s only ROCK station in all capital letters. Its website features a “Babe of the Day,” which doesn’t seem Indiana-specific but looks more like hastily copied-and-pasted photos from the first images in a porn set. The station’s top DJ is named “John the Mexican.” In his photo he’s wearing a sombrero, but, though I may get into hot water by determining a person’s ethnicity based purely on facial features, he sure looks like a white guy.

Hard rock is what I started listening to as soon as middle school began. I say “Hard” rock, but it’s not hard. It’s not like the suburban Midwest was playing GG Allin or Black Flag. Everything in suburbia is hard like Daughtry is hard. My mom and my after-school tutor were both American Idol fans and nearly every week had to have a short discussion about how different Daughtry was, and how they liked him despite being such a rocker! He has a wallet chain! He has a bald head (on purpose)! He has tattoos, and tattoos are crazy and different and not a thousand-year old establishment. I raised my nose at them. I did a “Nyugh!” and went back upstairs.

Even within the couple of years that I stopped listening to Suburban Dad Rock I instantly recognized my failings. Neither of my parents are musically inclined. I don’t say that to criticize or anything, they just never had music on. They had records, sure, but their latest (and, hilariously, greatest) was Bruce Willis’s The Return of Bruno. If I wanted an album to listen to as I anxiously paced in my bedroom, it was Radio Disney or Weird Al Yankovic or borrowing one of my sister’s *NSync CDs and attempting to judge the thing on its own merits. So when I learned there was music out there for adults, assumedly, and not just for kids, I eagerly downloaded every post-grunge nu-metal song from Kazaa that I could find. Yeah, Kazaa. In case I didn’t mention it, I am an exceptionally old man and this was the turn of the century.

The first thing anyone remembers about the 2000s is 9/11. I hate to bring it up, but it’s something defining and is more concrete than just a fluttery literary notion. The fall of 2000 had a silly, embarrassing presidential election, but it didn’t matter until the chickens came home to roost. A lot of music was written in the wake of the attack. Some of it was peaceful and earnest. A very tiny minority of it was thoughtful. The vast majority of it was angry at no definable source, though generally assumed to be a girl instead of rightful culprit the elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act, and hysterically patriotic. That was nu-metal in 2003. Think of a naked obese man draped in an American flag who, when sitting on his couch, smells and feels Dorito dust rising from the cushions, and loudly grunts obscenities when reaching for the remote. By 2007 he gives up, collapses, masturbates, and falls asleep. Popular music is still popular music, but I do think we’ve gotten better.

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to the hits 98.9 THE BEAR played back in 2003 and assuredly still plays today (because the station is garbage). Maybe I’ve been too harsh. Maybe my personal life is too tied up in tastes and experiences to look at popular culture with an objective eye. Maybe “shut up and turn off your brain!” really is a legitimate response to people who pay attention to things. Maybe it’s just been eleven years and I want to see how much I’ve really changed.

Here are the number one U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks of the year of our Lord two-thousand-and-three.

Godsmack – “Straight Out of Line”

You can tell these guys are tough because since 1995 they have been all about smacking God in the face. In chapter thirty-three of Exodus, God shows Moses his back. To see God’s face would be an overwhelming experience incomprehensible to the human mind, and since hearing the story I like to imagine the face’s possibility of sending mortals to a Lovecraftian psychological hell. Well, these guys (notably lead singer Sully Erna) saw God’s face (I presume) and SMACKED THE SHIT OUT OF IT. Maybe m’boy Sully thought he really was smacking God, but in my mind I just see a seventeen-year old kid in Lawrence, Massachusetts hitting his pastor really hard during a sermon and running away crying, vowing to never return and make it big on the “Hard” rock scene.

BestWorst Lyrics: I don’t know you/So don’t freak on me

I’m seeing this as Sully attending the Million Man March, asking a super ignorant question out of genuine earnestness, and then not being humble enough to let people be offended. If the word was around in 1995, Sully probably told people to “chillax.”

BestWorst Music Video Moment:

I like the part where Lilith joins Asuka Langley Soryu in trying to commit bathtub suicide. Also, there are moments where the drummer flips a drumstick when one hand isn’t needed and it really bothers me. I’m afraid he’ll miss in this prerecorded video from eleven years ago.

