Last night was spent eating dinner, walking Juliet and watching Coheed and Cambria's Live at the Starland Ballroom DVD. While I was watching it, I got to thinking: if emo, cheesmo and screamo are becoming passe with a younger audience these days, is something like what Coheed and Cambria does that far off too or about to become even bigger?
For those that don't know, Coheed and Cambria is a four-piece with three records out: The Second Stage Turbine Blade, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 and Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness. (Yes, those are the full titles) Previously, I had only heard a little of In Keeping Secrets but after reading interviews with them and seeing their video for "The Suffering," I had to find out more. Why? Because I think we're only a few steps away from having a rebirth of pompous virtuoso rock, last seen in the 1970s.
I will credit C&C this: they have great energy and some pretty good songs. I hear elements of screamo and emo in their sound along with elements in '70s progressive rock (Yes, King Crimson, etc.). Frontman Claudio Sanchez is often compared to Rush's Geddy Lee, but I feel that's a misnomer. Yes, Sanchez hits notes in the upper register (like Lee does) but he doesn't have the same feel or sounds like a carbon copy of Lee's voice. In short, I'm not about to buy their records, but I don't think they're crap.
Now here is a point of "uh-oh" with C&C: this supposed storyline of Coheed and Cambria that will be completely told in five albums. Yes folks, a storyline involving multiple characters named Coheed, Cambria, Claudio, the Writer and others. Somehow, a guillotine, girls, guys, life, death, near-death, a life-force, other dimensions and memory all play out. Vaguely, it sounds like Star Wars, but unlike Star Wars, this story is almost impossible to follow. By going from sequel to sequel to prequel of the main prequel (yes, the first album has "Second" in the title, the second album has "3" in the title and the third album has "IV" in the title), trying to follow or even understand this plot is beyond me, even after multiple readings of interviews that give hints about it. Maybe the point is to baffle but I just want to hear "le rock" and leave the storyline debates for the band's message board.
Extra "uh-oh" comes with the band's expanding live show and videos. With the videos for songs on In Keeping Secrets, they are humorous and relatively low-key affairs. Upon watching Good Apollo's first video, "The Suffering," I couldn't help but think of Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge." The video features the band playing in a cave (yes, a cave) with smoke intercut with a man/horse fighting a monster to save his woman (a mermaid). I kept looking for a mini-Stonehenge or something that was like a wink so I could laugh. The deal was, there was none of that. Uh-oh indeed.
Now I may be overreacting here, but isn't this the same kind of pomp and posy stuff that punk rebelled against in the '70s? I mean, come on, convoluted storylines told through album art, lyrics, comic books, videos and intricate live shows? The only extras needed are never-ending drum solos and guitar solos and it will be a full revival. Virtuoso musicianship may be a spectacle to gawk at but how in the world is some teenager going to really relate to something this in the long run?
The essence of rock music is the basics. I'm not saying rock should be confined to boundaries, but seeing the patterns of rock history, I don't think were too far off from a time when overplaying and wankery will be en vogue. The ageless, relatable aspects of the song and its melodies, not the white-hot guitar solos or operatic vocals, are the keys to the heart of music. Couple Coheed and Cambria with the Mars Volta (who I actually enjoy) and the silliness of the Darkness (which I cannot get into), this irony of fantasy rock may very well become a nightmare if labels sink more money into developing younger bands in this style. If this is all supposed to be a joke or tongue-in-cheek irony, somebody please let the young 'uns know.