After reading Amy and Eric's interview with Alkaline Trio for their old zine from the late-90s reminds me once again how much has changed with the band and punk rock in general. Not even a press release from the band promising more older material in their setlists on their upcoming tour can really sway these thoughts.
I don't mean to single out or bash the Trio here, but they are a great example of how a band goes from being a small punk band with a devoted audience to becoming a major marquee act. While I think their music has remained consistent up to a point, I find their embrace of being a slick rock band with Goth-like tendencies very distracting. Sure, the lyrics have always had a macabre feel to them, but when it feels like they are being macabre for the sake of being macabre, imagination hits a glass ceiling. Plus, the band's sense of macabre used to be very tongue-in-cheek, but now it seems like a big part of how they are marketed to a large audience. Yeah, I know I'm not the target demographic here, but I'm just passing along my thoughts on the matter.
Case in point, the band used to wear Goth make-up for promo pics as a joke. If you can have a band make funny faces with false teeth (see here), chances are you'd think the Damned/Misfits-like make-up was a joke too (see here). While they still dress in relatively human attire (t-shirts, jeans, ballcap) most of the time, the promo pics that get printed in the magazines project a different view. Band members are often dressed in A Clockwork Orange-in-black suits and are always surrounded by Goth-like imagery (skulls, bleeding hearts, tombstones, etc). Part of me thinks this is an extension of the joke, but a part of me thinks it's a fabricated and serious image. Intended humor is really hard to translate when looking at a pic or their website, but I wonder what's serious, what's fabricated and what's humorous. This kind of grey area is all over the music industry.
Maybe I'm late in truly understanding this, but certain things get played up big time in order to help get a band noticed. That's all well and good, but when the music and the image become so polished and slick, I just want to rip it all apart. When stuff like this becomes so glossy and devoid of any relatable form of average human life, I feel the walls of impersonality closing in.
As much as I would like to not get all tied up in a band's image, I can't help but feel that an overall glossy nature carries over into the music. In the case of the Trio, I feel like the band's gloomy-but-poppy punk has become extremely played out with their last few records. I picked up Good Mourning because I loved "All On Black" and it was on sale at Best Buy for $7.99, but I didn't even bother with their most recent release, Crimson. There are only so many ways you can recreate specific styles album after album and I just gave up after four proper albums. I still think highly of their first two albums and select tracks from From Here to Infirmary and Good Mourning, but I think there is too much of the same kind of paint surrounding their corner.
Maybe I just don't understand the idea that glossying up an image is just a small compromise in attaining a desire to create what you want to create for a steady income. As I've said before, there's living and then there's making a living and if something severely dilutes what I want to do, I resist. Maybe I'm thinking in absolutes here without a strong point of reference. Maybe I just don't get the supposed humor implied with it. Well, when it feels like detective work with piecing together assumptions, I come to a very inconclusive verdict.
I'm proud that the Trio have stuck around for this long. While I may not be so welcome to their later material as much as their older material, I'm glad they've stuck it through with a series of tumult (label problems, drummer changes, etc.). Seeing where they started to where they are now, it's interesting to look back at all of this. In a broader sense, I'm curious as to how people handle matters when more people are interested in a creative outlet and when a significant amount of money flows around it. It's a common fear that money corrupts creativity but oftentimes it's worth it to try and see how much you can get away with, joking or otherwise.