Weeks on Top of Chart: 2

RATING: **** stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: Brand New’s Deja Entendu


Linkin Park – “Somewhere I Belong”

I once said that if every Linkin Park song was closer to “Breaking the Habit” I’d like them a lot more. They’re the only band on this list that I actually had any affection for, as misplaced as that affection was. There is, in comparison to every other mainstream rock band in the universe, a sincerity in their music that is constantly overshadowed by incessant whining and rapping from a guy who moves his hands horizontal to his neck during every line. When Linkin Park got “better” they just became ersatz U2 and every song was about world peace and children clapping.

BestWorst Lyrics: I will never be anything till I break away from me/I will break away, I’ll find myself today

This is pretty confusing. The premise of the song is about the struggle out of depression, I think, but the use of both “me” and “myself” opens up a whole realm of theological thought concerning what the self is. The “me” is probably the depressed Chester Bennington and the “myself” is probably the future, happy Chester Bennington, but they forgot the “I” which means the apathy of being stuck in Linkin Park.

BestWorst Music Video Moment: Any time the band performs in front of the flames and architecture, what’s supposed to be Hell looks way more like the Tunnel level from Pokemon Snap.

Weeks on Top of Chart: 1

RATING: * star of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: Explosions in the Sky’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place


Audioslave – “Like a Stone”

Audioslave was created when Tom Morello and the remaining members of anti-authority Sony group Rage Against the Machine decided to team with a heroined-up Kevin Bacon. Their biggest claim to fame was getting a cover song in the first Guitar Hero, which is obviously my biggest interest because I could easily turn this post into an essay about how good that first Guitar Hero was. Oh, man! I know the music game industry got exploited and killed quickly, but you all missed out. It was magical, it really was.

Oh, Audioslave was pretty boring. They’re not the most rotten of the bands, which is probably because they’re the least mad. They are, however, the most sleepy.

BestWorst Lyrics: By a freeway I confess/I was lost in the pages of a book full of death

I’m sure that this is alluding to the Bible, but “book full of death” isn’t very specific. I would absolutely love for this to secretly be a song about Crime and Punishment and for Bacon to be slowly, anguishingly revealing his murder of Alyona Ivanovna.

BestWorst Music Video Moment: Despite babies not being a central theme to “Like a Stone,” at 3:08 a baby suddenly appears on screen as our lead singer tries to molest the top of his head when his…dad? (oh god I hope his dad) is holding him. It’s like the subliminal image of a penis at the end of Fight Club.

Weeks on Top of Chart:12!

RATING: **1/2 stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief


Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”

I could never figure out who Chevelle was. They blended together with everyone, and I swear that three-quarters of the time they got mentioned I thought they were a car manufacturer.

BestWorst Lyrics: You used to run me away/All while laughing/Then cry about that fact/Till I returned

Maybe if you weren’t manipulating your girlfriend into believing you were a victim to a terrible snowboarding accident your relationship would be better, Chevelle.

BestWorst Music Video Moment: The absolute worst moment in any of these videos has to be the use of stock footage of snowboarders falling to their deaths or at least breaking every bone in their bodies. This music video was pre-YouTube and pre-4chan so Chevelle had to be totally desensitized to violence and were looking for extreme sports versions of Faces of Death.

Weeks on Top of Chart: 2

RATING: ***1/2 stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: Sufjan Stevens’s Michigan

Trapt – “Headstrong”

THIS is my jam if my jam were poop from a butt. I remember this mostly as the theme song to the WWE pay-per-view Bad Blood 2003, which featured such great matches as Scott Steiner vs. Test and a Hell in a Cell match of Triple H vs. Kevin Nash where Mick Foley was the special guest referee instead of champion of the world for-fucking-ever. What I’m getting at is that the transition into the 21st century was hard and confusing and produced a lot of mediocrity and La Resistance matches.

BestWorst Lyrics: I see you’re full of shit, and that’s alright/That’s how you play, I guess you’ll get through every night

Trapt-Guy spends the whole song criticizing an unnamed someone for being firm in his or her belief (headstrong, if you will), then immediately sings about how that’s fine and he doesn’t care anymore. He immediately jumps back to just yelling and yelling about how his views on abortion are the most correct, or whatever.

BestWorst Music Video Moment: The B-plot of the music video is a kid in a hoodie arguing with his dad in the car. At one point they step out of the car and the kid throws a bottle at the windshield. With all the rioting going on during the A-plot, you think it would be something dangerous and badass like a Molotov cocktail, but it’s just water or, given the Xtremeness of the video, Gatorade.

