Talkhouse Contributing Writer Sean Yeaton plays in Parquet Courts. He lives in Brooklyn. He’s an artist, writer. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Why are alligators always smiling? And if an olive can be plucked from its branch and violated for its oil, how can its virginity remain intact to the point of being so virgin that the word “virgin” alone is unfit to describe it? Does my dog love me? These are all questions that will remain unanswered forever. If anyone asked me any of these questions, I’d tell them that their guess was as good as mine. I also don’t understand what the deal is with Trader Joe’s. What are they hiding and when will their nefarious scheme be disclosed to the public? Maybe never. Likewise, what is Papa Roach doing so well that they’ve sold an average of one million albums for every year they’ve existed? Are they just really nice guys? Are they blessed by God? I’ve never sold or earned one million of anything.
People love Papa Roach the way people love water parks. If there are enough people out there willing to pay money to float alongside and slide down tubes with strangers in their bathing suits to give a bank the confidence it needs to hand out a substantial loan, it means something only Malcolm Gladwell understands. The same general principle applies to Papa Roach, as far as I’m concerned. I can’t understand it. In a conversation I read between Head from Korn and Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, there’s some talk about finding God and at the end, Head signs off on a bittersweet note, sending his heart out to his “fallen brothers and their families who didn’t make it,” referring, I think, either to people they know who succumbed to their vices, or who didn’t find religion, or both. But maybe they mean Alien Ant Farm. They didn’t make it. Maybe they mean Orgy. They didn’t make it either. I picture Head with his arm around Shaddix, winking in the final moments of this conversation, being completely self-referential about nü metal and how absurd it is that they’ve managed to make a living on such a slim frequency of culture that sends such powerful signals to such astonishing amounts of people.
Papa Roach has succeeded in an arena where other second- or third-wave nü metal acts have failed. They are not pioneers, but they have seemingly been able to stay sufficiently abreast of the leading edge of nü metal to remain relevant. Perhaps because of how nice Jacoby Shaddix is, or because in any complex system there need to be tiers, Papa Roach has apparently stayed relevant, while contributing practically zero in the way of offensive or controversial material to the nü metal community. I say “practically zero” because once I met the voice of a children’s cartoon character in an elevator and asked her to say “fuck” in the cartoon’s voice. She said she gets it all the time and was more than happy to humor me. It still felt like enough of a one-off experience to me that I’ve reveled in it ever since. It’s not like this woman is in the news being blamed for a school shooting or anything, but it’s comforting to know she’ll say “fuck” every once in a while, even as a novelty. I’m not saying you need to have something wrong with you to have substance or to be emotionally mature enough to be famous, but when I hear Papa Roach I just picture a bunch of lacrosse players drawing the Stussy S on their book covers in homeroom.
The problem with nü metal in its most recent wave is the betrayal of ignorance and anarchy in favor of some sort of controlled chaos. I think this is commonly referred to as “the part where they sing.” Why put in all that effort to write a thuggish breakdown or an eye-jostling intro only to defang it entirely with a puny vocal lead that sounds like the fucking cotton theme song. You know the one I’m talking about: “the touch, the feel… of cotton. The fabric of our lives.” For god’s sake, “Take on Me” has a more brutal breakdown than anything nü metal has delivered in years.
The humiliating motif I speak of happens approximately every 58 seconds on Papa Roach’s latest effort. It’s all good, though. I get it — Incubus, 311, everyone’s done it. In the mainstream, you need a little sweet to balance the sour. Fuck! Chumbawamba did it.
I’m watching the music video for “The Movies” by Alien Ant Farm right now and there’s someone wearing a Crass shirt in it. What the hell do I know about music? All this Papa Roach record has done is cause upheaval for me. I haven’t even said a solitary word about the album yet but the fact that it exists has gotten me so fired up, I don’t know what to do with my life. Here’s the thing: I don’t like any of the songs on the new Papa Roach album, but that doesn’t matter. Papa Roach has it sorted out.
There’s some interview out there where Shaddix is talking about the DIY days of Papa Roach, and it knocked me on my ass for a second because it’s so difficult for me to imagine bands like Papa Roach or KoRn or Slipknot, motherfucking Incubus, 311, Linkin Park, goddamn Jimmie’s Chicken Shack getting in the van, you know? Part of the point of nü metal was this disconnect, I always thought. There was a local nü metal band from the town next to where I grew up called Cherry ST or Cherry S/T, fuck if I know. They practiced in the garage of whichever member lived on Cherry Street in Danvers, Massachusetts. Long story short, they had the whole enchilada over there on Cherry Street. Everyone in full nü metal regalia, a DJ, fog machines, everything. Random people would gather from all around to watch them practice in this garage and it was amazing because they had the whole thing down. It was like everyone in the neighborhood figured these guys would wind up on The Ed Sullivan Show or something, really bring some money in to rebuild the field house at the high school and shit like this. Then 9/11 happened.
Papa Roach have succeeded for so long by playing the long game. Not like Alien Ant Farm, who cashed in early and got out-of-control popular for a short period of time on that tour they were on with Papa Roach and Snapcase. That Michael Jackson cover was too on-point. At best, Alien Ant Farm contributed to an unusual number of sales of six-string basses at Guitar Center for a short period of time. Same goes for Orgy. I’d love to talk to someone at Ibanez about those days. Shark-jumping became unavoidable once the second wave of nü metal reached at its zenith. Bands just existed for no reason at all and it was like the Beatles all over again but everyone was wearing Jncos and robo-tripping.
Orgy’s trajectory mirrors AAF’s almost exactly, cover song and everything. At some point, someone with a glow-in-the-dark eyebrow ring said, “Look what Limp Bizkit did. Here are some freaks of nature giving you a taste of their spunk by cleverly disguising it in a George Michael song.” It worked for Limp Bizkit but it also gave them a certain amount of ownership of the gimmick. You’re telling me at some point when Jonathan Davis was signing Orgy to Elementree Records he wasn’t like, “Grab a seven-string guitar and play a New Order song in a wild outfit and you’ll be millionaires overnight”? A gimmick will work but it’s only gonna get you so far.
Papa Roach has jettisoned gimmicks as quickly as they’ve embraced them to top the charts and I think that’s essentially their secret. They’re like a nü metal Spinal Tap. Just sort of your nü metal Everyband. A couple of summers ago I was playing at Reading and Leeds and I sneaked into a VIP section to watch the Deftones. It was a real trip to see how much was going on behind the curtain. I guess at a certain point there’s a lot of money riding on a perfectly executed set. To take some slack off of nü metal for a second, I watched Green Day the same night on the same stage. It was strange as hell. At best it seemed like they were pantomiming their way through their set. I can fully understand it. For what it costs to give the people their Green Day. It doesn’t even sicken me to my core. Anyway, I guess my take on the new Papa Roach album is that it’s just some sort of collection of inoffensive sounds that the people want.