I know for this week’s Radio Rant, most of you were probably expecting “Grenade”. That’s fair, it’s the current number 1 on the Hot 100, and I’ve yet to review it, but for today, I thought I’d change it up a bit.
“Oh please,”, I hear you say. “I heard that song forever ago.” Yeah, me too, but I’ve always wanted to take a closer look at this song; for a solid month or two, this thing lived in the Top 20, cresting around 13, but never dipping below 17 or so. So it wasn’t the biggest hit, but it’s had a longer and more consistent chart life than some rise and fall Top 10 hits.
And it’s refreshing to see an honest-to-God rock song on the charts. So far, the rockingest thing I’ve covered on Radio Rants has been Maroon 5, who can get outrocked by Hannah Montana. As for information on the band…well, I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, saying “Hey-o, who the fuck are Neon Trees?” Well, their background is pretty beige; around 2005, some kids in Utah started a rock band, got signed a few years later, and put out an album this past summer. Works for me.
“Animal” can be effectively described as throwing elements of Oughties rock together, bland it up a little, and serve warm. I know that sounds harsh, and that on Top 40 radio, originality is almost too much to ask for, but this song is so transparent I’m surprised it didn’t come with a Works Cited page.
The song begins with a snappy drum beat (1) and some basic but tasteful guitar work (2) before Tyler Glenn’s vocals (3) kick in. The first verse isn’t anything special; “Animal” is one of many, many songs vaguely about sex. Or failed relationships and trainwrecks of people. Or werewolves, 1950s B-movies, or honey bees, I can’t tell because the lyrics are so vague, you could probably insert any meaning you want.
But things pick up as we come to a synthy pre-chorus and chorus (4). Some “Oh-oh”s (5) give the chorus a nice touch, and even though it’s a basic metaphor, “Take a bite of my heart tonight” isn’t a bad line at all. The rest of the lyrics aren’t terrible, but painfully trite; the chorus’ main lines are “I want some more” and “What are you waiting for?” Because those lines have never been used before.
Looking at the song from more than a “What’s it sound like” perspective leads to an identity crisis for both the song and the artist. What genre does this go in? There are certainly indie rock stylings, but the band’s never been on an indie label (only major label Mercury). In fact, they’re almost too stylized; between teased and dyed haircuts and hipper-than-thou outfits without any music of substance behind it, Neon Trees feels like a pop group playing dress up.
Back to “Animal”. The bridge is nice; there are touches of acoustic guitar hiding behind the synths (5), and it does build nicely towards the chorus. But, like the rest of the song, it’s predictable to a tee. And then there’s a final repetition of the chorus with some additional guitar in the background (6).
“Animal”‘s Top 20 chart presence makes so much sense. It’s ok, fun, and catchy enough that a few Late Night TV performances would nudge it towards success, but at the same time it’s not engineered to be a big hit. My biggest problem with it is the total lack of originality, and how much of a shameless copy it is. I don’t mind listening to it, but at the same time I always wonder “Why am I listening to this and not The Strokes or The Killers?”; groups that do the exact same thing, but better.
1. “Hard to Explain”, The Strokes; Is This It, 2001
2. Any garage/indie rock band of the past decade (Arctic Monkeys, Libertines, Franz Ferdinand)
3. Casablancas, Julian (The Strokes) meets Way, Gerard (My Chemical Romance)
4. The Killers; discography
5. “Spaceman”, The Killers; Day & Age, 2008
6. Silversun Picks; discography