Weeks on Top of Chart: 1

RATING: ****1/2 stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: The Mars Volta’s De-Loused in the Comatorium


Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”

Oh my god I am not listening to any of these songs twice


Staind – “So Far Away”

Staind has staying power. In a world with Tumblr and the excessive removal of unnecessary vowels, Staind at least retains a semi-loyal following from people who hate good music and also hate vowels. Trapt was in the same group, but they really didn’t have anything to go on after 2003 was over. At least Staind has a logo that looks like it would fit right at home with the Gathering of the Juggalos. I had a way dirtier joke here so just ask me later.

BestWorst Lyrics: Somebody shake me ‘cause I/I must be sleeping

followed by

I’m so afraid of waking/Please don’t shake me

This is a sentimental song from Staind about how they released three previous albums that anyone who didn’t listen to 98.9 THE BEAR didn’t actually like. It’s about being appreciative and thankful and also super unable to commit to a direction that would improve music and lyrics.

BestWorst Music Video Moment: This is a sentimental video from Staind featuring a legion (a legion!) of fans making devil horn hand gestures and sticking their tongues out at Staind concerts for a song about loving your child? “Hard” rock had the tendency to get REAL REAL MAD and then, when enough success came, create a sweet song about how nice it is to have a lot of money and be able to send your daughter to a private school.

Weeks on Top of Chart: 14!!

RATING: ** stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: Coheed and Cambria’s In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3


A Perfect Circle – “Weak and Powerless”

For some silly reason I thought A Perfect Circle was actually a long-established and respected band for years and years. They’re not, and they’re even newer than other bands on this list. For a long time I also thought that their logo was the logo for the band Opeth. Really, I wouldn’t be able to tell them on the radio and I bet the only time I heard this song was in the trailer for Underworld.

BestWorst Lyrics: Hoo boy, there are a lot of options. Tilling my own grave to keep me level/Jam another dragon down the hole


Someone feed the monkey while I dig in search of China/White as Dracula as I approach the bottom

Listen, I really don’t care what gets you off but that is a weird string of phrases to type into PornHub.

BestWorst Music Video Moment: The crazed naked savage lizard woman has painted toenails, because ladies are always supposed to have painted toenails!

Weeks on Top of Chart: 2

RATING: ***** stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: Motion City Soundtrack’s I Am the Movie


Trapt – “Still Frame”

THE RETURN OF THE KING! This is the last time Trapt got to #1 on the Mainstream Rock listing, and I am totally surprised they had anything in the tank besides “Headstrong.” Trapt still exists and releases albums, surprisingly enough! They just put out Reborn last year, and while you can’t find a Pitchfork review of the album, you can find an Allmusic review. That explains a lot.

BestWorst Lyrics: Now we’re older it’s getting harder to see/What the future will hold for us/What the fuck are we going to be?


BestWorst Music Video Moment: Oh my goodness! Trapt discovered what computers are and decided to make FMV games with the technology. Multiple times in the video (like, more than seven) the camera pulls back and you see several copy-pasted lead singers rap-rocking in unison. It’s not actually a new innovation, but someone in the production department surely had just played Phantasmagoria and wanted to see if the stupid idiots in a stupid band would care if he played around with a greenscreen.

Weeks on Top of Chart: 1

RATING: ***** stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: Muse’s Absolution


Puddle of Mudd – “Away from Me”

I’ve always believed that singing talent doesn’t have as much to do with an individual’s voice as much as it does the use of voice in an appropriate context. Someone who couldn’t be in an opera can still hold his own as a beaten-down old folk singer, someone who can’t reliably be a pop star can still do spoken word poetry, and so on. I’ve always thought the “Puddle of Mudd Guy” actually had a decent voice for what he did. It’s whiny and extends words far past their logical endpoint but can work depending on the song. That “Blurry” song? Actually decent. “Away from Me?” Insufferable.

BestWorst Lyrics: Now I’m gonna have to find a way to put the bottle down/And why can’t you see that I’m drowning in a pool of misery

Listen, guys, just because you’re desperate for relevance doesn’t mean you get to hang off of the success of Drowning Pool. Are you trying to win brownie points by namedropping the “Bodies” guys?

BestWorst Music Video Moment: There is nothing here. The band finds an abandoned tent with a drum kit and then plays the music. They go “Here, let us play music” and then they play music. Every once in a while photobooth images of band members flash across the screen despite photobooths not being a part of the video. Whoever directed this video did not go on to be the next David Fincher.

Weeks on Top of Chart: 3

RATING: *** stars of discomfort

An Album that Released in 2003: The White Stripes’s Elephant


Here is my great big insightful takeaway from reliving my 8th and 9th grades for a whole evening:

Life would have been better if my parents had been musical.


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