Thursday, March 26, 2009

Milam's March Madness Elite 8 (West and International)

Welcome back to Milam's March Madness! We're in the Elite 8 right now, so read on to see who's joining Pearl Jam and My Morning Jacket in the Final Four.

If you're just catching up, click the "Milam's March Madness" label to see the results so far.

***NOTE the iMeem player to the right. It features music from the day's bands.


West Region

1) Green Day vs. 2) Foo Fighters
Battle: The tale of tape shows a mirror image:
--Pop-rock bands from the mid 90's who have a stable of hits and are arguably making their best music right now.
--Groups that understand their fanbase and want to rock/please/entertain/join their fans, not alienate them with incontinence or counterproductive experimentation.
--West-coast bands that do sunny-music-with-dark-lyrics as well as anyone.
--Both employ an increasingly rare commodity: humor. And self-awareness.
--Like their records, their live shows are crowd-pleasers, all heart and no schtick.

The list goes on...

It's a tough decision, because Foo Fighters are probably my favorite of the two. For whatever reason (that mystical subjective aspect of music), their songs appeal to me aesthetically more than Green Day's. I'd rather listen to "Everlong" or "I'll Stick Around" or "I'll Be Coming Home Next Year" than "Good Riddance" or "Basket Case." But those personal aesthetics only apply to me, and half the world might rather hear Green Day than the Foo. The list isn't about me, or my history with any one song, or an individual's taste. It's about seeing if we can determine who the better band actually is.

Foo Fighters have lasted this long by being steadfast and solid. They'll never write an epic concept album about sociopolitical life in America's post-modernity (like Green Day), or show up one day without guitars (like Radiohead). No need for reinventing the wheel, thanks. They like it--and use it--just fine.

Better than fine, in fact. But when they're up against a band like Green Day--their counterpart in so many other respects--who happens to have broken their mold and succeeded, they're at a disadvantage. When Green Day released American Idiot, they took another step. They went from "band that everyone knows and likes" to "band that matters." Billy Joe could've written "Minority" and collected checks til the cows came home. He took a risk, aimed higher, and succeeded.

Winner: Green Day

International Region

1) Radiohead vs. 2) The White Stripes

Battle: The battle of the big Little band and the big Big band, one playing their own game better than anyone, the other changing the game with every release. I picked The Strokes over the Raconteurs last week, making the argument that their narrow scope actually allows them to do more. Nobody does more within a set artistic framework (three instruments and blues-based songwriting) than the White Stripes. While no one record has equalled American Idiot, or Kid A, the four-record stretch from 2002-2008 (White Blood Cells-Icky Thump) is enough to trump anyone. While it's easy to make a case for someone else, it's nearly impossible to make the case against The White Stripes. They're currently bulletproof.

In a different region, the Stripes could get to the Finals. Radiohead's probably their worst-possible draw, because Radiohead matches their pop success, has played their game and won (as a simple four-piece alt-rock band in The Bends), and has done so much more since. If Radiohead was only a band of wild and eccentric experimentation, daring avante gard pop, and artistic Importance, I'd probably give the nod to the Stripes. But Radiohead, depending on the day, is also one of pop's tightest and most focused bands. You want sonically cohesive rock (White Blood Cells)? The Bends. You want a pop-friendly concept album (Elephant)? OK Computer. And that only takes us to 2000, when they collectively decided, "let's redefine pop music." And throughout the breathtaking achievement of Kid A/Amnesiac/Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows are the signs of their overarching talent: great pop, regardless of genre. They are all focused works of cohesive pop art first, acts of defiance and ingenuity second. That is, they might've burned the house down, but if you look close you can still see the foundation. Those records--experiments all--don't exist to spite the no-nonsense rock of the Stripes and others; they succeed because of it.
Winner: Radiohead

1) Green Day
1) Radiohead

--Someone more patient than me could make a study of political unrest in the context of pop music, using American Idiot and Hail to the Thief to demonstrate the difference between American protest and British protest. Who wants first crack?

Who goes to the Finals?

View Results

Who do you like in the Finals? Green Day or Radiohead?

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